NEW BEDFORD — By 3:30 p.m. Thursday, backpacks were laid out, “welcome back home” signs were displayed and lawn chairs were spread out as parents and kids awaited the arrival of familiar friends.
Asked what it’s like to have Marquis Brown, 14, of the Bronx visit, Dante Williams, 14 of New Bedford said, “It’s pretty nice. He’s like one of my best friends.”
The Williams family stood by, to the left of Buttonwood Park Zoo, waiting for the bus to arrive to drop off Marquis, who’s staying in New Bedford for a month. Around 25 families of the SouthCoast and beyond picked up New York City kids working with the Fresh Air Fund.
Since 1877, the fund, an independent nonprofit, has provided free summer experiences to more than 1.8 million New York City kids from low-income communities.
For Marquis, this is his sixth year visiting the Williams. When he stepped off the bus, he was greeted with big hugs.
A couple of family members noted how tall he looked, too. “I always get emotional,” said Caroline, mother of the Williams household, behind her sunglasses.
The family said they talk often. They drove to New York last year to pick Marquis up for February vacation.
“He’s like family now,” Caroline said.
For the month, they expect to visit Canobie Lake Park, go camping and have cookouts, especially with birthday parties that pop up during the summer.
“There’s just so much to do with the bike trails,” said Warley Williams, who’s also assistant principal at Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational-Technical High School. He said Marquis loves to play basketball.
“He’s a really relaxed and cool kid,” said cousin Jayden Mitchell, 16. Also there to welcome Marquis back were Trynaty Williams, 10, Kianna Williams, 12, and cousin Tyler Costa, 14.
“I wish that more people would consider taking a closer look,” at the program, Warley said. “There’s so many people who need good mentors and role models.”
For people who feel like they don’t have time or can’t commit to this program, he suggested getting involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters or another organization to be a mentor.
The Raposo family of Westport were there to pick up Ali Doumbia, 13. “It’s fun,” he said, to visit SouthCoast. He said he likes to go to the pool and water park.
Connie and Victor Raposo said they heard about the program through a flier that their son, Ryan, 13, brought home from school and they decided to get involved.
“We look forward to it,” said Connie. “It’s the highlight of our summer.”
Ali will be staying for a month this time as opposed to two weeks.
The family is planning a trip to Vermont and signed up for the Ed Cooley Basketball Camp at Providence College. Other than that, they expect to eat ice cream by the pool.