The Children's Aid Blog

Seeing is Believing

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It is an often-told story: a young boy or girl struggles in school. They say everything is fine, they’re just having trouble understanding the material or provide another reason for not doing well. Then, one day, they get a vision screening, and soon after a pair of eyeglasses. Academic improvement often occurs within weeks.

August is National Eye Exam Month, so there’s no better time to be thinking about the vision of our youth. Approximately 13.5 million young people under age 18 suffer from some sort of vision problem. In New York City alone, that number is around 250,000. Children living in poverty, and especially the children of recent immigrants, are especially susceptible to undetected vision problems. That’s why Children’s Aid makes vision screenings a fundamental component of the services we offer at our community schools to all children in grades 4-12.

Thanks to generous private donors, Children’s Aid and Helen Keller International (HKI) have been partnering since 2007 to bring visual health services to thousands of children and teens throughout our community schools. Over the last eight years, we have screened 41,000 students, with nearly 7,000 of those young people getting free eyeglasses as a result.

Does your child have a vision problem? Here are 10 possible signs, from the American Optometric Association:

  1. Frequent eye rubbing or blinking
  2. Short attention span
  3. Avoids reading and other close activities
  4. Frequent headaches
  5. Covers one eye
  6. Tilts head to one side
  7. Holds reading materials close to the face
  8. One eye turns in or out
  9. Loses place when reading
  10. Has difficulty recalling what has just been read

If your child exhibits any of these signs, now might be the time to get a vision screening and ensure that your children have all the tools they need to be successful in school. 

The Battle Against Asthma Goes National

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Asthma is a problem found in communities in every corner of the country, but it has reached an epidemic level for kids in lower-income neighborhoods. So the South Bronx, home to Children’s Aid’s Bronx Health Center, was an ideal platform for Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to call attention to the great need to do more in combatting asthma in our young people. And the best avenue to do so is in the schools.

Sen. Gillibrand’s legislation is called the School Asthma Management Plan, and it would bring tools and resources to schools and districts so they are ready to respond to asthma attacks. The language is currently included in a larger bill—the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—recently passed by the Senate. It’s up to the House of Representatives to make this language law.

“Approximately 36,000 Bronx children suffer from this chronic disease,” said Sen. Gillibrand, “so the place where they spend so much of their time—our schools—must be ready. This legislation will make sure schools have the resources to meet our students’ needs.”

Bronx-based leaders, well acquainted with the community’s asthma crisis, descended on the Bronx Health Center to show their support, including Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., State Senator Gustavo Rivera, and Assemblymember Mike Blake.

“The evidence couldn’t be clearer that asthma can have devastating consequences not just on children’s health but on their ability to succeed in school and life,” said Phoebe Boyer, our president and CEO. “Senator Gillibrand’s legislation will have a tremendous impact on the South Bronx and many other communities in New York City and across the nation where asthma is a major obstacle to children’s well-being and to developing healthy school communities.”

It was a good day for kids because it’s a great piece of legislation. 

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Staten Island Officials Tackle Summer Learning Loss

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Having fun is a crucial part of summer. However, we make sure that the children at our camps counter the effects of “summer slide” with structured learning time that requires campers to be engaged readers—while still leaving plenty of time for play and excitement. Children who engage in our programs experience less summer learning loss in reading than their peers. In fact, 68 percent of participants in our comprehensive summer camps maintained or improved their reading comprehension last summer.

On July 30, the Goodhue Center in Staten Island invited local leaders to help out in this effort by reading to some of the younger camp participants and demonstrating their commitment to year-round academic enrichment. New York State Assembly Member Matthew Titone, Richmond County District Attorney Daniel Master, Jr., and Staten Island Public Administrator Gary Gotlin read aloud from “Grace for President” to 100 summer participants at the center’s third annual “Reading Leader’s Day”.

The Goodhue Center has provided educational, recreational, and child care services to the community for more than 100 years and continues to provide these services to hundreds of children in our after-school, summer and day camp, and teen programs. During the school year, almost 200 children from six local schools receive tutoring, and participate in art, computers, dance, cooking, and physical fitness activities. The summer is no different, with 400 children in our camp programs playing on the ball fields, swimming, exploring the woods, and reading.

GIRLTALK #TakesOver Milbank

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GIRLTALK #takeover, an initiative co-founded by fashion designer and entrepreneur Angela Simmons and real estate executive Kerri Berson Levine to empower young girls with positive representation and mentorship, recently visited the Milbank summer camp in Harlem for an interactive day of fashion and fitness.

“Impressionable young girls are not receiving the right messages or being exposed to positive influences, particularly through the media,” said Angela Simmons. “GIRLTALK #takeover fills this void by creating an entertaining event in a comfortable setting with role models and professionals delivering important messages to encourage the girls’ full potential and help shape them for a healthy and creative future.”

More than 200 girls participated in exercises designed to boost self-esteem. They were treated to hair styling, makeup, and manicures; took part in yoga sessions, a Pretty Girls Sweat workout, and a fashion show; and they received a healthy cooking demonstration. A few celebrity guests, including singers Ne-Yo, Justine Skye, rapper Diggy Simmons, and athlete Mo’Ne Davis also stopped in to surprise the campers.

Center director Casper Lassiter said, “GIRLTALK #takeover will empower girls to realize their full potential as productive, responsible and caring citizens by developing a strong healthy self-concept, a strong belief in their self-worth, and sense about their future.”

We thank GIRLTALK #takeover and their sponsors for providing our girls with a fun and dynamic experience.

Action! Broadway Goes to the Bronx

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This summer, we’ve embarked on an exciting partnership with Broadway Serves, an organization made up of members of the Broadway community who want to make a difference. We’re thrilled to work with them because they have brought some incredible programming to our kids at C.S. 61 in the Bronx.

Broadway Serves wanted to work with every age group at C.S. 61. For grades K-3, the group, along with their Kids Serve volunteers, ran a toiletry drive to provide much needed supplies to the men and women served by Urban Pathways, a nonprofit that works to get the homeless into stable housing. Getting a supply of toiletries is of great importance to this population.

About 30-40 participants in grades 4-5 are participating in a four-week workshop, led by six Broadway Serves theater professionals, to learn about movement, acting, and creative writing. All of these activities are anchored in raising awareness about food and health justice. “The students have really gotten very engaged with the idea of access to good, health food and how that fits into their lives,” said Dionne Figgins, a co-founder and director of programming at Broadway Serves. Each grade level has a professional playwright currently working on a script that the students will then rehearse and stage. The performance of these four short plays will be on August 14.


JANA Partners’ Summer Tradition

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You can count on two things during the summer in New York City. Several bouts of sweltering heat and the staunch support of JANA Partners. On July 9, 30 of their employees travelled to Dunlevy Milbank Center, in Harlem, and split into groups to tackle some major projects across the property. One group painted a mural as well as repainted picnic tables and walls on the rooftop. Another group completely cleaned up the center courtyard and planted new bushes and grass. The third group cleaned and planted the garden that is used to teach classes for our Go!Healthy programs.

This is the fourth Go!Healthy site in which JANA Partners invested their time and money. JANA paid for the entire cost of the project and supplemented that with additional funding for Go!Healthy.

Huge thanks to JANA for their commitment to kids in New York City.


Ms. Boyer Goes to Washington

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Last week, Children's Aid President and CEO went to Washington, DC, with Yolanda McBride, the director of our Office of Public Policy, to build relationships with federal legislators and talk about our work in key areas affected by federal legislation. They met with a number of elected officials, some of whom have Children’s Aid services within their districts and others who play significant roles in the areas of our work. And there was time for lunch with Bruce Lesley, the president of First Focus, a Children’s Aid ally in the battle against poverty. Their visits included:

Rep. Dan Donovan is relatively new to DC, having just been elected. But the former Staten Island district attorney has long memories of his time as a “Goodhue kid.”

Rep. Carolyn Maloney represents the district that includes both Lord Memorial Building and the new Executive Headquarters. Education and women’s issues, including health, are priorities for her.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, whose father once volunteered for Children’s Aid, hopes to visit our Brooklyn-based LINC youth justice program.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler has been a champion of civil liberties and a host of progressive causes. Children's Aid has both child welfare and juvenile justice programs in his district.

They also met with the chief of staff from Rep. José Serrano, who ably represents the South Bronx, where we deliver so many of our services.

Finally, they met with Phoebe’s cousin, Sen. Michael Bennet (Colorado), whose top priorities include education and health.

All in all, a great day for Children’s Aid in our nation’s capital.

Exploring Mental Health Through Art

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During June’s Mental Health Awareness Week, after-school participants at I.S. 90 and I.S. 218 participated in a program on mental health and the importance of practicing positive coping mechanisms to keep and maintain a healthy mind and body. Luisa Madrid, an early recognition and screening specialist, launched an art contest, asking for submissions that described “What Emotional Health Means To Me.”

The students submitted some incredibly intelligent and creative work. Below you will find some of the winners.
By Jordy Nuñez, MS 293, 7th Grade (Salome Urena)
By Omar Peña, MS 218, 8th Grade (Salome Urena)
By Angel Obergh, MS 218, 8th Grade (Salome Urena)
By Mariel Then Leonardo, MS 319, 7th grade (Mirabal Sisters)
By Jorge Diaz, MS 324, 7th Grade (Mirabal Sisters)
By Dhrake Velez, MS 324, 6th Grade (Mirabal Sisters)
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Little Ones on Their Way to Big Things

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If you’ve been out and about in New York City over the past weeks, you’ve probably seen them: teenagers looking their very best and decked out in cap and gowns. They are collecting their high school diplomas and quickly approaching the next chapter in their lives.

But they’re not the only ones celebrating milestones right now. Hundreds of young youngsters are taking part in “Stepping Up” ceremonies at Children’s Aid sites across the city, marking another year of educational and social-emotional development. Hundreds will graduate to kindergarten in the fall. Others will ascend to the next level in our Early Childhood programs, having a lot of fun while learning the valuable skills that will put them in a position to succeed in kindergarten and beyond.

These events are certainly cute, as you can see in the photo gallery, but they are also a critical moment in their young lives that tells them what they are doing is important and that their parents and teachers are proud of them. So please wish these kids the best as they set out to do wonderful things. 


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A Path to Success

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June is a busy but thrilling time of year. School lets out, our youngest kids enjoy their “stepping up” ceremonies, thousands prepare for summer camps across the city and at our Wagon Road Camp.

But one of the most gratifying experiences we have each year is to share the achievement of so many high school seniors as they graduate and get ready for their next steps. Last week, we celebrated 57 young men and women who won more than $150,000 scholarships as they take aim at higher education.

The Stern Memorial Scholarship Luncheon, at Lido Harlem, is a highly anticipated event for both students and Children’s Aid Staff. The Stern family, represented by Rob and Yuka Stern and their son, Ren, have established two different scholarships that benefit nine soon-t0-be freshman. This year’s winners will be attending Cornell University, Hunter College, Virginia State, a host of schools in the SUNY system, and other colleges. “You’ve made something good happen,” said Rob Stern. “You’ve lifted all the heavy weights. You’ve earned it.”

The Stern scholars were in attendance on Friday, June 19, for the Children’s Aid Scholarship Awards Ceremony, the crowning event of the year for the Path to College Success Program. They joined dozens of other ambitious and aspiring students at the Silberman School for Social Work in East Harlem. Adam Graves, a former star hockey player for the New York Rangers, was just one of many distinguished presenters during the night. He introduced the four recipients of the Garden of Dreams/Inspire Scholarship, which is a renewable scholarship worth up to $40,000 over four years.

The following scholarships were also awarded: The Jean and Wick Stern Memorial Scholarship, The Richard R. Dieterle Memorial Scholarship, The Alonzo Milligan Mentorship Award, The Gluck-Dyja Family Scholarship, The Audrey Miller Poritzky Scholarship, The Elda Alicia Santaran Scholarship, The Aegis Media Cares Scholarship, The Jean Marie DeVeaux Scholarship, The Golf Classic Scholarships, and The Children's Aid Society Path to College Success Scholarships.

The winners came from every corner of Children’s Aid: Hope Leadership Academy, Opportunity Charter School, Urban Assembly of Math and Science for Young Women, the East Harlem Center, Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School, and more. This night couldn’t be anything but fantastic, with so many young women and men about to take the next giant step on their path to excellence and success. Congratulations to all!