We were thrilled to find out that Brandon Mendoza, a former Fresh Air child, and Jacinta Mendoza celebrated their wedding on October 20th, 2012 with their friends and family, including Brandon’s Fresh Air host family, the McKnights.
Kandy and Robert McKnight, of Falmouth, MA, first opened their hearts and home to Brandon in 1993, a tradition that lasted through The Fresh Air Fund’s Volunteer Host Family Program until 1999 but hasn’t wavered since.
When Brandon was five-years-old, he was living in a homeless shelter in Brooklyn, NY with his mother and two brothers. The following year, Brandon and his family moved to an apartment in Far Rockaway, NY and his mother signed him and his brother Miguel up for The Fresh Air Fund’s Volunteer Host Family Program. “I was six-years-old and remember waiting at The Port Authority Bus Station seeing all of the young teenagers and adults helping and getting things organized for the children and their families. I remember thinking, ‘I wonder where they get these people?’ the chaperones were so nice and there were a lot of kids from our school on the bus ride to Cape Cod, MA,” Brandon recalls.
Upon arriving in Cape Cod that very first summer, Brandon and Miguel saw a woman waiting for them – Kandy McKnight. “I had no idea where Cape Cod was, but I was convinced that there were bears lurking in the woods, and as Kandy announced that we were almost home, Miguel announced he felt homesick. Well, I quickly learned that he meant car sick. I knew that we were off to a great start.” Homesickness faded and the week flew by. “That summer was by far the most memorable one in my life,” says Brandon. “Every day was filled with activities. Kandy’s family treated us as if we were always there. Now, they are still in my life as family.”
Prior to The Fresh Air Fund, Brandon dealt with one hurdle after another. Between moving multiple times and personal family problems, Brandon could always rely on the McKnights: “The one constant and stable thing in my life has been my Fresh Air family.”
After graduating Lock Haven University in May 2008, Brandon went on to pursue a Master of Public Administration (M.P.A.), Urban & Regional Affairs, Public & Nonprofit Management degree from the University of Pittsburgh. He now works for the Allegheny Conference on Community Development., whose mission is to continue to grow the Pittsburgh, PA Region's economy.
Brandon overcame many obstacles throughout his 26 years of life and continuously celebrates the importance of our programs in his accomplishments: “The Fresh Air Fund is an organization of opportunity, growth, education and hope,” remarks Brandon. “I want to recognize my former Fresh Air family. I say former, as now they are just my family. We have celebrated life’s moments together for over 20 years and over that time I morphed from a visitor into a brother. Kandy opened her home and her family to me. She taught me love, self-respect, the importance of an education, and even how to do my laundry and run a vacuum every once in a while. To her, I say thank you. What you call a summer vacation is so much more to so many.”