Hosting a child from the Fresh Air Fund is something Lynn Grice always wanted to do. Ever since she was a child growing up in bucolic Long Valley and saw neighbors host a child, she determined she would one day do the same.
Decades have a way of erasing memory and Grice forgot all about the Fresh Air Fund until six years ago when she spotted a poster hanging in her company’s hallway. All her old memories came back.
Strangely, a short time later she ran into a childhood friend who was hosting a child. Grice didn’t waste another moment. She filled out the paperwork online so quickly, in fact, she didn’t have time to mention it to her husband.
“Thank God he thought it was a good idea,” said Grice when she got around to telling him they would be having another child living with them for two weeks that summer.
But a two-week commitment to give a New York City kid a summer vacation turned into a lasting bond.
For six years now the same boy from the Bronx has come to stay with the Grices each summer. Cashmere, now 13, was just seven when he first met the family that summer in 2005. Since that time he has become “like a second child” to the Grices.
“We watched him grow. It’s like you’re watching your own kid grow up.”
That they have done as well, but their son, Herbert, who is the same age as Cashmere, is an only child. By inviting another child into their home, the Grices hoped to give their son a sibling experience of sorts.
They also believed Herbert would learn some valuable lessons, ones that sometimes can only be taught by another child. Grice admitted, however, the plan did not go as smoothly as she originally anticipated. That first summer the boys did not get along, and Cashmere was homesick.
“He was 7 years old, and it was his first time away from home,” Grice said. By the end of the two rocky weeks for which she had taken off of work for vacation, Grice started to doubt her decision.
“I thought I would never do this again.” But once Cashmere was gone she had a change of heart. “When he left I missed him.”
Since that time Grice noted, “We haven’t missed a year.” And the two boys who once disliked one another?
“They call each other brothers.”
With his respectful nature and maturity level, Cashmere has certainly made an impression on Grice and, more importantly, on her son. “With Cashmere you tell him once and he does it. He is very disciplined, and my son sees that. It’s amazing. I’m always amazed when I ask him to do something, and he does it on the first time.”
Grice is quite pleased with the effect Cashmere has had on Herbert: “He’s been a very good influence on my son.”
As the oldest of four children and as a child with working parents, Cashmere bares a lot of responsibility at home. He must get his siblings ready for school in the morning and watch them afterward as well. He also helps with the cleaning and laundry. But beyond serving as a good example, Grice said Cashmere is just “a sweet, sweet kid.”
She credits Cahmere’s mother, who while very young, raised a good kid. One who has become part of the Grice’s family as well, coming for visits on weekends, during school breaks and for additional weeks in the summertime. Last year, Cashmere stayed for five weeks, but the Grices had to work around the Fresh Air Fund to do it.
The Fresh Air Fund program runs for two-week periods during the month of July or a 10-day stint in August. At the program’s end, the rules dictate that families must send the kids home on the designated bus even if hosts make arrangements with the children’s family to allow them to stay longer. For Grice, this meant she would have to put Cashmere on the organization’s bus back home and then drive to the Bronx to bring him back to Maplewood.
“He went on the bus, and the next day I went to pick him up,” she said.
This year Cashmere will be staying with the Grices when they rent a house down the shore for a month. While the nobody can dispute the Jersey shore is a nice vacation, Cashmere is happy just to be outside.
“Where he lives, he’s never allowed to go outside alone – ever,” Grice explained.
But in Maplewood, Cashmere and Herbert can ride their bikes to the pool or walk into town and run around outside. Those rather ordinary suburban experiences are a treat for Cashmere.
“He likes that freedom,” Grice said.
That’s all it takes. A walk around the block for ice cream or a dip in the pool (the township even gave Cashmere a free pool pass for for the summer).
“Just simple stuff,” noted Grice.
As for Grice, she likes to share her childhood experiences with Cashmere and expose him to new things like hiking and pumpkin picking. “There are things he’s never seen before. It’s almost like another country.”
But, most of all, Grice appreciates the relationship her family has developed with Cashmere. “We are so fortunate to get this kid. It’s been a blessing.”
This post originally appeared in the Maplewood Patch.
Interested in hosting a child? Click here to find out more about the Fresh Air Fund.
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