WATERVILLE — It was 94 degrees late Thursday afternoon as Luanne Phair and her 2-year-old son, Boston, stood outside Shaw’s supermarket with about 25 other parents and children. Once the bus arrived at 5 p.m., the wait in the heat was worth it.

Phair and a dozen other families were at Shaw’s Plaza on Kennedy Memorial Drive waiting to meet their Fresh Air Fund children — some for the first time, others for the last time.

As about a dozen children got off the bus, the host families held up welcome signs and everyone hugged before heading home.

The Fresh Air Fund is a not-for-profit agency that matches New York City children, ages 7 to 12, with host families in rural, suburban or small towns throughout the Northeast so that they can experience nature and the outdoors. The organization also hosts summer camps and rents out camps in the Hudson Highlands in upstate New York.

Phair, who lives on Messalonskee Lake in Oakland, is going to spend a week with Jayla Jones, 11, for the third year in a row. Jayla, who’s from Staten Island, said it’s fun to come to Maine and that her favorite thing is “seeing so much water” and being on the lake.

“I think it’s good because you get to have a new experience,” she said.

Some children from New York City wouldn’t get to experience a lake or a beach, or even a walk in the woods, if they didn’t have programs like the Fresh Air Fund, Phair said.

“A lot of them don’t get to leave the city,” she said. “A lot of people think you have to spend a lot of money to do (Fresh Air Fund), and you don’t.”

It’s important for the children to experience the open space and fresh air, she added.

“I remember the first time she heard loons on a lake,” Phair said of Jayla.

Some of the other families waiting Thursday were participating in the program for the first time.

Wendy St. Pierre, of Winslow, decided to host a Fresh Air child because she had more flexibility to do it this summer.

“I think it’s great,” she said. “His mom was so excited that he could get out of the city.”

It’s Salassie’s first first time in Maine, St. Pierre said. She’s planning to take him to the Skowhegan State Fair and the coast, as well as a lake, during his trip.

It’s also Chuck and Linda Lambert’s first time hosting a Fresh Air child. The couple, who live in Winslow, said they have friends who participate and have had good experiences.

“My brother-in-law is from New York, and he talked about how difficult it is to summer in the city,” Linda Lambert said. The couple rents a camp on Embden Pond, where they will take 11-year-old Katrinah and their 12-year-old for part of the week. Katrinah has been to Canada courtesy of the Fresh Air Fund.

Some children form bonds with their host family and talk with them often.

Phair said she’ll talk with Jayla’s mother over the phone throughout the year and at Christmas. If a child is invited to return to the same host family, he or she can continue in the Fresh Air Fund program until he or she is 18.

Jennifer Civiello, of Wilton, is hosting 9-year-old Shakeinne for the second year. Civiello said she signed up because she has four children of her own.

So far Maine has been where Shakeinne has gone hiking and canoeing for the first time, among other things.

But Civiello said her family benefits, too. “It was really more to expose our kids. You know, there’s not a lot of diversity in Maine,” she said.

Madeline St. Amour – 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour

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