Meet Maria Mejia: The Fresh Air Fund’s Deputy Director of Community Outreach, Partnerships and Support Services
“I’m here because I believe that we are important, that we are making a difference. I believe that every single child deserves an opportunity to just forget about everything that is happening around the world and just be a kid and have fun. And we’re here for that.”
Meet Maria Mejia, The Fresh Air Fund’s Deputy Director of Community Outreach, Partnerships and Support Services. Maria has been at The Fund for 10 years! She started as seasonal staff, then joined full-time as a Community Outreach Coordinator, served as Community Outreach Manager and now works as the Deputy Director. Her contribution has been instrumental in providing positive summer experiences for campers and Fresh Air families. We asked Maria about her work at The Fresh Air Fund and some of her favorite memories.
Can you share your personal and professional journey that led you to working at The Fresh Air Fund?
I came from Masa, one of our community partners in the South Bronx, and I really loved the vision and the mission of The Fresh Air Fund. I was doing outreach at Masa for The Fresh Air Fund, and then the opportunity came. Fresh Air asked if I wanted to work part-time and I just fell in love with the organization and seeing the kids smile, their reactions, knowing the impact. So, of course, I said yes.
Do you have a favorite Fresh Air Fund story or memory?
When I started working at The Fresh Air Fund, I was doing outreach, specifically with the Mexican consulate, and a mom came in who had heard about the programs. She told me, ‘I am really interested in the programs, and I want my child to participate in the Career Awareness Program, but I have to go home and talk to my husband first.’ She came all the way from Coney Island. She came back again the week after and signed up her child and ended up going all the way to a different place to sign up because we had moved locations. At that time, I was located at Masa. From Coney Island, she went all the way to the Bronx to sign her child up. That was the first child that I helped start the Career Awareness Program. I’ll always remember how that mother was so eager to learn about our programs and that I helped provide that opportunity.
Years later, when I was looking at our blogs, I saw that the student had received one of our scholarships. She went to college and the year after she applied to work at Summer Spaces, a program we offered during the pandemic, which I was leading at the time. It was incredible to know that we had such a significant impact on the child. We are building leaders. We are helping them move forward.
What is your favorite part about working at The Fresh Air Fund?
My favorite part definitely is the bus departures for camp and Friendly Towns at Riverbank State Park and seeing the kids. That’s when you see the outcome of all of the work from the Community Outreach team. You may see children crying because they don’t want to say goodbye to their parents, but then you see children crying when they return because they don’t want to say goodbye to their peers and counselors.
Another amazing moment is the feedback from the parents. They tell us that their child is now more independent. They’re more social. They’re listening more. They value the opportunity and hearing that feedback, I think it just reminds me that we are really having an impact on their lives. We are making a difference. It might seem like it’s just 10 days, but for those families it’s more. Parents say, ‘They’re helping more at home. They’re being nicer to their siblings.’ A child returns with a completely different perspective. They gain new skills and seeing that is just beautiful.
Do you have any advice for parents considering signing their kids up for a Fresh Air program this summer?
I always tell parents to give the kids the opportunity to try something new, make new friends and have a different experience. It’s okay to let go! This will be like baby steps preparing them to go to college. The kids will be ready, and the parents will be ready. It’s a win-win for parents and kids!
It’s a great program, and I am very proud. It’s not just going to camp or to visit a host family, it’s a youth enrichment opportunity for children. It’s just an amazing program; I really believe in it. I feel honored to work at an organization that provides these experiences.