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New York City kids to 'join summer life on Long Island' through Fresh Air Fund

Ayahna, 7, of New York City, center, arrives

Ayahna, 7, of New York City, center, arrives by bus to Commack Friday to meet her host parents, Pete, left, and Christine McCann, of West Islip. The couple and their three children welcomed Ayahna into their home for the week as a part of the Fresh Air Fund program. (July 19, 2013) Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Holding pink and purple balloons in one hand and sunflowers in the other, 8-year-old Lauren McCann waited anxiously with her siblings for their new friend to arrive.

After waiting nearly an hour, the McCann family finally spotted the coach bus approaching them and the other families stationed in the Target parking lot in Commack on Friday.

When the doors opened, out came 14 children from New York City, who will be spending one to two weeks with host families from Smithtown, South Setauket, Northport, West Islip, Commack, Huntington, Sayville or Kings Park as part of The Fresh Air Fund.

The McCann family had been waiting for 7-year-old Ayahna Seyid, of Brooklyn, to step off the bus and come home with them for a weeklong summer vacation at their house.

“This had been something we always wanted to do, but it was never the right time until now,” said Christine McCann, 42, of West Islip. “Having her stay with us is definitely the highlight of our summer. We’re even going to have belated birthday gifts for her to open.”

The Fresh Air Fund, a nonprofit created in 1877, provides children, who live in poor or unsafe urban communities, a chance to spend some time with a family outside of the city.

Russell Gomes, a volunteer with The Fresh Air Fund who has also hosted, said each summer about 4,000 city kids come out to join host families from Maine to Virginia.

“These kids get a break from the city to come here and join summer life on Long Island and jump in pools, go in the ocean, go boating, barbecuing and enjoy summer,” said Gomes, 49, of Northport. “Some of these kids come from the projects, many are on welfare, or often live with a single parent, so this is a chance for them to be kids.”

After being diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2011, Christine McCann still wanted to host a child so badly that she applied a year ago in between radiation treatments.

“Our kids have been blessed with a great life and all we want is for Ayahna to have fun and come back next year,” said McCann, now in remission from cancer. “She was so excited to swim in our pool this week that she begged her mom to buy her a bathing suit.”

It was Joan Giusto’s fourth summer hosting children. This year, she picked up two children she had hosted in past years Kiaba McDowell, 8, of Brooklyn, and Annikssa Perez, 10, of upper Manhattan.

“I had a wonderful childhood growing up and every child deserves that,” said Giusto, 58, of Huntington. “We’ll be biking, playing piano, swimming in the pool and visiting the Vanderbilt Museum. I want to keep paying it forward and these kids deserve to have fun.”

As soon as Annikssa, who has spent a week each summer with Giusto for three years, got off the bus she ran over to her host mother and hugged her.

“I’m excited to go swimming and play,” Perez said. “We’re going to have so much fun.”

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