PORTLAND, Maine — For the New York City youths who explored Portland’s Eastern Promenade last week as part of the Fresh Air Fund, the day brought new experiences and a change of pace.
For more than 130 years, the Fresh Air Fund, a not-for-profit agency, has been sending children from low-income families of New York City’s five boroughs on summer escapes for a few weeks to get away from city life. The agency paired with the Trust for Public Land to plan a day event for the kids, which sent them on a scavenger hunt looking for sea gulls, lighthouses and seaweed.
Jayden Defreitas, 11 of the Bronx tried a fresh raspberry for the first time on Friday, and earlier, his first blueberry, but he said the blueberry wasn’t for him.
“This place is full of grass,” he said.
Though for some Mainers, Portland can seem too big, to Defreitas it feels more like a suburb or town than a city.
For many of the host families, these New York City children are a reminder that the Maine lifestyle isn’t the norm for everyone.
“We take a lot things for granted,” said Lisa Dearborn, regional chairwoman for the Fresh Air Fund in Southern Maine and host to Defreitas. She has been hosting children with the fund for 13 years.
The event was the first that the Fresh Air Fund and the Trust for Public Land have planned together, but Wolfe Tone, Maine state director of the trust, said he hopes the two organizations might be able to continue the event.
Tone said he sees an overlap in the missions of the two organizations — both emphasize the importance of the outdoor experience. The trust, he said, aims to conserve land to be used as public open spaces, such as parks and gardens.
“The social need for open space is still there,” he said.
For some Mainers, including Dearborn, working with the Fresh Air Fund has done more than teach the kids.
“It’s taught us to appreciate what we have and what Maine has,” she said.