Twelve New York inner city children will spend a week’s vacation in the Cayman Islands this summer in a partnership between the Cayman Islands and a well known not-for-profit agency.
The Fresh Air Fund has provided free summer vacations to more than 1.7 million children from New York City’s toughest neighbourhoods since 1877.
At a special presentation on the marketing of Cayman Airways’ new direct route to JFK in New York at the weekend, Agatha Capacchione of Missy Farren Associates, DoT’s US public relations agency, revealed how the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism and Cayman Airways have partnered with this fund to host these children from underprivileged communities.
From 6 to 12 August the children, who will be 14 and 15 years old, will experience Stingray City, Barkers Beach, Pedro St. James and maybe a day trip to one of the Sister Islands, amongst other Cayman Islands’ attractions.
The venture is sure to create some media buzz about the Cayman Islands as a destination and ties in with the new direct service between Cayman and New York, said Ms Capacchione.
‘In addition to the media attention we’ll get, it’s really something that New Yorkers are very passionate about: it’s a great way to create a really, really big bond between the Cayman Islands and New York City,’ said Ms Capacchione.
This is the first time that something of this calibre is happening in the Caribbean, she said. Fresh Air Fund hosts children in 13 different US states (mostly the North East) and Canada, and at Fresh Air camps. So this is the first time they are bringing children to the Caribbean region.
‘Most of the kids don’t have passports, and we’re helping them see a different part of the world and travel for the first time,’ she said.
Director of Tourism Pilar Bush said while it is a charitable and moral programme to be involved in, there is a business side to it for the Cayman Islands.
This is because the Mayor of New York supports it, a lot of celebrities from the entertainment and acting communities support it, and the New York Times is an official sponsor of this programme. The Cayman Islands will get a lot of exposure to its target market and to business vehicles and entertainers by doing good work.
The kids participating are very, very special and dear to the programme, Ms Capacchione said. ‘They were selected based on their achievements, their willingness to succeed and their history with the organisation.
‘So we know that the kids who are coming down really deserve this trip and they have proven that to themselves and their families and the Fresh Air Fund.’
Ms Capacchione, along with representatives of DoT and Cayman Airways, had an opportunity to meet the children a couple of weeks back. ‘It was really, really inspiring to see them and their enthusiasm and excitement, it makes us feel so humble to make this happen,’ she said.
The Cayman Islands is also only the second country outside of North America that the Fresh Air Fund has ever done this with.
Switzerland did it before, but they did not continue with the programme, Ms Bush said.
She said the Fresh Air Fund is interested in doing an exchange partnership with the Cayman Islands, whereby children from here may visit the North East in return.
‘But the key is that they have to demonstrate changes in behaviour, such as the children who went in with a not so good attitude, who overcame their own personal obstacles who are willing to work.’
The Caribbean Tourism Organisation is starting to put the Fresh Air Fund in its strategy as something the whole Caribbean can get involved in.
‘It’s important that the community welcomes the children when they are down,’ she said, adding that the whole programme is based on choices, decisions and consequences. It helps the children to understand that the situation they are born into does not determine where they go, that it’s all up to them, she commented.
Cayman Airways is providing the airfare for the children and the DoT is helping out in a small way with the funds for the passports for the children.
The host families will provide the accommodation for the children in their homes and any meals necessary outside of the children’s set itinerary.
‘We’re not spending any major money to make this happen,’ Ms Bush said.
The Fresh Air Fund is really, really careful in working with destinations on this, Ms Capacchione said.
‘If you can imagine, you’re sending children to another country; it’s different from sending them to a camp a few hours away, and it really is a testament to Caymanians and the reputation they have here in New York.’
The process of selecting families included a face to face interview with all family members, and references had to be provided by the families.
Looking ahead for a long term partnership, the Cayman Islands is also trying to involve Tiki Barber, a news and sports broadcaster, author, and former American footballrunning back for the New York Giants.
‘He is a huge supporter of the Fresh Air Fund. He just hosted their big spring benefit a few weeks ago and he also has an affiliation with the Today Show right now, so if timing works out we’ll be hoping to get him more involved,’ Ms Capacchione said.