SACO — For J.J. Camacho, 9, a week in Maine brought many firsts.

It was the first time he had ever held a chicken, rode a horse or picked blueberries. But the most fun, he said Sunday, was the day spent at Aquaboggan Water Park.

“It is cool,” said J.J., who arrived from Manhattan on Aug. 8.

J.J. was one of dozens of children who descended on Maine this summer thanks to the Fresh Air Fund. On Sunday he and his host family, the Barmbys of Yarmouth, spent the day with other Maine and New Hampshire Fresh Air Fund families splashing at Aquaboggan, where for years owner Wes Hurst has opened the doors to the nonprofit several times each summer.

“At this stage of life it is fun to be able to do it,” said Hurst, who with his wife hosted a Fresh Air Fund child for a couple of years.

The Fresh Air Fund was founded in 1877 to help low-income New York City children escape the heat and noise of the city for a week or two in the country. Maine has several chapters that help match children to host families, which are hard to find at a time when most households have working parents and precious little vacation time, said Lisa Clement, assistant fund representative. She said the day at Aquaboggan means a lot to the families.

“It helps bring our Fresh Air community together,” Clement said.

The children journey to Maine by bus in batches. About 250 Fresh Air children come to Maine each summer. Some of them come one or two summers, while others discover a second family and establish lifelong relationships.

Gabby Rivera,17, of the Bronx first started coming to the Hansen household in Sanford when she was 6.

“I was shy. It was all new to me,” she said.

But her host family introduced her to the joys of country life. She discovered it was much quieter than at home and much darker at night.

“I had never been to a lake before. This is where I learned to swim, I learned to hike,” said Gabby.

She and her Hansen host sister, Grace, are only a few months apart in age and have developed a close friendship. When the Hansens travel to New York they always visit with Gabby. Gabby has spent Thanksgiving with the Hansens and enough time in winter in Maine to know what serious snow is all about.

“It’s fun shoveling the driveway,” she said.

Host families say they get as much out of the experience as their guests. Sarah Barmby, host mother for J.J., said this is the third summer she has invited a Fresh Air child into her home. She said it exposes her children, Isla, 12, and twins Will and Nate, 11, to cultural diversity.

She said J.J. settled in nicely and she hopes he returns for years to come. Her children said showing new things to him was exciting for them.

“It was fun to show him how to boogie-board,” said Isla.

Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

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