It seems that there are some universal truths among 11 year old boys, whether they live in North Yarmouth, Maine or Queens, NY. They think it’s cool to find starfish under the dock, they compete to see who can throw the farthest, and they believe ice cream has all the right nutrients to make a fine meal any time of day. It’s not all perfect- they dispute who is the best all-time NFL quarterback and whether bacon or pepperoni should top a pizza.
For two weeks this summer our family is enjoying our every day through a new perspective as we welcome back our young friend from New York, Javi (sounds like “Havie”), through the Fresh Air Fund. Its marquis program is to provide inner city kids from New York with summer visits to homes of volunteer host families like ours, in 13 states and Canada.
The Fresh Air Fund’s successful tenure for 136 years has relied on a combination of volunteer host families providing the destination for the kids, individual donations and corporate sponsors. No surprise that nearly all its corporate sponsors hail from New York City. Intriguingly many of them are media companies. In fact, I long thought in error that The New York Times founded the program, as the publisher has seemingly always supported it, through editorials that recruit families and donations, through custom supplements about the program in the paper and the multi-generational publishing Sulzberger family’s seats on the Fund board.
The Times is not alone- other major media sponsors include Conde Nast Publications (along with a member of the publishing Newhouse family on the Fund Board), HBO, NBC Universal and The People Magazine Group.
Media companies have long led community engagement and charity. Besides covering local happenings and editorializing their political positions, they rely on local businesses as advertisers to keep them in business. Participating in local charities has become a responsibility. Indeed for radio and television broadcasters, the community service rule is mandated by the FCC.
It’s common for media companies to create foundations to enable their charitable giving. For instance, The New York Times Company Foundation has sponsored the “neediest cases fund” using its journalistic reach to share stories of families and individuals facing hard times, soliciting donations and managing the distribution. This program and the Fresh Air Fund further establish the Times’ foundation’s core charitable brand.
Global scientific journal publisher Elsevier created the Elsevier Foundation which provides grants to institutions around the world, with a focus on support for the world’s libraries and for scholars in the early stages of their careers. Since its inception, the Foundation has awarded more than 60 grants worth millions of dollars to non-profit organizations working in these fields.
Local media companies do the same, just on a smaller, more local scale. The Bangor Daily News, for instance, doesn’t have a formal foundation but has been participating in the Newspapers in Education (NIE) program for over 40 years. NIE encourages teachers to use newspapers in the classroom to supplement learning about current events, vocabulary and career training skills.
But as long as the July sun is shining and the beach beckons, the formal classroom is a long way off to our Fresh Air Fund guest and my own children. Instead they’ll keep enjoying each others’ company, not even realizing the mutual education they are giving and receiving.