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THE FRESH AIR FUND, an independent, not-for-profit agency, has provided free summer experiences to more than 1.7 million New York City children from low-income communities since 1877.
More than 9,000 New York City children enjoy free Fresh Air Fund programs annually. Each summer, over 4,000 children visit volunteer host families in rural, suburban and small town communities across 13 states from Virginia to Maine and Canada. 3,000 children also attend five Fresh Air camps in the summer on a
2,300-acre site in Fishkill, New York. Close to 2,000 young people participate in year-round educational programs at camp and in New York City.
Children are selected to participate in The Fresh Air Fund’s programs based on financial need. Children are from low-income communities. Fresh Air youngsters are registered by more than 90 social service and community organizations in all five boroughs of New York City.
Fresh Air boys and girls from six to 18 years old visit over 300 rural, suburban and small town communities, called Friendly Towns, during the summer. Fresh Air children on first-time visits to Friendly Town host families are six to 12 years old and stay for one to two weeks. Sixty-five percent of all children are reinvited to stay with the same host families, year after year. Reinvited youngsters may continue with The Fresh Air Fund through age 18, and many spend the entire summer in the country. Fresh Air children and volunteer families often form bonds of friendship that last a lifetime.
Fresh Air Fund volunteer host families open their homes to inner-city children for one to two weeks or more in the summertime. Each Friendly Town community is supervised by a committee of volunteer leaders. Committee members select host families after reviewing their applications, visiting them in their homes and checking their personal references.
There are no financial requirements for hosting a Fresh Air child. The majority of hosts simply want to share their homes with inner-city youngsters. Host families are not paid. The Fresh Air Fund has a program for placing children who have special physical or emotional needs.
3,000 New York City youngsters, ages eight to 15, attend five Fresh Air camps on a 2,300-acre site in Fishkill, New York. Camp Hidden Valley is for boys and girls with and without special needs, eight to 12 years old; Camp Tommy is for 12- to 15-year-old boys; Camp Hayden-Marks Memorial is for nine- to 12-year-old boys; Camp Mariah is a coed camp for 12- to 14- year-old career campers; and Camp Anita Bliss Coler is for girls, nine to 15 years old. For 13- to 15-year-olds at Camp ABC, The Fresh Air Fund has established the Precious Center for Teen Leadership intended to give young women a safe, nurturing environment to focus on their futures. Additionally, many young people participate in year-round weekend camping experiences. Special features shared by all camps include a planetarium, model farm, wilderness trail and ropes course. Camp Tommy is named in honor of designer Tommy Hilfiger for his dedication and support of Fresh Air children.
The Fresh Air Fund’s innovative Career Awareness Program is designed to help New York City youngsters understand the relationship between school and work and how to make choices that will determine their futures. In New York City, 7th- to 9th-graders participate in job shadowings that offer close-up views of business, receive after-school tutoring with volunteer tutors, and attend a career fair. The year-round program includes weekend camping trips and an intensive three-and-a-half week summer session at the Career Awareness Camp – Camp Mariah, named in honor of Board member/singer Mariah Carey for her dedication, support and commitment to Fresh Air youngsters. After 9th grade, participants continue to receive support through College Connections and benefit from the guidance of volunteer mentors.
In 1877, the Reverend Willard Parsons, minister of a small rural parish in Sherman, Pennsylvania, asked members of his congregation to provide country vacations as volunteer host families for children from New York City tenements. This was the beginning of The Fresh Air Fund tradition. By 1884, Reverend Parsons was writing about The Fund for New York’s Herald Tribune, and the number of children served grew. In 2011, close to 9,000 New York City children experienced the joys of summertime in Friendly Towns and at five Fresh Air Fund camps in upstate New York.
The Fresh Air Fund is a not-for-profit agency, depending primarily on support from private contributions. It costs The Fresh Air Fund $917.00 for a visit with a volunteer host family and $1,655.00 to send a child to Fresh Air camp. Over 75% of The Fund’s contributions come from individual donors. Tax-deductible contributions may be sent to The Fresh Air Fund, 633 Third Avenue, 14th Floor, New York, NY 10017. Families who wish to be hosts, or parents who would like to sign up their children, may call The Fresh Air Fund at (800) 367-0003 or visit www.freshair.org.
The Fresh Air Fund has an active group of New York City volunteers. Metropolitan area volunteers help reach out to New York City parents and children, support Camping, Career Awareness and Volunteer Host Family programs and seek in-kind donations. To volunteer, call (212) 897-8900 or visit www.freshair.org.