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Fresh Air children make annual north country visit

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MASSENA — A reunion was in the making Monday afternoon in the parking lot of Triple A Building Center.

Anton Wilkins, 16, was coming back to North Bangor for another summer as part of the Fresh Air Fund program.

It was quite the welcoming party for the children when their bus turned from Route 37 into the parking lot.

Many of the host families had created welcome signs that they waved as the bus passed by, and then they waited anxiously as the children were called off the bus, one by one, to meet their host families. For some, it was a first-time meeting; for others, it was a family reunion.

Cindy Clark said her family has provided a summer home for Anton since he was 5 years old. The Clarks had also been the host family for his sister, Latisa, who also was 5 years old when she started and aged out of the program at 18.

“Most of the time they came together,” Ms. Clark said.

As a Fresh Air child who has been invited back by the family, Anton will spend his entire summer with the Clarks. For other Fresh Air children who arrived in Massena after a nearly eight-hour journey from New York City, they’ll have 10 days to enjoy all the north country has to offer, heading back to the city July 25.

“We do a lot of different things, including haying and taking him to farms and the Franklin County Fair,” Ms. Clark said.

Anton said he was looking forward to spending more time in the country, but there was one thing that did bug him during his visits:

“The bugs,” he said.

Ms. Clark said being a host family has been a family affair.

“My sister-in-law used to do it years ago,” she said.

Now, her son, Barry, and his wife, Lisa, and her niece, Lisa St. Hilaire, also have become host families. This is her son’s second year of hosting a child and her niece’s first year.

Saiquan Mohammed, 9, is staying with Ms. St. Hilaire. He said he’s looking forward to some more swimming like he did on his first visit to the north country.

Paul Lozzata is staying with Mr. and Mrs. Clark for the second summer. He was 7 years old when he made his first journey north.

“The first time he was pretty nervous,” Mr. Clark said.

Last year, Mrs. Clark said, they went to camp and took Paul boating, swimming and horse riding.

This year they plan to do “pretty much the same,” Mr. Clark said, but also might go to a water park to escape the summer heat. They also have a swimming pool at their home.

During Paul’s stay last summer, the family taught him how to ride a bicycle.

“He never rode a bicycle before. He started with training wheels,” Mrs. Clark said.

Altogether, 22 children made the trip this year, according to Potsdam Chairwoman Earline A. LaFleur, who rode the bus with them along with her sister, Melody D. Rishe. They made stops at Tupper Lake and Canton before hitting Massena just before 5:30 p.m.

“They were excited. They were wonderful,” she said.

The bus ride came with some amenities to make the trip easier — Wi-Fi, movies and music.

New host families are always welcome, she said. Information about the program is available at freshairfund.org, where visitors can view videos and complete an application.

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