The Children's Aid Blog

A Pool of Opportunity in Harlem

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In Harlem, home to nearly 80,000 children and youth alone, there are fewer than a dozen public pools run by the New York City Parks Department, where kids can practice their cannon balls, tread water in the deep end, or just cool off during the summer months. However, the majority of these pools are outdoors, leaving children in our communities without many swimming options beyond Labor Day. It makes indoor pools, like the one at the Dunlevy Milbank Center, all the more important.

In addition to the intensive swim program during the Children’s Aid summer camp season, Milbank’s Olympic-sized pool has been home to the Stingrays since 2005. The swim program, which practices in the evenings during the regular school year, is comprised of over 60 kids, ages 6-18—the majority of whom are African-American and Latino and had never entered a pool before learning to swim at Milbank.

According to the USA Swimming Foundation, 64 percent of African-American children and 45 percent of Latino children have no or low swimming ability—a result of the decades of racial and economic discrimination that prevented these communities from accessing public swimming facilities. The impact is perhaps most visible at the competitive swimming level, which only saw boundaries broken by Simone Manuel during the 2016 summer Olympics in Rio as the first African-American woman to win an individual event in Olympic swimming. Manuel’s win highlighted the importance for children of color to see themselves represented in the sport. 

Members of the Stingrays are often the only African-American and Latino children at their swim competitions. Yet, it hasn’t stopped the young swimmers from outperforming their competitors. As part of USA Swimming, the national governing body for competitive swimming, the team collectively competes in meets across the New York area through the Metropolitan Swimming League. Five members of the Stingrays made it to the league’s regional junior Olympics in July 2016. Their success speaks to the rigorous swim instruction the team receives at Milbank, under the guidance of Coach Miguel Escalante. It also speaks to the talent and hard work in the children.

Morgon, 9, has been swimming since he was 4 years old. Both he and his sister Madison, 11, learned how to swim at Milbank. Their mothers, Trenise and Tawanda, signed them both up for lessons at the center to ensure that their children would feel safe and confident in large bodies of water. The decision turned the family into one of the program’s most involved swim families and has resulted in the children taking home many medals and trophies over the years from competitions. Morgon, in particular, has his eyes set on the Olympics at some point in his future, and Stingrays Coach Miguel believes he can get there. The young swimmer dominates in events like the 500-meter freestyle, 100-meter backstroke, and the 100-meter butterfly.

“The kids have made great strides and focus really hard in practice to execute their techniques at swim meets,” said Tawanda.

The family has also seen firsthand the positive impact that swimming can have on children; the sport has helped Madison with her sensory issues and Morgon adjust to Tourette’s syndrome, allowing both children to find a sense of tranquility when they are in the water. And of course, the children have found support outside of the water from their teammates.

The simple truth is that many children in New York City never learn to swim because they have very few opportunities to outside of the summer months. It’s what continues to perpetuate the swimming trends that have long defined African-American and Latino communities. Yet the Stingrays swim program shows that reversing these trends is not only possible, but it provides children with an invaluable life skill that keeps them safe in the water and equips them with confidence that can open up a world of opportunity for them outside of it too.

Interested in the Stingrays’ journey to the 2016 Junior Olympics? Read A Force in the Pool.

Children’s Aid Celebrates High School Graduates

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Graduation season is in full swing at Children’s Aid. In addition to the stepping up ceremonies at our early childhood centers and the middle and high school ceremonies across our community schools, we also recognize the individuals who had to overcome some additional hurdles to obtain their diplomas.

Last week the Next Generation Center (NGC) in the Bronx hosted a graduation ceremony for 30 individuals who earned their high school equivalency degree (formerly known as the GED) over the past year through two separate programs.

Twelve young people earned their degree through the NGC Education track, a Children’s Aid program run entirely through the center which serves youth involved in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems; the remaining students earned the degree through the Department of Education’s Pathways to Graduation program. While it takes most people two to three tries to pass the exam—which crams the entire four years of high school curriculum into one sitting—the majority of participants at NGC passed it on their first try.

They were able to do so with the commitment and leadership of Angel Romero, who heads NGC Education, and the support of the entire staff at the center who form familial ties with participants.

Many of the students made the decision to finish their high school degree despite facing life obstacles that didn’t make it easy—homelessness, foster care, or learning English as a second language. Valedictorian Ariana Navarro completed her degree in addition to raising two toddlers and working in the Next Generation Center catering program. She plans to continue her post-secondary education and study forensic science; her peers share her drive and diligence.

President and CEO Phoebe Boyer provided remarks at the event that recognized the graduates and their fortitude. “Despite all of the reasons that might have persuaded you to quit, you made the decision to strive for your equivalency degree,” she said. “Through sheer determination, perseverance, and focus, you stood up to the challenges you faced—and you won.”

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A Drug- and Alcohol-Free Summer for Teens

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Yesterday was the last day of school. And young people all over NYC are getting ready to enjoy the freedom of summer vacation. Unfortunately, as school-year stress melts away, accountability, structure, supervision, stimulation, focus, and even brain cells soften due to inactivity.

Research has shown that more young people experiment with drugs and alcohol in June and July than at any other time of the year.

According to research from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 11,000 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 use alcohol for the first time on an average day in June or July.

So what can you do to help your teen avoid experimenting with substances during the summer? Here are a few tips that might help.

  1. Talk to your teen about the dangers of substance abuse: Research shows that parents can have a tremendous impact on their children, even though it may not seem like it.
     
  2. Help your teen avoid boredom: Encourage your teen to volunteer at a local shelter, community center, child camp, nursing home, or some other organization. Help them get a job lifeguarding, babysitting, or even working at a local grocery store.
     
  3. Make the most of your time off. When you don’t have to work, schedule activities that involve all family members. Teens and preteens who regularly spend time with family are less likely to use drugs and alcohol.

Parents are not helpless bystanders during this high-risk time. They’re the first line of defense when it comes to reducing the chances that their teens will drink or use other substances. To learn more www.samhsa.gov/underage-drinking.

For more information, contact Ronni Katz, Sarah Redfield, or Venus Moore at the NYC Prevention Resource Center.

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June is Fruit and Vegetable Month!

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At Children’s Aid, we are always excited when the summer starts. School ends, camps begin, and fresh fruits and veggies are abundant!

At Children’s Aid we believe that good nutrition and healthy habits are taught by example. By providing families with a chance to learn more about the preparation and storage of fruits and vegetables, we are supporting the entire household in creating an environment that can then support a child’s healthy habits at home. Our Go!Healthy program is gearing up this summer to offer two great opportunities to connect our families to fresh fruits and veggies and build community through recipes and knowledge throughout the summer and fall.

In select community centers and community schools, Go!Healthy will offer Farmers’ Market Walks where nutritionists will lead community members to the nearest market. Health Bucks coupons—$2 vouchers for locally-grown fruit and vegetables—will be given out to community members to shop. Did you know that EBT can be used to purchase fruits and vegetables at the farmers’ market? EBT is accepted at all farmers’ markets in NYC and comes with a bonus: for every $5 a family spends with their EBT card, an additional $2 in Health Bucks will be given by the market. That’s $7 worth of produce for only $5. Join the walks and get all the perks.

Go!Healthy will be offering a Food Box program at C.S. 211 Whitney Young Campus and Bronx Family Center in the Bronx, Goodhue Center in Staten Island, and  Milbank Center in Harlem. Every week at the Food Box, families, staff, and friends can purchase a big bag of fresh fruits and vegetables for only $10. All the food boxes are designed with a suggested seasonal recipe in mind, which we will also demonstrate at the distribution to taste All forms of payment are accepted one week ahead of delivery, including cash, credit/debit, EBT, and Health Bucks coupons.

The Go!Healthy Farmers’ Market Walks and Go!Healthy Food Box program can support families in bringing home a huge bounty of farm-fresh food throughout the summer and fall. Both of these programs will start the week of July 10 across all sites and run through Thanksgiving. If you would like more information regarding Farmers’ Market Walks, please contact Kathleen Delgado, kdelgado1@childrensaidsociety.org. If you would like more information about the Food Box program, please contact, Beth Bainbridge, bbainbridge@childrensaidsociety.org

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Scholarship Week: Scaling Greater Heights

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The middle of June is a special time around the Adolescence Division at Children’s Aid. Our high school seniors are graduating, and nearly 90 percent of them have been accepted to at least one college or university.

A few dozen have scaled even greater heights by winning scholarships through their participation in Children’s Aid programs. We celebrate their amazing accomplishments each year around this time.

Scholarship week tips off with the annual Stern Scholarship Luncheon. This year, nine young people will start college in the fall with generous assistance from the Stern family.

Those nine joined two dozen other recent graduates for the 2017 Scholarship Awards Ceremony—a full representation of all the young men and women who won Children’s Aid-sponsored scholarships. In addition to the Stern family’s series of scholarships, we are incredibly thankful to the following organizations and families for their commitment to higher education and the futures of promising scholars: the Garden of Dreams Foundation (whose four-year renewable Inspire Scholarships are worth $40,000 each); Peter and Susan Friedes; David Poritzky and his daughter, Sophie, in memoriam for her mother, Audrey Miller Poritzky; the Lucille Werlinich Scholarship; Tom Dyja and Suzanne Gluck; the family of Richard R. Dieterle; and the Irving Zarember estate.

Our president and CEO, Phoebe Boyer, after thanking everyone who had a hand in the past and future success of these young people, reminded everyone how important their success was to our mission of helping children, youth, and family every step of the way. “You’re living proof that what we do matters,” she said. “Whether you know it or not, you are feeding our fire—encouraging us to see the promise in all the children, youth, and families we work with. The example you set, the goals you achieve, are what make us so eager to come to work every day. I think I speak for all of Children’s Aid when I say we can’t thank you enough.”

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C.S. 61 Pays Tribute to the Bronx

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The school year is coming to an end and so are our after-school programs. The community school team at C.S. 61 recently hosted “Bronx Pride: A Celebration of Bronx History,” a performance that paid tribute to their home borough and took parents, families, and school staff in the audience along with its participants through a historical tour of Bronx history and culture.  From the birth of hip-hop to the influences of Puerto Rican and Dominican culture, those in attendance learned about the heritage of creativity that has been and will continue to be cultivated in the Bronx.

The innate talent of the young student dancers was supported by theater instructor Pablo Torres and dance instructor Ryan Marrero, who worked together to create the theme of the performance. Staff members Frances Garcia and Savita Narrain created the set design, which featured graffiti and recreated the 2 and 5 train lines running within the Bronx. Overall, many congratulations are due to the entire C.S. 61 community school team for putting on a great performance and for supporting the students throughout the year during after-school.

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P.O.W.E.R. Program Hosts 3rd Annual Prevention Fair

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On Saturday, June 3, the Children’s Aid Providing Opportunities, Wellness, Education, and Resources (P.O.W.E.R) Program held its 3rd annual Prevention Fair at the Frederick Douglass Center. Over 150 community members attended the fair, which aimed to provide the West Harlem community with information about the health and social services available in their neighborhood.

More than a dozen organizations and health care providers inside the center, along with the Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Roosevelt Health Screening RV parked in front of the center, offered health screenings, fire safety education, healthy eating and food resources, and job training workshops. The New York City Department of Health also offered a wide array of services, and community members learned about the various programs for youth and adults offered by Children’s Aid and other Harlem organizations.

There were also activities such as a bouncy house, face painting, games, skateboard lessons and demonstrations, a basketball shooting contest, popcorn, cotton candy, and ices. The P.O.W.E.R. Program also raffled off skateboards, toothbrushes, and toothpaste to attendees.

This was the first year that the P.O.W.E.R program held its prevention fair at the Frederick Douglass Center, and not only do they look forward to returning there next year, but the community does as well. As one grandparent in attendance said, “This is a beautiful event for the community and our kids. I hope you return to do this again.”

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Go!Healthy Hosts 7th Annual Iron Go!Chefs Cooking Competition

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Approximately 150 budding elementary, middle, and high school chefs sliced and diced their way to glory during this year’s Children’s Aid Iron Go!Chefs competition. Held at the Frederick Douglas Center in Harlem, the event served as the culminating experience for students who spent the school year in the Children’s Aid’s Go!Chefs after-school hands-on cooking and nutrition program.

This year each team, supported by Children’s Aid nutritionists, prepared a dish inspired by books like “Anne of Green Gables,” “The Lorax,” “Like Water for Chocolate,” and “The House on Mango Street.” In the end, the East Harlem Jalapenos from the elementary school round and the Fannie Lou Growling Panthers from the middle school and high school round both took home the coveted prize for “Best All-Around Iron Go!Chefs.” Guest judges included Phoebe Boyer, president and CEO of Children’s Aid; Miriam Martinez, chief program officer; Morgan Ames, policy advisor for Food Policy in the Office of the Mayor; and Chef Ben Liquet, owner of the cookie company “Contains Nuts.”

Go!Chefs operates in 15 Children’s Aid community centers and schools, serving 1,500 children each year. Our cooking classes teach kids as young as 6 years old basic kitchen skills and introduces them to the joy of eating and cooking with fresh fruits and vegetables. By preparing and enjoying nutritious and delicious food early on, children are provided the tools to make healthy choices that will serve them throughout adulthood.

Congratulations to all our young chefs for raising the bar for the competition yet again.

Click here, to view our Iron Go!Chefs photo gallery.

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A Community School’s Impact on a Mother and Her Family

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Lencis Andujar, currently the office manager at the Salomé Ureña de Henriquez Campus, has worked at few different schools for Children’s Aid over the last 17 years. However, her relationship with Children’s Aid community schools began even before that, at P.S. 5, which opened in the Washington Heights neighborhood in 1993.

Lencis has four sons, and when her second, Jeffrie, started the Early Childhood program at P.S. 5, in 1994, she found herself taking advantage of the opportunities provided by the community school. “While he was at school, I took the opportunity to go to college, first to learn the language, because I didn’t know any English,” she said. ”None at all.”

She also volunteered with the school’s family program. “You get the chance to give back, to go to school, to do things that are hard to do when you have kids,” she said. “You don’t have to worry about doctor’s appointments for instance… at P.S. 5 we had—and still have—a full-service school-based health clinic, and many other supports.” It was clear to her that the community schools model best supported her family.

“What’s important is we work with both the family and the kids, not just the kids. The parents can learn skills that help them earn a living, and they also learn to understand and help their children,” she said.

That was true for Lencis and her family. All four of her sons have been a part of Children’s Aid community schools from cradle-to-college, which was integral to their success according to Lencis. And she has recently graduated from Boricua College with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

“Throughout these years, I’ve seen how many other families have been positively impacted by Children’s Aid, like mine has.”

City Harvest Supports Families in Washington Heights

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Proposed federal cuts to food assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) would expand and intensify food insecurity for many New Yorkers, especially working families with children. It makes our nutrition work to ensure that children, youth, and their families have access to fresh, quality food and healthy choices all the more important. City Harvest, a partner in nutrition, is helping us rise to the challenge.

Our Early Childhood program at P.S. 5 recently received a $5,000 grant from the New York City Council’s School Food Pantry Initiative, which allowed the school to purchase food through City Harvest from Driscoll Foods to support over 30 families with children in our services. In addition to taking home fresh produce, whole wheat pasta, and low-sodium Adobo, parents also participated in one of our Go!Healthy nutrition workshops, where they learned a new recipe to try at home with their families. 

We are grateful to have the support of the City Council, Driscoll Foods, and City Harvest as we continue our nutrition work in schools to support children and families.