Busload of Fresh Air youngsters arrive from New York

| Friday, July 11, 2014, 12:21 a.m.

Just arriving on her first sojourn from her native New York City, Jennifer Chitacapa, 11, described the scenery in two words.

“It's beautiful,” said the smiling sixth-grader from Queens.

Jennifer and 22 other children from New York City who arrived in Butler County late Thursday afternoon will see more of that scenery in the coming days.

They're one group of “Fresh Air Kids” who arrived for a one-week stay with local families.

City children enjoying life among trees, green grass and open spaces is precisely what the Fresh Air Fund is all about. The fund is a nonprofit agency that has provided summer experiences in rural and small town settings for more than 1.8 million low-income New York City children between the ages of 6 and 18 years since its founding in 1877.

Two in the group arriving Thursday, Jennifer and 10-year-old Damien J. Wright of the Bronx, are being hosted by Alle-Kiski Valley families.

Jennifer is staying with Lorri and Cliff Harding and their daughter, Lilliana, 12, of Washington Township.

Damien, or D.J. as he calls himself, will be bunking with Jodi and Brad Travaglia and their children Ty, 16, and Natalie, 15, at their Allegheny Township home.

“This is our first time doing it,” said Jodi Travaglia. “Friends of ours did it last year. Natalie was over at their house and loved it. She came and said ‘Mom, we have to do this.' ”

As D.J. munched on pizza during a post-bus trip gathering outside a church near the Butler County Airport, Jodi said, “We video-chatted for the past week or two and he's a character.”

“I don't like anything about the city,” D.J. said.

One thing he said he is looking forward to is making the acquaintance of the Travaglias' dogs, which include a Great Dane.

“I want to pet the dogs, feed them, wash them, sleep with them,” a grinning D.J. said.

Jodi Travaglia said her family is excited to have D.J. and has a number of activities planned, including a pool party and bonfire and a trip to the Pittsburgh Zoo.

“This is our second year and we're going to do it forever and ever,” Lorri Harding said.

Jennifer said she was looking forward to “mostly learning new stuff and experiencing a place that's not so busy.

“I couldn't sleep at all last night, I was so excited,” she said.

Jennifer mentioned that she often has a hard time sleeping at home because there is too much noise from cars.

“You won't have a problem with that this week,” Lorri said, laughing.

“We have a cottage up in Derry with a pool and tennis courts and I can't wait to take her up there,” Lilliana said.

“This is a life lesson for all of us,” Lorri Harding said. “Cliff and myself experience multiple children and we get to show Lilly about different lifestyles.”

She said she hopes that they will be able to cultivate long friendships through the program.

Brenda McCall, a Western Pennsylvania coordinator for the Fresh Air Fund, said she has hosted children through the program for 20 years. She said she has kept in touch with three of them down through the years.

She said what they remember the most are simple things like seeing so many trees, cows in the fields and the stars in the night sky.

“Where they are from, it's not safe for them to be outside,” McCall said. “Most of the time they are stuck in their apartments for most of the summer.

“I think I get back as much as I give to my kids,” she said.

Apparently, she's not alone. McCall said 65 percent of the host families invited the children back the next year.

Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or tyerace@tribweb.com.

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