Friendly Towns Program
Frequently asked questions
- Q. Who Can Go To Friendly Towns?
- A. Friendly Towns accepts new children between the ages of 7-12. If children are invited to return to the same host family, they can continue in the program until they are 18.
- Q. Where will my child be staying?
- A. Families from across the Northeast and Canada volunteer to host children through The Fresh Air Fund, and your child will be matched with one of them to stay in the family's home. Volunteer hosts live in rural, suburban and small town communities, which we call "Friendly Towns". These Friendly Towns can be far away as Maine and Virginia and as close as Long Island and Westchester County.
- Q. How are the host families selected and screened?
- A. Prospective host families are pre-screened over the phone. Next, an in-person interview is scheduled to take place in the home of the prospective host family. All members of the family must be present as well as any caregivers or others who will be spending large amounts of time with the child (grandparents who live nearby, cousins, etc.).
The interviewer spends between 1 ½ and 2 hours with the family. The interviewer observes interactions between the family members, discusses the Friendly Towns program, checks the home for safety concerns, and covers many other important areas (How do the parents communicate with each other? How do the parents communicate with the children? Is there an extra bed for the child? How do the pets behave with a stranger, etc.).
If the interviewer is comfortable with the family (we ask each interviewer to ask themselves “Would I place my own child in this home for two weeks?”), three references are checked. The prospective host family must provide at least one professional reference (a teacher, day care provider, family doctor, etc.). All adults (18 or older) in a host family's household have a background check completed through an independent contractor.
Host families can request the age and gender of their Fresh Air visitor.
- Q. Who supervises the host families while my child is staying with them?
- A. Each Friendly Town has a Chairperson, a volunteer trained and supervised by The Fresh Air Fund, to oversee all families in their area. The Chairperson checks in with children while they are visiting their host family, and sometimes organizes activities for all host families while the children are visiting. The Chairperson is always available while children are visiting host families in their area. Chairpeople are supervised by the volunteer Fund Representative from their region, and all volunteer leaders are supervised and supported by Fresh Air Fund staff in the New York City office.
- Q. When will I know where my child is going?
- A. After your child’s paperwork is completed, returned to your community agency and forwarded to The Fresh Air Fund office, we will register your child for a volunteer host family visit. Our Outreach Partner or The Fresh Air Fund Community Outreach Staff will choose a host family's invitation that seems appropriate for your child, and will then contact you to review the invitation and to get your final approval. The invitation lists the host names, address, phone number, pets and family activities. Invitations are assigned from mid-March through early August.
- Q. Can siblings be placed with the same host family?
- A. It is not recommended that siblings be placed with the same host family. We believe every child should have the opportunity to experience new things on their own for their individualized growth and development. Over the 135 years of our program, the children have told us that they love having their own special Friendly Town family. The time that they spend with their family is unique and this provides them with the opportunity to develop long lasting relationships.
- Q. What will I know about the family my child is visiting?
- A. The invitation lists the host names, address, phone number, pets and family activities. We strongly encourage you and the host family to communicate with each other, by phone or mail, prior to your child’s vacation.
- Q. How will my child travel to their Friendly Town?
- A. Most children travel to their host family by charter buses, leaving from The Port Authority Bus Terminal. Your invitation will tell you the date, time and location of your child’s departure and return.
- Q. What things should a child NOT bring with them?
- A. Money, valuable items including jewelry, electronic equipment such as portable games or music players. It is not recommended that your child bring a cell phone to their host family.
- Q. How can I communicate with my child while he/she is away?
- A. You will receive a safe arrival call when your child arrives at the host home. Please remember, it can take all day to travel to a Friendly Town (depending on where the host lives). Even if the bus is due to arrive in the Friendly Town at 3:00 PM, the family might live another hour away from the bus stop and/or the family might choose to go out for dinner or to stop for ice cream along the way. Do not worry if you don't hear from the family until bedtime on the first night.
After the safe arrival call, you and the host family can decide how often you will communicate with each other by phone. Phone calls sometimes make a child homesick. Please do not call, especially at night, if you sense that your child is homesick. Hearing your voice can make it harder for a child to adjust to their new environment. We suggest that you call at the start of the day, when your child is excited and can share with you the planned activities for the day.
You can also write to your child. It is always fun for a child to receive mail while away from home.
The Fresh Air Fund Support Services Department is available 24 hours a day if you have any concerns while your child is away - just call 1-800-367-0003.