WINTHROP — Idasia Santos spent her summer days in the Bronx, N.Y., hanging out with friends at the playground.

“They have cookouts the entire day,” Santos said.

But after 11 summers in the park, Santos enrolled with the Fresh Air Fund and last year ventured to Maine to spend two weeks with the Pushard family, of Manchester.

The Pushards gave Santos experiences she never had before.

Santos gave the Pushards another daughter to love.

“Idasia is basically part of the family now,” Rebecca Pushard said. “We didn’t want to send her home last year.”

Santos, who is now 13, arrived July 8 and within a couple days had settled in with the Pushards at their cabin at More To Life Campground off Winthrop Center Road.

Rebecca Pushard, her husband, Rob, and the couple’s children, Kaleb, 16 and Kianna, 12, are making plans to make this another summer to remember.

“She’s here for a whole month,” Rebecca Pushard said excitedly.

Nearly 5,000 children leave New York City each year to spend the summer with volunteer host families across 13 northeast states, according to a Fresh Air Fund news release. The program has given more than 1.7 million New York City children a “fresh air” experience since 1877.

Rebecca Pushard said she has known families throughout her life that were involved with Fresh Air Fund. She said she and Rob had talked about hosting a child before, but never made a commitment to it.

Then, last year, they heard an advertisement.

“My husband looked at me and I looked at him and he said, ‘Let’s do it,'” Rebecca Pushard said. “So we did.”

Santos, too, was familiar with the Fresh Air Fund even as a young child, but she only began thinking about joining after talking to her cousin, who went to Connecticut in the summer of 2009.

“He told me everything they did,” Santos said. “They went to the beach and everything. And they had a dog.”

Santos thought she would be sent to Connecticut, too. She found out she was headed farther north.

“I really didn’t know that much about Maine,” she said. “I thought it would be a long ride.”

Santos said she was not nervous about staying with the Pushards, who, she was delighted to learn, also have a dog.

“I was wondering what they would look like,” she said, smiling.

The Pushards say the prerequisites for hosting a child are few, but important. If you have children, they should be about the same age as the child you will host so that activities are fun for everyone.

“The most important thing for people to do is treat them just like their children,” Rebecca Pushard said. “It’s not your child’s play date.”

And it’s important to be friendly.

“You have to like children,” Rob Pushard said.

Host families should plan fun activities, but they don’t have to be expensive outings, Rob Pushard said. Just sitting around a campfire roasting marshmallows is a treat for most children.

“People think about doing it, but fear the commitment and money,” he continued. “It’s really not the case.”

Watching Santos enjoy simple pleasures has helped Kaleb Pushard appreciate some things he has always taken for granted.

“You don’t realize how great things are,” Kaleb said. “To have someone who does not have those things come and experience them … it’s like, wow!”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

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