The way it was explained to us was that these kids lived in the city (Chicago) and didn't have the freedom to run and play like we had in the suburbs. Where they lived it wasn't as safe and it was a whole different experience. It was kind of like a summer vacation for these kids, to get out of the city and stay with a host family with kids of their own and just blend in. Experience a fun-filled, worry free, summer.
I doubt very much that my neighbors knew how the experience would affect any of us who already lived in the neighborhood. But it did. You see, these 2 boys were black. I grew up in a white bread neighborhood, not necessarily bigoted but I'm pretty sure the only place I had seen black people were on TV at that point. I don't know if I was 10 or 11, I just know I was a year or 2 older than Billy and Bobby. Yep. Those were their names.
When they first arrived it took us all about an hour before we realized that these were simply 2 more playmates to add to our games, even though they were - you know - BOYS!
We spent the entire summer playing, those 2 boys were so much fun, I think it was their enthusiasm. Going to the public pool that we took for granted was a big adventure to Billy and Bobby. And the fact that we could pretty much go day after day after day if we wanted to was so exciting to them. It felt good to share our every days with them. To share the evenings playing kick-the-can or catching lightning bugs, or getting a parent to set something up for us to toast marshmallows on. It was all new to them which made it all new to us.
I think we all cried when it was time for them to go. They missed their families but now they were going to miss us too. And oh how we missed them too. I've never seen them again, wouldn't know them now, it's been 40 years! Yes I AM that old. But I've never forgotten them. I learned the value of sharing what you have with someone who doesn't. I learned to meet new people and form friendships and welcome people who were in a new situation for them. But more importantly I learned that kids are kids. Everywhere. Not all of them have the same advantages, some have very different ethnicities and cultural differences or religions but in the end - kids are kids. Billy and Bobby were different. But really - they were only different on that first day.
I received an email about putting a post up - or tweeting about The Fresh Air Fund. I think I ignored the first email. But when I read the second email I realized it is the same program - whether or not it is run by the same people or in the same place - it gives kids that chance to get out of the city for the summer, and gives the kids as well as the host families a truly wonderful experience as well as a life lesson or two. But mostly - it's fun for everyone. I hope you pop over to their site and take a peak.
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