“Vermont is such a special place,” said Moriah McCullagh, of Colchester, “I love being able to share it with somebody.” The McCullagh family has hosted Gabriela, a 10-year-old girl from Queens, N.Y., since 2012. McCullagh knew other families who had hosted through The Fresh Air Fund’s Volunteer Host Family Program and signed up to host when she heard about their great experiences. She wanted to show the beauty of Colchester to someone who had not yet gotten to appreciate it.
The Fresh Air Fund, an independent, not-for-profit agency, has provided free summer experiences to more than 1.8 million New York City children from low-income neighborhoods since 1877. Each summer, over 4,000 inner-city children visit suburban, rural, and small town communities across 13 states from Virginia to Maine and Canada through The Fresh Air Fund’s Volunteer Host Family Program.
When Gabriela, affectionately referred to as Gabby, arrived in Vermont for the first time, she got along with McCullagh’s daughters immediately. “She was instantly a friend,” McCullagh said. “When she returned last summer, they picked up right where they had left off. It was like the year had not gone by.” McCullagh’s oldest daughter Maeve is the same age as Gabby, and “Maeve thought it was amazing that she and Gabby knew the same games and rhymes, even though they live in different parts of the country,” McCullagh added.
One of Gabby’s favorite things to do is visit Shelburne Farms. McCullagh said “the staff there was great about taking her into the gardens and teaching her about how plants grow. That is a place she always asks to go back to.” In addition to that, the family enjoys hiking and swimming. Last summer, Gabby learned to ride bike on her own by the time she left, which McCullagh siad is one of her favorite memories that they got to share.
“We look forward to her visit every year,” said McCullagh. “It is the highlight of our summer.” McCullagh doesn’t have much planned yet for this summer, because they want to see what Gabby wants to do first. But they make sure to do something fun every day, and take full advantage of the beautiful state of Vermont.
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 of the city. To learn more about how to become a host family in the Colchester area, call Mary Sherman at 802-782-5426 or visit The Fresh Air Fund online at www.freshair.org.
— Submitted by The Fresh Air Fund