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Fresh Air friends arrive in Vernon

Seventeen children from New York City stepped off a bus in Vernon for a two-week stay with families in the area, and from as far away as South Hadley, Massachusetts. The Fresh Air Fund brought its second group for stays in the area this summer, among 4,000 it services each year.

The Byam family of Tolland has hosted Lamar, 13, for the last five years. He mostly hangs out with Mathew Byam, who is the same age.

"We like to cook out, go swimming and watch baseball games," said Linda Byam, Mathew's mother. "This year we might go to the adventure park in Storrs. We also might go to the beach. We don't usually do a lot of day trips, but he loves to go blueberry and strawberry picking."

Byam said she sees the relationship as something between a friendship and a sibling relationship.

"They are like brothers, and it's a friendship, definitely" she said, "Especially after so many years. They have time alone, when they are not together, and then when they are, they're comfortable. It's cordial, but it's not like a guest relationship. It's very comfortable."

Mathew said Lamar calls them regularly during the rest of the year, and they plan things they might like to do, or sometimes simply check in.

Reece, 9, and his mother Darin Fitzgerald met Tope, 10, for the first time.

Fitzgerald said she and her family, which also includes Bria, 14, had heard of other families who have hosted children for years, and had talked about it for some time.

"After talking to them, and hearing their experiences, we were really sold on it," Fitzgerald said. "We actually tried last year, and were matched up with a couple of boys, but they were little and it was their first time, and they just got cold feet and didn't come. So, we didn't get to host last year, but this time we're excited."

Fitzgerald said hiking, a drive-in movie, swimming and boating are among the plans they have with Tope.

Fresh Air volunteer Linda Gorman said 4,000 kids are served by the program each summer, and stay all over the northeast, including parts of Canada.

Another group of children stayed in the area earlier in July for one week, and that many families, especially those with return visitors, opt for the 2-week stay.

"They only recommed one week your first year, but a lot of families prefer two," Gorman said.

For more information, visit http://www.freshair.org.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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