NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — For more than 140 years, the Fresh Air Fund has been providing life-changing summer experiences for New York City’s under-served children.

Last year, T.J. and Tristan Smith from the South Bronx went to one of the sleepover camps at Harriman State Park, and they were looking forward to going back this year.

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The boys told CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez they’re worried it’s not going to happen this year, saying, “This coronavirus thing messed everything up.”


Fatima Shama, executive director of the Fresh Air Fund, says not to worry.

“Something is going to happen this summer, that I can assure you,” she said.

The Fresh Air Fund was founded in 1877 in response to the tuberculosis crisis affecting families on the Lower East Side.

Shama says the organization now is tirelessly working to find a safe way to bring children outdoors during the COVID-19 health crisis.

There’s never been a summer that it’s been cancelled since its inception.

“That’s a real motivation,” Shama said.

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Safety is the priority.

Social distance restrictions may prevent campers from getting on buses to remote camp sites, so organizers are researching walkable outdoor neighborhood play spaces for kids with counselors providing safe structured programming.

But if stay-at-home orders continue, Shama says they’ll bring the outdoors indoors with virtual programming.

“I know for a fact that if we don’t come up with our own solutions, we’re putting kids and families at a disadvantage because people are going to go outside,” she said.

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T.J. and Tristan’s mother says she’s hoping the Fresh Air Fund will give her boys a much-needed escape.

“That just might be a safe haven for multiple reasons. Take them away possibly, avoid corona, avoid these streets that are corrupted with just negativity. It’s just a beautiful thing, it’s a beautiful experience,” she said.

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It’s an outdoor experience children desperately want, and the Fresh Air Fund folks say they won’t take their hope away.