The Children's Aid Blog

Extending a Helping Hand

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The good people at Phillips Nizer, a midtown law firm, have long had a Valentine’s Day tradition. Every year, they select one of the Children’s Aid clients featured in the New York Times Neediest Cases Campaign—almost always a family that is clearly in need of support—and collectively raise additional funds to help stabilize the family.

This year, they chose Joanna Acevedo and her daughter, Serenity, who was born legally blind. Joanna hasn’t been able to work because she must care for her daughter full time. The 1-year-old’s vision problems are an obstacle to getting day care, and Serenity also requires a number of medical treatments that Joanna administers herself.

Alan Shapiro leads the efforts at Phillips Nizer. This year, attorneys and support staff collected more than $3,000 for Joanna and Serenity, a tremendous show of generosity. 

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February is American Heart Month

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Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. To prevent heart disease and increase awareness of its effects, Children’s Aid is proudly participating in American Heart Month. In New York City, more than one in three adult’s lives with cardiovascular disease, and heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of death in New York. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), many minority populations, including African Americans and Latinos, have a higher risk of suffering from diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes. This month the Go!Healthy team would like to remind everyone to consider their heart health when picking out foods to share with their families and loved ones, and think about ways to reduce stress and strengthen their hearts.

Tips for picking out a heart healthy foods:

  1. Find the Fiber—Recipes centered on fruits, vegetables, or whole grains have the greatest sources of fiber. Most adults need about 25-30 grams of fiber in a day.
  2. Read the Labels—Check the nutritional labels of the food you buy. If an item has 5 percent, that’s considered low, while 20 percent or more is considered high. Aim for a low percentage for things like sodium, cholesterol, saturated fat, and aim for a high percentage on things like fiber.
  3. Feature herbs and spices—Did you know that parsley and basil have heart healthy properties? Did you know garlic has anti-inflammatory effects and can help protect your blood vessels against oxidative stress? Add herbs and spices to give your kitchen creations an extra boost.

Take care of your heart one step at a time

  1. Deal with Stress—According to the AHA, positive self-talk will help you calm down and control stress.
    Some examples of this include sayings like:
    • I’ll do the best I can.
    • I can handle things if I take one step at a time.
    • I know how to deal with this; I’ve done it before.
  2. Stand up and stretch—Taking time to stand and stretch helps promote blood flow to all parts of your body. Regular stretching practices like yoga and tai chi could help reduce risk of heart-disease long term, and could reduce heart disease risk as much as conventional exercise.
  3. Walk for 30 minutes every day—Walking is a moderate physical activity that is accessible to almost everyone. By walking 30 minutes every day, researchers suggest health benefits like improved body composition, including higher muscle-to-fat ratio, and a decreased risk for things like metabolic syndrome, a disease where you experience high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and high cholesterol.
  4. Talk to your team—Talk with your doctor before starting any physical activity regimen and attend regular checkups often. Talk to your family (and even co-workers) about supporting your health goals.
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Teens: Love Shouldn’t Hurt

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February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Children’s Aid is lucky to have a team of in-house teen health experts who are committed to educating their peers about healthy relationships, especially because only 33 percent of teens in abusive relationships will tell someone that they are experiencing partner violence. So our Just Ask Me (JAM) Peer educators are sharing some critical information with us in conjunction with hosting their annual “Love Shouldn’t Hurt” teen event at the Next Generation Center.

What should teens know about partner abuse and dating violence?

Teens should understand that partner abuse is not just physical or sexual. Abuse is enforcing power or control over someone, and can also be emotional or mental, and more and more nowadays it involves technology.

What are some signs of unhealthy dating behaviors?

It can look like your partner is

  • being overprotective or wanting to control how you dress, who you hang out with, etc.;
  • displaying signs of jealousy;
  • projecting their insecurities on you;
  • wanting to monitor your phone, social media use, or your money; or
  • not wanting to use protection during sex.

If someone is experiencing any of these signs in their current relationship, what should they do?

  • Talk it out with your partner first. Communication is important and teens should be comfortable expressing their emotions in a safe and healthy way with their partner.
  • Give yourself and your partner some space and consider what is best for you if things escalate.

What are things teens should keep in mind if experiencing different forms of abuse?

  • Abuse grows over time, so it is important to recognize the more subtle signs of teen dating violence.
  • You shouldn’t have to settle in a relationship, especially if you are unhappy.
  • Know that nothing is wrong with you. You do not deserve to be abused in any way.
  • Do not feel discouraged because you can’t walk away overnight. It’s not always so easy, so don’t be afraid to ask a friend or an adult for help.
  • Partner violence doesn’t discriminate. Abuse can happen in any kind of relationship. The abuser can be any gender.

Where else can teens find help?

  • They can call the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline: 1-866-331-9474, which is staffed 24/7 by trained counselors and run by loveisrepect.org.
  • They can text “CAS Healthy Teens” at 97-779, and speak to someone or get more information on teen health services.
  • They can also stop by the Children’s Aid Bronx Health Services building at 910 E 172nd Street, third floor if they would like to speak with a health educator or case worker in person.
  • If you are a teen and would like to learn about JAM Peer services, you can visit www.cashealthyteens.org/peer-education

 

 

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Making Theater Accessible

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New York City is the theater capital of the U.S. Millions of tourists come to the city with the goal of seeing a show, and all that demand makes theater-going a little bit expensive.

That’s why it was such a welcome gesture when Lynnea Benson, the artistic director at the Frog and Peach Theatre, contacted us with an offer of free tickets for our kids for one of its Tinkerbell Series shows.

The outing was a smashing success. We thought who better to say why then one of the lucky kids that got to go:

I was really happy to go to the theater to see this play because my favorite princess is Snow White. This play was unique because they switched up the story in their own way and the costumes were beautiful. The Magic Mirror was actually an actor, the Evil Queen was a guy in a pink wig, and the dwarfs were puppets! My favorite character was the Evil Queen because she made such funny faces and when she got the evil spell she spun around the stage and disappeared like a dark shadow!

The woman who owns the theater is really funny. I think her name is Tinkerbell, because it’s called the Tinkerbell Theatre. She took me back stage to see all the sets and props and sound things for all the kids’ plays and grown-up plays, too. It was cool to see how everything works because I never knew what happens behind the curtain. When I peeked into one room and saw all the different costumes hanging up, I got excited and imagined that I could be in a play someday, too.

When I got to hug the actors after the show I felt like I was beaming. They asked all the children if we wanted to make puppets with them. I made two, one named Brittney and one named Whitney. I had a blast and I would love to go back because I’ve never experienced something so awesome!

— Trinity, age 8 (almost 9), 3rd Grade, East Harlem

Many thanks to everyone at the Frog and Peach Theatre for opening up the world of theater to our kids.

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Getting Heard at the Capitol

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For the third consecutive year, advocates for the Fostering Youth Success Alliance (FYSA) traveled to Albany to request more funding for the landmark Foster Youth College Success Initiative. This year, FYSA set a record with more than 100 people roaming the halls of the Capitol, meeting with dozens of lawmakers.

There was a little more urgency this year. FYSA first helped establish funding for the FY 16 budget, with $1.5 million. The state, with the support of Governor Cuomo doubled that budget the following year, ensuring that a second group of students would get the college support they needed. Unfortunately, Gov. Cuomo’s initial FY18 budget only included $1.5 million. At that level, not only would New York not be able to support any new students with funding, but it would have to take away funding from hundreds of students already midstream in their education.

"We bear a responsibility to these young men and women coming out of foster care,” said Assembly member Ellen Jaffe (D-Suffern) the new chair of the Committee on Children and Families. She has been a supporter of this program since the beginning and will work with other key legislative champions, such as Assembly members Deborah Glick and Donna Lupardo, in getting our leaders to invest in the Foster Youth College Success Initiative at a level that helps sustain and grow it.

This advocacy day was only the beginning of what will certainly be a long push to double down on the futures of foster care youth—who have every right to go to and succeed in higher education.

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Raising Readers in Staten Island

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When families enroll their children in our early childhood programming, they know we are helping them raise enthusiastic readers. Our Raising a Reader partnership is an evidence-based program that fosters the parent-child connection through reading and promotes loving, supportive relationships and literacy skills. Through the program, our families develop home-based literacy habits that will help children succeed through every year of school.

At our Richmond Early Learning Center on Staten Island, 196 children and families are benefitting from the Raising A Reader program. Each week, children bring home a bright red book bag filled with award-winning books. On average, more than 100 high-quality age-appropriate books will rotate through children’s homes each program cycle, and we are lucky to not be doing this work alone.

This past week volunteers from BlackRock, the asset management firm, spent the afternoon packing Raising a Reader book bags for each child at Richmond Early Leaning Center. Volunteers also popped into our classrooms for story time and read books to youngest learners. With support from BlackRock we will be able to continue to foster rigorous literacy gains for children both in our classrooms and at home. We thank BlackRock staff for their commitment to raising readers across Staten Island.

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Community Schools: Welcomed in Albany

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Eight Children’s Aid staffers headed to Albany this week and met community school advocates from every corner of the state to urge the governor and legislature to beef up the funding for community schools.

Gov. Cuomo included some money in his draft budget, but it falls short of last year’s funding despite the fact that New York State now has about 300 community schools. Meanwhile, advocates from Buffalo, Troy, and Hudson, among many areas that are getting their first try at the community school strategy, arrived at the Capitol with powerful stories demonstrating how quickly a school’s culture can be changed.

They found that many of our elected leaders have already been engaged with community schools in their districts. Senator Jeffrey Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Caucus, was familiar with all four community schools in his Westchester district. “Community schools are a vital way to help address the real life challenges that students and families face day to day,” said Klein. “We need to make sure that schools have the resources to ensure that students are able to realize their full potential.”

Assembly member Marcos Crespo, a longtime friend of Children’s Aid, depends on community schools in his district to provide fundamental services. “I've personally witnessed the impact that community schools have had on the children and families in my district,” said Crespo.

A strong contingent from Buffalo met with Assembly member Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a champion for community schools. “With community schools,” said Peoples-Stokes we have a prime opportunity for communities across the state to have a real voice in the discussions and decision-making processes that can have a sustained impact on academic success and raise the bar for students who have long been shortchanged by our education system.”

It was a good day in Albany. But there’s still a lot of work to do to not only continue to fund existing schools but ensure that any school that wants to adopt the strategy can.

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Upper West Side Barnes & Noble Gives the Gift of Reading

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At Children’s Aid, we are acutely aware of the importance of reading, and helping children develop a love of reading early on and sustaining it.   So we are more than grateful to the generous customers and booksellers at the Barnes & Noble on West 82nd Street and Broadway for donating more than 2,000 books to our Early Childhood, School Age, and Adolescence programs through the store’s holiday book drive.  Children’s Aid is overwhelmed by the response this book drive elicited, and we cannot thank our friends at the Barnes & Noble store on the Upper West Side enough for selecting us as a partner in literacy. We know our kids can’t wait to get their hands on these books, with titles ranging from The Very Hungry Caterpillar to Huckleberry Finn. Thank you, 82nd Street and Broadway Barnes & Noble, for helping us stock the bookshelves across our centers and community schools and for helping youth in our programs continue to realize their love of reading.

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Keeping your Family Healthy All Year Long

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January is Family Fit Lifestyle month, and at Children’s Aid we take pride in our history of supporting the health and wellness of children and their families. Across our community centers and community schools we encourage healthy eating, regular physical activity, and strong parent involvement. Through Go!Healthy, our obesity prevention program, we also provide quality hands-on nutrition education and cooking skills for children of all ages that encourages youth and their families to be leaders in health. Here are a few of our tips on how you can help your family make healthy choices all year long:

  1. Make all foods look festive.
    Don’t wait until a celebration comes around to make your dishes stand out. You can make your foods extra scrumptious by adding a few nuts or seeds or cutting your vegetables into fun shapes. A little splash of color goes a long way; jazz up a dish with some slices of seasonal fruit, or add a sprinkle of green onions or other herbs to add a pop of color. Also, kids make excellent sous-chefs, so invite them to help you prep your meals.
     
  2. Toast your good health.
    Quench your thirst with water or seltzer. Add some flavor by adding slices of lemon, lime, citrus, or other juicy fruits to your glass. Add 100% fruit juice for a celebratory twist.
     
  3. Keep meals simple.
    Eating a homemade meal doesn’t have to be complicated! Make your family meals quick, simple, and healthy by looking for opportunities to use left overs and food you already have at home. Have some left over rice? Add extra fresh or frozen veggies to it to make a fun stir-fry.
     
  4. Eat together, without the television.
    Pay attention to your meal and your family while you eat! Children learn so much from siting around and spending quality time with friends and family. It’s a great time to talk about what a healthy meal looks like, and help children identify the ingredients that were used to make their favorite dishes. These strategies will not only teach your kids about their food, but will also help build their vocabulary! Plus, research suggests that children who do not eat in front of the television during family meals eat less soda and chips.
     
  5. Make exercise part of your family fun.
    Being physically active makes everyone feel good. Dancing, moving, playing active games, and going for a walk after dinner are great ways to help everyone stay active!

For more healthy tips and recipes, join the Go!Healthy Facebook group at www.facebook.com/groups/CASGoHealthy. For more information about Go!Healthy programming reach out to Food and Nutrition Director Alyson Abrami (aabrami@childrensaidsociety.org)

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Zurich Gives, Families Benefit

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The new year is a prime opportunity for reflection. Here, at Children’s Aid, we’d like to take a moment to reflect on a special relationship for which we are particularly grateful—our partnership with Zurich American Insurance Company. Large corporations, like Zurich, have an obligation to their customers in much the same way that large nonprofit organizations, like Children’s Aid, have a commitment to those we serve. For Children’s Aid, it is our responsibility to maintain our 164-year legacy of providing critical supports and services in the realms of education, health, social-emotional development, and family stability that New York City’s highest-needs children and families have come to rely on and expect. Our efforts are bolstered by the support, both in terms of funding and the investment of employee time, that our corporate partners provide, especially in coordination with our Volunteer Services Department. Zurich is one such company that has demonstrated a laudable level of dedication to corporate social responsibility, and Children’s Aid is proud to provide the vehicle for that generosity.

In 2016, Zurich provided Children’s Aid with a $7,500 impact grant which has, thus far, supported a now three-year tradition, our Turkey Giveaway at our Frederick Douglass Center, as well as a spring celebration with children at Taft Day Care Center. Late last May, as the winter thaw finally receded, 12 Zurich volunteers traveled to our early childhood center in East Harlem to rejoice in the wonders of spring with about 40 of our youngest clients. Volunteers brought along seeds that they helped children plant in pots across their classrooms and then read to them from picture books about flowers, plants, and gardening to help the little ones understand how the seeds would grow and blossom. The experience was a novel one for these children, who have limited exposure to the natural environment in the urban jungle of Manhattan. With Zurich’s help, Children’s Aid opened these children’s eyes to the wonders and beauty of Mother Nature.

Children’s Aid was also thrilled that Zurich was once again on hand this past November to support a Turkey Giveaway at our Frederick Douglass Center. With funds from Zurich, we coordinated Thanksgiving feasts for 100 families in need, including a turkey with all the trimmings, along with other dishes from fresh vegetables to pumpkin pie. Eighteen Zurich volunteers signed up for distribution day when they unloaded the delivery truck and packed tote bags with a full Thanksgiving meal. For these families who struggle daily to make ends meet, Thanksgiving would be just another day of the week were it not for the generosity of Zurich.

We are excited for the year ahead, when our partnership shows no signs of slowing down, as plans for a beatification project are already being scheduled for 2017. We are proud to partner with Zurich and its dedicated cadre of corporate volunteers as we strive, together, to make a tangible impact on the lives of underserved New Yorkers. 

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