November 15, 2020 Category: Stories

Meet Fresh Air Alum: Stephanie Rivera

Fresh Air alum, Stephanie Rivera, could not have anticipated how her Land Conservation Internship in summer 2019 at The Fresh Air Fund’s Sharpe Reservation would prepare her for her role this summer as a STEM Program Specialist for our virtual camp, Fresh Air Everywhere. “I took away so much from my internship and learned more about my interests and my goals for the future”  said Stephanie.

Stephanie shares her inspiring journey from camper to Environmental Education Intern to Program Specialist – and how her experiences as a camper helped shape who she is today.

Finding Freedom Outdoors  

Stephanie remembers her mom signing her up for The Fresh Air Fund and being hesitant about leaving her home in Queens, New York. It took a lot of encouragement from her mom and her own bravery for Stephanie to attend camp her first summer.  

“I was anxious, but excited to meet new people and be outdoors for the first time,” Stephanie says recalling her first bus ride to camp. “The other children on the bus were also nervous – I started talking to them and learned we have similar experiences.”  

During Stephanie’s first summer at Camp Mariah, she learned to love and embrace the outdoors and found a sense of freedom through outdoor learning experiences supported by her counselors. 

“Camp was a life changing experience. Hiking for the first time was really exciting for me, roasting marshmallows, being able to learn how to swim for the first time, I even learned how to play chess.” Stephanie says.  

Stephanie’s Internship

Last summer, The Fresh Air Fund’s Sharpe Reservation in partnership with the Hudson Highlands Land Trust (HHLT) received funding for two Land Conservation Interns – an eight-week program with a focus on land management. 

Stephanie (right) was one of two Sharpe Reservation Land Conservation Interns hired last summer in partnership with the Hudson Highlands Land Trust (HHLT).

Stephanie quickly jumped at the opportunity to apply for the Land Conservation Internship for two reasons – her love for camp and the opportunity to receive hands-on training and learn about environmental sustainability and outdoor education.  Stephanie’s camp experience was transformative and she couldn’t wait to go back!  

The Fresh Air Fund’s Sharpe Reservation Sustainable Land Management  Program

The Fresh Air Fund’s over 2,000-acre Sharpe Reservation is in Fishkill, NY and is home to five of The Fund’s six overnight camps. 

At The Fund’s Sharpe Reservation, Sustainable Land Management consists of biodiversity inventory, habitat restoration, checking of invasive species, harvesting maple syrup, managing 16 miles of trails and tracking hazard trees.  

Stephanie’s biggest project was the removal of water chestnuts from the reservation’s multiple ponds. Stephanie used hand pulling techniques to remove enough water chestnuts to fit twelve row boats – removing 90% of the plants in just one summer! 

Stephanie’s team removed 90% of the water chestnuts from the ponds in just one summer!

“We’d have to go into the pond and the plant itself has very long roots – I’d be arm-deep in the water. We’d take out boat loads of it and it was messy,” Stephanie says. “But it always felt really rewarding being able to see the progress we made – knowing that camp activities were able to take place because of it.” 

Stephanie’s favorite experience during the internship was discovering mile-a-minute – a species that could be potentially be dangerous for the reservation if not addressed right away. 

“It was challenging, but I love a challenge. I was able to apply my training throughout the whole internship,” says Stephanie reflecting on her experience last summer. “The Fresh Air Fund and HHLT has helped me solidify my goal to learn about environmental stability.”  

Summer 2020 – Fresh Air Everywhere Virtual Camp

This summer, Stephanie was excited to continue her Fresh Air journey as a STEM program specialist for The Fund’s virtual camp Fresh Air Everywhere. Stephanie enjoyed engaging with the kids, creating outdoor learning virtual activities and working with her peers. 

“I’m able to use the skills I’ve learned during my Land Conservation internship – how to lead groups and interact with the kids. I also like talking about ecological topics in my lessons – I notice that a lot of kids are interested in STEM.” 

For Stephanie, seeing Fresh Air Everywhere campers grow throughout each camp session and explore their interests is fulfilling because she remembers how important camp was for her. 

“I really wanted to go back because The Fresh Air Fund is such an amazing organization,” Stephanie says. “I appreciate all of the support and help that I’ve received. The Fund has given me a range of social and academic experiences – that I’m endlessly thankful for” Stephanie said. 

Now, Stephanie is giving back to our Fresh Air Everywhere campers –serving as a role model and mentor for the next generation of Fresh Air youth. 

Visit our Fresh Air Everywhere Activity library here.

Your support can give more children, like Stephanie, life-changing opportunities.