The Children's Aid Blog

Lively Debate at 4th Annual “Lift Every Voice” Competition

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The Children’s Aid Society’s African American Male Initiative (AAMI) hosted its annual Lift Every Voice public speaking competition on February 28 at Fannie Lou Hamer High School. Each year the public speaking series challenges its young participants to strengthen their writing and verbal skills outside of the classroom by critically engaging in current affairs through persuasive speeches and debate.

This year’s competition featured students from grades 4-12, with approximately 50 participants from AAMI, P.S. 61, Hope Leadership Academy, Storefront Academy of Harlem, George Jackson Academy, and Harlem Link Academy. Additionally, Children’s Aid staff and members of the Samaritan Village Alumni Association served as volunteer judges and audience members, alongside family members.

Students participated in timed rounds of fierce debate to answer: “Is Reality Television Harmful to Youth?” They also took impassioned stances on whether the war on terror was a success or failure through thoughtful expository speeches. Closing out Black History Month, the competition reflected the intellectual spirit and legacy of historical black leaders.

Thank you to Clifton Watson and the AAMI staff for continuing to make the series a success each year. Congratulations to all the participants!

Primp, Pamper, and Bingo

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Teens from the Boys and Girls Club Keystone group at Hope Leadership Academy hosted twelve local senior citizens at the center’s annual Primp and Pamper event. The event gives teens the opportunity to provide service to seniors in the community and develop intergenerational relationships.

Seniors were treated to make-overs, manicures, and a lunch that was prepared by the center’s nutritional chef.  The afternoon also included games and raffled prizes, as teens partnered with seniors for a few fun rounds of bingo.

We commend our teens for organizing the event and giving back to their community in a creative way. Thank you to Julissa Contreras and the rest of the Hope Leadership staff for assisting our teens in their service activities.

LeBron James Transforms the Frederick Douglass Center

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It has become a much-anticipated tradition. For nine years, LeBron James has made the NBA All-Star weekend about much more than just a basketball game. As the game moves from one city to the next, LeBron teams up with the Boys & Girls Club of America to commit massive acts of generosity at local facilities.

This year, as the marquis name among NBA All-Stars, LeBron and his team from the LeBron James Family Foundation descended upon New York City with a goal of 23 such acts (LeBron’s number with the Cleveland Cavaliers is 23). The Children’s Aid Society was thrilled to be the recipient of two of those acts.

The weekend got off to a great start on Friday evening when a team from the foundation more than a dozen strong—made up of staff members and its youth ambassadors—stopped at our East Harlem Center to deliver eight brand-new instruments. Our kids are now well-prepared to groove.

But the crowning event of the weekend took place on Saturday at the Frederick Douglas Center. For months, the LeBron James Family Foundation planned a full renovation of both the gym and the technology room. The gym now features a gleaming floor and a new scoreboard. The technology room has a fresh paint job and will soon be home to $20,000 worth of computer equipment.

This is a huge investment in our facility, so LeBron wanted to see the end result for himself. Our kids were thrilled to see the most famous basketball player in the world, who answered questions taken from Facebook as well as the audience, sharing some interesting facts about his life as well as some advice. On his way out the door, he delivered dozens of high-fives to the kids who had waited three hours to see him.

Of course, this work doesn’t happen magically. Amy Hyman and her team have been working hard for months to accommodate all the work and deserve a huge round of applause for making it all happen. 

Show Your Heart Love: February is American Heart Month

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February is American Heart Month, and this month we can treat our heart to a little TLC by cutting back on some sweets: namely ADDED SUGARS. These are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared. As the Center for Disease Control reports, “cardiovascular disease (CVD)—including heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure—is the number 1 killer of women and men in the United States.” In January 2014, a study in JAMA: Internal Medicine reported that “those who got 17 to 21 percent of calories from added sugar had a 38% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared to those who consumed 8 percent of their calories from added sugar.” Sugar-sweetened beverages are the largest source of added sugars in the American diet.

For each additional 12-ounce soda children consumed each day, the odds of becoming obese increased by 60%.  This is why,The Children’s Aid Society has disallowed all sugar sweetened beverages within its programming and functions. Water, seltzer, low-fat milk, 100% juice are allowed and encouraged.  Cutting back completely might not be easy, but taking one small step might help your heart in the long run!

Foster Friday: Meet Juana Fabre

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Juana Fabre experienced what many parents feel when their children go to college: empty nest syndrome. A neighbor was a foster parent, and Juana saw how happy the child was. This motivated Juana to welcome a child into her home in 2011. “My life has never been the same since,” said Juana. “It’s a better life, and I’m a happier person.”

Interested in becoming a foster parent? Click here to learn more.

East Harlem Center Hosts #KnowYourRightsNYC

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On January 31, the East Harlem Center Keystone Club hosted the #KnowYourRightsNYC forum, an opportunity for teens to come together to help build stronger community relations with the police while also learning about their rights if they have personal interactions with police officers.

As part of the Boys & Girls Club Million Members Million Hours of Service, the teen club members were encouraged to find opportunities to implement service projects that would benefit their local community. Four months ago, before the local and national protests over the Michael Brown and Eric Garner court decisions, the club decided that having a discussion about police-community relations would be interesting to other teens.

Keystone Club members decided to survey community members on the issues and found that a high percentage of local teens were not only unaware of their legal rights, but also wanted to improve their relationship with local police. Under the guidance of Midge Caparosa, the arts and leadership coordinator at East Harlem, the club decided an event focused on educating their peers could be a step in the right direction.

New York Civil Liberties Union trained the organizers on appropriate behaviors for interacting with police and was also present at the forum to offer advice to approximately 40 attendees, such as the importance of carrying forms of identification and how to calmly communicate in the event that they are stopped by a police officer.

The teens also facilitated conversation during breakout groups, where Children’s Aid participants and teen participants in NYPD Law Enforcement Explorers program at the local 23rd precinct discussed sources of distrust and possible ways to make their neighborhoods safer and healthier communities. #KnowYourRightsNYC greatly reflected the maturity and passion of its young organizers and reified the importance of community based service.

Associates Council members join 50 students in Study Now, Play Later

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On January 17, Associates Council volunteers gathered at the Dunlevy Milbank Community Center in Harlem to support Study Now, Play Later, a signature Children’s Aid program where students (grades K-5) spend their Saturday reinforcing concepts learned in school, specifically math and reading. In order to complement classroom activities, students end their day in the gym where instructors lead dance aerobics, team-building games, and sports.

“Study Now, Play Later is a safe environment that provides students with an opportunity to prepare for the week ahead at school,” said Eddie Britt, Saturday Program Director. “Studies show that young students benefit from ongoing educational reinforcement outside of traditional school hours and this program ensures that our students are positioned for success, especially after a weekend away from school.”

While the program emphasizes education, the scheduled activities promote relationship-building and emotional development. Students are greeted by staff and their peers, and are expected to contribute in a positive and meaningful manner by not only completing their assignments but by expressing themselves in an appropriate manner.

Following a tour of the Dunlevy Milbank Community Center, AC members joined students in each of the classrooms and worked with individual students on assignments. From there, everyone went to the gym where AC volunteers were challenged in a dodge ball-style game of “Sharks and Fishes.” Even though this was the first time many AC members had participated in Study Now, Play Later, they were all impressed by the morning’s activities and left excited about the other volunteer projects that are being planned this year.

Next month, the Associates Council will host a book fair for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Participants will play literary games and select books to take home so they can begin building their personal libraries.

To join the Associates Council, contact maliap@childrensaidsociety.org.

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

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.”