LONG ISLAND, NY – Life-long Massapequa resident Renee Stegner, married with three children of her own, admits to not knowing much about the history of the Fresh Air Fund organization until random chance introduced her to its benevolence.
“I remember growing up and seeing the commercials on TV, but then I got older and forgot about it,” she said. “But then, two years ago my husband and youngest daughter were volunteering at a Massapequa Soccer Club tournament, and they were handing out Fresh Air Fund flyers there. My daughter read one, and she asked if we could do this.”
Stegners went through the Fund’s extensive-yet-speedy application process, and soon found themselves matched up with a new house guest.
“My youngest, Julia, who is eight years-old, wanted a girl about her age, so the Fund matched us up with a fourth-grade girl named Kyah Beckles from the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn,” Stegner said. “The little girl was very much at home, and she loved being here…we went to the beach club, movies, block parties, played on our trampoline…she just fit right in and felt very comfortable. Kyah and Julia were inseparable.”
But while little Kyah, who lives with her hard-working single mother and brother, greatly enjoyed her visit to the suburbs of Massapequa, there were a few frightening instances of culture shock for the child that possibly serve to illustrate the difficulties she faces in her normal, daily life at home.
“One of the first nights in July that she was here, she was outside and heard fireworks and got scared…she thought they were gunshots,” she said. “I mean she got really scared.”
The Stegners have been a host family for Kyah for three years now, and plan on continuing. However, the relationship between Kyah and the Stegners has transcended the confines of the Fresh Air Fund program, with the two families keeping in regular contact and arranging for additional visits for Kyah to Massapequa, who has indeed become a member of the household.
Stegner said that her family’s participation in the Fresh Air Fund was itself a breath of fresh air for all involved; not only for Kyah, but as a valuable life lesson for her own kids as well.
“This is the reason that you do it… to show someone that there are people out there that care, that can show you a very positive way of life,” she said. “And I wanted my children to see what goes on outside of this bubble in Massapequa. They can read all the books, they can watch the news on TV, but unless you’re really close to somebody, and really have an emotional investment in them, I don’t think you can really understand what some people go through day-to-day.”
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