The Children's Aid Blog

What will your fairytale ending be?

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That was the question asked of students in The Children’s Aid Society’s School Age programs in February. In order to highlight activities that the Associates Council’s annual Spring Fundraiser would support, the AC hosted a creative writing contest for students in multiple after-school programs.

The contest—"Once Upon A Time: A Modern Fairytale"—aligns with this year’s event, “Once Upon A Time,” and builds on our 2015 beneficiary, childhood literacy.

The writing contest asked students to create a modern fairytale that incorporated a societal or cultural value such as respect, justice, perseverance, kindness, the importance of education, love, compassion, or community. The contest also required students to use elements of a fairytale and develop a concise plot with fully developed characters. Students were given a task sheet, a detailed grading rubric, and a list of suggestions to aid their writing.

While the contest was meant to be fun, it also reinforced the elements of good writing and storytelling students learn at school and in Children’s Aid programming.

More than a dozen entries were submitted to the contest, and members of the Associates Council had a great time reading through their fairytales and experiencing the range of the student’s creativity. The winning story, “Let It Glow,” was written by Dallis Dillard, a student at the Dunlevy Milbank Campus. We will share his story at “Once Upon A Time” on Thursday, May 7, at the Manhattan Penthouse.

Don’t miss out on Dallis’s story! Click here to purchase tickets.

For updates on upcoming volunteer activities and events, follow the Associates Council on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter

Taking it to the Bank

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April is National Financial Literacy month. To celebrate, students from C.S. 211 and the Children’s Aid College Prep Charter School (CACPCS) participated in a CAS College Savers Bank Day at their local Citibank branch in the Bronx. CAS College Savers helps families plan and save for college by providing students with a college savings account in their name along with matched dollars incentives. Over the last two years, CAS College Savers has opened 337 college savings accounts for students across six Children’s Aid sites. Bank Day teaches kids about how banks work and how to make deposits in their college savings accounts.

During the morning, CAS College Savers students participated in an interactive presentation on the importance of savings led by representatives from Citi Community Development. Students also learned about how a bank works and the different ways they can save money to build their college savings accounts. Students had the opportunity to tour the bank facility and even visited the vault! Bank Day concluded with each student visiting the bank teller and making a contribution into their CAS College Savers accounts.

As an added bonus, each student took home a Citi backpack filled with goodies, including a financial literacy activity book and colorful pencils. The students, feeling confident that they are one step closer to achieving their college dreams, beamed with pride as they left the bank with their deposit receipts.

Associates Council join 50 students in Fitness Jamboree

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On March 28, Associates Council (AC) members volunteered at the Dunlevy Milbank Center in Harlem for the Sixth Annual Fitness Jamboree, a signature AC event where students (grades K-5) spend an entire Saturday participating in physical fitness activities. This year activities included soccer, dance, basketball, and martial arts.

Healthy and active living is an important component of Children’s Aid programming and is reinforced in Milbank’s Study Now, Play Later program.

Fifteen AC volunteers split up among four groups of students and rotated through stations dedicated to each of the fitness activities. Students were taught the discipline of martial arts and the proper fundamentals in soccer and basketball, then let loose to show off their moves by choreographing and dancing to some great music. The key themed throughout the Jamboree were for students to be open to trying new things, interacting in group settings, and learning healthy behaviors and good sportsmanship.

“The Fitness Jamboree is an important day for our students,” said Eddie Britt, the Saturday program director. “It teaches them how fun fitness and healthy living can be and it shows them how they can easily start to incorporate it in their lives, whether it’s through a formal program, here at Dunlevy Milbank, or on their own.” 

After the activities, students and volunteers also shared a nutritious lunch before ending the day with an exciting game of dodge ball! This was the second time this year that many AC members had visited Milbank—and they shared in the delight of seeing the impact of this program for the students.

Pete Capomacchio, a current AC member said, “This was my second volunteering event at Milbank since joining the AC last spring. It’s an invaluable experience not only to spend time with the children on a particular Saturday, but also watching them grow and learn because of the great program design and implementation from Children’s Aid and Milbank staff.”

On May 7, the Associates Council will continue supporting Children’s Aid literacy programs at their Fifth Annual Spring Event. The theme, “Once Upon a Time,” will bring together original stories written by some of our children and great people for a good cause. Donations from raffle and ticket sales will support Children's Aid literacy programs. Buy your tickets today: www.events.org/onceuponatime

Raising Awareness of HIV/AIDS

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April is Get Yourself Tested month, an initiative backed by a number of national organizations central to battling HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STI). Next week Children’s Aid will show its support with a GYT event put on by our CAS JAM Peers at the Next Generation Center.

But that isn’t the only way we’re supporting this crucial area of awareness. Last week, we joined Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., youth-focused coalition Bronx Serving Realness (the CAS JAM Peers are members of this coalition), and many other community partners at Betances Community Center to celebrate National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. The After Dark event brought testing, support, and care to those who are most at-risk for HIV in the Bronx by "meeting people where they are," outside of regular business hours. Youth went into the community with food and hygiene kits, and encouraged people to return to the center for HIV testing, showers, and information on additional community resources.

Borough President Diaz signed a proclamation declaring April 10 as National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and urged all the youth present to continue having a big impact as they made the Bronx stronger.  

Inspiring Teens

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Joined on the court by Knicks legend Walt “Clyde Frazier,” the first recipients of the Garden of Dreams Inspire Scholarships received a warm ovation from the Madison Square Garden crowd during the Knicks game Wednesday night. (Dave Saffran/MSG Photos)

We feel fortunate to have a long-standing partnership with the Garden of Dreams Foundation and Madison Square Garden. For many years, our teens have benefited from programs they’ve sponsored, such as MSG Classroom, and the many experiences and opportunities those organizations have offered.

This year, Garden of Dreams Foundation took their generosity to an entirely new level with the Inspire Scholarships. The program offers renewable college scholarships of $10,000 annually to high-achieving teens coming from lower-income areas throughout the New York City area. Each scholarship has a total potential value of $40,000. Teens involved with one of the Garden of Dreams Foundation’s 25 partners are eligible.

Our kids seized this incredible opportunity and secured four of the scholarships. We’re so proud of these young men and women as they prepare to begin their own college journeys:

Alana Cowan has been a Just Ask Me (JAM) Peer Educator for three years, helping to spread health and wellness information that is critical to teens. She has conducted workshops on sexually transmitted diseases, HIV prevention, and self-esteem. She is a school theater production actor who also serves as the president of the student government. In the fall, she will take her many talents to the Pennsylvania State University, where she will major in journalism with a concentration in fashion. 

Toddara Galimore (pictured left of Walt Frazier) has been a stand-out leader at the UA Institute (UAI) in Brooklyn as well as an active CAS-Carrera participant for the past seven years. She has participated in UAI’s Summer Work Study Program, the Summer Youth Employment Program, and she has taken overnight and day trips to visit colleges. Toddara plans to become a pharmacist and will be making her final college decision in the next week or two.       

Nyuma Gumaneh (pictured second from the left of Walt Frazier) has been an active member of Hope Leadership Academy since her freshman year, when she dove into the many opportunities offered there. In the Peer Education program, she led workshops on violence prevention, cultural diversity, and financial literacy, ultimately earning the highest level as Peer Fellow. She honed her public speaking skills through JPMorgan Live and Street Law. And she recently completed MSG Classroom, learning some of the intracacies of journalism, video production, and broadcasting.  This is just a sample of what she’s accomplished at Children’s Aid, all of which will prepare her when she attends TKTKTK this fall.

Brian Polanco has been a member of our Hope Leadership Academy and is a standout student at Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School, currently ranked second in his class. He’s a great peer educator and has participated in a number of programs including JPMorgan LIVE, which introduced him to the finance industry; Street Law, a collaborative initiatve between Children’s Aid and New York Law School; and Corporate Workplace, where he worked at the prestigious law firm Pavia & Harcourt. He’s attending SUNY-Albany in the fall with an eye on a career in the law.

Congratulations to these young men and women!

An Evening of Career Preparation and Inspiration with Gap, Inc.

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What does it take to succeed in the world of retail? That was the question two dozen eager students hoped to answer on March 19, when they visited the Banana Republic flagship store at Rockefeller Plaza. These youth were participating in Children’s Aid’s Corporate Workplace Program, led by our Volunteer Services Department. Corporate Workplace offers teenagers both a theoretical and a practical understanding of the working world while also providing them with the tools required to get there. Gap, Inc. (Banana Republic’s parent company) and the Gap Foundation—generous Children’s Aid supporters for a number of years—facilitated this workshop. The Gap, Inc. employees hosting our youth were more than capable of giving them plenty of insider tips on how to land an entry-level job.

The students, most of whom study at the South Bronx’s Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School—a Children’s Aid community school—were split into two groups led by Banana Republic Midtown Region Talent and Development Manager Dan Butler and Staffing Manager Ariel Fleischman. Mr. Butler, Ms. Fleischman, and all of the Gap, Inc. employees on hand were ready, willing, and able to answer  pressing questions about working in retail and the workforce in general. Mr. Butler spoke about what it means to be a brand ambassador at Banana Republic. The students also learned about the essential traits and skills all employers look for in potential hires. Mr. Butler drove home the message that presentation is critical, as are qualities such as being respectful, responsible, and team-oriented. The youth left Mr. Butler’s presentation with a clear sense of how to conduct themselves during an interview and how to make themselves stand out as an ideal candidate.

Ms. Fleischman escorted each group on a tour of the sprawling flagship store, including the stock room. She gave further insight into the company’s online application process and what she, as a staffing manager, looks for when considering a candidate for employment. The teens were inquisitive and engaged, taking full advantage of this unique opportunity to go “behind-the-scenes” of the hiring and training process at a worldwide retailer. Mr. Butler and Ms. Fleischman’s presentations were interspersed with introductions to other management-level employees, including the store’s general managers and representatives from the visual team. Each employee spoke about their personal experience climbing the corporate ladder, emphasizing the need for perseverance, networking, and personal goal-setting.

It was an evening full of valuable insights and information.Our teens left the store armed with a greater understanding of what it takes to really succeed in business. We cannot thank Gap, Inc. enough for its partnership in our Corporate Workplace program and their investment in the futures of our remarkable youth!

Seeking the National Youth of the Year

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Every year, our partners at the Boys & Girls Club of America attempt a most difficult task: to identify its national youth of the year, one young man or woman whose values, achievements, and commitment to the club surpass those of thousands of other members. The Children’s Aid Society hosts four different Boys & Girls (at Milbank, East Harlem Center, Hope Leadership Academy, and Opportunity Charter School) and must choose just one of our kids to represent us.

This year’s competition was especially difficult because all eight candidates brought so much to the table in terms of strong academics and impressive extracurricular activities. In the end, Sage Lopez from our East Harlem Center was able to distinguish himself. The senior from Manhattan Center for Science and Math spoke of his hopes to establish a rigorous college mentor program and create a series of town hall meetings for youth to voice and resolve major issues. He headed up a successful workshop this winter to help teens understand their rights when they encountered local police.

Sage will head to Albany in May to compete against dozens of teens from across the state. We wish him the best of luck.

A Victory in Albany

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For nearly a year, The Children’s Aid Society has led a coalition of 75 community-based organizations from every corner of New York State—called the Fostering Youth Success Alliance—to persuade key legislators and members of the Cuomo administration to develop a comprehensive support system for college-age foster youth.

On April 1, we scored our first major victory!

The budget for 2015-16 includes $1.5 million to begin building a far better college support system for youth in foster care. The funding will not only help ease the financial burden of these young people, it will also put in place the many supports these kids desperately need as they navigate the many challenges of college.

“A college degree is a proven pathway out of poverty, which afflicts the young people in foster care at a staggering rate,” said Phoebe Boyer, president and CEO of Children’s Aid. “The funding of the Foster Youth Success Initiative is a landmark moment that will have the direct effect of ensuring that more youth in foster care attend college and succeed by taking home a degree.”

This is a case where the term “game changer” is not a reach. Young people in foster care will graduate from college directly because of this work. And they will benefit from that success for years and years to come. Congratulations to everyone involved. 

A Groundbreaking Day in the South Bronx

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Yesterday was a big day for the South Bronx community. It marked the official commencement of a project that we’ve actually been working on for some time: the Bronx Community School, a $45 million facility that will be home to Children’s Aid College Prep Charter School and a full slate of programming for children as well as many services for their families.

We had a huge turnout for the festivities with some very special guests, namely Rich Buery, the deputy mayor of New York City for special initiatives, and Ruben Diaz Jr., the borough president of the Bronx. Attendees shared in the excitement about a new building that would send a clear message to young people that their education and welfare is important.

“This building is about our children,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. “This is about our future. We want an equal playing field and equal opportunities. That’s what Children’s Aid has given us.”

In addition to a fully modern set of classrooms, the building will include a gymnasium/auditorium, cafeteria, expanded science room, art room, dedicated dance studio, music room, library/media center, and meeting rooms. When it opens in 2016, the new building will accommodate approximately 420 students spanning grades pre-K to 5.

The Bronx Community School will be the latest and most substantial investment in this South Bronx neighborhood. It sits in close proximity to the Bronx Family Center, three other Children’s Aid early childhood centers, 11 other Children’s Aid community schools and the Next Generation Center, a facility for adolescents as they prepare for adulthood.

“This new space offers us the ability to expand our footprint in partnership with this vibrant community,” said Phoebe Boyer, the president and CEO of Children’s Aid. “It will be a central hub and resource for this community. We are excited to cement our commitment to the South Bronx with the opening of this building.”

Click here to view photo gallery.

Fighting for School-Based Health Centers in Albany

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On March 11, parents and students from Children’s Aid community schools traveled with staff to the capitol to advocate for their school-based health centers (SBHCs). Children’s Aid operates five comprehensive SBHCs, which offer critical preventive health care to more than 200,000 children across the state every year. 

Nearly 70 advocates, from Salome Ureña, Mirabal Sisters, and Curtis High School shared their experiences with their legislators. One mother, Gleiri Hernandez, explained the effect her son’s severe asthma has on his academics since his school does not have an SBHC. “His asthma [has caused him] to miss 34 days so far, and it is only halfway through the school year,” she said. ”This is why it is important…to support the health clinics in our schools.” One Curtis High School Student, Annarose Wilkinson, explained how one of her friends “[had] problems at home along with stress at school and it caused her own internal conflicts to escalate and her grades dropped… she decided to seek help from our school based health center. Now she’s recovering, bettering herself and if the hours were cut due to less funding she wouldn’t have received as much help as often as she needed. She still would’ve been in the wrong place. If SBHCs have limited hours because of less funding, it could impact our school negatively. It could be a matter of life and death for some [depending] on how serious their problems are. I know because it was for my friend.” 
 
SBHCs are in danger of losing at least $16.3 million in funding if they become part of the Medicaid Managed Care, and an additional $20 million is currently in jeopardy as the state’s proposed budget eliminates funding of 40 discrete programs, including SBHCs. Our SBHC parents and students met with their district legislators, including Assembly Member Linares, Senator Espaillat, Senator Rivera, Senator Savino, Senator Lanza’s Chief of Staff, John Turoski and Assembly Member Titone, and asked them to reject Governor Cuomo’s proposed State Budget and block grant which would severely cut funding by $20 million for SBHCs across the city.