The Impact of Summer: The Fresh Air Fund Provides Transformative Experiences for NYC Children
“The Fresh Air Fund shows kids they matter, their well-being matters and their happiness matters. Their having enriching experiences matters. The Fresh Air Fund shows kids that their community cares, values and loves them. This is why The Fresh Air Fund is so important,” says Dr. Benjamin Aubey from the Department of Pediatrics at the Harlem Hospital Center.
As New York City reopens, the effects of COVID-19 remain very real for Fresh Air children and families. The pandemic had a devastating impact throughout NYC, but most significantly in the neighborhoods where Fresh Air children live. Fresh Air families faced a multitude of adversities from health crises to adjusting to remote learning to financial challenges. We have seen that in many ways children have been the unseen victims of the pandemic.
“The “biggest difference” I have seen in the past year has been with regards to the kids’ mental and emotional well-being. Serious mental health issues amongst children have become extremely prevalent. Anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues have become far more common; more so than I have seen in all my time here in Harlem. Lack of a real schedule has led to sleep disorders and feelings of isolation,” says Dr. Aubey. “Cooped-up in small NYC apartments with siblings of different ages, shaky wi-fi and uneven online teaching efforts provided by the schools are letting kids fall behind academically.”
In addition to grieving the loss of family members, parents continue to struggle with competing priorities – whether searching for childcare while children were attending school from home, looking for a new job or securing adequate resources for remote learning.
Fourteen-year-old Fresh Air Fund kid Elijah shares how he has coped and helped his family, “If I want to stay focused, I’ll just listen to a little bit of music. And when I’m done with my schoolwork, I will usually help my younger brother with his.”
The Fresh Air Fund’s support services team has conducted wellness check-in calls with Fresh Air families from the earliest days of the pandemic, ensuring they felt supported and providing connections to essential resources such as securing devices for remote learning and support for accessing COVID-19 testing and locations of free food distribution centers.
The challenges created by the pandemic required us to provide support for NYC children and families in ways we have not before. “We have provided countless resources to families and allowed the space for them to share their experiences with us so that we can be mindful and better serve them,” says Roberto Gil, Deputy Director of Camping & Year-Round Programs.
Our Response: Reimagining Summer 2020
“We knew that children would need the opportunity to be outside in fresh air, play and enjoy the magic of summer. Through creativity and commitment, the Fresh Air team made the impossible possible knowing the power of summer and its connection to healthy childhood development. We stood by – and will always stand by – NYC children.” said Fatima Shama, Fresh Air Fund Executive Director.
In response to the pandemic, The Fresh Air Fund launched several new programs to fulfill our mission of providing safe, fun and free summer experiences to NYC children. From a new virtual summer camp, Fresh Air Everywhere that brought the outdoors indoors with summer camp activities teaching kids about nature, STEM, and art, to Fresh Air Family Wellness, a program that gave families an opportunity to explore the outdoors, enjoy nature and relax as a family at The Fund’s camps in Fishkill, NY and Harriman State Park.
“Last summer at the peak of the pandemic, we noticed that our younger kids were really lonely and seeking connection with their peers, and our older youth were incredibly bored and were looking for something fun to do,” Roberto said. The Fund’s new programs found creative ways to provide opportunities to form connections, have new experiences, learn new skills – and have fun!
Through our new programs, we helped “provide a safe space for Fresh Air children to connect with their peers and trusted adults (staff),” says Deborah Asirifi, Director of Community Outreach, Partnerships & Support Services. “This summer, The Fresh Air Fund will continue to bring New York City children opportunities to engage with their peers, learn, grow and gain new experiences that will enrich their lives.”
18-year-old Emily Maca was one of the hundreds of young people who gained valuable professional youth development experience through their Fresh Air fund summer job. Emily has been involved in The Fresh Air Fund since attending Camp Hidden Valley in 2013 at the age of 10. Last summer, Emily was looking for a summer job and was excited to work at Fresh Air Summer Spaces where she helped Spanish-speaking parents fill out their applications and made a direct impact in her community.
Emily shares, “The Fresh Air Fund decided to interact with the community especially in such hard times like right now. I know that parents really appreciated having some activities for their children during the summer.”
A New Adventure: Summer 2021
As we continue to navigate through COVID-19 changing safety protocols for Summer 2021, The Fresh Air Fund’s mission continues to be as critical today as it was when the organization was founded in 1877. The Fund’s programs provide New York City children and families with enriching, safe and transformative experiences – providing opportunities to learn, grow and thrive during the summer and beyond.
“It’s a great opportunity for families to participate in something productive, learn from each other, and it keeps kids busy with positive opportunities while making friends. My oldest child did the Teen Internship Program and now she wants to work in the field. She wants to become a leader, provide guidance for kids and help them do the things they enjoy,” Fresh Air parent, Julia Virovlansky said.
Fresh Air Summer 2021 is building on and expanding Summer 2020 programs including Fresh Air Summer Spaces, our virtual camp, Fresh Air Everywhere, Open Spaces in partnership with the City Parks Foundation, Fresh Air Family Wellness and our Teen Academy. Our programs rely on the generous support of donors and partners including many NY based nonprofits.
This year, we are excited to announce a new program, Friendly Towns Connect! Although we are not able to operate our traditional Friendly Towns program, this new program will help us keep the magic of Friendly Towns alive!
Friendly Towns Connect will provide engaging virtual programming for NYC children and many activities will bring the outdoors indoors! Programming will include virtual field trips to Friendly Towns states and featured NYC sites, as well as art and STEM activities.
“Friendly Towns Connect is an opportunity for participants to continue to build relationships, make connections and broaden their support network. We look forward to engaging in creative and interactive activities like virtual field trips in both NYC and in our Friendly Towns communities,” said Nicole Johnston, Director of Friendly Towns.