Meet Deborah Asirifi: The Fresh Air Fund’s Chief Program Officer
“Some of my favorite memories come from moments when I have on a Fresh Air Fund t-shirt, I have either often received smiles and head nods, and have been stopped to listen to a story about someone’s positive Fresh Air Fund experience. This has ranged from youth as young as 8 to senior citizens,” The Fund’s Chief Program Officer (CPO), Deborah Asirifi, shared.
Deborah has held several roles at The Fresh Air Fund over the last fourteen years including Community Outreach and Support Services Manager, Friendly Towns Field Manager, Director of Community Outreach, Partnerships and Support Services. As The Fund’s new CPO, we wanted to ask Deborah Asirifi about her Fresh Air journey and what she is looking forward to for summer 2023!
Can you share about your personal and professional journey that led you to Fresh Air?
Prior to working at Fresh Air, I worked at The International Rescue Committee (IRC) with recently resettled refugee families from war torn countries. I was a counselor providing Individual and group counseling to youth aged 5-22 in a summer school setting who may have had some education, interrupted education or no education in their native countries. There was a volunteer mentor program and I mentored an intelligent, kind and extremely shy 11-year-old girl. She was always present and participated in class, but for about 2 weeks, without explanation, she did not show up to class. She showed up 2 weeks later and appeared more upbeat, engaged and extremely confident. I asked her where she was for the 2 weeks she was not in school, and she shared that she had gone to a Fresh Air Fund camp. I was amazed at how she presented herself and how safe she felt while at camp without her family. I made a vow to find out what this “Fresh Air Fund” was because I wanted to be a part of it. That fall, I became connected to The Fund through my then supervisor who shared that they partnered with the organization to recruit children to participate in Fresh Air programs. The rest is history.
Do you have a favorite Fresh Air story or memory? Or more than one?
Many of my favorite memories come from meeting parents in the community or at camp departures who remember me because I once encouraged them to give The Fresh Air Fund a chance, or parents that I have supported throughout their journey with their child’s Fresh Air Fund experience. The stories shared by them always have examples of their children thriving, and The Fresh Air Fund being one of the reasons for that. This for me, is always one of the reminders of why I stay committed to my work. It is a privilege to work with and partner with our families.
What Fresh Air programs will be offered this summer?
This summer, we will be running the Friendly Towns program and the camp program. Both are sleepaway programs that The Fresh Air Fund has been running for many years. Our program teams are excited but most of all, our families and community partners are also excited about summer 2023
What do you think is the most valuable part of providing outdoor experiences for NYC kids?
The most valuable part is that children get to be children!! They get to run around, roll on the ground if they want to, and spend time in nature without videos or screens..
What is your favorite part about working at The Fresh Air Fund?
I get to spend time doing what makes my heart smile- getting to know, learn from, partner with and support the families we serve, AND working with some of the hardest working and passionate people I know. Its a HUGE WIN FOR ME!