Partnership with The Fresh Air Fund and Bronx Leaders Will Honor Memory of Lesandro "Junior" Guzman-Feliz, A Victim of Gang Violence
New York State Parks Investing $2 Million in Camp Junior
Historic Park Youth Camp Will Be Restored to Serve Up to 1,000 Youth Each Summer
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that construction has begun on Camp Junior, a summer camp at Harriman State Park for youth from targeted neighborhoods in the Bronx. New York State Parks is establishing the camp in partnership with The Fresh Air Fund and Bronx leaders to honor 15-year-old Lesandro "Junior" Guzman-Feliz, a victim of Bronx gang violence in June 2018. State Parks will invest $2 million over two years in Camp Junior, rehabilitating a deteriorated youth camp in Harriman State Park, a 47,500-acre wilderness park only 30 minutes from the Bronx. The project is part of Governor Cuomo's 2019 Justice Agenda, which calls for expanding youth connections to State Parks, outdoor recreation and conservation to promote pro-social behavior and reduce conflict among young people.
"The grisly murder of 'Junior' Guzman-Feliz was a senseless tragedy that shook the New York family to its core, and a reminder that we need to do more to address the causes and conditions that produce violence," Governor Cuomo said. "Once complete, Camp Junior will provide Bronx kids with a home away from home and give them a reason to resist the temptation to join a gang in the first place."
"Summer programs are important in our communities and provide a place for children to learn and play," said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. "The construction of Camp Junior will rehabilitate the youth camp at Harriman State Park and provide a recreational space for young people in the Bronx. The park, dedicated to Lesandro Guzman-Feliz, will honor his memory and serve as a daily reminder in our efforts to combat gang violence in the area."
As part of the initiative The camp will be housed at the park's Top of the Pines location on Lake Tiorati, with a goal to serve 500 children in summer 2019 and up to 1,000 children each summer thereafter. In partnership with The Fresh Air Fund, the camp will offer an outdoor skills experience to boys and girls ages 9-13 from targeted neighborhoods in the Bronx. The Fresh Air Fund will work with Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to secure operating funds.
A 2017 study from the University of Illinois found that many of the reasons youth engage in gang activities are similar to those that motivate young people to engage in sports or other positive recreational activities. A camp for at-risk children to experience the outdoors was inspired by Junior's mother, Leandra Feliz, who wants to expose youth to alternatives to gang activities.
Acting State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said, "This project brings together two of Governor Cuomo's worthy goals: investing in our youth and revitalizing our state park system. I am grateful to our partners at The Fresh Air Fund and from Junior's Bronx community. Together, we will build on Harriman State Park has a long tradition of providing children from underserved communities with a place to learn and grow in the great outdoors."
Fatima Shama, Executive Director, The Fresh Air Fund said, "Camp Junior provides children from the Bronx an opportunity to be engaged in and exposed to new environments, broaden horizons and experience ways to increase their confidence and skills. This collaboration and investment in Bronx youth will provide opportunities and interventions and help to reduce the violence affecting our young people. Given the tragic murder of Junior, the camp will focus on anti-violence, social and emotional learning, and anti-gang efforts, in addition to traditional camp adventures. Providing alternative recreational and social activities to children in the Bronx during the summer months will expose children to caring adults, fun, and outdoor engagement, which we believe can provide an alternative to joining gangs."
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr said, "Junior was everything we want our children to be. He was a good student and a member of the NYPD Explorers. He was kind to his parents and his neighbors. His candle was dimmed too soon, but he can be a shining light for generations. Starting this summer, we will give hundreds of Bronx kids a chance to learn by his example through 'Camp Junior.' I cannot thank Governor Andrew Cuomo, the New York State Department of Parks, The Fresh Air Fund and Junior's parents enough for their support of this wonderful initiative and for their commitment to deliver real results for the people of The Bronx, especially its children,"
New York Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie said, "The revitalization of the Harriman Group Camps marks a much needed and long overdue investment into the future of children here in the state of New York. Giving children positive outlets in our urban communities like Camp Junior will discourage gang activity and community violence. We as a community mourn the loss of Lesandro 'Junior' Guzman, a young man who was taken from this world too soon, but in his honor we will work together to promote education, awareness, and provide a place for children to flourish."
Senator José M. Serrano said, "The youth of the Bronx deserve opportunities for outdoor play and conservation. As Chair of the Senate Committee overseeing Parks and Recreation, I am aware that establishing healthy lifestyle patterns through open-air recreation will carry children through adulthood, encouraging positive social skills and self-esteem. While we continue to mourn Junior's tragic passing, we are honoring his memory by providing hope to thousands of at-risk children whose lives will forever be changed for the better. I commend Governor Cuomo, the Fresh Air Fund, and Leandra Feliz for their commitment to improving the lives of Bronx youth through Camp Junior."
Assembly Member Marcos A. Crespo said, “Junior’s legacy must be one of empowerment and not tragedy. We lost Junior too soon to senseless violence. From now on, Camp Junior will ensure that young Bronxites have the opportunity to learn in new environments and be inspired by strong mentors and leaders at an inclusive summer camp. I’m grateful to Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. for his leadership and his vision that helped make this opportunity possible for thousands of Bronx youth for years to come.”
New York City Councilmember Ritchie Torres said, "The tragic murder of Junior Guzman-Feliz impacted millions of lives, and made clear that gang violence does not happen in a vacuum. It is the result of the lack of resources and positive influences in the lives of youth. Camp Junior will serve as a place where young people can escape and be surrounded by activities and resources that will positively impact their lives, and deter them from gangs. I'm proud to support Camp Junior and the efforts to honor Junior's life."
Governor's Cuomo's 2019 Justice Agenda calls for expanded opportunities for outdoor recreation and nature conservation. Under the Governor's leadership, New York will renovate recreation centers and expand programs at State Parks promoting healthy and safe activities for young people. To better serve at-risk youth, the State Parks system will leverage over $15 million to renovate group facilities which host athletic and educational programs, as well as build meaningful partnerships with community-based organizations and local government agencies, including Junior's Camp.
The initiative builds on Governor Cuomo's efforts to revitalize the nation's first and oldest outdoor summer group camps at Harriman State Park. Originally constructed in 1913, these 37 outdoor group camp facilities were built to serve children from urban communities, but have fallen into disrepair following decades of neglect and inaction. Thanks to funding made available through Governor Cuomo's NY Parks 2020 initiative, long overdue infrastructure and recreational improvements are being completed.