Meet Ariel Pierre: Fresh Air Alum
Proud Fresh Air alum and Executive Director in Consumer Banking at JPMorgan Chase & Co., Ariel Pierre, shares how her time at Camp Mariah and her Career Awareness Program experience had a big impact on her life – affecting her career choices and her path to success.
Q: What Fresh Air programs have you participated in? How have they impacted you?
A: I went to Camp Mariah and participated in the Career Awareness Program (CAP) between the ages of 12 and 15. I experienced many firsts at Camp Mariah; it was at summer camp where I first learned how to fish, swam in a lake, took a 14-mile hike, and made s’mores. These were all new things for me that I had seen on TV but never had a chance to experience myself.
In CAP I took great advantage of the resources provided by The Fresh Air Fund like SAT prep, which helped me score well and get into good schools. The Job Shadowing visits at architecture firms piqued my interest early on in retail design, which has influenced where I am now in my career at Chase.
Q: Do you have a favorite camp memory?
A: I have so many! At camp, my instructors from the dance program, would invite me and a couple of other students to participate in extra dance rehearsal hours and we would put on a performance at the end of summer reception. I remember, one of my dance instructors called me out to say, “If Ariel had 10 hours a day to practice, she would, if she could, she would practice for 50 hours.”
The dance instructor highlighted my work ethic at an early age and gave me the motivation early on in life that I could work hard for a goal and ultimately get there. It was not until then that I realized that there was something intrinsically different about me, to help me be successful. Having counselors and instructors that look at you and recognize things about yourself helped equip me to be successful in life.
Q: How did you feel when you left NYC for the first time? Who signed you up?
A: My mom signed me up for camp. She was a NYC public school teacher and learned about the great benefits of The Fresh Air Fund’s different programs and camps. It was my mother that thought it would be something different for me to do outdoors instead of sitting in a classroom. She thought that being outside, getting some fresh air, and being active, would be good for me and she was so right.
It was my first time away from home without my parents. I grew up in Queens and I remember putting my bags together, taking that trip to Port Authority and then getting on the bus with a bunch of kids that I had no idea if I would ever get along with. It was scary, but all the counselors were enthusiastic and welcoming from the beginning. I felt a part of the Fresh Air Fund family from the moment I stepped on the bus.
Q: A lot has happened since you were a camper! Can you share with us more about your professional journey?
A: I am currently an Executive Director in Consumer Banking at JPMorgan Chase & Co. After completing and enjoying multiple summers at Camp Mariah and benefitting from CAP, I went to Temple University in Philadelphia where I played Division 1 volleyball on a full scholarship. Since then, I’ve worked at JP Morgan Chase for about 9 years now.
I work on a lot of initiatives that help and serve people like me. The impact initiatives in our Consumer Banking division thinks through and creates ways for our branches and banking ecosystem to be more inclusive so that everyone can participate in the financial ecosystem. I continue to draw from my Fresh Air experiences in my work.
Last December we had a cohort of about 30 Fresh Air Fund students visit me at our new Harlem branch that was designed for more interactive engagement. We spent a couple of hours talking about financial health with the most senior Consumer Bank executives. We gave everyone a tour of the vault – which has been reconfigured as meeting room for the community – then we had the executives have one-on-one conversations with the students about their aspirations. This was a full-circle moment for me where I was able to leverage my role at Chase to give back to CAP students and to The Fresh Air Fund. It was special to see executives and students engage because it provided a chance for young people to see themselves in banking and realize there are many available career paths in financial services.
Q: Thank you for volunteering as the keynote speaker at our Annual Career Awareness Program Career Fair! Why is it important for you to share your own Fresh Air story?
A: For me, I go back to when I was on the other side as a Fresh Air student and camper and how important it was seeing people that look like me. I benefited from the opportunities that The Fresh Air Fund provided, and I took advantage of the resources they made available.
Two, not that I see myself as a success story, but I see myself as someone that had many interests as a kid and did not know exactly what they wanted to do. It was important for me to share that having an open mind and exploring different avenues of interest could lead to a career that not only is fulfilling but is also impactful.
My Fresh Air Fund experience contributed to where I am today. As a keynote speaker for the Career Awareness Fair, I thought it was important to highlight that the interests that are holding your attention today, as a child, in middle- school or high-school, are the things that will carry you throughout your career. I wanted to encourage the students not to lose sight of their interests because that is what is going to make every day more exciting for you once you pick a career path.
Q: What advice do you have for young people as they navigate school and think about possible career paths?
A: These are unprecedented times, however, there are resources and outlets for support all over NYC and through social networks. I encourage the students to keep an open mind and continue to think of ways to make lemonade out of lemons. It is an unfortunate situation working and learning remotely, but also there is a lot to benefit from being able to spend more time with family, being able to reassess and find creative outlets at home. This is an opportunity to think about how you can benefit the people around you. It is in these situations where true innovative ideas, that can solve problems for everyday needs, really come to fruition. I encourage all students to make the most of these unfortunate times and to think about the problems they want to solve in the world because this is where the next generation of leaders could make a difference.
Q: What are three words that come to mind when you think of The Fresh Air Fund and why?
A: Life changing, The Fresh Air Fund has certainly changed my life and opened my eyes to opportunities that I had no idea could be possible for me. Fun because summer camp gave me the best memories and laughs. Impact because this organization has had a lasting impact on me and I am so proud to be an alum. I hope to continue to be a part of its mission because of the work and impact it has on NYC children.
How has The Fresh Air Fund changed your life? Visit FreshAir.or/Alum to share your story and sign up for alumni updates.