Making Your Mark: Opening doors and hearts to help Fresh Air Fund kids

13News Now LaSalle Blanks has the story

CHESAPEAKE, VA (WVEC-TV) -- Shawn Hinton can't wait for summer. That's when her hard work pays off and she sees Hampton Roads families open their doors and their hearts to kids from New York City. Shawn works for The Fresh Air Fund -- a non-profit that enables inner-city children to experience a week in the suburbs living with host families here in Hampton Roads.

"I think that we are changing lives because we're giving the children an opportunity to see outside of their box in the city," Shawn said.

In the past, host families here have taken kids to local farms where the kids got to pet and feed horses for the first time. They've spent days at the beach and at Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg -- all experience outside of their box in the Big Apple. 

"It's a wonderful opportunity for any of us to make a difference in a kid's life," Shawn said. "It could open their eyes to new possibilities -- to dream."

She also says the experience doesn't only benefit the kids. The Berge family discovered that when they hosted a Fresh Air Fund child named Melvin.

"Our youngest has Down's Syndrome," Mrs. Berge said. "And then when Melvin (who's African-American) came to us, he was only two months old and I was really struggling with it. And he just loves him unconditionally, but I particularly needed to know that the world was more loving and accepting and inclusive and it didn't matter your race, religion, ability level, and Melvin just brought that to us."

And now Shawn is hoping to bring more children down this summer to experience a whole new world of love, kindness and life here in Hampton Roads.

Since 1999, Hampton Roads families have hosted about 350 Fresh Air Fund children. There were 32 children here last Summer. Families go through background checks. This year, The Fresh Air Fund is looking for families to host children from July 11th to July 18th. The boys and girls are between 7 and 12 years old. The Fresh Air Fund provides transportation for the kids to get to and from New York. They're also looking for people to participate in other ways like volunteering for the program and helping to recruit new families.

If you'd like to become a host family, call 1-800-367-0003 or log onto freshair.org.

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