The first time at sleep-away camp can be daunting for a city kid. It requires boarding a bus that takes you far from familiar streets and into a new setting. It also means leaving your family and friends, sometimes for weeks, with little communication.
But an escape during the summer can also be transforming.
Brianna Jones would know. She grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn, and was 8 years old when she traveled about 65 miles north to Camp Anita Bliss Coler, one of the Fresh Air Fund’s five overnight camps. “The first night was the roughest,” she said. But it didn’t take long for her to adjust and then embrace activities like swimming in the lake and visiting animals at a nearby farm.
Ms. Jones, now 23, has spent every summer there since. As a teenager, she felt inspired to give back to the community and trained to become a camp counselor. She was later promoted to village leader, an administrative role. In 2017, she was ready to take on even more responsibility and became the assistant director at “Camp ABC” for girls ages 9 to 15.
This year, Ms. Jones will complete her master’s degree in childhood and special education at St. Thomas Aquinas College in Sparkill, N.Y., where she also coaches field hockey and bowling. But she has no intention of leaving the camping world anytime soon. “Once you come to camp, you can stop hiding,” she said. “You can be yourself.”
Each year, thousands of New York City children stay with host families or attend one of the Fresh Air Fund’s camps. A one-week or longer visit to a Friendly Town volunteer host family costs $1,113, and $2,014 sends a child to summer camp for one session, for 12 days. The Fund hopes to raise more than $12 million by the end of September.
Tax-deductible contributions may be sent to the Fresh Air Fund, 633 Third Avenue, 14th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10017. Families who would like 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 FreshAir.org.
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