by Caroline McCarthy, Assistant Sports Editor
For most people, New York City is perceived as the peak of diversity, intrigue, and opportunity. What most fail to see is the alternative perspective, which consists of being trapped in a mundane grid, filled with the same people, lifestyle, and being defined by limited opportunity. The Fresh Air Fund works to expose inner city kids controlled by the latter circumstances to enriching outdoor activities and to expand their horizons beyond the streets of New York.
On Saturday, Jan. 4, the Fresh Air Fund was recognized at Manhattan College during women’s basketball game against Niagara. The organization recently renamed one of their camps, “Camp Junior” in honor of Lasandro “Junior” Guzman-Feliz, a Bronx local who was tragically killed in gang related violence in 2018. His mother, Lisandro Guzman accepted an award from Manhattan College for her exemplary work in the program.
Guzman stated in an interview, “We’re so happy to be here [Manhattan College] and to continue blessing everybody who has been supportive for Camp Junior.”
On gameday, campers assisted in activities such as organizing and participating in time-out events, mopping the court, and announcing the players.
The Fresh Air Fund was created in 1877 and founded by Reverend William Parsons, a minister in Sherman, Pa. What began as a local parish’s desire to host inner city kids and allow them to experience the great outdoors transformed into an organization that would serve more than 1.8 million New York City children.
The camp is completely free for qualifying New York residents. Children involved may either be placed into a host family or attend a two-week camp at one of their five sleepaway options, or at Camp Junior in Harriman State Park.
A typical day at camp includes outdoor activities such as hiking and swimming, and also incorporates lessons in problem solving, relationship building and developing inner strength.
According to the Fresh Air Fund’s website, sixty percent of participants had never been outside of the city prior to enrolling. Dyona Davis, a sophomore on the MC women’s basketball team, was part of this statistic. Davis participated in the Fresh Air Fund for “three or four summers,” starting at age 12.
For Davis, the first summer she attended the Fresh Air Fund was a formative time in her life. She told the Quadrangle, “One Summer I wasn’t on my best behavior, so my mom came in the room and said ‘I found a program that allows me to send you away.’”
The Fresh Air Fund prides itself on the opportunity to help bring inner-city kids out of their comfort zones and allow them to flourish in different circumstances.
“Being an inner city kid, you grow up with people who look like you, act like you, talk like you, when you get out there it’s just a different vibe. Diversity is my biggest takeaway from all three summers,” says Davis.
Their motto, as stated on their website, reads, “We transform limited opportunity into limitless potential through generosity, partnership and sunshine.”
Davis lived with a host family in New Hampshire where she was immediately welcomed with fresh air, room to run and a family excited to meet her. During her summers, she grew with the family’s two biological children.
“There was such a brother-sister vibe. I mean we got in arguments just like siblings,” Davis said.
She continued, “Everyday was like, you woke up and they said ‘what do you want to do?’ and as a kid that was like ‘wow so many options.’”
Davis shared that her favorite activity with the host family was fishing. She recounted on the family’s kindness as they bought her a rod and drove her to a spot far away from their own pond to ensure she got the best fishing experience.
Davis’ inspiring story is best described by this statement on The Fresh Air Fund’s website: “We believe that investing in a child’s journey through life provides an opportunity for young people to learn, grow, and thrive in our city and beyond.”
The Fresh Air Fund is an organization focused on giving inner-city kids a summer they will never forget.