The Children's Aid Blog

Children's Aid Celebrates National Mentoring Month

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Last week, The Children’s Aid Society hosted 20 volunteers from Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City and the Manhattan borough president at our Frederick Douglass and Dunlevy Milbank centers in Harlem in honor of National Mentoring Month. Each center hosted Big Brothers Big Sisters volunteers who played games, participated in activities, and read books with children in the after-school programs. Manhattan borough president Gale Brewer joined in at the Frederick Douglass Center to read the inspiring book Thank you, Mr. Falker,  a true story written by a woman who was helped to read by a special teacher.

Youth in Foster Care Need a Lifeline

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It’s fair to say that there are some things that the community at large doesn’t know or understand about older youth in foster care. So on Wednesday, January 14, a group of young women and men gathered at the Next Generation Center in the Bronx to tell their stories and shed some light on what it’s like to be an older member of the foster care system. The event, called Face to Face with Youth in Care, brought together dozens of youngsters, people interested in becoming foster parents, representatives of Children’s Aid and its board of trustees, and many more.

For starters, most people are likely unaware that one-third of youth in foster care are teens. And the former teens in attendance felt the need to set the record straight that they had all the potential in the world. Ashley Rivera spent 11 years in foster care but will soon move to Washington, DC, to pursue a career at the Department of State. Cordale Manning, who works at our East Harlem Center, plans on becoming an audio engineer. And Jarel Melendez is just a semester away from his M.B.A. at Baruch.   

Second important point: youth in foster care have an awful lot to give. Represent Magazine and the Possibility Project were on hand to talk about the journalistic and artistic endeavors that have given many teens purpose. And, of course, the teens who make Next Generation Center a second home have so many outlets through which they demonstrate their skills and talents. Next Generation Catering proved to be a prime example, by preparing the night’s food.

Michael Wagner, the director of permanency at Children’s Aid, delivered the night’s third key message most eloquently in making a pitch to potential foster parents. “Too many people think of foster care as a lifeboat for teens” to keep them afloat until they become adults, he said. “What they need is a lifeline, someone they’ll be able to count on forever, whenever they need help.”

The people in attendance certainly got the message.

Dunlevy Milbank Center Hosts Community Town Hall

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Community members of all ages braved the frigid weather to attend the Town Hall Meeting at our Dunlevy Milbank Center in Harlem. Milbank staff organized the event to promote open and honest conversation within the climate of strained relations between police members and communities of color. The meeting featured a panel of local leaders, elected officials, and current and retired members of the New York Police Department. Key figures in attendance included Harlem City Council Member Inez Dickens and NYPD Deputy Chief Rodney Harrison. Khalil Scott, a Children’s Aid parent, facilitated the discussion.

Milbank director Casper Lassiter opened up the meeting with the hope that “we can begin to better understand each other’s realities.” His comments framed the dialogue around the sharing of individual experiences. Youth in attendance—a mix of students from Milbank and the Hope Leadership Academy—detailed negative encounters with law enforcement. Officers tried to demystify community policing while also explaining some of the anxieties that come with the job.

Councilmember Dickens spoke about bridging the gap between law enforcement and community members. She encouraged the audience to vote, citing it as a way for local citizens to enact change. “We want you to survive and rise up,” she said to the youth in the audience.

While the evening did not end with a consensus on solutions, everyone seemed satisfied with the ability to air their concerns and eager to see community relations improve, and soon. Angel Jackson, a former Milbank participant and current Hope Leadership student, wanted to make sure NYPD representatives were clear on one thing: “Kids are not a threat to you.”

Three Kings Day in East Harlem

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On Tuesday, January 6, El Museo Del Barrio hosted its 37th Annual Three Kings Parade. For the past eight years, children from our East Harlem Early Head Start and Head Start programs have participated in the event. Approximately 20 children and their parent’s marched in the parade, displaying their handmade crowns and maracas that they created especially for the day. Despite the cold and snowy weather everyone had a great time! 

 

Fun and Philanthropy

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Here at Children’s Aid, we have a lot to be thankful for throughout the holiday season. We learned of yet another thing about which to be grateful.

For seven years, the Pig Brooch Theatre Company has been staging a word-for-word performance of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” mimicking to perfection every movement of the animated characters. Presented at the Brooklyn Lyceum, the event has become a well-known family tradition.

Less well known is that Pig Brooch chooses a charity every year and donates the net proceeds (after expenses). This year, the theater company chose Children’s Aid. All of us want to thank Pig Brooch for their generosity. The cast and crew include some actors but lots of people from all walks of life who do this simply because they love it. The play is probably seen by approximately 1,000 people across eight performances.

So thank you, Pig Brooch. And if you’re in search of holiday cheer next year, look for the eight season of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

An Evening with The Nutcracker

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Earlier this month, Lincoln Center launched the Family-Linc program, designed to introduce and encourage children and families from high-poverty areas to attend dance, theater, orchestral music, and opera performances on a regular basis.

On Sunday, December 14, more than 200 people and 55 families from Children’s Aid sites and programs from the South Bronx were invited to attend a performance of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center. All attendees were treated to prime orchestra-level seating. Prior to the performance, parents and their children participated in art activities, dance lessons, and a primer on the story of The Nutcracker. To ensure all families had an enriched experience, Spanish-speaking families were paired with families that could offer assistance translating the lessons of the day.

Thank you to Lincoln Center and our Family Success Program and School Age Division for making this event possible for our kids and their families.

A Toy for Every Child

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Future Proof is Dentsu Aegis Network’s approach to corporate social responsibility.  Through this initiative, employees from Dentsu Aegis Network have been sponsoring holiday gifts for the East Harlem Center for the last seven years. This year, on December 16th, the group brought along a very jolly friend. Santa Claus and Dentsu Aegis elves visited our Head Start classrooms to spread some holiday cheer.

Each child received a wrapped gift, which brought wide smiles to all the young faces. Denstu Aegis also collected toys for participants in the early childhood programs, which will be distributed later.

Thank you again to our friends at Dentsu Aegis Network for their continued partnership with Children’s Aid and for becoming part of our family at the East Harlem Center!

 

MSG Classroom: Where Teamwork isn’t just a Concept

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Last week, another class of students from the Hope Leadership Academy “graduated” from MSG Classroom. Ten students spent the fall learning about the media industry and what it takes to succeed in a television career. They met twice a week, once at Madison Square Garden offices to meet with staff and learn interviewing skills, camera and production work, and much more. And the teens typically met the day before at Children’s Aid to prepare for those classes.

The end product was “Slap Shot,” a professional quality news interview program. Roberto Rivera interviewed Anthony DuClair, a 19-year-old rookie star for the New York Rangers. And Nyuma Gumaneh interviewed the legendary Al Trautwig, an award-winning sportscaster who has been a mainstay for the New York Rangers, Knicks, and Yankees in addition to being a consistent presence at the Olympics since 2000, among many other pursuits in sports journalism. He is an enthusiastic supporter of MSG Classroom and told Nyuma that her interview of him was the best one that had ever been done.

Since 2008, about 120 students from Hope Leadership Academy have participated in MSG Classroom, which has won a 2013 Beacon Award* for its educational impact. The program is hugely important to these young people, regardless of whether they ever decide to make broadcast journalism or television their career.

One of the most important things they learn is teamwork. “Everyone has a significant contribution,” said Danny Morris, an assistant director in the Adolescence Division who has overseen the running of the program since 2008, but began directly managing it 2 years ago. “Teamwork isn’t just a concept after MSG Classroom. They see that everyone is a critical part of a big project.”

Danny also talked about how the kids get a better sense of their own value. They can see themselves as being a part of something great. “The people at Madison Square Garden treat these guys like they’re rock stars,” said Danny. “And it sinks in for the students that, yes, ‘I deserve this.’”

Among other things, participants also learn to dress for success by visiting workplaces twice a week. They also get to be thankful. For example, they will be over-the-top thankful for the courtside Knicks tickets they received from Al Trautwig at the end of last week’s ceremony.

More importantly, though, they will certainly be thankful for a once in a lifetime experience that should pay dividends in their college careers and far beyond.

 

*=MSG won a 2013 Beacon Award in the Education category for the 2012 Fall Semester of their “MSG Classroom” program. The Beacon Awards are presented annually by The Association of Cable Communicators (ACC) and recognize programming networks, cable systems, and cable associations for excellence in communications and public affairs.

A Night of Music and Community in the South Bronx

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Dozens of children and their families gathered at PS 55 in the Bronx on Thursday for an evening of music with an international twist. Hosted by South Bronx Rising Together, this live musical performance was headlined by internationally renowned Canadian Brass. They were joined by two local Bronx groups, multi-Grammy nominee Bobby Sanabria & Quarteto Aché, and Circa 95, a local hip hop duo.

This eclectic group of musicians was brought together in partnerships with the Bronx Music Heritage Center and PS 55. The event was designed to help foster a stronger sense of community for the families, the school, and the community partners, as they work together to create a cradle-to-college and career pathway.

Playing the Garden

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Alex and Ivan Kalashnikov came to the attention of the Staten Island team of Children’s Aid in the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Both boys were traumatized by how the storm affected their home. Their father knew they needed a diversion, so he helped teach them to play classical guitar.

They have come a long way. Thanks to Garden of Dreams, the brothers played the Garden on Monday night before the puck dropped at a New York Rangers game. They put on quite a show.