September 24, 2020 Category: Stories

Meet Fresh Air Alum: D’yona “DeeDee” Davis

Flash back to a Saturday winter morning in the Draddy Gymnasium at Manhattan College and Fresh Air families filled the stands in blue and green shirts to cheer on the Manhattan Women’s Basketball team, the Jaspers, play a close game and finish with a great win of 68 to 65 against the Niagara Purple Eagles. 

The day was particularly special for Jaspers Sophomore guard and Fresh Air Friendly Town alum D’yona “DeeDee” Davis. DeeDee’s collection of achievements include: leading scorer for the Jaspers; All-MAAC Rookie Team selection; and Three-time MAAC Rookie of the Week during the 2018-19 season. Although an injury prevented her from being on the court, DeeDee was excited to see so much support from The Fresh Air Fund and be a part of such a special day. 

During half-time, Wendy Flanagan, Fresh Air Fund Board President, Ricky Cruz, Director of Camp Junior, and Leandra Feliz, mother of Lesandro “Junior” Guzman-Feliz, together with Camp Junior campers took center stage in the middle of the basketball court and Dr. Brennan O’Donnell, Manhattan College President and Marianne Reilly, Director of Intercollegiate Athletics, presented the Bronx Community Leadership Award to Leandra Feliz. 

Manhattan College presenting the Bronx Community Leadership Award to Leandra Feliz with Camp Junior campers.

“Ms. Feliz’s story and the work that she’s doing in honor of Junior is just absolutely inspirational,” Dr. O’Donnell said. 

As part of the community event, Fresh Air Kids Take-Over Day, Fresh Air children had an opportunity to shadow Manhattan College staff and learn about all of the jobs that make the event possible from making announcements to helping lead cheers.

DeeDee meeting with Fresh Air children during the Jaspers game.

DeeDee saw herself in so many of the Fresh Air children growing up in the Bronx and want them to experience Fresh Air summers just like she did. 

Growing up, a playground with only a few trees, pavement and a jungle gym was her favorite place in her Bronx neighborhood. “Going to the playground was my favorite thing to do, and all I really had to do outdoors. I was always running in and out of the house, to and from the park,” DeeDee said. 

DeeDee’s mother signed her up for the Friendly Towns program to broaden her horizons and give her the opportunity to spend the summer outdoors.

“I’ve never been out of the city, never been on a bus ride and now I’m wondering what my mother had gotten me into,” DeeDee said. After a six-hour bus ride, DeeDee woke up in a green town in New Hampshire – filled with lush trees, green grass and was pretty nervous.

“You’re going to get off this bus, and you’re going to take this risk,” DeeDee told herself. So she did, and that’s when she met her host family, the Hodgons family. 

“The Hodgons were some of the nicest people I have ever met,” DeeDee says. “I remember how they made me feel. For the weeks we were together each summer, the Hodgons always asked me what I wanted to do and how I was feeling. They really cared about me and my well-being.” 

DeeDee remembers going to carnivals, beaches and even on a helicopter ride! For five summers, DeeDee enjoyed swimming, fishing and spending time with her Fresh Air siblings in Auburn, New Hampshire. They even played basketball together!

Deedee learned about building connections and stepping out of her comfort zone – life skills that have helped her both on and off the basketball court.

“Even though I am from a very diverse city, the experience opened my eyes to the rest of the world, and truly showed me diversity,” DeeDee says. “Living with people who may not do the same things I do on a day to day basis made me understand more about the world.”

Today, DeeDee continues to appreciate her experience with the Hodgons family and thanks them for welcoming her from the moment she got off the bus her first summer.

What would she say if she could see them today? “There wouldn’t be much talking. I’d be hugging them like crazy. Probably crying. These are people that took me in as soon as they saw me. It was a feeling I can’t describe. But I would tell them thank you. Thank you for taking in this kid from the Bronx and making her feel so special and loved”

Give to The Fresh Air Fund today so more children, like DeeDee, can have life changing experiences and gain new perspectives through The Friendly Towns Program.