Kids get a taste of the Big Apple

Fresh Air Fund exchange programme hosts five youths

Five youngsters from the Cayman
Islands recently had the opportunity to visit New York City as part of an
exchange visit arranged by Cayman Airways and the Department of Tourism.

In July, eight New York City kids
had visited Cayman as part of the Fresh Air Fund scheme, a non-profit
organisation based in the United States that provides free summer vacations to
inner-city kids. This is the fourth year that the scheme has run. The New
Yorkers, mostly from low-income families accustomed to high-rise apartments,
were hosted by families on Cayman and participated in island life.

This year, the relationship
broadened to allow a return visit by Cayman youngsters, who stayed at Fresh Air
Fund’s summer camps in a visit to New York between 25 July and 6 August, said
acting director of tourism, Shomari Scott.

“[This enabled] them to meet new
friends from a variety of cultures and ethnicities and to experience camp
traditions such as swimming in lakes, learning about outdoor survival, boating
and fishing, hiking, music and dancing, photography, and even roasting a few
marshmallows,” he said.

High achievement

Andre Mena-Hebbert, Larissa
Bennett, Khailan O’Connor, Cameilia Gillispie and Jonique Rivers were chosen by
the Ministry of Education based on consistently high academic achievement,
positive attitude and willingness to apply themselves to the school and
community through extra-curricular activities.

Bracker Andre Mena-Hibbert, who was
visiting the states for only the second time, said it was an amazing
experience.

“I swam in a lake, hiked in the
woods and slept under the stars. The meals were good, the beds were comfortable
and the whole trip was a wonderful experience. I would love to return. It was a
dream come true.”

The five youths stayed in two of
five camps owned by Fresh Air Fund in upstate New York – the girls at Camp
Anita Bliss Coler, for 9- to 12-year-olds, and Andre at Camp Hayden-Marks
Memorial for boys 9 to 12 years old. Both are named after benefactors to the
Fresh Air Fund and, along with the other three camps, are set among lakes,
ponds, streams, hiking trails and wooded areas on the 2,300-acre Sharpe
Reservation in Fishkill, New York – about a two-hour bus ride north of the
city.

Bright lights, big city

The time in the big city was also
an opportunity to experience a completely different atmosphere, said Cameilia
Gillespe.

“Going to New York was a wonderful
experience. I will remember the bright lights, super tall buildings, the Statue
of Liberty and the trafficked-jammed streets. I made many new friends and
learned a lot of new things.”

Cameilia also benefited from the
camp’s programme of free eye exams for kids.

“I am now seeing the world much
brighter because I got my eyes tested during the trip. I am very thankful for
this opportunity as my parents would not have been able to afford this,” she
said.

Since it started in 1877, the Fresh
Air Fund has provided free summer vacations to more than 1.7 million New York
City children from low-income communities. Kids visit volunteer host families
in suburbs and small towns in 13 states from Virginia to Maine in the US, and
also visit host families in Canada, attend Fresh Air’s five camps or
participate in the organisation’s year-round camping programme.

Tom Karger, deputy executive
director and director of camping for the Fresh Air Fund, acknowledged the
benefit of this year’s joint programme. “This was indeed a cultural exchange,
as not only did the Cayman children learn a great deal about life in the US,
but they were also able to impart a lot to our campers about Cayman traditions
and what it’s like to live on an island.

“We really enjoyed having children
from Cayman participate in our camp programme this summer and look forward to
having more take part next year,” he added.

Those interested in becoming a host family for future Department of
Tourism/Fresh Air Fund summer programmes should contact the department at
949-0623.

LOCALKidsNYtripSTORY

Five youngsters from the Cayman Islands enjoy the sights and sounds of metropolitan New York.
Photo: Submitted
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