August 27, 2019 Category: Our Impact Our Programs

Oh, the Places NYC Kids Will Go with The Fresh Air Fund’s College Connections Program!

Emily Pelayo-Perez is going places.

A recent graduate of Fort Hamilton High School in Brooklyn, New York, she boasts a resume full of community service, sports and extracurricular activities, and recently completed a one-year biology research internship at the Museum of Natural History. Emily, 17, was born in Mexico and moved to the U.S. when she was two. And, she can’t wait to attend the University at Buffalo this fall!

It’s a far stretch from the quiet little girl who attended her first Fresh Air Fund camp in 2011.

“I was a very shy person at first – I didn’t like to talk a lot,” Emily said of those early days at camp. For Emily, and many of the campers, it was their first time out of New York City and their first night away from home. They had to adapt to a new schedule in a completely different environment. “It was a really big adjustment,” Emily admitted.

But she quickly learned to love it, and Emily has remained involved with The Fresh Air Fund since that summer in 2011 – first as a camper, then in the Career Awareness Program, and most recently as a student in the College Connections Program (CCP).

The aim of the College Connections Program is to support high school students from under-resourced communities through the process of selecting, enrolling, preparing for and transitioning into college. In addition to gaining access to SAT prep courses and college tours, students meet weekly in small groups facilitated by mentors, where they discuss different aspects of the college process, attend financial literacy workshops, and are exposed to a broad range of colleges through “College Spotlight” visits and presentations from college representatives.

Emily at the College Connections Program graduation with her peers and the group’s mentors

Like many of the students in the program, Emily will be the first in her family to attend college, so having that guidance as early as her sophomore year was invaluable.

“Realizing what college would be from the 10th grade was a really big eye opener,” Emily said. “From writing college essays earlier to understanding financial aid, every project we worked on in the College Connections Program surrounded a different aspect of something that would be crucial to our application when we were seniors.”

“Emily was very determined,” said Trish Daly, one of Emily’s CCP mentors. “She was the best advocate for herself.”

And when Emily learned that CCP participants could apply for a $9,000 scholarship generously funded by a Fresh Air Fund donor, she jumped on the application – and she got it!

That scholarship meant she wasn’t limited to a school close to home, which was huge for Emily. Knowing how much she loved going away to camp, she was confident that going away to college was the right choice for her.

“Thanks to that scholarship, I will be able to have my dream of going away, of getting this amazing well-rounded education that I feel like I wouldn’t have gotten if it wasn’t for their help,” Emily said.

Emily (right) with her mentor Trish (left) at the College Connections Program graduation

At the University at Buffalo, Emily plans to major in biology in preparation for a career as a virologist. She also wants to study abroad – something she’s been excited about since the first college representative came to The Fresh Air Fund. She’s not sure where she wants to go yet, but her one requirement is that they have a good science lab.

Emily knows that her CCP mentors will continue to support her, and she wants to encourage other students to take advantage of all of the opportunities the program has to offer, just as she did.

“The Fresh Air Fund and the College Connections Program are really life-changing for so many students who usually have to claw their way to the top to simply get the same opportunities as some of their friends,” said Emily. “They’re given a push that they need that will truly take them further. And I am proof of that push being so beneficial.”

Make a donation to The Fresh Air Fund and help kids like Emily get the resources, support and tools they need to achieve their dreams. Learn more about The Fresh Air Fund’s College Connections Program.