Three years ago, Tracey Gross of Millsboro decided to sign up her family for the Fresh Air Fund’s Volunteer Host Family Program. Thomas, 11, from Ridgewood, N.Y., was a perfect fit for her family. Since his first visit in 2011, Thomas has become a brother to his host siblings Wyatt, Savannah, and Lindsay, and the family looks forward to his visits as a summer tradition each year.
The Fresh Air Fund is an independent, not-for-profit agency that has provided free summer experiences to more than 1.7 million New York City children from low-income communities since 1877. Each summer, more than 4,000 children visit volunteer host families in rural, suburban and small-town communities across 13 states from Virginia to Maine and Canada.
“Thomas will try anything and everything!” said Tracey. During his stay, she makes sure to take him on as many summer adventures as she can. From swimming at the local wave pool to day trips to Funland, there is never a dull moment for Thomas and the Gross children. They play tennis, go to the fishing pond, and ride bikes through the neighborhood and on the nature trails nearby. After a long day of fun and games, the family goes out for pizza at Nicola’s or to Thomas’ favorite tiki restaurant.
Thomas is closest in age to Wyatt Gross, 9, and the two have become great friends. The Gross family took Thomas and Wyatt kayaking on his first summer visit, and since then, the boys love to go kayaking at the beach. Thomas also enjoys going to Wyatt’s summer lacrosse league games to cheer on his summer brother. “This summer, Thomas even subbed in for Wyatt during a game - it was so special to watch him play!” said Tracey.
Throughout the year, the Gross family keeps in touch with Thomas. “We talk on the phone and send him cards and birthday presents. My mother even sent him a five-pound gummy bear for Christmas last year!” said Tracey. Thomas always brings small gifts for his host siblings when he visits as well.
Tracey considers her experience with the Fresh Air Fund’s Volunteer Host Family Program a win-win for her family and for Thomas. “I never imagined how cool this would turn out to be for my kids! They love their summer brother,” Tracey said.
The Fresh Air Fund is always seeking host families to enable as many New York City children as possible to benefit from a summer experience outside the city. To learn more about how to become a host family in Millsboro for next summer, contact B.J. Ellis, the local volunteer leader, at 302-228-9326 or go to www.freshair.org.