Nine-year-old Hope Joyner jumps into the arms of Sarah Lewton, of Sheffield, as she arrives at Muddy Brook Elementary School in Great Barrington from her
Nine-year-old Hope Joyner jumps into the arms of Sarah Lewton, of Sheffield, as she arrives at Muddy Brook Elementary School in Great Barrington from her home in New York City. (Stephanie Zollshan / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
Saturday June 30, 2012

GREAT BARRINGTON

Hope Joyner, 9, of New York City was excited. She jumped off the bus carrying her and dozens of other Fresh Air kids, and leapt into the arms of several members of her host family, Brian and Sarah Lewton and their children, from Sheffield.

A reporter asked if she was glad to be back in the Berkshires.

"Yes!" she said, nodding her head vigorously.

Was she excited to be here?

"Yes!" Another vigorous nod.

Brian Lewton told her that the family would soon be taking her swimming.

"Today?" she asked excitedly.

No, said Lewton. Probably Monday.

Didn't matter. Hope was ready.

These sentiments and other, similar feelings bubbled up in the parking lot of Muddy Brook Elementary School on Friday as 45 Fresh Air children met with their host families.

In all, according to Sarah Travaglini, a spokeswoman for the program, more than 4,500 youngsters will be leaving New York City for 13 states in the United States, as well as parts of Canada.

In addition to a drop-off in Great Barrington, more Fresh Air children were also dropped off in Lanesborough on Friday.

"I think one of the great aspects of the program is that local host families can decide on the depth of their participation," said Renee Keator of Lenox, who has been hosting children for five years.

Keator said she corresponds with her Fresh Air child throughout the year. But other host families, she said, limit their participation to the two weeks they host the children.

"That's fine," she said. "However they want to do it."

Lelia Bruun of Great Barrington has been a Fresh Air Fund representative for 10 years, and has been hosting children in the Berkshires for 15.

"I like exploring different things," she said when asked why she became involved. "I went to summer camp when I was growing up, and I enjoyed the experience. I do it because I like it.

Ronn’e Baily, 9, opens up her suitcase after getting off the bus from New York City at Muddy Brook Elementary in Great Barrington for her fifth
Ronn’e Baily, 9, opens up her suitcase after getting off the bus from New York City at Muddy Brook Elementary in Great Barrington for her fifth summer in the Fresh Air Fund program on Friday. (Stephanie Zollshan / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

"Everybody does this for different reasons," said Bruun. "Some people just love kids. Some people want to expose their kids to different cultures. It's hard for a lot of us here in the Berkshires to fathom. There are kids in this program who have never taken their shoes off to walk on grass. Some of these kids have never seen the stars.

"You get little glimpses of these kids' lives," continued Bruun. "They don't like to take their shoes off to walk on grass because there's so much glass on the ground in their neighborhoods. They can't believe you don't lock the doors up here."

And, said Bruun, there are often questions from parents.

"Yes, there are concerns," she said. "Where do these kids come from? What are their backgrounds? There are some people who want information. And my response is these kids are a lot like ours. They're Brownies and Cub Scouts. The difference is in their socioeconomic status."

To reach Derek Gentile:
dgentile@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6251.
On Twitter: @DerekGentile