City kids get a breath of fresh air

The Fresh Air Fund's Friendly Town Program picnic, which took place last Wednesday, July 25, in Altamont, turned out to be just what Fresh Air children travel from New York City to the Upstate area for.

Fresh Air children, who are boys and girls ages 6 to 18 years old, come from inner city communities to spend a summer vacation for two or three weeks in suburban towns across the Northeast.

The hosts are typically parents with children of their own and come from various communities throughout the Capital District.

On Wednesday, the children spent the early evening eating picnic favorites, playing baseball and tennis, riding ponies and playing with farm animals with their host families.

Jan Van Etten, a resident of Knox and a former host, is now the chairwoman for the Friendly Town Program a part of the Fresh Air Fund in Altamont. She first became involved with the program 47 years ago, when her husband, George Van Etten, was chairman of the Altamont Kiwanis, which had picked up the program as one of their community service projects.

When the Kiwanis moved on to other projects, Van Etten decided to take over coordinating the Friendly Town program for her area.

For several years, the Van Etten took in many of Fresh Air Fund children, but still remember the first as being the most in need.

"He came with literally no clothes on his back, and what was in his suitcase were nothing but filthy rags," she said.

Van Etten said that although the kids might not come right out and thank their host parents for taking them in, many of them feel a deep sense of gratitude.

Often, they are like, "Wow, look at that, I can walk around in bare feet," she said. "They can't do that at home."

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