Yvonne Patterson-Quirk has been living in Brentwood for decades in the home where her son, now 44, grew up and moved out of long ago.
With a bedroom to spare, Patterson-Quirk has welcomed both short-term visitors and longer stays, including a Long Island Ducks pitcher who lived with her for most of his season.
"We like the Ducks," says Patterson-Quirk. "Actually, we love the Ducks. When I was looking on their website, I saw there was a link to be a host family."
Many host family programs were forced to shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic. But this year, with the hope of lower positivity rates and the help of COVID-19 vaccinations, organizations are looking to bring back those opportunities again.
For some Long Islanders, who have opened their homes for these experiences several times, it’s about more than getting some use out of a spare room. They’ve formed meaningful connections with their visitors, redefining what "home" means to them.
During a typical Ducks season, management seeks housing accommodations for up for 30 people, says general manager and president Michael Pfaff. That’s 27 players and three coaches.
"We try to provide turnkey experiences for our players when it comes to housing, whether that involves rental properties, hotels or potentially host families," he says.
The season was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, and when they returned in 2021, they decided as a precaution not to hold the host family program, Pfaff says. He adds that most minor league baseball teams have a program like this. Ducks players fill out paperwork before each season that includes their preferences — everything from jersey number and hat size to where they’d like to live.
"It’s an opportunity for a family to develop a long-lasting relationship with a player on the Ducks roster," Pfaff says. "And getting to cheer them on at the ballpark."
Pitcher Enrique Burgos came to Brentwood from Panama City, Panama, in April 2019. He often had to be at the ballpark early in the morning for pitching practice, Patterson-Quirk says. Sometimes she would drop him off before driving to work, but they didn’t interact much in the house unless it was his day off.
"When he was able to spend time with us, it was really nice," Patterson-Quirk says. "We kind of clicked that way."
She adds that Burgos’ favorite meal was three eggs over easy, "and he loved my pancakes."
Burgos was picked up by another team toward the end of the season, and so a new pitcher — Seth Simmons — took his place in the house.
"We went to many games that season," she says.
Through Long Island Ducks Vice President of Communications Michael Polak, Burgos commented on his experience: "They made me feel at home my whole stay, and I had a really good time." He added that they went out to eat after some games and would have "great conversations, about everything."
As for his favorite memory, that would have to be a backyard barbecue at Patterson-Quirk's home, on the Fourth of July.
"It was my first time ever having a barbecue in the backyard of a house, like you see in the movies," Burgos said in the statement.
Burgos and Patterson-Quirk still keep in touch, two years later. She says she would participate in the host family program again, and is looking forward to meeting even more players.
Her advice for anyone interested in taking in a Duck: "Be open, friendly and accommodating, as if they are your own family."
Patterson-Quirk has also participated in The Fresh Air Fund host family program, called Friendly Towns. The not-for-profit organization has been active since 1877. Its goal is to provide free summer experiences, along with leadership and educational programs, to New York City children living in underserved communities.
Children ages 7 to 17 can join a host family for one or two weeks during the summer. Families from all over the East Coast have participated. Children are encouraged to take part in outdoor activities while with their host families, such as swimming, amusement parks and sightseeing.
Some host families have children of their own already — in those cases, the organization will match up the family with a child about the same age, says Wendy Flanagan, interim executive director and board president of The Fresh Air Fund.
"We also have many empty-nesters who host," she says. "It’s terrific because even though they have an empty nest, they still have a lot of love and fun and interest to show in the kids."
More than half of the children who take part will go back and visit the same family several summers in a row, Flanagan adds. That was the case with Kimberly Koke. She ended up welcoming two children from The Fresh Air Fund into her Kings Park home, and has participated for three summers. She has two sons and a daughter, ages 17, 14 and 3, respectively.
"My kids still say, to this day, that that was always the best week of the summer," Koke says.
Before arrivals, Koke says there isn’t too much preparation. The incoming children share bedrooms with her sons, and they would all go shopping so the guests could pick out the snacks they wanted.
"Most people think they have to entertain these kids 24/7, but I really let them drive it," Koke says. "I think they enjoyed the at-home activities more than going out."
At home, the kids would spend time in the pool and hot tub, and playing video games. They’ve also spent days at Splish Splash, Adventureland and Fire Island together.
Joan Dixon’s son, Jalon, stayed with Koke’s family for three summers. Dixon says even though her family has since moved to Georgia, Jalon stays in touch with them.
"He was kind of nervous when he came," she remembers. "But then he was so excited. They were so nice and he got a chance to experience new things."
For any families considering letting their children join a host family for the summer, "I would tell them to try it," Dixon says. "It was a great experience and they're not going to be disappointed. [The Fresh Air Fund] checks the host families; they screen them really good so you don't have to be afraid."
Open your door
For The Fresh Air Fund, potential host families must undergo an application process that includes listing everyone living in the home full-time (including people like babysitters who are there frequently) for background checks. Starting this summer, everyone in a host family above the age of 5, as well as visiting children, must be vaccinated for COVID-19. Families must also include a list of references and allow an in-home visit from a volunteer at The Fresh Air Fund.
"A good host family is flexible," Flanagan says. "The child coming to visit you might not like to eat the same kind of food you like to eat, and that’s OK."
Being understanding about homesickness and giving the child space is also important, she adds.
As for the Long Island Ducks, interested families can apply online, and then Pfaff and a human resources manager visit your home. The player must have access to a bathroom, kitchen and laundry facility, along with a private bedroom. If possible, Pfaff says a separate entrance to the house would also be ideal. Players have lived in spare bedrooms, attachments to houses and finished basements.
As long as COVID-19 numbers are down by the time the season rolls around, it’s "play ball" for host families, Pfaff says. The Fresh Air Fund may limit the amount of participating families this year, but the application is still available online, Flanagan says.
For Koke and Patterson-Quirk, their doors are always open.
"If I could take three or four kids, I would," Koke says.