Bethel residents Janet and Jeffery Neuner plan on welcoming New York City native Joshua to their home for the ninth year this summer. Daughter of a Fresh Air child, Janet and her family look forward to Joshua’s visits every year. Their relationship doesn’t end with summer, however, Joshua has visited the Neuners multiple times during the year including during winter break to go tubing and sledding.
Janet grew up hearing about The Fresh Air Fund. Her father Raymond Penn, now 85, had been a Fresh Air child when he was a young. Raymond returned to the same family in Syracuse for several years and stayed in touch with them throughout high school, his service during World War II and throughout college.
With his Fresh Air family’s help, Raymond was the first person in his family to attend and finish college. Inspired by her father’s story, Janet and her husband Jeffery first welcomed Joshua into their home in 2002.
Joshua first visited the Neuners when he was five-years-old. Janet still remembers the first thing he said when he arrived at their home. “We live on two acres of land and have our own wooden swing set,” Janet explained. “When he got out of the car he screamed ‘YOU HAVE YOUR OWN PARK!’ He was just so happy to be here and had a huge smile on his face.”
Since then, Joshua has accompanied the Nueners in their typical summer activities; anything from trips to the Cape or riding bikes around the neighborhood.
The Neuner’s son Aidan and Joshua have become “like cousins” throughout the years. They enjoy being outside and “shooting hoops,” going on outings to places like the Bronx Zoo, and canoeing and fishing in Lake Waramaug. This summer, since Aidan has his driver’s license, the boys plan on driving to the pool.
Something that Janet, Aidan, Josh and the two dogs do every summer is hike in a state park in Redding. “The first time we went the dogs swam in the river,” Janet recalled. “Josh got a real kick out of that – he didn’t know dogs could swim. He loved it!”
Josh has become quite close to the Neuners, visiting them during the year for major holidays such as Thanksgiving, Easter, birthdays and part of winter break. “In the winter we like to go sledding and tubing in the snow,” Janet said. “Now that Josh is older, his mom allows him to come up on weekends when he wants. He is part of the family and always welcome.”
When asked to give advice to prospective host families, Janet gave the following answer: “Kids are simply kids. You don’t have to go crazy. You just have to welcome them into your home and make them a part of your day to day life when they are there. That’s what is exciting. It was good for our son Aidan to see someone his age act as responsible and independent as Josh. It isn’t just about what you do for the child but what the child does for you.”
The Fresh Air Fund is a not-for-profit agency that has provided free summer vacations to more than 1.7 million New York City children from low-income communities since 1877. Each summer, over 4,000 children visit volunteer host families in rural, suburban and small town communities across 13 states from Virginia to Maine and Canada.
For more information on how you can become a Fresh Air Fund host, please call Lestina Trainor at(203) 482-2262 or visit The Fresh Air Fund online at www.freshair.org.