Cedric Simmons lives in Manhattan, but he’s made an extended family in Windber.
The 11-year-old is currently participating in the Fresh Air Fund’s Friendly Towns Program, which provides free summer experiences for children from New York City’s underserved communities.
He’s staying for his third summer with Matt and Kristy Brubaker, of Windber, and their three children, Bryce, 15, Riley, 13, and Grace, 6.
“This is not what I usually do in New York,” Cedric said while taking a break from playing at the playground at Windber Recreation Park.
“There is a lot of trees around and no traffic like there is in New York, so it’s good to be around all the nature.”
Matt Brubaker, a cross country coach at Windber Area High School, said there was a student participating in the program and that’s how they were introduced to it.
“That was about three years ago, so it was our first opportunity to check it out and do some research on it,” he said. “We have three kids and we thought it would be a perfect fit for us in the summer.”
Families can host a child for one or two weeks.
“For a family that’s on the go all the time, we thought it works well with our schedule,” Matt Brubaker said.
Cedric first came to the family in 2017 and adjusted well to the new environment.
“It was different when he first came here and he was amazed,” Kristy Brubaker said. “He had never seen a tree or mountains. Everything for him is the city. When he comes here, it’s a nice experience for him and he can get out and about and ride a bike around.”
While in town, Cedric has had the chance to do some hiking and swimming, go to amusement parks and attend church camp.
“We like to do activities where there are other kids, and I think that makes him feel comfortable,” Matt Brubaker said. “He also likes to grill so we let him get on there and cook.”
Cedric said he always looks forward to the fun activities the Brubakers plan.
“I got to go to Idlewild and met some storybook characters, and that was fun,” he said. “It’s great to come here. I want to keep coming back.”
Kristy Brubaker said having Cedric also is an education for them and their children, and they’re learning about each other’s lifestyle.
“It’s like a country mouse and city mouse and it’s amazing for all of us,” she said. “We’ve gotten such a good experience from this, our kids have learned a lot and I think it’s helping Cedric to grow.”
Cedric plans to head home on Friday.
“We always say this is a great opportunity. It’s a good organization with great communication,” Matt Brubaker said. “We encourage any family to get involved because it’s not a big commitment.”
For more information on the Fresh Air Fund or how to become a host family, visit www.freshair.org.