A couple years ago, we invited a sweet 10 year old boy, Shamare, from New York City into our home for two weeks. When I told people our plans to do this, their reaction was, "Are you nuts?!" and they would follow with, "You don't know WHO they will give you!"
I may have had the same protective reaction had I not experienced this program throughout my childhood. Our family invited Shanna Rioja Sheherazad (sp?) into our home summer after summer starting when I was 5.
The children in this program are pre-approved through NYC's Head Start program and other reputable programs throughout the city. They are kids who are personable and repsonsible. They are kids who have not been out of the city perimeter. They are kids who long to have a vacation but whose families may not be able to afford the well-deserved escape.
When we picked up Shamare at a nearby Friendly Town drop-off point, he was quiet and obviously nervous. He got off the bus looking like he would like to get back on. He didn't talk at all on the way home. But our kids were so excited to have him, they talked his ear off the WHOLE way!
Within a couple hours he was goofing around with them and offering to help with dinner...he ended up setting the table everynight. Shamare was a wonderful young boy who put his bare feet in our grass...something he had NEVER done in his life. Something I can't imagine going without...my toes in the grass...that means SUMMER has arrived!
We visited local landmarks and took him to some summer festivals but what he liked the most was stopping along the road so he could get out of the car and stand at the fence of a cow pasture. I have grown up seeing cows and horses at every turn; Shamare had only seen farm animals in books - NEVER IN PERSON. Our town was like a living MUSEUM of wonders we take for granted but he had never experienced.
He smelled his first turkey farm: "Nasty!"
He ate his first fresh PEACH pie: "Mmmmm!"
He felt SAFE. He saw the stars (the city is too bright to see stars @ night). He was active. He breathed the FRESH AIR. He marveled at butterflies. He went swimming in a CLEAN pool. He SMILED the entire time!
I have to say that we were blessed having Shamare (we even had a portrait done with him and our kids while he was here) and we welcomed him back the next year. We exchange phone calls and send Christmas cards, he is and always will be part of our extended family!
If you would like more information on this program, head over to The FRESH AIR Fund and check it out. It costs you nothing. It is designed to be convenient. All you need is a big heart and a family who is open to sharing the blessings they overlook daily with someone who is curious what those blessings would feel like
They are precious children. Won't you plan to have one this summer?
May you be as blessed as we were!