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Eight-year-old Antasia Hacker had never been to a play before this summer.

Recently, she saw “Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat” at the Adventure Theatre in Glen Echo with her host family, Don and Shirley Shreffler, of Dunkirk, and their two children, Victoria, 5, and Don III, 2.

“[A play] was something she never thought of before,” Shirley Shreffler said. “But she loved it and wants to come back next year.”

Antasia came from New York City to stay with the Shrefflers for two weeks as part of the Fresh Air Fund, a not-for-profit agency that provides free summer vacations across the country to New York City children. The agency’s mission is to release children living in low-income communities from the hot and noisy city streets to the quiet, rural roads in different parts of the country. According to a press release, the program has exposed more than 1.7 million New York children to rural experiences since 1877.

“They have an opportunity to leave home and experience something different,” Shreffler said. “Often, children in the city just know their surroundings. They may never leave the five burroughs. Here, there are trees all around us, and Antasia was amazed she could see the stars at night. Those are things we take for granted.”

That’s exactly what Antasia’s mother, Jasmine Hacker, wanted her daughter to experience.

“[This was] an opportunity for her to grow and get certain experiences she wouldn’t get in the city,” Jasmine Hacker said. “She had a chance to be outdoors more and experience other family values and be more independent away from her family.”

While Antasia was in Calvert County, she spent most of her time riding bikes and playing games outside with the Shrefflers’ two children. She also went with her host family to carnivals, a Fourth of July cookout and summer camp, and spent her last few days at the beach in Ocean City, Md., another new experience for the New Yorker.

This summer was Antasia’s second year with the Shrefflers, and both families feel like Antasia was right at home.

“In the evenings, we would always have family time and dinner together,” Shreffler said. “My daughter didn’t want her to leave. It’s just like [Antasia is] a sibling.”

“I wanted a family that had other kids around Antasia’s age,” Jasmine Hacker said. “[The Shrefflers] were just perfect.”

Hacker said two years ago, the agency matched her daughter with the Shrefflers, based on Antasia’s age and similar interests, and Shirley Shreffler contacted her about hosting her daughter. After having Skype and telephone conversations with Shirley and her family, Hacker said she immediately felt comfortable with her daughter staying with them during the summer.

Shirley Shreffler is also a veteran of the Fresh Air Fund, having participated in the program when she was 6 and staying with a host family for three consecutive years.

“I thought it was a wonderful program,” Shreffler said. “When I was young, I stayed with a family for a couple of years and absolutely loved it. This was my way of giving back.”

Though Antasia was eager to get home to see her sister, who had scoliosis surgery while she was away, she is already planning the activities she wants to do with her “second family” next year.

“She will definitely go back,” Hacker said. “It will only make her a more wholesome person and, for her, it’s fun. It’s a learning experience and she enjoys it.”

snewman@somdnews.com