The anticipation built as Riverside High School student Rebecca Bettencourt watched youngster after youngster emerge from the recently arrived bus.
When her friend finally was visible, Rebecca let out a cry of excitement and ran toward the bus door, festive balloons and a welcome sign in tow.
This marks the seventh year the Bettencourt family has hosted Addie, a 15-year-old New York City resident, as part of the Fresh Air Fund. The nonprofit organization has been providing New York children with an opportunity to experience life beyond the Big Apple since 1877.
As Rebecca and Addie embraced, other program participants reunited with their hosts or met them for the first time as they came one by one off the bus that brought them from New York on Friday afternoon.
"We've done so many different things with Addie, just new opportunities to do things she's never been able to do," said Rebecca's mother, Kim. "It's been a lot of fun."
The Bettencourts, who live near Zelienople, have and taken their Fresh Air child on such adventures as camping, fishing and drive-in movies, activities that just aren't possible at inner-city homes.
Members of the families who will be providing homes for the New Yorkers greeted their arrival in the parking lot of Nixon United Methodist Church in Butler, many of them sporting decorative, personalized welcome signs.
"The payoff is this, looking at the kids' faces," said Brenda McCall, Fresh Air Fund chairwoman for the Butler area.
She and her husband, John McCall of Butler, are hosting 11-year-old Patrick. He has had extended stays each summer since he was 6, plus a Christmas visit in 2011 and one planned for this year.
"You get a lot more space, and you get to run around," said Patrick, who aspires to be a surgeon. "Back in Brooklyn, everything is crammed together. All you get to see are cars and people and buildings and buildings."
He has made friends his age during his annual visits and they enjoy basketball and swimming.
Another Fresh Air participant returning for a stay with the same family is 7-year-old Kahsi, with Upper St. Clair residents Jeffrey and Tori Yoos and their daughters, Emily, Maddie and Isabelle.
Ms. Yoos explained that a friend had hosted a Fresh Air child and asked if the Yooses would be interested in hosting his younger brother.
"It was just an amazing match," Ms. Yoos said. "He wanted sisters, and it turned out that we wanted a little brother."
She said Kahsi has a strong interest in model trains, and they plan a return trip to the Carnegie Science Center to see its display. The family also has enrolled him in the Camp Invention program at Boyce Middle School.
First-time Fresh Air Fund hosts include the Nass family of Bethel Park. Greg, Shannon and twin 9-year-olds Charlotte and Naomi who welcomed Egypt, an 8-year-old girl from Queens.
"We're real outdoorsy," said Ms. Nass, whose plans for the visit include a campfire -- complete with hot dogs and s'mores -- along with walks on the nearby Montour Trail. "We're anxious just to get her outside."
The Fresh Air Fund is for children ages 6 to 12, but families that are repeat hosts can continue with participants up to 18.
For more information, call Ms. McCall at 724-283-4656 or the organization at 1-800-367-0003. Visit www.freshair.org.
Harry Funk, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.