A breath of fresh air

TUPPER LAKE – The secret to being a good host for a Fresh Air Fund child is to simply carry on.

It is, after all, a reprieve from city life the children participating in the program are seeking.

“A lot of host families get hung up on entertaining these kids, and they shouldn’t,” said George Harriman, a Fresh Air Fund host. “To them, it’s special just to be here. The best thing is to just do what you’d normally do, and they’ll be happy.”

Harriman and his family welcomed Samaiya Barnhardt into their Tupper Lake home Monday. She arrived on a bus with four other children from New York City who are spending 10 days with host families in the area through the Fresh Air Fund.

The program has been connecting inner-city children from New York City with families who live in rural or suburban areas since 1877.

Barnhardt, who is nine, lives in an 11-story apartment building in Brooklyn, where she often helps take care of her 7-year-old brother, Deshawn.

This week is different, though.

Barnhardt has spent her days picnicking, biking and swimming.

In between jumping off a dock into Tupper Lake and performing handstands in the water, Barnhardt expressed her love for all the things residents of the region see daily – the forests, lakes and mountains. It was her first time swimming in a lake.

“I saw a family of ducks earlier today,” Barnhardt said. “There was the mother and her little children. They were cute.”

Barnhardt explained that she has a special fondness for birds. When she got off the bus in Tupper Lake, she was even wearing long, brown feather earrings.

Much like the birds she finds so enthralling, Barnhardt also loves to sing, and she isn’t shy about it. She recently performed an a capella rendition of Rihanna’s “Diamonds” for the Harrimans.

“I’ve performed before,” Barnhardt said. “At first it was scary, but I got used to it. Some people just don’t have the power.”

Harriman’s connections to the Fresh Air Fund run deep. His mother grew up in Manhattan and got to know a woman who lived on a farm in Waterbury Center, Vt., through the Fresh Air Fund.

“That relationship evolved over the years to where I would bring my friends to the farm while in high school,” Harriman said. “I called that woman my grandmother, even though we weren’t related. One of the things that I did when I moved to the country was get involved with the Fresh Air Fund because it played a pretty big role in my life.”

When Harriman’s parents got older, they would bring “Gram” on fishing trips to Maine with their family.

“It really evolved into a family made by the Fresh Air Fund,” Harriman said.

As an adult, Harriman has hosted several children through the Fresh Air Fund. He enjoys being able to show them what the world is like beyond the city, and said the reward works two ways.

“The Fresh Air kids certainly benefit from it, and your own kids benefit from it too,” Harriman said. “This gives them a chance to see what others’ lives are like.”

Harriman’s son, Mitch, agreed.

“I’ve learned how privileged we are to live here,” Mitch said. “There are so many more opportunities here to be outside.”