At first glance, the Fresh Air Fund offices were surprisingly posh for a non-profit. The elevator doors were emblazoned with the organization logo, and the lobby was immaculate and stylish. I had ample time to inspect both, as I spent a quarter of an hour locked out for no apparent reason. After someone finally heard me beating on the door and let me inside, I learned of Mariah Carey’s longtime affiliation with the program, and the former made much more sense. Truthfully, I was surprised the chairs weren’t bedazzled with rhinestones and unicorns weren’t sauntering around waiting to braid my hair.
My interaction with actual human beings was minimal. The project entailed calling up parents to make sure their registration packets had been sent off for the 2011 program, one in which inner city children are sent to stay with host families upstate to experience the joys of nature and stability. Most of the parents I called were either missing in action, or the numbers had been disconnected entirely.
The disconnected lines were depressing, particularly when I called the home line, both parents’ cell phones, and the emergency contact, only to find that none of the numbers were in service. The volunteer to my left cheerfully chatted away, brushing off my concerns about the disconnected lines.
“Maybe they just forgot to update them,” she suggested, as if having four unusable phone numbers is a healthy indicator of a child’s home life.
The voicemail greetings were worse. If the number was actually working, more often than not, I was instructed to leave a message, and told “I’ll call you back if I decide you’re important” to a background of abrasive rap music.
The mother of a girl named Merlot told me her form was too stained to return, and the father of a boy named Bennrry dismissed me with a “Whassup… later!” Some parents expressed concern that only one or more of their children would be accepted, which brought to mind images of despondent little boys shoplifting to entertain themselves while their siblings were away at summer camp.
An uplifting evening, it was not.