The Fresh Air Fund
|Founder||Reverend Willard Parsons|
Fatima ShamaExecutive Director
|Slogan||Serving children since 1877|
The Fresh Air Fund is a not-for-profit agency that provides free summer vacations in the country to New York City children from low-income communities. Each year, thousands of children visit volunteer host families in 13 states from Virginia to Maine and Canada through the Friendly Town Program or attend one of five Fresh Air Fund summer camps. The Fresh Air Fund has helped more than 1.8 million children since 1877.
In 1877, The Fresh Air Fund was created to allow children living in disadvantaged communities to get away from hot, noisy city streets and enjoy free summer experiences in the country. The reformers assumed that the artificial city promoted evil while the natural pure, undefiled countryside promoted the good, simple life.
Reverend Willard Parsons, a minister of a small, rural parish in Sherman, Pennsylvania, asked members of his congregation to provide country vacations as volunteer host families for New York City’s neediest children. This was the beginning of The Fresh Air Fund. By 1881, the work of The Fund was expanding so rapidly that Reverend Parsons asked for and secured support from The New York Tribune. By 1888, The Fund was incorporated as The Tribune Fresh Air Fund Aid Society. Today, Fresh Air continues to depend on favorable publicity from the media with assistance from The New York Times.
Volunteer host family program, called ″Friendly Town″
Fresh Air children ages 6 to 12 years old are given the opportunity to visit with host families across 13 different states and Canada to experience the joys of summer in the country. Fresh Air children are registered by more than 70 participating social services and community organizations located in disadvantaged neighborhoods in the five boroughs of New York City. First time visitors, six to 12 years old, spend one or two weeks with their host family. Youngsters who are re-invited by the same family may continue with The Fund through age 18 and may enjoy longer summertime visits year after year.
Friendly Town host families are volunteers who live in the suburbs or small town communities. Host families range in size and background, but share the desire to open their hearts and homes to give city children an experience they will never forget. Hosts say the Fresh Air experience is as enriching for their own families, as it is for the inner-city children. There are no financial requirements for hosting a child.
The majority of Fresh Air children are from low-income communities, often without the resources to send their children on summer experiences. A visit to the home of a warm and loving volunteer host family can make all the difference in the world to an inner-city child. All it takes to create lifelong memories is laughing in the sunshine, running barefoot in the grass, riding bikes down country lanes and making new friends.
In every Friendly Town, there is a volunteer committee and Chairperson responsible for the program. The committee publicizes the program, screens applications, checks references, interviews families in their homes and approves new hosts. The committee members also make follow-up visits to all participating host families every three years. The Friendly Town committee assists hosts while Fresh Air children are visiting and often plans group activities during the trips. The Fresh Air Fund provides support to Fund Representatives, Chairpeople and host families 24 hours a day, when Fresh Air children are visiting their towns.
Summer camping for New York City children
The Fresh Air Fund owns and operates five camps located on The Fund’s Sharpe Reservation  in Fishkill, New York, 65 miles north of New York City. Sharpe Reservation has 2,300 acres of beautiful land with lakes, ponds, streams and hiking trails through the woods.
Camp Tommy is The Fund's camp for boys, ages 12 to 15, with 120 campers in each session. Camp Tommy offers hiking, nature and other outdoor programs designed to develop cooperation and encourage team building. Major improvements and recently constructed facilities have created opportunities for significant educational programs, such as literacy and career skills development, computer workshops, photography and music. Originally Camp Pioneer from 1948-1998, Camp Tommy's inaugural year was 1999. Camp Tommy is named after Tommy Hilfiger for his generous support and dedication to Fresh Air children.
Camp Hayden-Marks Memorial serves 204 boys each session, age nine to 12. Campers enjoy outdoor activities including sports, cooperative games, boating, arts and crafts, drama, science and hiking. Boys at Hayden-Marks Memorial also benefit from educational activities, including computers, video, music and art.
At Camp ABC, girls live in small groups where they learn to develop self-confidence, independence and teamwork skills. Educational programs promote environmental awareness, cultural arts and physical fitness in a fun, safe, supportive environment. Each session, 216 girls make new friends while participating in many different fun and exciting activities.
Camp Hidden Valley serves 130 girls and boys with and without special needs, ages eight to 12. At this unique camp, children with and without disabilities live and play together and find out how much they have in common. Some of the special needs our campers have include sickle-cell anemia, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, hearing impairments and physical disabilities that require the use of wheelchairs, braces or crutches. Camp activities include art, hiking, nature and creative writing. The specially designed pool complex is enjoyed by all campers, including children who use wheelchairs, braces or other forms of assistance.
Camp Mariah, The Fund's Career Awareness Camp, enables nearly 300 inner-city adolescents to explore educational paths and career options, while enjoying camp adventures. Camp Mariah offers a unique setting to engage boys and girls in an educational curriculum and prepare them for the world of work. Intensive three-and-a-half-week summer sessions and weekend camping trips are complemented by year-round activities in New York City. Children must be in the sixth grade to apply for the Career Awareness Program. Camp Mariah is named after Board member Mariah Carey for her generous support and dedication to Fresh Air children.
Year round programs and off-season camping
The New York City Housing Authority sponsors day trips to camp, to help brighten the lives of children living in housing developments. This year-round partnership with The Fresh Air Fund continues to flourish and provide camping programs to 2,000 inner-city youngsters.
The Fund has expanded its initiative to intensify its relationship with young campers. Boys and girls from Camps Hayden-Marks Memorial, Hidden Valley and Anita Bliss Coler (ABC) participate in weekend camping programs in the fall, winter and spring. Activities included hiking, cooking, arts and crafts and cooperative games.
The Counselor-In-Training (CIT) Program at Camps Anita Bliss Coler (ABC) and Hayden-Marks Memorial have expanded tremendously in recent years. The majority of the CITs are former campers. All CITs must be 16 and 17 years old at the beginning of the summer. During summer and weekend camp visits, young people acquire supervisory skills to become future camp counselors. They develop leadership, team-building and communications skills through a year-round program.
Career Awareness Programs
The Career Awareness Program focuses on expanding the education and career options of New York City adolescents. Boys and girls, ages 12 to 14, make a commitment for three years in order to participate in specially designed educational, recreational and camping experiences in New York City and at Camp Mariah. All students register in the spring of 6th grade. After completion of the 6th grade school year, they begin the program in the summer.
- Inner-city children, country summers: narrating American childhood and the geographies of whiteness a discussion of media representations of the Fresh Air Fund and issues of race
- The Fresh Air Fund The Fresh Air Fund Website
- Julia Guarneri, “Changing Strategies for Child Welfare, Enduring Beliefs about Childhood: The Fresh Air Fund, 1877–1926,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era (2012) 11#1 pp 27–70.