NEWPORT - Shortly after getting married and before having children of their own, Sean and Heidi Santaw decided to try out being parents by participating in the Fresh Air Program. The program invites children from New York City to more rural areas for a vacation, a taste of fresh air, and the a look at a different culture.
“More than anything, it was just giving them what life in Vermont was like,” said Heidi.
They heard about the program through a neighbor’s family who had hosted a Fresh Air child. Sean’s grandparents had also welcomed a Fresh Air child into their home.
First they had 6-year-old Trisha Benn for two weeks. The following year her brother Andre (AJ), a year younger, came with her for two weeks. Both came each year, sometimes staying as long as a month, until they each turned 13, the cut-off age for children to visit host families. The last year Ben came alone.
Heidi and Sean went on to have children of their own: Abie who is now 16 and TJ who is 13. They were pre-schoolers when they last saw their "big brother and sister," but Sean went to New York City for a Red Sox game and saw AJ a few years ago.
Thanks to the advent of the internet, Facebook in particular, and the telephone, Trisha and AJ faithfully stayed in touch with their Vermont “parents,” calling on holidays to say hello and update each other on family news. According to Heidi, it was the recent Facebook activity between their Vermont children, AJ (now 23), and Trisha (24) that prompted an Easter visit by AJ this year. It had been 10 years since Heidi and kids had seen him.
For more of this story, see Thursday's edition of The Newport Daily Express for April 4, 2013.