The Smith family is hosting Romeo Bartley, second from left, for a week this summer as part of the Fresh Air Fund. From left are Caroline Smith, Bartley and Conner and Tracie Smith.(Hannah LaClaire/The Times Record)

BRUNSWICK — Indulging in both a creamy gelato from Brunswick’s Gelato Fiasco and a powdery Frosty’s doughnut on Tuesday, Romeo Bartley, 12, is not letting one second of his week in Maine go to waste.

Bartley, who lives in the Bronx, is visiting Durham for the third summer in a row, staying with the Smith family as part of the Fresh Air Fund program. The Fresh Air Fund pairs New York City children with families up and down the east coast for a week of fun and, as the name implies, fresh air. Started in 1877, the organization has worked with more than 1.8 million kids through these partnerships as well as summer camps for children and teens.

This is the sixth summer in a row that the family has hosted a child, host Tracie Smith said, and while they have hosted two other boys, they have found a good fit with Bartley, who already has plans to come back next year.

They have crammed a lot of fun into one week, including a trip to Saco’s Funtown-Splashtown on Monday and a planned trip to Sebago Lake on Wednesday. As has become tradition, they’ve also spent hours and hours playing Monopoly at home with Smith’s kids, Caroline, 17, and Conner, 12.

Over the years, they have also gone to Crescent Beach, Popham Beach, Peaks Island and as many other waterfront spots as possible.

In a typical New York summer, Bartley said he may go to the pool or to the mall, but in Durham, they are “always doing something,” even if they have to drive a little bit to get there. He likes Maine, he said, and sees it as a nice, quiet place to settle down and get “away from the lights, the cars and the sounds.”


He knew there would be a lot of grass, he said, but didn’t anticipate the bugs, which are not his favorite.

At home, Bartley likes to cook — so much so that he recently appeared on and won an episode of Food Network’s “Chopped Junior.” The show has contestants try to come up with delicious dishes using a mystery box of assorted strange and seemingly random ingredients. Among other dishes, he prepared cow tongue tacos with watermelon radish slaw and banana cheesecake with starfruit, strawberries and lollipop sauce. He said it was “nerve-racking” with the cameras around, but once he started cooking, he did not notice them as much.

A rising eighth-grader, he plans to go to a culinary high school and a culinary college, and hopefully open a restaurant one day. He prefers making French and Italian cuisine, and when he stays with the Smiths, they will have cook-offs. Sometimes Smith will pick out the ingredients and, like on Chopped, Romeo will have to prepare a dish from what’s available.

“He totally goes with the flow,” Smith said. “He’s really flexible, willing to just hang out. … He’s smart and just an easy kid to be with.”

Conner Smith agreed, likening Bartley’s visits to having a sleepover with a friend, but one that lasts all week.

Bartley said he likes that the Smiths “are not trying to be like everyone else,” and make him feel comfortable enough to be himself.

“It wasn’t something we ever anticipated doing,” Smith said, but it has been a positive experience that she recommends to others. “If people have the time where they can host, and the ability to buy an extra ice cream cone, it’s worth it,” she said.

For more information about the Fresh Air Fund, visit

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