LONDONDERRY — The welcome signs were ready.
Michael Champeno, 14, held a sign that read, “Welcome home, Marquis, 8 years in a row!” as he waited for the bus to stop.
Marquis Baggett, 17, is spending his eighth summer with the Champeno family of Derry, part of the Fresh Air Fund.
Every year, families in the area welcome Fresh Air Fund children for a summertime visit. About 40 youth arrived last week.
Once Michael and Marquis saw each other, it was instant friendship all over again. For Lorraine Champeno, it’s like welcoming a member of the family.
Rain kept many families inside their vehicles or in nearby Burger King as the bus pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot. But once the bus stopped, everyone was ready to greet the city visitors with signs and balloons.
Some were first-time visitors. But others, like Marquis, are veterans of the program and already very familiar with their host families.
Champeno said her Hampshire Drive neighborhood puts out the welcome mat every summer when Marquis arrives.
That includes a first night home meal of all Marquis’ favorites, including meatballs, sausage, and macaroni and cheese.
“Anything with meat, he loves meat,” she said.
Getting involved with the Fresh Air Fund has been a positive experience for the entire family, Champeno said, especially for her son, an only child who enjoys having an older “brother” around during the summer.
Both Michael and Marquis have grown not only in inches since the Fresh Air relationship began, but also in maturity and interests.
The first year, Champeno said her son and Marquis were very young and had to find that comfortable zone as summer “brothers.”
As years passed, the New York boy became more and more integrated into the family and now is welcomed every summer by the extended family, too.