For Joan Giusto of Huntington, the more the merrier is a mantra she often lives by. With eight children of her own, Joan has been welcoming Annikssa, age nine, into her home for the past three years, and is looking forward to spending a week this summer with another Fresh Air child, Kaiba, age seven, as well. According to the Giusto family, having Fresh Air children stay with them not only provides a great experience for the child, but benefits the entire family, including extended family and neighbors. “Everybody is constantly asking when Annikssa’s coming!” said Joan.
The Fresh Air Fund is an independent, not-for-profit agency that has provided free summer vacations to more than 1.7 million New York City children from low-income communities since 1877. Each summer, over 4,000 children visit volunteer host families in rural, suburban and small town communities across 13 states from Virginia to Maine and Canada.
Over the past few years, Joan has often considered extending her family by taking in foster children. However, it was befriending a coworker while interning at Huntington Hospital that ultimately made Joan decide to host a Fresh Air child through The Fresh Air Fund’s Volunteer Host Family Program. The coworker, in her mid-twenties, disclosed to Joan that she is the woman she is today because of her own host mother. “Integrity,” Joan recalls, “was the most important thing that her host mother had taught her, and that made a huge impact on my decision to host a child myself.”
During Annikssa’s time with the Giusto family, many fond memories stand out. Upon meeting each other, Annikssa asked the family two things: if they had a backyard, and if she could call Joan “mommy.” Annikssa enjoyed the Giusto’s backyard, pool, local Centerport Beach, and called Joan “mommy” the entire week. Annikssa’s vibrant and loving personality kept the Guisto family inviting her back summer after summer, where she eventually was able to partake in a library program, recieved swimming lessons, and got to enjoy the “Sky Show” at The Vanderbilt planetarium.
Due to the incredible experience the Giusto family had with Annikssa, the family is now going to host another child in addition to Annikssa in a few weeks. “This program is really something that the whole family can benefit from, and it’s so easy to do.” Joan states, “You become so close; Annikssa even asked if she could come visit during the Christmas holiday! I was so touched.”
The Fresh Air Fund, an independent, not-for-profit agency is always seeking host families to enable as many New York City children as possible to benefit from a summer vacation outside of the city. To learn more about how to become a host family in Huntington, please contact Jacqueline Shapiro, the local volunteer leader for the Suffolk County area, at (516) 702-1203 or visit The Fresh Air Fund online at www.freshair.org.