The Children's Aid Blog

At the Capitol, Strength in Numbers

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On Tuesday, February 2, the Fostering Youth Success Alliance (FYSA) descended on the New York State Capitol from many corners of the state. For the second consecutive year, dozens of young people—students from high school and college, recent graduates—joined representatives of the 18 organizations in the alliance to make a case for expansive higher education support for youth in and aging out of foster care.

This year, though, was different. Last year’s advocacy resulted in $1.5 million in the budget for the Foster Youth Success Initiative. Governor Cuomo called for that same amount in the coming budget, a clear signal that New York is taking seriously its parent-like role for youth in foster care. The $1.5 million proposed by the governor for FY 17 would maintain support for the 350 young people currently being helped by last year’s initial round of funding. But we can and must do better.

Our collective group of FYSA advocates had 80 scheduled meetings with senators and assembly members. In each meeting, we asked to expand the funding to $4.5 million for FY 17 so that we can double the number of college students in the program who receive both extra financial aid as well as the support services often supplied by a young person’s parent. This can include financial aid counseling, general student counseling, access to housing during breaks, and much more.

The day was a huge success. And Jessica Maxwell, the coordinator for FYSA, appeared on two news programs that are staples of the legislative in-crowd in Albany: Capitol Press Room and Capital Tonight.

There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic as our elected leaders head into the thrust of budgeting season. Stay tuned for more news. 

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College Access Keeps the Promise

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Children’s Aid is fully committed to making college a reality for as many youth in our services as possible. That is why staff from across the organization volunteered this past month to help college-bound students and their parents submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Financial aid can make or break the hopes for low-income students when it comes to attending college; the process can be enough of a barrier to thwart students who would otherwise be the first in their families to attend college. This is where our College Access and Success team gets to work.

“We believe it’s important for students to apply for financial aid early because it increases their financial aid packages,” said College Access Manager Ruben Rivera. And like Ruben told his volunteers, “More money is always a good thing for our students.” He and Felipe Ayala spearheaded volunteer trainings and FAFSA nights at five Children’s Aid sites to help students and their families navigate this crucial step in the college application process, months before the application’s federal deadline.

An important part to the FAFSA process is making sure you have your tax return in order. So we felt very lucky to have New York area tax prep firm R&G Brenner raffle off 50 vouchers for free tax services. Their generosity helped remove one more barrier for students and their families, making the path to college just a little bit smoother.

This was a great project by the College Access and Success team, very much in line with the Children’s Aid approach to our mission: bringing together a multitude of resources to ensure that we keep the promise to our young people. 

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Two from Children’s Aid Join NYC Children’s Cabinet Advisory Board

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The Children’s Aid Society is honored to have placed two members of our team on the NYC Children’s Cabinet Advisory Board. Phoebe Boyer, our president and CEO, and Michael Carrera, our vice president of the Adolescence Division who directs the CAS-Carrera Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program, will work with dozens of other appointees from academia, faith-based organizations, media, business, technology, the judiciary, and nonprofit organizations in a collaborative effort to protect and promote children’s well-being in the city.  

Many thanks to Mayor Bill de Blasio and his administration for including Children’s Aid on this esteemed team of professionals.

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Children's Aid Goes to Albany

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On Tuesday, January 26, The Children’s Aid Society president and CEO Phoebe Boyer spent the day in Albany to advocate for New York’s children and families. Phoebe was joined by colleagues from Children’s Aid in conversations with Assemblymembers Guillermo Linares, Andrew Hevesi, and Donna Lupardo, as well as staff members from the offices of Governor Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senator John Flanagan. 
 
Phoebe thanked the elected officials, and particularly the Governor Cuomo, for including $1.5 million in funding for the Foster Youth Success Alliance in the executive budget. This was a huge win for college-aged young people in foster care, as well as for Children’s Aid and the FYSA coalition working on their behalf.
 
In addition, Phoebe advocated for school-based health centers (SBHCs), one of the most effective strategies for delivering high-quality, comprehensive, and culturally competent medical, dental, and mental health care to students, particularly hard-to-reach teens. With the upcoming Medicaid redesign, SBHCs are in grave danger of complete shutdown as each center would need to renegotiate its reimbursement rates with every new managed care provider – a nearly impossible task to complete before the July 1 deadline. Phoebe asked for an one-year extension of the deadline to complete the important work necessary to ensure seamless delivery of health care services.
 
Phoebe also thanked officials for continuing to fund community schools across the state, while also expressing concern about the lack of funding devoted to capacity building – a key piece of ensuring the success of the community school strategy.
 
Each official was receptive to Children’s Aid’s concerns and eager to learn more. Children’s Aid will continue to work with each official’s office to provide guidance and continue to advocate for the children and families in New York City and across the state. 
 

 

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Donna Chandler: Celebrating Her Many Years of Service

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Pictured from left to right: Donna Chandler and Faith Ringgold

Donna Chandler’s no nonsense attitude has always reflected her unwavering commitment to child development. As director of the Drew Hamilton Center, she is the first to walk in and the last to leave. She has made it so that the many families who have walked through its doors know of one more place to call home. Donna is an example of what it means to fight for every child, in her advocacy and love for the families she has supported over the years.

In her last week with Children’s Aid, the Early Childhood Division celebrated her seven years on staff plus many more supporting our work throughout the Harlem community. “It’s been both an honor and a hoot to have Donna on our team,” said Moria Cappio, the vice president of Early Childhood. And with a laugh, Moria said, “We’re looking forward to when she comes back to volunteer.”

Artist, writer, and activist Faith Ringgold stopped by Drew to join CAS staff and families for the celebration. Ringgold’s children’s book Tar Beach is a favorite at the center and it embodies the same imaginative spirit that is encouraged in each classroom at Drew. It was a wonderful moment to reflect on Donna’s influence and legacy.

We could not be more humbled to have worked alongside a passionate leader. We thank Donna for her tireless work and congratulate her on her retirement. 

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Partners in Safety

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The National Income Life Insurance Company has done a fine thing in the name of safety. It has created a Child Safe Kit, offered free to its customers. This kit stores a child’s pictures, fingerprints, and other information useful to law enforcement in the event that that child is reported missing. 

Knowing that Children’s Aid places the highest priority on our kids’ safety and security, National Income Life Insurance approached us as a partner, and in the process made a very generous donation to our programs. Many thanks to the company for its support.  

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A Holiday Home Run

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Major League Baseball has had a longstanding relationship with the Boys & Girls Club, which means they’ve been a great source of support for the four clubs connected with Children’s Aid. The latest measure of that support came last week. MLB asked for letters to Santa from 50 of our kids at East Harlem Center. Then they sent a bus uptown to get the kids along with some of our staff and bring them to their midtown headquarters for food and fun.

The waffle fries were nearly as plentiful as the smiles. Our kids, drew pictures, saw a magic show, met McGruff the Crime Dog, and posed with the World Series trophy. Thanks so much to our friends at MLB for their generosity and the energy they brought to this special night.      

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Stellar Service Recognized

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The members of the Keystone Club at East Harlem Center have a history of thinking big. Last year, they created an initiative called #KnowYourRights that helped educate teens about their legal rights while encouraging them to improve their relationship with local police. The project drew a lot of praise.

Recently, the club traveled to Connecticut for the Northeast Regional Keystone Conference. They spent the weekend attending various workshops with leadership topics ranging from self-esteem and healthy relationships to public speaking, staying on track in school, and fundraising for service projects. They joined several hundred club members from around the region, and the conference ended in an awards brunch on Sunday morning. The East Harlem team won an Excellence Award, coming in first place in the area of Community Service. This was in recognition for #KnowYourRights project.

And the success of that project led to a new grant award of $24,000. Current club members will design and implement service projects involving 1,600 youth—and they’ve already made sizable progress on that goal.

Congratulations to all the youth in the Keystone Club.

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Finding Success in Community

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Another fall semester of MSG classroom came to an end this past week. The latest group of students from Hope Leadership Academy and Fannie Lou Freedom High School closed out the nine-week program with MSG Networks and the Garden of Dreams Foundation, during which they learned behind the scenes work of television production and sports coverage. 

Students were taught camera work, script writing, and interviewing techniques by professionals at MSG Networks to produce their own sports news segment “And One.” Named after the basketball term when a player earns a free throw in the act of making a basket, the show’s theme aptly explored how one can achieve success, despite facing adversity.  

Many of the participants shared that through the program they developed their public speaking skills and learned that there is no such thing as asking a dumb question, as there is always an opportunity to learn. Danny Morris, assistant director in the Adolescence Division, lauded the group of students for their great teamwork and cooperation, and for the growth they showed in such a short time. He reiterated an on-going theme, shared by both MSG Classroom, and Children’s Aid: there is no success without community.

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The Knicks and MSG Transform the Holidays

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There’s no question—the holidays can be an expensive time of year. The stress and trauma of living in poverty is present year round but they can be especially acute at this time of year because all parents want to do the very same thing: make the holidays a joyful time. And children get some of that joy when they receive toys and other treats at this time of year.

The incredible people at the Garden of Dreams Foundation, representing the New York Knicks and Madison Square Garden, decided to transform the holidays for 12 Children’s Aid families. On Tuesday, they sent two buses to Dunlevy Milbank Center, collected the twelve families, and sent them north to Mount Kisco, not far from where the Knicks have their practice facilities. When our families got there, they found nearly the entire Knicks team in the back of the store ready to take them on a shopping spree.

Their collective generosity was almost boundless. Families were able to buy bicycles, computers, tablets, sports equipment. They stocked up on clothes, bed linens, and household goods. Someone brought home a not-quite life size storm trooper in preparation for the new Star Wars movie.

Most importantly, the parents and children left the store with mile-wide smiles. They got to meet Carmelo Anthony and Robin Lopez, trade bounce passes with Lance Thomas and Langston Galloway, and get monster truck advice from Kyle O’Quinn.

It was an incredibly special day for our families, and we thank everyone at the Garden of Dreams, Madison Square Garden, and the New York Knicks for making it happen.

 

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