The Children's Aid Blog

Representing Children’s Aid

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Earlier this spring, eight teens from our four different Boys & Girls Clubs competed to be the Children’s Aid representative in the Youth of the Year competition. The competition was stiff, and it was difficult to pick one candidate above all others. But Sage Lopez, from our East Harlem Center, rose to the top and earned the right to travel to Albany and compete for the statewide honor. While he didn’t win, he had a great experience and wrote about his journey and the competition:

After being chosen as The Children's Aid Society Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year, I began rehearsing my Youth of the Year speech for the New York State competition. My speech articulates in three minutes who I am, what impact my club has had on me and my entire community, and what my vision is for the youth of the future. At the state competition, in Albany, Youth of the Year candidates from every corner of New York gathered to deliver their club-driven speech, and venerate Youth of the Year winners for being exemplary, young community leaders. 

My heart was crushed when I heard one particular Youth of the Year's struggle with adversity in a house where he had to be a grown-up from as early as 12 years old because his parents were substance abusers. While his parents' shortcomings lead to his siblings being put in foster care, and difficult circumstances, he managed to find stability, hope, and refuge at his local Boys & Girls Clubs. We were able to find inspiration when Youths of the Year recalled how their club's presence eradicated teen gang and drug association within a few years. And even I was able to empathize with a Youth of the Year who used to ask when his mother would return home. However this person's scenario was different since he was from a military base club and his mom's job included long deployment periods. Still, the sense that life is uncertain is a feeling almost everyone can relate is not easy to be optimistic when facing adversities, but these individuals succeed and the club is at the backbone of their resiliency. 

I felt very inspired by the accomplishments of all my peers at the Albany celebration. I was ecstatic at Dave & Busters when my advisor got a thousand D&B tickets on her first attempt at a game. The exclusive tour of the College of Nanoscale was epic; they have the best in store when it comes to top of the line technology! The historic area surrounding the Capitol and Legislative buildings, and the food, makes Albany worthy of a revisit. 

The opportunity to sit in on a Senate hearing on global warming, as well meeting my local representatives such as Senator Bill Perkins, Assemblymen Michael Benedetto, and Assemblymen Robert Rodriguez's staff in their Albany offices, was exciting and memorable. We discussed the importance of providing teenagers with positive programs in their communities, and I was invited to visit them in their NYC offices with other Keystone Club members.

Next year I will not be able to qualify for Youth of the Year because I will be 19. I strongly urge other teens to seek mentorship, membership, and accomplishment as a Boys & Girls Club youth, and run for Youth of the Year in their region. An investment in the club, and an investment in the youth, is honestly an investment for a better future. 

Thank you so much, and thanks for reading,Sage Lopez,
Children’s Aid Society 2015 Youth of the Year


Americorps Graduates Keep Moving Forward

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On May 19, our AmeriCorps program celebrated the end of another great year of service with a graduation ceremony for its members at the National Center for Community Schools on Riverside Drive. Guest Speaker Farhad Ashgar, the senior director of strategic partnerships for the College Board’s Access to Opportunity program, offered the graduates a time for reflection and shared with them a message from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: “If you can't fly, then run, if you can't run, then walk, if you can't walk, then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”

This past year, 64 members completed more than 35,000 hours of service in their communities. In those hours, members planned direct community service projects for 400 Children’s Aid Society students and engaged over 3,000 students at 22 program sites. Program Director Sharifa Shorter presented the graduates with certificates of completion and jars containing letters that the members wrote to themselves a year ago.    

In addition to their hard work at Children’s Aid sites, members also volunteered with various organizations such as the Food Bank for NYC, Isabella Geriatric Center, Habitat for Humanity, Student Conservation Association at East River Park, Taft Senior Center, and Riverbank State Park.

We are sad to say goodbye to our Americorps members, but we thank them for their service and the positive impact they have made in our students’ lives, and we wish them luck in moving forward.

Celebrating the Bronx

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The Children’s Aid Society hosted more than 150 children and parents at its 8th Annual Bronx Week celebration on May 14. Guests in attendance at the Bronx Family Center participated in a wide range of activities from carnival games for the children to blood pressure screening and financial literacy information for the adults. A variety of Children’s Aid programs located in the Bronx were also on site with information about their services.

As part of this year’s Bronx Week celebration, Children’s Aid proudly displayed a collection of works by the renowned New York photographer Walter Rosenblum. The 10 pieces presented in the exhibit capture a glimpse of life in the South Bronx in 1979 and 1980. The pieces were generously loaned to Children’s Aid by Mr. Rosenblum’s wife, Naomi Rosenblum, and are on display here at the Bronx Family Center.

Bronx Week is a 10-day series of events that takes place every May, offering venues and activities ideal for locals and visitors to enjoy, including the Bronx Film Festival and the Bronx Ball where famous Bronxites are inducted into the Walk of Fame. Bronx Week is co-sponsored by the borough president’s office and the Bronx Tourism Council.


Students Stand Up for Peace

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Students at Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School hosted their 5th Annual PEACE Block Party, which has grown to stand for unity in the South Bronx community. The inaugural “Live in Peace” fair was held in 2011 after students at the high school lost friends during a particularly concentrated period of violence and decided to channel their energy into something positive. Their actions have sustained and left a strong legacy in place.

This year’s student government chose the theme “Our Lives Matter” in hopes of creating a new level of youth-led activism throughout New York City. The students invited police representatives from the local 42nd precinct. In addition to its call to action, the block party featured activities such as face painting, basketball, and field games that allowed the teens to have some fun.

The event also featured a keynote from recent FLHHS Terrell Dixon, who just finished his first year at Paul Smith College. He shared an empowering message with this year’s senior class, saying, “You can actually change your life. You can actually create your own reality.”

At the end of the block party, student body president Ken Duran rallied his peers on the school’s basketball courts as the senior class readied to release dozens of red and white balloons into the air as a memorial to their friends and family members lost to violence. After a moment of silence, the high school senior emphasized that “Our lives really do matter.”


It’s Always Time to GYT

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On April 24, our JAM Peer Educators hosted a workshop at the Next Generation Center for about a dozen teens. The motivation behind the workshop was GYT: Get Yourself Tested. The phrase is the brainchild of MTV, but it’s been taken up nationwide, including in the South Bronx.

In addition to some good food and raffle prizes, the teens participated in a number of activities that made them think about the consequences of sexual activity. One role-playing game used colored candy to identify certain behaviors or conditions. The teens were asked to swap candies with each other after only briefly making an introduction.  It was later revealed what the consequences were of swapping the candies and related it to how fast STDs are spread.  For example, anyone who had a red candy had a viral sexually transmitted infection (virals cannot be cured but can be treated). A purple candy indicated someone who had unprotected sex. The discussions raised questions and brought some really valuable information out in the open while making the young men and women think about their own behavior.

Any time you can get teens in a room talking about their lives and how best to live smart and safe is a good time. 


Harlem Hoopsters with an Eye on College

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There are plenty of talented ball players who might not quite get on the radar of St. John’s or Syracuse but whose skills can net them a college education. About 50 young men at that level gathered on April 29 at Milbank Center for the 7th Annual Basketball Showcase.

They spent a couple of hours attending college readiness workshops and talking with college admission advisors from 15 different schools from New York City and the metro area. Then they took their game to the court to demonstrate their ability before the coaches of men’s teams from those same colleges.

“It was an amazing night,” said Casper Lassiter, the director at Milbank. “Every one of these guys came determined to show what kind of game they had, and I think they did great.”

OASAS prevention specialist, Clyde Weems started this event simply by getting some local coaches to come to an open gym. “This event has grown to a new level,” said Clyde. “Today it’s such a team effort from top to bottom.” The Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services hosts the event and puts the focus on this being a positive alternative to drugs and a path to a healthy lifestyle. OASAS is assisted by PATH to College Success, the JAM Peer Educators, and the Sports Management Program, all of which put on great workshops.

In the weeks leading up to the event, our staff are counseling the kids and making sure they’re prepared for both the coaches and the counselors. Each young man came armed with two letters of recommendation, their high school transcript, and plenty of questions about the application process for the admissions counselors.

We were thrilled to have coaches and counselors from the following colleges:

Bronx Community College, CCNY, Concordia College, Farmingdale State College, Hostos College, Hunter College, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Lehman College, Medgar Evers College, Queens College, St. Joseph College (N.J.), SUNY Old Westbury, SUNY Cobleskill, York College

“The event was a huge success,” said Gwen Taylor. “I’m so happy with how everyone pulled together to make the night run smoothly. I look forward to a bigger and better 2016 showcase.”


National Foster Care Month

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Today we kick off National Foster Care Month by announcing a special day for the men and women who offer their homes and themselves to children and teenagers in foster care by becoming much needed foster parents. Later in the month we will host a special day for the Children’s Aid Society foster parents and their friends who are interested in becoming a foster parent.

On May 30, current and prospective foster parents can come to our Lord Memorial Building for a special wellness event. Attendees can take advantage of workshops on relaxation, nutrition, and self-care. We will hold a yoga class, as well.

All attendees will earn four credit training hours toward their annual certification requirement. And if you're new to the program, you'll learn why so many women and men believe that becoming a foster parent is one of the greatest things they've done.

Join us on Saturday, May 30th from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Please be sure to reserve your spot by emailing or call 212.949.4905.

Keeping Track of NYC’s Children

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Every two years, the Citizens’ Committee for Children (CCC) releases a report that is valued by all of us who work with children and advocate for them. It’s called Keeping Track of New York City’s Children Keeping Track for short, and it includes an abundance of information about how kids—with an emphasis on those in lower-income neighborhoods—are faring.

This year, the team at CCC wanted to change the way they present their report to the public, so they came to our East Harlem Center to communicate critical issues and host a panel discussion of field experts. Phoebe Boyer welcomed the 160 guests to one of our oldest sites, and spoke about how appropriate it was to discuss Keeping Track in East Harlem, which has been gentrifying rapidly even as 4 of 10 children who call it home live in poverty. CCC’s executive director, Jennifer March, painted a detailed picture of the children living in our city and how they fare using a vital indicators: economic conditions, housing, health and mental health, early childhood education, after-school programming, education, child welfare, and juvenile justice.

Terry Marx, Children’s Aid’s assistant medical director and a pediatrician serving the Milbank community as well as the school-based health centers in Washington Heights, brought her deep experience to the panel. She was joined by Dana Guyet, from The New York Foundling; Krystal Reyes, the Hunts Point Alliance for Children; and Raysa Rodriguez, Women in Need, Inc.

One critical aspect of Terry’s comments was the importance of strengthening the family. Eating healthy, exercising, and managing chronic conditions are only a part of ensuring the healthy of a young person. Parents have so many obstacles to overcome in their everyday lives, and those efforts can get in the way of creating a nurturing and supportive environment for their children.

Keeping Track is such an essential document in a city where 1 in 3 children live in poverty while also in the shadow of immense wealth. Children’s Aid is one of many organizations that aspire one day ending childhood poverty. Keeping Track is an invaluable tool in that effort.     


Join us for Once Upon A Time on Thursday, May 7

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The snow and ice have melted away, and it is finally the kind of warm weather that turns New York City into a fairy tale land. You will certainly feel the magic at our Fifth Annual Spring event, Once Upon A Time. The fundraiser, which will be hosted by The Children’s Aid Society Associates Council, will be a mystical evening of celebration, honoring New York's princes and princesses and the important work of the Children’s Aid School Age Literacy programs. 
The enchantment begins May 7, 2015, at 7 p.m. at the Manhattan Penthouse on Fifth Avenue. A mix of classic characters and themes from our most beloved stories, dancing, food, refreshments, and raffle prizes will be featured and are sure to delight every guest!
“We all remember our favorite childhood fairy tales and the world of imagination they helped us create,” said Erika Maurice, fundraiser planning committee co-chair. “After months of planning, the Once Upon A Time fundraiser is sure to be a spectacular event, but it’s important to remember that this is more than just a party. All of our guests and sponsors are helping ensure that The Children’s Aid Society can continue to support school age literacy so that these children realize their own happily ever afters,” said Stephanie Danzi, co-chair.
Thank you to our sponsors who are helping make this a can’t-miss event!
The Danzi Family
Jonathan Rose Companies
The Lord Family
Baked by Melissa
Robicelli’s Bakery
Wat Chu Wan Wonton
Tito’s Handmade Vodka
The Bronx Brewery
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Hope Leadership Hosts Annual “The Pen, Pad, and Poet” Workshop Series

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On Friday, April 17, the lights were low at Hope Leadership Academy save for a single spotlight in front of a wall of posters that helped transform the center into a poetry den. In celebration of National Poetry Month, six talented teen poets from the center were paired with mentors to work on editing, stage presence, and voice projection. The teens shared their hard work and talent in front of a vibrant audience of center participants, community members, and Children’s Aid staff at a fundraiser hosted by the Keystone Club.

The poets— teens and mentors alike—performed pieces that mixed languages, music genres, and life experiences. Their cadence and eloquence wrapped around the room and brought to life the words of the posters behind them: “Keep Calm and Write Poetry” and “Read It, Write it, Share it”.

In addition to showcasing the impact of mentorship, the evening offered an open mic for more teen and staff performers to share their creative art. It was clear at the end of the evening that the event, spearheaded by staff member Karina Guardiola-Lopez, empowered our teens with a creative mode of self-expression and affirmed that they could command a room effortlessly with their words.