Children's Fresh Air Home project needs community support

The Children’s Fresh Air Home, located at 1100 Surf Ave., in North Wildwood, is shown with its new foundation. The home, which was built in 1923, closed in 2006 because of its deteriorated condition, and is undergoing a major renovation, inside and out.

BY CHRISTOPHER SOUTH

NORTH WILDWOOD – The Children’s Fresh Air Home in North Wildwood closed in 2006 hoping to “open soon” according to a sign on the property at 1100 Surf Ave.

According to John Stefankiewicz, president of the board of directors of the Children’s Fresh Air Home, Phase I of the restoration is just about to be completed.

“Phase I includes a new block foundation, and that is coming to a close at the end of 2016,” Stefankiewicz said on Nov. 21. “They will rough in plumbing and be done.”

Stefankiewicz said a concrete floor would also have to be poured.

Stefankiewicz said Phase II of the restoration includes the exterior work, including a wrap-around porch, windows, new siding, and roofing. He said Phase III would be to gut and restore the interior, including installing new mechanicals, which includes a heating system. Stefankiewicz said the home was only used in the summer and has never had heat in its 93-year history.

The exciting part, according to Stefankiewicz, is that the Children’s Fresh Air Home has a chance for a $300,000 grant for the project from a Small Cities Community Facilities Grant. He said the city is supporting them with the grant effort.

“We have an opportunity and a commitment on the part of the mayor of North Wildwood and the city of North Wildwood to look at applying for a Small Cities Grant to help with construction. The city is committed, in theory, in 2017 to tune of $300,000. The caveat is we have to raise matching funds of $300,000,” Stefankiewicz said.

Mayor Patrick Rosenello confirmed that the city is talking to Fresh Air Home about applying for the grant.

Stefankiewicz said this is a big project for the 120-year-old grassroots organization. Stefankiewicz said he does not want people to confuse them with the Fresh Air Fund out of New York.

The Children’s Fresh Air Home in North Wildwood was founded in 1896 by L. Ida Dukes, then a 41-year-old mother of six. Stefankiewicz said the home has been rooted in North Wildwood for 120 years. The organization opened the current building in 1923. Stefankiewicz said the wear and tear of the seashore environment has taken its toll on the building and foundation, so the board of directors pushed ahead with a major refurbishment.

“Our goal is to aesthetically improve the appearance of the house, as well,” Stefankiewicz said. “That’s a big piece of the next phase.”

Stefankiewicz said after the refurbishment he would expect the home to serve the needs of disadvantaged children for the rest of the century.

Since the home closed in order to begin the renovation, the Fresh Air Home has not been idle. Stefankiewicz said the home has been doing day trips during the summer as part of its “Just for a Day” program. He said the organization works with other nonprofits and service organizations to identify kids and bring them down for a day.

“We serve about 300 kids in the summer for day trips,” Stefankiewicz said.

Stefankiewicz said the children who visit the home come from southern New Jersey, some from Philadelphia, and some from Camden. He said the kids don’t have the family financial support, or family structure support in many cases, to visit the shore. He said some are in foster care – moving home to home.

“Many of the kids are seeing the ocean and beach for first time,” Stefankiewicz said.

He said the landing point for the kids has been at the ground of the Hereford Inlet lighthouse, where they have a barbecue. Afterward, they visit the beach and/or the boardwalk for the day. He said once the house is done, Children’s Fresh Air Home will again host children for a 10-day stay. He said the renovations will create more possibilities through the year, because the home will have heat and air-conditioning.

“The home has never had heat before,” Stefankiewicz said.

Stefankiewicz said the goal of the Children’s Fresh Air Home is the same as it always was, but he sees this as an opportunity for the community to rally around the project and get behind the final push to raise matching funds.

“With $600,000, the project will get done,” Stefankiewicz said.

He and the board are asking for help. He said donations can be made on the website or mailed to the post office box address listed on the site. Stefankiewicz said the Children’s Fresh Air Home has had an annual end-of-year fundraising campaign, going on now, in which the organization will mail letters to about 2,000 current donors for funding. He said in addition the home will embark on a spring social media outreach in Cape May County, connected with several websites in the county to create a crowdfunding effort with followers. He also hopes for the cooperation of local chambers of commerce to enlist business donors.

“Between all these efforts in Cape May County, and even in Camden County, we are hoping to raise the funds. $600,000 will complete the project, but that one stipulation is part of the grant – the grant is only available if can raise matching funds,” Stefankiewicz said.

Stefankiewicz said between donations and other grants, the Children’s Fresh Air Home raised approximately $125,000 in 2016 to pay for the foundation work.

He addd that he's excited to have the city behind the project and hopes the community gets behind the effort to finish the restoration as well.

“So many people love Jersey Shore…this provides a small piece of the shore to people can’t afford to come here on their own,” Stefankiewicz said.

See www.freshairhome.org for more information.

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