The Children's Aid Blog

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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Starting the Conversation at Home

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When families enter our services through the child welfare system, our number one goal is to make sure they leave it thriving. One of the approaches we use is Multidimensional Family Therapy (MDFT), which provides families with counseling to troubleshoot their most pressing issues.

Skipping school, using drugs recreationally, or facing substance abuse are the most visible signs that bring youth to our attention. However, the emotional roots of these issues, both inside and out of the home, are often the reasons behind unhealthy behaviors. That’s where our in-house experts step in.

Kim Dorsey, a deputy director in our Child Welfare and Family Services Division, Stephen Douglas, the MDFT program director, and Zakiya Thomas, the only MDFT-certified trainer in New York State, manage a small, but powerful team of therapists at Children’s Aid. They arrive at apartment doors across the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, ready to start conversations in our clients’ living rooms.

“Our therapists work really hard. They are out there in the homes early in the morning and late in the evening to support families,” said Kim.

For youth who have never had the opportunity to talk about what’s affecting them, and for parents who may be feeling as frustrated or overwhelmed as their children, that support is a listening ear.

“Parents are often struggling with issues that have nothing to do with them being a parent,” said Kim. “It’s also their time to talk.”

The one-on-ones with therapists turn into family discussions between children and their parents, which build strong lines of communication into the core of their relationship. It results in healthy outcomes for our youth: they remain sober, attend school every day, and most, importantly, they feel supported at home. Our consistent record of breakthroughs has garnered us recognition as one of the top ten MDFT programs worldwide by MDFT International. We not only take pride in these successes, but also in the ones that extend beyond our services.

“When families call a couple of months later to say a child is graduating or going to college—that’s really gratifying,” said Stephen.

Team Children’s Aid 2016

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Each year, New York welcomes fall with the TCS New York City Marathon. This year, Children’s Aid was thrilled to officially participate as a charity partner. The organization’s first marathon team, Team Children’s Aid, made their inaugural 26.2 mile run through New York City’s five boroughs on Sunday, November 6.

In true New York fashion, marathon season was a chance to bring the community together, and start a few new traditions. The Associates Council hosted their first annual Team Children’s Aid Marathon Mingle on October 27 at Atwood Bar. Friends and colleagues got together after work for a fun evening of libations, raffle prizes, and, of course, good company to raise funds in support of the team’s fundraising goal. It was a night to celebrate the team and their amazing journeys, as well as a chance to meet new people and raise awareness for the organization as a whole.

The Associates Council and other members of the Children’s Aid family also gathered on race day to cheer on the team. We posted up at Mile 22 to give our runners one last burst of energy as they made their way down 5th Avenue. It was the perfect fall day in Harlem: sunny, warm, and alive with race-day excitement.  With pom-poms, sparkly signs, and cowbells in hand, we came ready to cheer. And cheer we did!

Congratulations to our amazing runners: Volkan Kurtas, Jon Herrick, Victor Liebregt, Drema Brown, Angelic Pla, Dan Bormolini, and Patricia Lightell. In addition to their incredible athletic feats, they raised more than $30,000 to support Children’s Aid—and we couldn’t be more proud and grateful.

With a successful year behind us, we’re already recruiting Team Children’s Aid runners for 2017. We hope to see you next year for round two. We can’t wait!

For more information about running with Team Children’s Aid please contact Jennifer Warren, deputy director of institutional relations, at jwarren@childrensaidsociety.org.

For more information about joining the Associates Council, please contact Malia Poai, director of events, at maliap@childrensaidsociety.org.

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Planting Seeds Early

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Last week, our early childhood students at C.S. 61 developed little green thumbs in the Bronx with help from our Go!Healthy program. The toddlers, with help from their teachers and Go!Healthy nutritionists, learned about gardening as part of the nutrition program’s education curriculum that shapes even the youngest minds in our services.

After a reading of “Planting a Rainbow” written by Lois Ehlert, students made their own arts and crafts plants; and thanks to some face painting magic, their classroom soon filled with young colorful butterflies, lady bugs, and bees. The morning ended outside in the school’s garden where kids and their parents planted bulbs and laid down soil for the winter. The excitement for our young ones will continue in the spring when they get to revisit the garden to see what has sprouted above ground.

Go!Healthy also made the morning particularly seasonal by sharing samples and recipes of a fall vegetable chili with parents. And staff raffled off gardening packets with pots, soil, and seeds to help our families continue their gardening efforts at home.

Thank you to C.S. 61 and the Go!Healthy program for instilling a love of gardening and nutrition in our young ones that will be sure to grow along with them.

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A Very Good Year for FYSA

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The Fostering Youth Success Alliance has been going full speed since it launched in 2014, and this year has been one of tremendous achievements. Here are some recent highlights.

FYSA built upon the great success it had during its first state budgeting process by doubling funding—to $3 million allocation—toward foster youths’ post-secondary educational needs during the FY 17. In doing so, the number of young people benefitting from the program doubled.

FYSA also hosted its second Making College Success a Reality conference in late October. The 150 attendees included representatives from SUNY, CUNY, the state Department of Education, the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities, social services agencies, and county and district governments from Buffalo to Long Island. The event advanced on progress made at last year’s conference and also focused on more current developments, such as President Obama’s passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA includes a provision for the tracking of foster youths’ academic progress from grades K-12, and, therefore, correlates strongly with FYSA’s work—ensuring foster youth are engaged in a college-going culture often and early, and that they see college as a realistic and desirable goal.

FYSA also played a prominent role in local government advances this month, including several bills signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio just two weeks ago. The impetus for these bills was last year’s first-ever Foster Youth Shadow Day, during which our foster youth advocates interacted directly with council members, presenting representatives with issues that were of personal and prominent concern. Five bills in total were signed into law, and all represent a more comprehensive approach to addressing the various barriers foster youth face while in care and during the arduous transition to adulthood.

To top it all off, Jessica Maxwell, the director of the Fostering Youth Success Alliance (FYSA), is an incredible youth advocate and was recognized as such with the 2016 New York Nonprofit Media Cause Award. Working with alliance partners, she helped raise crucial issues and advocated fiercely for them—the advancement of youth in and transitioning out of foster care in the realms of higher education, employment, and housing, among others. She really earned this honor. 

FYSA’s efforts continue unabated. Children’s Aid is proud to lead the charge, along with our partner agencies who encompass FYSA, to improve the life outcomes of youth in and aging out of foster care, and we wholeheartedly believe that these recent achievements are but portents of greater successes on the horizon. 

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