June 30th, 2015 6:00 pm

By Robert Tomkavage


Sisters Brooke, left, and Aliyah Staff, of Factoryvill, hold a welcome sign at Lackawanna State Park for the child their family is hosting for two weeks through the Fresh Air Fund Program.
From left, Zania Perry-Skinner, Betsy Staff, Aliyah Staff, Brooke Staff and Ira Staff share a conversation at Lackawanna State Park after Zania arrived from New York City.
From left, first row, are Betsy Staff, Brooke Staff, Aliyah Staff and Zania Perry-Skinner. Second row, Ira Staff.

NORTH ABINGTON TWP. — Four children from New York City arrived at Lackawanna State Park by bus on Monday, ready to explore all that nature has to offer through the Fresh Air Fund.

The Fresh Air Fund, a not-for-profit agency, has provided free summer experiences in the country for more than 1.8 million New York City children from low-income communities since 1877.

Zania Perry-Skinner, 8, of Queens, will stay in Factoryville with Betsy and Ira Staff and their two daughters, Brooke, 11, and Aliyah, 9.

Perry-Skinner is most looking forward to kayaking and swimming in a creek for the first time, and watching fireworks during her two-week stay with the family.

This is the first year the Staff family is hosting a child through the Fresh Air Fund, however Betsy’s family participated in the program when she was a young girl.

“My family did it when I was growing up every year until the kids aged out,” Betsy Staff said. “Our pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Tunkhannock mentioned and I said, ‘we used to do that, it was fun’, so, I decided to sign us up.

“It gives (the kids) a change of scenery and different environment, and exposes them to different cultures.”

The Staffs plan to take Perry-Skinner with them on a camping trip over the Fourth of July weekend. She will also attend Vacation Bible School and accompany them to a family reunion.

Michael Conroy, of Factoryville, chairperson of the Fresh Air Fund of the Scranton area, has hosted a child with his wife, Alivia, for two years and plans to host the child they had last year again in August.

“We hosted in 2013 and 2014 and had some good experiences,” he said. “We wanted to get more involved with volunteering and help other people get connected in the same way.”

According to Conroy, the Fresh Air Fund offers children an opportunity to explore the outdoors and interact with others.

“Most of the kids who (participate) are underprivileged and otherwise wouldn’t have a vacation and wouldn’t be able to get out of the city,” he said. “For a lot of them, it’s the first time they come out of the city, connect with another family and experience something way different than city life.

“All the small things we do is like an adventure for these kids. Just seeing their joy is great.”

Conroy added his children, Evie, 8, Ada, 6, Romie, 3, and Faye, 3 months, have also enjoyed meeting the children through the program.

“It helps us have more fun in this area and explore all the things there are to do,” he said. “Our kids love it so much. It’s easy to entertain our own children for the two weeks because they’re having so much fun with the other kid.”

Host parents are needed for another program from August 6-13. Interested families can visit www.freshair.org or contact Conroy at 570-351-1119 or mikeconroy@gracefwp.org for more information.

Reach Robert Tomkavage at 570-704-3941 or on Twitter @rtomkavage.