By Torri Singer
RED BANK – Susan Barr welcomed Miguel, the newest addition to her family, to her home in July, thanks to The Fresh Air Fund.
Barr’s life is not conventional, but then again neither is Barr. A stylist turned independent photographer, Barr is a single mom by choice – and has been raising her son Jake who she adopted in 2002 on her own in Red Bank. Jake is now 10, and it wasn’t long before this bright little boy was begging his mom for a brother or sister. Sue knew the solution was something she had participated in years before: The Fresh Air Fund.
Every summer The Fresh Air Fund, a non-profit agency formed in 1877, pairs thousands of New York City kids with families in the suburbs and country to give them an unforgettable experience.
In 2009, the pairing was the beginning of a special relationship for Miguel, a then 6-year-old living in Brooklyn with his parents and four sisters.
Barr was put in contact with Miguel’s family through Karen Medlin, a local host mom for the fund that coordinates local families with the city children. Miguel has now spent four consecutive summers at the Barrs, and this past year he visited for Christmas as well. He has been taking swimming lessons during his trips, and is learning how to bike as well.
“He’s part of my family,” Barr said.
Barr says Miguel, whose family has since moved from Brooklyn to Newark, doesn’t live in a neighborhood where he can go outside much, so the summer visits offer a totally different experience for him. Miguel looks forward most to his adventures with Jake at amusement and water parks. Barr has watched him transform over the years from a boy who was “very reserved” into one who is charming, charismatic and full of life.
“He’s a member of my life,” she said. “I love Miguel. I love to see how he grows.”
As a mom, she understands that like anything else, friendship takes time to develop. So when a few summers back, Miguel and Jake were bickering constantly and jealousy over attention became an issue, she knew the boys would work through it.
“We fight sometimes but we always work it out. He’s like my friend and he’s also like my brother,” Jake said.
The strangers-turned-family keep in touch throughout the year with texting and sending pictures via Shutterfly, but the connection when Miguel arrives is always instant for Barr and Jake.
“I believe that these two boys will have a bond forever,” Barr said.
She believes the greatest benefit of the program is exposing local children to people from outside their community.
“You will see your children become more sympathetic, more understanding, more open to outside your community which will make going forward in their life easier, more adaptable,” Barr said. “People that sign up should never be disappointed if it doesn’t work, because when it does work, 90 percent of the time the kid comes every year, because once the kid gets comfortable, they come back.”
Those interested in learning more about becoming host families or donating to The Fresh Air Fund can visit www.freshair.org.