Greeted by balloons and a beautiful summer day, a dozen New York City youngsters arrived at Covington Park Monday for a week of summertime fun.
In the area as part of the nonprofit Fresh Air Fund’s program that gives urban youth a chance to enjoy activities often unavailable in the big city, the kids filed off a charter bus into the embrace of Lackawanna, Luzerne and Wyoming County families who will host them for the next week.
For 12-year-old Robbie McNally of Scranton, the program means a new playmate — 12-year-old Richard Ren of Queens.
“It’s just good to have a brother, instead of three sisters for week,” Robbie said as he and his mom, Michelle McNally, waited eagerly for Richard to disembark the bus.
The McNallys have a full schedule of summertime activities planned for Richard, from swimming and strawberry picking to movies and fireworks. Richard, who stayed with the family two years ago, said he’s up for anything and that being back in the area is “fun.”
While the McNally’s have hosted Fresh Air children in the past, other locals, like Ann Saxton of Kingston, are enjoying the experience for the first time.
She’ll play host to Iyana Hollowell, 10, of the Astoria neighborhood of Queens, and Vivian Jiang, 10, of Brooklyn, who are excited to go swimming and bike riding.
“You never know, you may be able to impact a little child’s life in a positive way,” said Saxton, whose own children are grown. “I think that (coming to Northeast Pennsylvania) would expand their horizons. ... I think it will be as rewarding for me as it is for the kids.”
Iyana and Vivian are in store for a very unique experience today, as Saxton plans on taking them to a greased watermelon contest at the Kingston Pool, where they’ll observe swimmers attempt to retrieve a greased melon from the pool’s deep end. The girls will also enjoy some swimming and fishing at Harveys Lake later in the week, among other activities.
After meeting his host family, Margaret and Mike Steele of Mountain Top, young New Yorker Anthony Battle, 10, hustled down to a swing set at Covington Park. As he swung back and forth, Anthony said he’s most exciting to go fishing — something he’s never done before.
“I think that it opens their eyes up to nature, to the natural world,” Margaret Steele said of the program she and her husband are participating in for the first time. “I think it gives them the chance to understand that families should support one another, and perhaps they’ll grow up and want to participate in the same kind of thing.”
The Fresh Air Fund has provided more than 1.8 million New York City children with rural excursions since 1877.