When the Independent Presbyterian Church’s Children’s Fresh Air Farm first opened atop Shades Mountain in Bluff Park in 1923, it provided medical treatment, meals and a safe and fun camp environment for children in Birmingham. The camp earned its name “Fresh Air” because children were literally escaping the pollution of smoke stacks in the city to spend their summers in the fresh air. Today, the mission of the farm remains the same: To nurture the children in mind, body and spirit by offering a program of excellence in academics, enrichment, physical education and spiritual development. Over the years, the farm has adapted to fit the growing and changing needs of the children in Birmingham. With a passion for both education and ministry, Catherine Goudreau, the new director of the Children’s Fresh Air Farm, says she fell in love with the mission of the farm and the children who come to the mountain camp.
How did you become the new director of the Fresh Air Farm?
I graduated from Auburn University in 2013 with a degree in elementary education. After graduation, I spent a wonderful year teaching fifth grade in Opelika before my husband’s job moved us to Birmingham. A lifelong Presbyterian with a love for ministry, I first came to IPC in 2014 as Director of Youth Ministries. I have a huge passion for education and ministry. I spent the first five years after college graduation working back and forth between the two and longing for a place where I felt I could best use both. Through my work at IPC, I learned more about the mission of the Children’s Fresh Air Farm and I fell in love.
What does 2018 hold for the Fresh Air Farm?
Already, plans and preparation are underway for the Summer Learning Program which serves about 80 children from Hayes K-8 in Avondale. These children will spend summer at the Farm strengthening their math and reading skills, swimming, dancing, singing, studying God’s word, enjoying creation and traveling on field trips. When summer is over, we have plans to continue year-long ministry with these students and their families both at CFAF and in the Avondale neighborhood. The major goal is to design year-round ministry at the Children’s Fresh Air Farm. This includes greater use by the community, Independent Presbyterian Church, and increased programming for our Summer Learning students and families. We now offer a six-week summer learning program for students which provides academic support, two meals and a healthy snack, fitness, art, music, science, gardening, swimming and other enrichment opportunities.
How does someone get involved or volunteer with the Children’s Fresh Air Farm?
We are always looking for volunteers. We have several work days throughout the year to help maintain the beauty of the Farm. In addition, we use many, many volunteers during the Summer Learning Program. These volunteers help facilitate small groups and one-on-one tutoring as well as leading enrichment activities. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact me.
Will the Farm be open to the community of Bluff Park and others to use?
Of course! We hope that families will continue to use the playground at the Farm – especially when the weather is beautiful. We love sharing our favorite place with you. We also welcome user groups throughout the year. In addition to the summer learning program, we hope to expand the use of the Children’s Fresh Air Farm to the neighborhood of Bluff Park and to church members at Independent Presbyterian Church.
What do you hope the lasting legacy of the Fresh Air Farm will be?
Love. Greater than any academic achievement we could hope for is the hope that summer learning campers will know they are loved, valued and capable. My hope is that the Farm will be a place where students feel safe, empowered and challenged and a place they look back on with fondness. So often we receive letters from former campers about what the Farm meant to them and how it changed their life. They remember with deep gladness the memories shared, lessons learned, love felt and maybe even a thing or two about pulling weeds in their very own garden.