Kim White, board member and former president of Southampton Fresh Air Home, talks about her dedication to creating memorable experiences for children in need.
“The much-anticipated Southampton Fresh Air Home (SFAH) Fourth of July Picnic, which takes place tonight, is not only a fun-filled, cherished family tradition in our community, but more importantly, the funds raised at this event cover 40 percent of the annual operating costs for summer camp and year-round activities for our children at SFAH. I sincerely hope that all the residents of Meadow Lane, who plan annual parties around the spectacular Grucci fireworks featured at the picnic (which the SFAH underwrites), will consider contributing to the SFAH, if they haven’t already done so. It’s important to keep in mind when viewing the magnificent fireworks display that the SFAH picnic is a fundraiser for physically challenged and, in many instances, impoverished children.
“As many Hamptons magazine readers know, the SFAH is a magical retreat for physically challenged children. In addition to facing adversity as a result of their disabilities, many of our campers deal with severe financial hardships that limit their access to activities like swimming, beach visits, arts and crafts, campfires, barbecues, proms, and carnivals—all of which are a rite of passage for the majority of kids in this country.
“In numerous instances, because of their disabilities and insufficient family incomes, many of these children are isolated and lack companionship after leaving camp. I will never forget a camper who told me that the only place he didn’t feel lonely and “different” was during his stay at SFAH. He also mentioned that SFAH was the best part of his life. Based on conversations I’ve had with many other campers, that boy’s sentiments reflect the majority view. The SFAH is often the only place where kids like these become part of a welcoming community and are freed from the burden of feeling “different.” Many lifetime friendships are formed here.
“It is important to highlight that in an effort to ameliorate the loneliness that seeps into these children’s lives once the SFAH summer camp ends, we now run programs at the SFAH throughout the year for our campers, as well as alumni. These activities include regular weekend retreats, Halloween parties, and Christmas parties, which keep the fun and friendships alive for the children and our alumni all year long. But these events also increase our funding needs.
“I was first introduced to the SFAH 18 years ago when I attended a show that was performed by the children at the annual August Open House event. This year’s Open House will take place August 14, and I urge everyone to go. I cried when I initially saw the children surrounded by metal wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, leg braces, and arm braces. Yet the miraculous ambience of the home quickly turned my tears into smiles and laughter. My sadness was completely transcended by the unbridled joy of kids having an absolute blast and singing their hearts out, despite all of the extraordinary and mind-boggling physical challenges with which they were faced. There were no signs of loneliness and despair on the SFAH campus. On the contrary, those kids shared optimism and a striking camaraderie. The happiness that emanated from those children was tangible, and it was an experience that changed me forever. I fell head over heels in love with those kids and the SFAH mission. From that moment on, I knew that the SFAH would become an integral part of my life as it would for my husband, Kurt.
“The camp director, David Billingham, the devoted camp counselors, as well as our executive director, Thomas Naro, have created an environment that embodies all that I value most in life: unconditional love, kindness, empathy, acceptance, and hope in the face of hardship. Those individuals and the brave children they help have renewed my faith in mankind. Often when I tour the SFAH and visit our campers, they will thank me and other board members for providing them with the SFAH camp experience.
“What I hope that I convey to these children, and that they know without a doubt, is how much I thank them for enriching my life and for reminding me of all that is sacred about humanity. It is an honor to serve them and to be part of such a life-affirming organization.”