July 11, 2020 Category: Stories

#FreshAirStory – Finding Strength, Inspiration and Hope from our Fresh Air Family

Who inspires you?

The Fresh Air Fund is inspired by our Fresh Air children and all the members of our Fresh Air family.

As we all began to understand the magnitude of the COVID-19 crisis, The Fresh Air Fund looked to our own community for strength, inspiration and hope – and launched a new social media campaign, #FreshAirStory, which shares inspiring stories from members of our Fresh Air family.

Junior’s Legacy

Our first #FreshAirStory highlighted how we are inspired by Leandra Feliz and the Bronx community that came together to create positive change from such a tragic event.

The Fresh Air Fund’s newest Camp, Camp Junior, is named in memory of Leandra’s son, 15-year-old Lesandro “Junior” Guzman-Feliz, a victim of gang violence. “My son’s going to live for generations through this program. That’s how I want them to remember Junior. All that I do is for Junior,” Leandra said. In June 2019, The Fresh Air Fund opened Camp Junior in Harriman State Park for 9-13 year-olds from the Bronx.  The camp was created in partnership with New York State Parks, Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and the Palisades Interstate Park Commission. Camp activities included archery, swimming, boating, sports, visual arts and the high ropes course. Camp staff helped children develop skills in communication, relationship building, empathy, conflict resolution and problem solving.

Campers gained skills and confidence to bring back with them to their community.  We stayed connected with campers with year-round programs and are excited that many will be participating in our summer 2020 programs.

A Fresh Air Tradition

Patricia Kaalund, A NYC substitute teacher and proud Fresh Air alum, passed on the Fresh Air tradition to her child, Gloria, who attended Camp Junior last summer and learned life skills for young children with activities that emphasized social emotional learning.

Today, Patricia inspires us as she works to provide childcare for children of first responders and healthcare workers at The Department of Education’s Regional Enrichment Centers.

Patricia says, “The centers are important because they support so many families who wouldn’t be able to have child care otherwise and give their children something to look forward to.”

Fresh Air Children – An Inspiration

Our Fresh Air children inspire us. Fourteen-year-old Elijah from Brooklyn has been visiting the Albanza family of Harrisburg, Virginia since 2012 through The Fresh Air Fund’s Friendly Towns Program.

He’s been keeping busy while at home and shared, “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.”

Elijah learned many life skills for children while visiting the Alabanza family – like how to swim, ride a bike and compost in the Albanza’s garden!

“Elijah’s not a very talkative kid. He is very quiet, but since he’s been introduced to The Fresh Air Fund and travels to the same family each year, he’s come out of his shell,” Elijah’s mom, Desirie sharing about the impact the experience has had on Elijah. “He’s learned to relate a little bit more and see things from a different perspective.”

Fresh Air Alum

Wesner Pierre, Fresh Air alum and Senior Managing Director at the Harlem Children’s Zone inspired us as the keynote speaker at The Fresh Air Fund’s Annual Friendly Towns Conference.

“My Friendly Towns story is all about the beautiful and wonderful things that were happening for me and the transformative impact it was having on me and continues to have on me and in me. As I shared, the core of who I am was positively developed and today, I stand here as an agent of positive change for youth and families just like mine, making sure that every day I pay it forward,” Wesner said.

Wesner left his New York City home in South Jamaica, Queens for the first time in the 1980’s to visit the Davis family from Middlebury, Vermont. During his summer visits with the Davis’ he remembers kayaking, fishing, camping and swimming – all important life skills for kids that helped him develop confidence to try new things and created a life-long love for the outdoors.

“My life was changed by The Fresh Air Fund… I gained a second family – critical, positive influences and protective factors in my life. I’m a fortunate beneficiary of sustained and intentional impact over the past 30 years through The Fresh Air Fund’s Friendly Towns Program. And while the times have changed, the need is still the same.”

Follow us on Instagram: @thefreshairfund, Twitter and Facebook: @FreshAirFund to stay inspired by #FreshAirStory.