Exploring the World Beyond Queens

Shariff Bukari, 25, gravitated toward math and science as a child. One of his dream careers was paleontology, which combined his love for dinosaurs with the hands-on work of combing through artifacts. His parents nurtured his curiosity, encouraging him to read books and newspapers. They yearned to give him more opportunities to explore his passions beyond their life in Queens.

That wasn’t always easy when both parents worked late shifts. So when a neighbor told his parents about the Fresh Air Fund’s Career Awareness Program, in which children attend camp during the summer and participate in career training sessions during the school year, they filled out an application for him.

Mr. Bukari’s parents treasured the time they spent outdoors growing up in Ghana and hoped that their children, who didn’t have the same access to natural escapes in New York City, could discover the joy of swimming in lakes, too.

Mr. Bukari was 12 when he spent his first summer in upstate New York, at the Fresh Air Fund’s Camp Mariah. Leaving home for the first time made him feel more mature and aware of how big the world was. Being at camp “raised my eagerness to want to do more things on my own,” he says.

He remembers the rush of trying each new summer camp activity: building campfires, jumping into the water, listening for the birds in the trees. But what left the most lasting impact was the career training part of the program, which gave him a new perspective on his ambitions and interests.

One day, dancers arrived to talk about their training and the cultures they drew from in their choreography. The creativity and physical demands of the job impressed him, but Mr. Bukari wrestled with the idea of pursuing dance. Hearing people talk about the details of their careers, “you really get to understand and decide whether it’s something you can see yourself doing or not,” he explained. Ultimately, he set dance aside.

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