Tara Gardener (211320)
Credit: Contributed

Focused on leveling the playing field for New York City children, Tara Gardner knows the importance of having children experience new and exciting outdoor activities and adventures.

Gardner’s work as director of community outreach and partnerships and supportive services of The Fresh Air Fund has consistently focused on providing opportunities to residents in underserved and under-resourced communities across New York City’s five boroughs.

“Providing opportunities for children to participate in nontraditional activities is really important for children who are growing up in urban communities,” stated Gardner. “They get the opportunity to explore nature, to be exposed to new activities, to challenge themselves, to be comfortable taking risks, and I believe learning new things are really important.”

Gardner was raised in Harlem, and her work has always reflected her dedication to communities of longstanding needs.

“I grew up in Harlem and it is this wonderful resource-rich community, but there are things that go on outside of Harlem, Brooklyn, Queens and the other boroughs that our children need to be exposed to,” stated Gardner. “They can learn to boat, hike, swim, how to milk a cow and learn where food comes from. Those are all really important experiences that expose children to greater opportunities.”

The Fresh Air Fund, an independent, not-for-profit agency, has provided free and fun summer sleep away experiences to more than 1.8 million New York City children from low-income communities since 1877.

Each summer, nearly 4,000 children visit volunteer host families in rural and suburban communities along the East Coast and in Southern Canada. Approximately 3,000 children attend five Fresh Air Fund camps in the summer on a close to 2,000 acre site in Fishkill, N.Y. Young people also participate in year-round educational enrichment programs at camp and in New York City.

“We provide opportunities for children to explore new and exciting opportunities that are outside of the city,” stated Gardner. “Our host families develop these lifelong relationships with our children where they become a part of each other’s extended circle and network.

Several of our city kids have chosen colleges close to where their host families live, so that they could have the support network at school as well. Several of our city kids also get invited by their host families for vacation, extended break vacations or summer opportunities. We have children that have went on to become camp counselors themselves and have pursued nature-based careers in college.”

Gardner has also worked at the New York City Mission Society, The Valley, Inc., New York Work Alliance (formerly, the Private Industry Council) and most recently the Abyssinian Development Corporation.

She has become a leader in the youth development field with significant experience in all aspects of nonprofit management. Her dedication to communities of longstanding need extends beyond the workplace as she serves as the board treasurer for Unique People Services, Inc., and served as board chair for Open Door Child Care Center.

“If you don’t know what is out there then you don’t know it’s an opportunity,” said Gardner. “These are those recall and reference experiences that our children will have. When they take that test about hiking, they would really know what hiking is, so it’s real and understandable.”

Gardner and The Fresh Air Fund also rely heavily on their community partners, who provide a platform for the organization to share more information about their program, recruit children and connect children to year-round opportunities such as after-school programs.

“The Fresh Air Fund is important to children because it is about more than just that two weeks or that one summer,” added Gardner. “It is a lifelong engagement and relationship with us and us with them.”

Registration is on a first come, first served basis for children ages 7 to 15. To register your child(ren) for a free summer experience, visit www.freshair.org to fill out an application, call the community outreach department at 800-367-0003 or visit The Fresh Air Fund office located at 663 Third Ave. in New York.

Applications are accepted until the last bed at camp is filled or the last match with a host family is made. Referral to other free or low-cost camping opportunities will be made, if at capacity.