This summer, Zaire, an 11-year old boy from the Bronx's largest housing project, came to stay for one week with a KR+H family. The visit brought Zaire and his host family cherished memories, turning one short week into an endless summer for all.
It was Zaire's second summer visit with Andy, KR+H master installer; Amy, his wife; and Alex and Andrew, their two sons. Andy sat down with me recently to share their great story.
Andy told me how they came to host Zaire. Amy, his wife is an aba therapist and through her work, they found out about The Fresh Air Fund's Friendly Towns Program that connects children from underserved New York City neighborhoods with host families, like Amy and Andy's, all along the East Coast and Sourthern Canada. Andy said, "We thought it was a good idea and we did it, we signed up."
Amy emailed me, "We were fortunate enough again to host Zaire, an 11-year-old boy from Bronx, NY. Attached are a few pictures from this summer and some of the fun our family experienced with Zaire."
Andy explained, "He's a great kid. This is the second year we've had him. It's emotional...in the second-year you have a connection. You only have them for a week. I think maybe next year [when Zaire is 12] it might be two weeks.
"I was working for [KR+H customer] Kiki Shilling and she was so moved. She gave me a whole bunch of money. 'Go do something fun!' she said." Andy was touched, "It totally helped out. It took the pressure off."
When I emailed Kiki about our idea to post this story, she responded, "Andy and his family are incredibly special people to open their home and their hearts, and I just wanted to be a little part of it - it made me feel good, even though I did not do much at all. Wish I could have had Zaire here with me for a bit, too."
"Zaire appreciated everything, said Andy. "He couldn't believe how we went out to dinner and we'd say, 'Get anything you want.'...'Anything I want?!' He'd want the biggest, baddest burger there was, and he'd eat half of it. So we used to split burgers. It was funny."
Andy told me, "He has a great time. We keep him going all the time - basketball, beach, boat,"
Andy's sons, Alex, who is Zaire's age, and Andrew, 15, are really into basketball, and Zaire is too. Although Alex and Zaire are the same age, there's a noticeable size difference. "There's lots of lessons learned outside on the court," Andy recalled, "They played basketball every night, and the fact that we have our own basketball hoop...he couldn't believe it.
"First couple of days, he wouldn't go in the backyard - we have a big backyard - he didn't think it was ours. He sees me watering the garden...'Is this all yours?' We don't live in a big house, but just the fact that it's our house. A simple thing like cooking burgers - he loved sitting out on the back deck. I'd have a beer, my wife's gardening. He really absorbed that and he loved it. Just something simple like that."
Zaire had swum before but never over his head. "And we have a boat!" Andy said (with a worried expression!). "Zaire told me, 'This ocean's too big for me, Mr. Andy!' So the boat, he loved that. He just liked to float. He liked to really relax. Didn't want to go fast, which was funny because most kids, it's go, go, go. My father's boat is a little bigger, and Zaire called it a ship. It's only 40 feet; but when we were coming up to it on the launch, he opened his eyes - just couldn't believe it.
"We took him down to Marion harbor. He was jumping off the top of the boat! I had to get in the water. Because he's afraid of the ocean, I told him, 'I'll be right here, I'll catch you.'" Zaire said, "You catch me. Don't let me go too far under." Andy assured him, "I got you."
"You know the Spit in Scituate?" Andy asked me, "It's his favorite place in the world. He wanted to go there every day."
Andy continues, "Zaire just couldn't grasp the whole tide thing. He'd be looking trying to figure out where the water was going, where it was coming from...I'd tell him, 'We'll go down to the boat today." He'd see me looking at the marine report. He's like, 'What's the tide going to be? Oh, high tide. Is there going to be seaweed? We goin' to go crabbin?' 'No, I'd say, 'crabbin's low tide.' So that was funny.
"Every little turn, something that we don't think anything of, he'd really sit and ponder about it. That was part of our day...wondering about the tide.
"It was fun. He's a good kid. Lovable.He'd come up and give me a hug every day after work, 'How's your day, Mr. Andy?' It was a good experience for everyone. He calls us once a month or so. 'How's everybody goin' over there?' ...'Everybody's goin' good.'
"My dad says all the time, the memories you're giving him, they're forever.
"We'll have him back next year. He's psyched. He's already asking. Already telling us what he wants for Christmas."
Thank you to Kim Kates, Fresh Air chairperson, St Francis, Boston. Kim emailed, "It was a GREAT MATCH! The family is fantastic and Zaire is a doll and fit right into the family. He could not have been more appreciative or sweet!"
A heartfelt THANK YOU to everyone involved in this loving, hopeful, inspiring story! It truly is a breath of Fresh AIr!