Sept. 2-8, 2004
By Deacon Tom Picciano/ SUN contributing writer
Southern Tier Parish Welcomes Fresh Air Kids from NYC

ENDICOTT— “Are you all Yankees fans? There’s no Mets fans, right?” Father Edward Zandy quizzed a group of young visitors gathered around the altar after the 9:30 a.m. Mass at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church. Father Zandy also spoke of the abundance of grass this summer caused by the rain. He suggested they’d be able to help mow the lawns.

While the baseball teams are likely very familiar to the 17 youngsters, lots of grass is isn’t. They’re part of a contingent of 70 children who spent part of the summer away from New York City through the Fresh Air Fund.

Participation by Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish came after members of the JustFaith group read a book titled Amazing Grace. “Amazing Grace spoke about the horrible conditions in the South Bronx. And we all felt those conditions should not exist anywhere in the world, not only in the South Bronx, but anywhere in the world,” said group member Joyce Carlsen.

The group sent copies of the book to 20 influential people, including Bishop James Moynihan, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey and New York City Police Chief Joseph Esposito. They received eight responses, including a lengthy letter from Esposito. Carlsen said about Esposito’s response, “It was very meaty. He said ‘I don’t claim to be a social worker or an economist, but I can tell you about the crime statistics in the area.’ He suggested that we bring a child to Endicott for a day.”

JustFaith members felt Esposito wasn’t aware that Endicott was too far from New York City for a day trip. The group looked for a way to get some kids away from the city for a short time. Then someone suggested they look at the Fresh Air Fund, which has been providing youngsters summer vacations away from the city for 127 years.

JustFaith members invited a local representative of the Fresh Air Fund to speak at Masses in May and got volunteers to host the children, who range in age from six to 12. It’s the first time a congregation has sponsored Fresh Air children in the Southern Tier. “Words can’t express how grateful I am to this parish to reach out and give these children summer vacation and respite from the city life. Some of these kids are from the toughest areas from New York City,” said Jane Johnson-Skeels, Fresh Air Fund representative of Broome, Cortland and Tioga Counties.

More important, added Johnson-Skeels, are the long-term benefits of the program. She spoke of a six-year-old girl who came to Tioga County able to speak only Spanish. The girl developed a relationship with her hosts over the years and is now attending Binghamton University. Johnson-Skeels’ family has hosted a young man for several years and the family has enjoyed watching him grow and develop over the years. That 15-year-old now has a goal of becoming a police officer. The Fresh Air Fund visitors to Our Lady of Good Counsel had a variety of experiences. They attended a Binghamton Mets baseball game, went to Sunday Mass, and had a picnic at Highland Park in Endwell. Seven-year-old Yniqwa Miller found the outdoors to be her favorite place. “The most fun thing I did was going to the park and hula hooping and throwing balloons and picking up the candy from the piñata,” she said.

Jennie Tedesco said it was good for Yniqwa to interact with her daughter Natalie. “They’ve done a lot of usual girl things. You know, they played outside. It’s fun for Natalie to have things to do that girls like to do,” Tedesco said. After the Mass, the parish gym was opened up and shooting hoops brought all the kids together. In between baskets, Ozzie Smith thought of the good times he’d had in the area away from the city. “It’s a little good and a little bad. The bad part is mosquitoes. The good part is that I can slip in the grass and not hurt myself on my bare feet,” he said.

Jeremiah Bass, in between attempts at three-pointers, summed up his experience quite simply, “I like everything.” His host family is impressed by how he’s fit into a family of seven. “He’s pitched right in. He’s become part of the family. He takes the dogs out, he does dishes. He pitches right in just like the rest of us,” said host father Michael Paley.

He’s also seeking to learn about the Catholic faith. “He has really enjoyed coming to church and seeing what we do. He made us show him what to do with the holy water and he read through the whole Mass,” said host mother Noelle Paley. “He read the priest’s parts too.” Jeremiah wanted to see a deer before he left the area. No official word on that, but he did finally get his three-point shot, bringing the cheers of his host dad.

Our Lady of Good Counsel expects to host Fresh Air youngsters again next summer. With an earlier start, they’ll try to get more families involved in the program.

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