September 26, 2021 Category: Our Programs Meet Fresh Air

The Fresh Air Fund’s College Connections Program: Providing Support Every Step of the Way

“The most important thing the College Connections Program (CCP) does is support all our students in whatever postsecondary path they choose. We create a safe, nonjudgmental space for students to explore the career fields and options they are interested in,” CCP Program Manager, Angela Bonato said.

As students start thinking about college, it can be very overwhelming to figure out where to even start. CCP is designed to support high school students between 10th – 12th grades as they navigate applications, college requirements – financial aid and scholarships – and continues to provide support all the way through college graduation.

While in the program, students meet in small groups with volunteer mentors, and have financial literacy workshops, college tours and SAT prep. Our alumni share that through the program, they create lasting friendships and connections with their peers and mentors.

“CCP supports our students when they are in college by sending out bi-weekly newsletters with information on internships and additional scholarships. We also have the emergency fund, which is generously funded by the Abrahamson Family, and can be utilized for any sort of emergency that a student has. The Abrahamson Family Opportunity Scholarship is another way we support students through college, as well as with check-ins each semester. We also started to offer virtual internship/career bootcamp opportunities throughout the pandemic,” Angela said.

Meet George Barry, 19, St. John’s University

What are your favorite memories from the College Connections Program?

“The best part of CCP and just being involved with The Fresh Air Fund is that I am always able to meet and interact with new people. There were always new faces! With the times we are in now, it is very difficult to connect or even attempt to build connections like the ones I built while being a part of the program. Through CCP, I was able to meet new people with similar motives as me, working toward similar goals, like wanting to go to college and be successful. Just being able to learn from each other and learn from people from different backgrounds and understand their motives was very beneficial.”

How did the program prepare you for college and life beyond college?

“CCP and The Fresh Air Fund helped me realize that the world is actually much, much bigger than I thought. I was stuck thinking my world was only Manhattan, but when I went to Camp Mariah and CCP, it helped me learn that my world is micro – it doesn’t compare to the actual real world. Just being a part of the Fresh Air family helped me broaden my perspective of the world and see the bigger picture of life.”

Can you tell us more about your college journey?

“Since The Fresh Air Fund, my life has gone up. This program has had such an impact on not just my academic goals, but my life in general. It helped me grow as a young man. It helped me know that I had a support system, and that I will always have people that support me and have my back. Even if I don’t keep in contact, I know that no matter what The Fresh Air Fund always does their part in taking care of all of us. I would say it’s more than an investment. This program helps the younger generation become more successful and hardworking, hopefully one day I can say I made The Fresh Air Fund proud.”

Meet Brianna Smallwood, 19, SUNY Potsdam

What do you remember the most about CCP?

“My favorite memory from CCP was just making great connections and strong friendships. Before each meeting, a group of my friends and I would catch up while eating dinner that The Fresh Air Fund would provide to all of us. We would just chat about school or what was going on in our lives – and I really remember simply being able to make those connections and bond over similar things like college.”

How did CCP prepare you for college and life beyond college?

“CCP taught me a lot about the college process and just college in general. I remember one meeting we talked about safety on campus. I can definitely say the program prepared me for all aspects of college –  not just the application but prepared me for the college environment as well!”

“Our mentors also told us about their experiences at college – and we talked about time management and how to be successful in your classes. They really covered all the important things which was helpful for me.”

Can you share more about your Fresh Air and college journey?

“I started with The Fresh Air Fund a long time ago. I first attended Camp ABC, then I went to Camp Mariah where I participated in tutoring during the Career Awareness Program (CAP), and I am working with the CAP program again now. The Fresh Air Fund has had an amazing impact on my life.”

“I am in college now at SUNY Potsdam. My major is currently theater and I’m thinking of minoring in biology. I was only on campus for one semester and then the other semester I did online. However, the skills I learned at CCP including time management has definitely helped me be successful at college in-person and online.”

What new experiences have you had because of The Fresh Air Fund?

“The program exposed me early on to practicing interviews and creating a resume. I feel like because I was a part of The Fresh Air Fund, I had an advantage over other kids my age. I was able to share my knowledge with my friends to help them with their applications as well. I remember College Spotlights where we learned more about specific colleges, and participated in college tours which was such an amazing experience.”

“Being a part of The Fresh Air Fund really allowed me to escape my shell. The Fresh Air Fund is a friendly community where everyone wants you to succeed. It’s a safe space for everyone which is really important to have in your developmental years – having a space where everyone wants the best for you especially in the times that we are in now.”

Looking Ahead

“I think right now, making sure our students know they have a safe space here with me and with my fellow mentors is essential. A space to not only discuss their concerns about college, but also anything else from the pandemic to political discussions. The opportunity to have the two hours on Wednesdays as a safe space, is really important to me,” Fresh Air Alum and CCP Mentor Melanie Boyce said.

This Fall, CCP will remain virtual but will continue to provide safe spaces for students to engage with their peers and mentors.

“We are creating a sense of community for students to be a part of. Hopefully, they know that they can come talk to us about anything and we’ll always be here to support them. We always tell our students that they’re a part of the Fresh Air family for life, and we will be there for them even after high school,” Angela said.

Learn more about The Fresh Air Fund’s Enrichment Programs.