Brooklyn girl takes to life in the country

August 01, 1993|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Staff Writer

Ten-year-old Cindy Fernandez likes to play computer games, ride bikes, and play Barbies with the little girl across the street.

Tall and pretty, she seems to be a regular kid -- which is the whole point.

Cindy lives in a neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., that is so rough her parents forbid her to play outside. All the outdoor activity she gets is the six-block walk to school or to the store.

But for two weeks -- until Wednesday -- Cindy is visiting the Hyneckeal family in a semirural area near Manchester in Carroll County, on a visit sponsored by the Fresh Air Fund.

For these two weeks, Cindy gets to live like a regular kid.

How does she describe her new setting?

"Quiet," she says. "And fun.

"They don't shoot around here."

At home, she says, she lives in a six-floor apartment building, where she shares a bedroom with two sisters and a brother who likes to annoy them by making noise at 6 a.m.

On the corner of their block, she says, is a Chinese restaurant that is a magnet for trouble.

"Every month, or every week, they have to have a shootout," she says.

For her, simply going outside to play is a vacation activity.

Vacations for disadvantaged children are what the Fresh Air Fund is for. An independent, nonprofit group funded mainly by private contributions, the fund was started in 1877 by a minister in rural Pennsylvania who asked parishioners to take in New York City children for summer vacations.

Since then, 1.6 million children have had a break in the country, thanks to the Fresh Air Fund.

This year, about 7,200 New York children will visit host families in 13 states and Canada. Another 2,500 children will visit the program's four camps in Fishkill, N.Y.

Fresh Air Fund children come from low-income families. Sixty percent are invited to return for another visit with their host family.

Cindy is a repeat guest, having spent two weeks with the Hyneckeals last summer. Part of that visit was spent in Ocean City, N.J.

In Ocean City, Cindy learned to ride a bike and played miniature golf for the first time.

However, Cindy says she likes Manchester better. There she can play with the Hyneckeals' beagle, Sam, and their mixed Lab, Neezer.

She has made friends with 11-year-old Linda Meadowcroft, who lives across the street. Together, the pair have racked up the miles on their bikes.

"It's pretty easy when you're used to it," encourages Linda as they puff their way up a steep hill.

"I'm not used to it," Cindy replies, panting.

The two have spent hours with their Barbie dolls. Together, they discovered that Linda's Jack Russell terrier, Monk, likes to float on an air mattress in the Hyneckeals' above-ground swimming pool.

Cindy says that when she grows up, she hopes to move out of New

York City -- but to a place, she says pointedly, where there are no bees.

"I think they're mosquitoes," says her hostess, Gretchen Hyneckeal, as Cindy displays four large, red mosquito bites.

Mrs. Hyneckeal says Cindy is not fazed by rats, about which she speaks matter-of-factly.

But when she was bitten by a mosquito, Mrs. Hyneckeal says, "You'd have thought it was the end of the world."

"It's sad to think about how she lives at home," Mrs. Hyneckeal says. "They just stay inside. They're not allowed out on the streets."

But they do not focus on that, because these two weeks are supposed to be a respite from gunfire and violence.

A former teacher, Mrs. Hyneckeal has a lifetime of experience with children. She and her husband, Robert Hyneckeal, have five children between them. They are also foster parents.

"I was an only child," Mrs. Hyneckeal says. "Maybe that had something to do with it."

When she was growing up, she says, the family next door had nine kids, and she had always wanted to be one of them.

Mrs. Hyneckeal says that during Cindy's first visit, last year, rTC there were awkward silences at first.

But this year, she says, "When I picked her up, it was just like she had been here all along."

She says Cindy has trouble with reading and writing. Because Mrs. Hyneckeal was a teacher, it might have been tempting to try to work with her on communication skills.

But she was instructed not to coach Cindy on reading and writing, because the trip is supposed to be strictly a vacation.

Mrs. Hyneckeal says at first she had planned "all kinds of things I could do with her," such as trips to Washington, but then she decided to relax.

"It's just been real low-key," she says. "Because they're coming into the suburbs, it's just automatically real different for them."

Cindy says she is looking forward to going to the Reese Fire Company carnival, where she hopes there will be a Round-up like the one she rodeat an Italian festival at home. She's also looking forward to an Orioles game, and to a picnic at Piney Run Park with the other 16 Fresh Air Fund families in the Baltimore area.

Mrs. Hyneckeal says all her children are boys, so she had asked the Fresh Air Fund specifically for a girl.

Mrs. Hyneckeal is also now one of the interviewers who screen Maryland families interested in being host to Fresh Air Fund children. (For information, call (800) 367-0003).

Asked if it would be hard to say goodbye to the Hyneckeals and to Linda, Cindy says, "I don't think about it."

Still, she knows she'll stay in touch. Last year, the families exchanged letters and phone calls. Cindy wears a bright-colored fashion wristwatch sent to her for Christmas by her 14-year-old host brother, Josh Davenport.

Linda and Cindy seem to take it for granted that they'll remain friends.

"I told her [that] when I leave I'm going to give her my address," Cindy says. Then the two go back to their swinging.

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