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City kids get a breath of fresh air

She said she is always looking for more families that are willing to give a child from the city a vacation in the country.

Van Etten said that some children really connect with the program and are invited back every summer by their host families for several years. She said some have even chosen to go to college or look for work in the Upstate area because of their positive experiences in the area.

One Fresh Air child that seemed to have a very positive experience with his host parents Jane and Dennis Miller of Altamont, was Mario Graham, a 9-year-old from Brooklyn whose mother is suffering from multiple sclerosis.

The Miller's became involved with Town Program after losing two sons to muscle dystrophy. They have had a very positive experience with their Fresh Air child Mario, a fourth-grader who loves animals and wants to be a veterinarian, has never been fishing before, but got a chance to that, and is also going bowling and to the movies with the Millers.

Mario said that ever since he arrived to the Miller's last week, he's felt like he was dreaming.

"I get to walk around," he said. "People don't bother me. I feel safer."

The Millers, who have Mario for one more week, are already looking forward to having him back next year.

"He's great, very well behaved," said Jane Miller.

"I wouldn't mind having him back here every couple of months," Dennis Miller added.

Another family at the picnic said they hit it off right away with their Fresh Air Fund guest, Lamoy Dawkins, a 9-year-old boy who is also from Brooklyn.

Linda and Giovanni Natale of Latham, who became involved with the Friendly Town Program for the first time this summer after seeing it on a flier, have three children who attend Latham Ridge School. They started chatting with Lamoy on the phone and through e-mail about a week before his arrival on Wednesday, July 18.

Since then, Linda Natale said her children have been playing with Lamoy every day and have even taught him how to ride a bicycle.

"He's a great kid; everyone has loved him," she said.

Natale said she and her husband wish they had found out about the program sooner.

"It's only been a week or two, and we've realized you get a lot more than you give," she said. "You see the joy in the child and the relationships being built. It touches a lot of the people around you."

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