FAIRMONT - As summertime and outdoor activities approach, so do opportunities to help children from the inner city enjoy the wonders of nature in the Mountain State.
The Fresh Air Fund is an organization which pairs up families from West Virginia - and 12 other states - with children from the five Burroughs of New York City and gives the children the chance to spend up to two weeks in a country and outdoor setting.
Fresh Air Fund representatives for North Central West Virginia, Bob and Rachel Eubank, along with their four children, have been hosting a young man named Matthew, from Brooklyn, for 10 years through the program.
Eubank said this program is very important because it gives the children from the inner city the opportunity to get out and play in the green grass, barefoot and experience what we, as West Virginians, get to enjoy all summer.
"The program benefits the children because they get a chance to decompress and once they get used to being here, they can look ahead in life and not have to be afraid and look back at what's behind them," Eubank said. "It gives them absolute security once they get used to being here. They understand being here that you can play outside after dark or in your bare feet.
"There are fireflies to catch. There is so much to do that may not be safe to do in New York City. A lot of these kids have never seen real dark and one of the experiences they get here is seeing real dark."
Eubank said that, while the experience is beneficial for the children, it also can be very rewarding and eye-opening for the host families as well, as it enables them to see what the state has to offer.
He added it also gives participants an opportunity, as a state to curb some of the negative stereotypes about West Virginians.
"As a host, it makes you realize what we have to offer other children. It gives us a chance to break stereotypes that West Virginia is all run down homes and dirt floors," Eubank added. "It also helps us to see others cultures and it is great watching these children develop."
People wishing to participate as a host family may go to the website - www.freshair.org - and make a host inquiry. Once the contact information is received, an interview process begins, in the home, and includes a background check to ensure the safety of the children in the
"I feel like the Fresh Air kids are my kids, too, so I want to ensure their safety. We place all the children in homes as they are our own," Eubank said of the interview and placement process.
Host families have the option of what age range they would like to host.
Children can start in the program when they are 6 years old and, as long as they are hosted every year by a family, can continue in the program through age 18.
After a child turns 12, they are no longer eligible to begin the program as a new applicant.
Once all the information is gathered and families are approved, the organization selects two or three families they feel would be good fits for the child and present them to the child's family. The family looks at the applications and what activities their children would get to participate in and decide if it is a good fit.
The program has been in existence since 1877.
It started as a way to save children from the bubonic plague and has since transformed into a way to give kids in New York a break from city life.
"Back then, they thought the plague was due to dirty air. They thought if they could move the children out of the plague area and into fresh air it would save lives," Eubank said. "Today it is to show the children a new culture and give them a place to play and experience total safety."
Eubank also said the Fresh Air Fund is not looking for money from host families but just a safe place for the children to have fun and experience everything West Virginia has to offer.
"I don't want people thinking that we are asking for money. They (the organization) don't ask hosting families for one penny," Eubank said. "They just want you to take those children and treat them like your own children. In the 10 years we have been involved, we have not been asked for a dime. They will not and will never ask a host family for any donation."
Those interested in more information on the organization or becoming a host can contact Bob Eubank at 304-363-9665.