Thursday August 17, 2017
Jennifer Savas has a great perspective on being a volunteer host family for the Fresh Air Fund. After all, this is her family’s fifth year hosting a child from New York City. She encourages others in the community to host as well, “Do it! What have you got to lose? It could change your life, but, especially, it will change an inner city child’s life.”
For each Fourth of July week since 2013, Jennifer and Paul Savas, along with their son, Jack, welcome Denim who travels to Vermont from Brooklyn. Recalling then six-year-old Denim’s first visit in 2013, Jennifer says, “Oh my gosh, he was a character. He talked non-stop and, when he wasn’t talking, he filled the air with humming or just making noise.” She goes on to describe Denim as sweet with a great sense of humor. “Denim is pretty much happy all the time. He can chat up anyone.”
As far as Paul Savas goes, Denim is a fan. Jennifer reports, “Jack and I joke about Denim’s order of favorites and Paul is at the very top. Paul calls Denim “’D-Dog’ and spends time taking Denim on walks, bike rides, and to the Fourth of July fireworks when he’s home.” She says Paul loves showing Denim different things, making sure he learns something new while visiting.
Jack, a soon to be seventh grader at Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School, is the same age as Denim. The boys, both having turned 12 years old this summer, essentially become family for the time Denim is in South Burlington with Jack sharing his home with his Fresh Air brother. Over the years, the two have grown and have made fond memories of summertime fun, from swimming in the pool to playing board games.
Hikes are also on the week’s agenda when Denim is in town. One of Jennifer’s favorite memories is the summer the family decided to climb Mt. Philo. Typical to a city kid, Denim was not accustomed to outdoor adventures. Jennifer recalls, “He literally complained every step of the way up the hill. He complained about the bugs, the trees, the climb, you name it. But then, he got to the top and looked at the view and was in awe. He started beaming with pride and called his mother to tell her about the view, the huge hike he went on, and how beautiful it was at the top.” Each year since then, Denim asks if they can go hiking again.
The Fresh Air experience, and Denim in particular, has impacted the Savas family in many ways. Jennifer shares, “This is cliché, but we realize how lucky we are. Each year Denim comes and walks in every room of our house and talks about how big and quiet it is. It’s not even the outside he’s amazed at, it’s the size of our house, which is an average colonial, and how much room there is.” She says, each year, she looks at her home through Denim’s eyes and recognizes how much they have.
This acknowledgement extends to intangibles as well. Noting Denim’s habit to make sure all doors and windows are shut before he goes to bed, a prudent practice for city living, she says “We’re always constantly reminding him, in a gentle way, that we don’t have to shut everything down here – it’s nice to leave the windows open and get fresh air and more importantly, it’s safe to do so.”
Denim’s younger brother Logan will be eligible for the Fresh Air program next summer. The age requirement now is seven years old. Jennifer adds that Denim and Logan’s mother, Cher, said she would be thrilled if Logan could come to South Burlington the same as time Denim. This, of course, comes with a caveat from Denim, “as long as he’s not too close to us,” as it makes sense for Denim to prize his independence and singular experience in Vermont.
According to Fresh Air, there is no such thing as a “typical” host family. “They live in the suburbs, small towns, and rural areas. They have different types of homes and neighborhoods. Different financial profiles. Some have children of their own, while others don’t.” The organization stresses that what host families do have in common is “room in their home and their heart, and a desire to share the simple joys of their communities with a Fresh Air Fund child.”
For the Savas family, even though the Fresh Air program ends when the child turns 18, they plan to continue to have Denim visit. Jennifer adds, “I hope we will be in each other’s lives forever. I plan to be at his wedding!”
For more information on how you can become a host family, visit www.freshair.org.