I love fresh air. I love inhaling it, and exhaling it. I like it at the beach, laced with salty mist, and in the mountains, cut with the scent of pine. I like it whooshing through my ponytail on a morning run or lightly clanging the shades against an open window as I drift off to sleep.
It seems like the simplest of pleasures– a huge, deep breath of unfussy air. It’s accessible, easy, and best of all, free . . . Or is it?
What if you live in the inner city, without the means to retreat to areas without pollution, noise, traffic, or even violence? This is a reality for many children and adults.
In my mid-20s, I worked in an inner city community as an English teacher/academic coordinator for a nonprofit program at the now defunct Dorchester High School, a Boston Public School serving at-risk youth until it was disbanded in 2004 in favor of a different education model and administrative structure, known as the Dorchester Education Complex.
I loved my students and was fortunate enough to spend time with them outside the classroom through individual tutoring sessions, small group work, and, best of all, extra-curricular trips like Red Sox games, an outdoor adventure course, a whale watch, and even a day trip to Cape Cod, where I grew up. It was in these moments, out in the open air, with little asphalt, traffic, or public transportation in sight, that I remembered that my students were, in fact, still kids. Suffice to say, my students (ranging in age from 15 to 18) were mature, sometimes too mature. They’d seen a lot. Been through a lot. Overcome a lot.
I admired this about them, but it also saddened me that their maturity often came at the price of a fully experienced childhood. Long before childhood obesity was declared an epidemic, my students were often painfully aware that they did not have access to safe playgrounds for socializing, basketball courts for pick-up hoops, and sidewalks for double-dutch, hopscotch, and the like.
If we want to do something about childhood obesity, kids need to experience the freedom of playing outdoors. If we want our children and teens to enjoy being children and teens rather than world-weary young adults, we need to foster opportunities for them to relish simple pleasures like fresh air, shoeless afternoons, star-filled skies free of light pollution or smog, and space enough to run fast, jump high, lounge happily, or slow down to feel nature’s pace.
I love fresh air, and I also love the Fresh Air Fund, a nonprofit organization that has provided inner city youth with summer vacation experiences through host families and special Fund camps since the late 1800s. I first learned about the program as a lifeguard on Cape Cod during college when this program would bring kids to the Cape’s beaches for an afternoon or more. Not long ago, I received an email to OmGal.com (firstname.lastname@example.org) requesting support from the New York City based nonprofit. The organization had no idea I grew up in a beach community where some of its programs take place or previously worked with at-risk youth in Boston. They knew only that my readers have an altruistic bent– a karmic drive that inspires many of you to reach out and help others when possible.
If you’d like to support the summer vacation of an inner city youth through the Fresh Air Fund, you can donate here.