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The Fresh Air Fund: Summer Vacations in the Country for Inner City Kids

Updated on May 4, 2022
Images used with permission from the Fresh Air Fund
Images used with permission from the Fresh Air Fund

Free Fresh Air Vacations for Inner City Youth

From the age of eight through my sixteenth summer, I always looked forward to the day my parents would take me to summer camp.

Summer camp was a chance to spend time with friends I didn't see throughout the school year, to play non-scholastic sports and games, and paddle boats around the lake. I loved the camp-wide Olympics, the arts and crafts classes, the evening activities and field trips. And those fun and silly camp rituals, like practical jokes and singing in the dining hall. Not to mention all that time playing outdoors.

I was from a rural-residential New England town, and still I looked forward to getting away to even more rural country for the summer. So I can only imagine what a wonderful contrast and different experience it would be for a child who lives, plays and goes to school year-round in an inner-city neighborhood. And many of those children don't have the opportunity to go to summer camp and spend time playing in the forest and green fields, like I did.

And that's what the Fresh Air Fund is all about.

Information & Photos for this page were provided courtesy of the Fresh Air Fund

Information & Photos for this page were provided courtesy of the Fresh Air Fund
Information & Photos for this page were provided courtesy of the Fresh Air Fund

More About The Fresh Air Fund

Most inner-city youth grow up in skyrise apartment buildings with no outdoor play areas other than concrete playgrounds. Running barefoot through the grass or riding bikes along country lanes are unknown experiences for most of these children.

Since 1877, The Fresh Air Fund, an independent, not-for-profit agency, has sought to change that, providing free country summer vacations to more than 1.7 million New York City children from disadvantaged communities. Each year, thousands of kids stay with volunteer host families in 13 states and Canada through the Friendly Town Program or attend one of five Fresh Air Fund camps in upstate NY.

Fresh Air Fund children are boys and girls, ages 6 through 12. Those who visit host families are sometimes invited back through the Fresh Air program till the age of eighteen. In fact, over 65% of all children are invited back to visit their host families, year after year, and many re-invited children enjoy longer summertime stays.

Children are chosen to participate in the program based on financial need and are registered by more than 90 social service and community organizations in disadvantaged neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs of New York City.

At The Fresh Air Fund's main office in the city, staff oversees the activities of Friendly Town volunteers and assists them in their efforts. The Fund also works closely with the social service and community organizations that register children for the program. Transportation to and from Friendly Towns is provided for the children by the Fund, which also arranges for payment of medical expenses for those kids without insurance. The Fund provides liability insurance for hosts and committee volunteers as well.

The Fresh Air Fund is primarily supported by tax-deductible donations.

Visit their official website for information on ways to donate to the Fresh Air Fund.

Oscar-nominated "Precious" actress and former Fresh Air Fund employee Gabourey Sidibe donated $5000 to The Fresh Air Fund. Thank you Gabby!

The Fresh Air Fund's Friendly Town Program
The Fresh Air Fund's Friendly Town Program

The Fresh Air Fund Friendly Town Program

Opening Hearts And Homes To Inner-City Children

Fresh Air Fund Friendly Town host families are volunteers who live in the suburbs or small communities from Virginia to Maine to Canada. Host families range in size, ethnicity and background, but what they do have in common is the desire to give inner-city kids an experience they'll never forget.

There are no financial requirements for hosting a Fresh Air Fund child. Volunteers may request the age group and gender of the youngster they would like to host.

To find out more about becoming a Friendly Town host, visit or call them at (800)367-0003.

Fresh Air Fund Summer Camps

In the summer of 2008, three thousand children attended five Fresh Air camps on the Fund's 2,300-acre Sharpe Reservation in Fishkill, New York, 65 miles north of the City. There, the kinds can enjoy beautiful lakes, ponds, streams and woodland hiking trails. During the rest of the year, three of the camps serve as residential facilities for school groups, with more than 10,000 children visiting to learn about the environment.

Each camp has a lake or a pool, where the children go swimming every day and take lessons. The five camps share a planetarium where children learn about the stars they probably can't see from their city homes. The kids also enjoy the challenge of ropes courses, visit animals at the Model Farm and even learn how to milk a cow. Fishing, hiking, boating, games, and arts and crafts are among the other camp activities. In addition, campers learn responsibility by sharing chores like bed-making, cleaning the cabins and bathrooms, and waiting tables at mealtimes. Each camp also has a range of indoor activities such as art, music and dance, along with literacy and computer skills.

To learn more about the five Fresh Air Fund camps, see

The Fresh Air Fund Camp Counselor Experience

Each camp has a director with years of camping experience, and the children are closely supervised by mature counselors, college age or older. These counselors, who work in pairs with six children, are carefully screened and trained. Camps also have instructors who specialize in nature studies, music, drama, sports, and arts and crafts, and all water activities are supervised by certified lifeguards.

For more information on becoming a Fresh Air Fund counselor, visit

The Fresh Air Fund's Clear Vision Program

Helping inner-city children receive the eye-care services they need

Many of the children who participate in the Fresh Air summer programs don't have access to affordable vision care. Sometimes their eye glasses break, but they're too expensive for their families to replace, or the needed glasses are never prescribed in the first place. As a result, these children often aren't able to perform as well as they could in academics, sports and activities if their vision were corrected.

Now the Fresh Air Fund has a program to help. For the fifth summer in a row, OneSight has offered to bring their traveling optical clinic to all five Fresh Air Fund camps, where they offer free eye exams and eyewear.

Clear Vision Program
Clear Vision Program

The Fresh Air Fund's Career Awareness Program

Expanding the education and career options of New York City youth

The Career Awareness Program is for boys and girls, ages 12 to 14. Each child makes a three-year commitment to participate in these specially-designed educational, recreational and camping programs in New York City and at Camp Mariah. Students register in the spring of 6th grade and begin the program in the summer following the 6th grade school year.

Learn more about Career Awareness Program and their Career Fair on the Fresh Air Fund website.

Summer Camp: A Valuable Fresh-Air Experience

My years of summer camp changed me in a number of ways. I became more independent and developed a higher self-esteem and more confidence. At the end of the summer, I'd come home smiling, ready and energized for the next school year.

Summer camp was the beginning of my love of hiking and camping, things my parents didn't like to do. So camp gave me the chance to try new activities, including water skiing, boating and sports I didn't play at school.

I think it's so important for these city kids to have the chance to experience the outdoor life and spend time with different people in a different setting.

What about you? Did you go to summer camp?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Deb Kingsbury


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