×

Franklin County residents gain family members through the Fresh Air Fund

  • Kate Bailey, left, hugs Muslimat Sunmonu, 12, who just stepped off the bus to arrive in Greenfield as part of the Fresh Air Fund, the nonprofit organization brings low-income New York City youth to rural areas along the east coast, on Tuesday, July 10, 2018. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Muslimat Sunmonu, 12, is all smiles as she arrives in Greenfield as part of the Fresh Air Fund, the nonprofit organization brings low-income New York City youth to rural areas along the east coast, on Tuesday, July 10, 2018. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Michael Wilmeth, from right, Hazel Wilmeth, 11, and Kate Bailey leave the bus stop with Muslimat Sunmonu, 12, who will be staying with the family as part of the Fresh Air Fund, the nonprofit organization brings low-income New York City youth to rural areas along the east coast, on Tuesday, July 10, 2018. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Hazel Wilmeth, 11, right, hugs Muslimat Sunmonu, 12, who is staying with the family as part of the Fresh Air Fund, the nonprofit organization brings low-income New York City youth to rural areas along the east coast, on Tuesday, July 10, 2018. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Michael Wilmeth hugs Muslimat Sunmonu, 12, who is staying with the family as part of the Fresh Air Fund, the nonprofit organization brings low-income New York City youth to rural areas along the east coast, on Tuesday, July 10, 2018. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Host families wait for children to arrive on Federal Street in Greenfield as part of the Fresh Air Fund, the nonprofit organization brings low-income New York City youth to rural areas along the east coast, on Tuesday, July 10, 2018. Recorder Staff/Dan Little



Recorder Staff
Tuesday, July 10, 2018

GREENFIELD — As soon as Muslimat Sunmonu stepped off the bus at the corner of Church and Federal streets, a broad grin appeared on her face.

Muslimat, a 12-year-old girl from Long Island, was ready to enjoy something she has eagerly experienced each of the last five years: a week in Shelburne Falls.

Muslimat is one of 10 children who come to Franklin County each summer as part of the Fresh Air Fund. The nonprofit organization brings low-income New York City youth to rural areas along the East Coast, giving them a chance to experience more bucolic scenes than they are accustomed to in the Big Apple.

The children visit a host family one week every summer, with some families meeting their visitors for the first time and others witnessing the children grow up with each passing solstice.

Muslimat is spending the week with Kate Bailey, volunteer coordinator for Fresh Air in Franklin County, Michael Wilmeth and their daughter Hazel Wilmeth, who is 11.

The program gives children a chance to experience the outdoors when they may not otherwise be able to, Bailey said.

“To us, Greenfield doesn’t quite seem like the country, but for a child from New York ... it’s dark at night, there’s fireflies,” Bailey said.

Muslimat agreed, saying while she expected a lot of energy and excitement while here, she knew people would be nice and the area would be quieter.

“A lot of people in New York are mean,” she said. “And there’s a lot of traffic and taxis and noise.”

But in Shelburne Falls, “everyone is a lot nicer,” she said.

Activities for Muslimat will include visiting the ocean and lots of swimming, Hazel said.

And while Muslimat said the experience is “fun and full of energy,” for Bailey, it is like having a family member return.

“She’s part of our life. She refers to my parents as grandma and grandpa,” Bailey said.

“It’s fun because I kind of like having a sibling for a week, because I don’t have a sibling,” Hazel said.

Bailey said Muslimat is the second child she has taken in for a summer as part of the Fresh Air Fund. The first child visited for three consecutive summers.

Host families must go through several steps to be matched, including interviews with the host families and making sure the home meets the program’s requirements, including having a bed for the child to sleep in and enough space for everyone, according to first-time host Nina Marshall of Heath.

Afterward, hosts can talk to the family and the child and learn more about them, Marshall said.

Bailey said the program is rewarding and each of the two times her family was matched with a child, it felt effortless.

And when the day came that Muslimat was to arrive, Bailey said she couldn’t describe how it made her feel, other than, “I just woke up really happy today, because I knew I was going to see her.”

You can reach Dan Desrochers
at: ddesrochers@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 257