NEW CANAAN — Since 2007, the New Canaan YMCA has worked in various ways to aid the children of Kibera, one of the world’s largest slums in Nairobi, Kenya.

Three times — most recently in 2016 — representatives of the YMCA even traveled to Kibera to help build school buildings, organize games with the children who live there and tell stories, as well as spread awareness and raise funds back home.

For the first time this year, the YMCA has begun a “Lemon Aid” initiative, encouraging young kids to set up lemonade stands and donate the profits to Facing the Future, a child development network located within the slum.

“This is the first year. We decided to run it from June to the end of August and it’s been a fantastic project to be involved in,” said Director of Community Engagement Nicole Jezairian, who organized of “Lemon Aid” with Financial Assistance Coordinator Diana Riolo.

The YMCA learned of Facing the Future in 2007 after a board member, David Squier, returned from a trip to Nairobi and encouraged the Y to become involved.

“Facing the Future is a very special place. It started with 120 kids in one, small room,” Jezairian said. “Now they’re up to 324 ranging in age from 18 months to 14 years.”

The facilities have now expanded to include three buildings, two classrooms, a store where teens can sell jewelry they’ve made, a medical clinic to treat students and others living in the slum, a library, a technology lab, and a cafeteria, where the students are fed two meals a day.

According to Jezairian, conditions in Kibera are often dire. Most residents live in small homes made of mud and steel and sleep on the couch. The slum suffers from issues with garbage and waste disposal. Trash and human waste sit stagnant in trenches dug beside the slum’s dirt roads and rise into homes with rainfall, creating a serious risk of disease.

But, with the expansion of Facing the Future, they at least have a brief respite.

“They have a safe place to learn,” Jezairian said. “Food is very scarce at home, so at least Monday through Friday we know they get two meals a day. We know they have a school uniform to wear and we know they have teachers that want to be there and help them succeed.”

In developing the “Lemon Aid” initiative, Jezairian and Riolo said their intention was primarily to raise awareness. The YMCA has offered “Lemon Aid” starter kits for all those interested.

“We start with a lemon, which they can use for decoration or as an added garnish. We have powdered lemonade and a poster for their table, a tablecloth, cups — Basically everything you need to kick start your lemonade stand,” Riolo said. Information on Facing the Future is also included in each kit.

Since they began offering the kits in June, Jezairian said more than 30 parents have called expressing interest, and more than 10 stands have donated their profits, totaling more than $550.

“We’ve had quite a few families who receive financial assistance through the Y, come forward and ask to participate in the program as well. They’re sort of giving back in their own way,” Riolo said.

The YMCA will continue to offer the lemonade kits for another week, until Aug. 18, though Vice President of Financial Development, Marketing & Strategic Initiatives Kristina Barrett said that any interested in donating can still do so by visiting


Jezairian said that, depending on funding, she hopes the YMCA will be able to do plan another service trip to Kibera in the near future.

“We’re hoping to do another trip. We want all of our staff to have the opportunity if they want,” Jezairian said. “We want to continue to help Kibera.”; @justinjpapp1