The Children's Aid Blog

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.

A Break from Winter for our Foster Youth

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This winter was incredibly harsh for every New Yorker, but it was especially difficult for children, cooped up for days on end because of frigid tempers and one snow storm after another.

The Treatment Family Foster Care program at the Bronx Family Center went above and beyond to provide the young people they help care for with a fun outlet. A team of parents, foster parents, and four Children’s Aid staff members drove a crew of children in care to the Sky Zone Trampoline Park in New Jersey. Naturally, they made safety priority number one, and worked with the event staff at Sky Zone to put together a great day for the kids.  

As you might guess, the children did not want to leave when it came time to head back to the city. Besides the fun had, it also gave the staff a chance to bond with the children. Many thanks go out to Leonard Navarrete, Barri Jagoda, Alejandra Mateo, and Jessica Juron for taking the helm on this great day. And a special thank you to Jeannie Ortiz, who plays a critical role in seeing through these types of plans in the foster care programs.  


Encouraging Children to Read in 2015

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There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.—Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

Every year, the Associates Council (AC) of The Children’s Aid Society identifies an initiative that defines how we use our time, talents, and resources. This year, we’re supporting childhood literacy—a core component of Children’s Aid programming.   

Research shows that children in low-income families have access to fewer reading materials than children of middle- and upper-income families. Studies have also shown that reading to young children helps set them up for a stronger record of academic achievement.

With an understanding of these factors and an opportunity to complement year-round Children’s Aid literacy programs, we’re excited to donate, volunteer, and advocate for this important cause.

Last month, we hosted a successful book fair for 50 children at the Frederick Douglass Community Center and were able to donate hundreds of books to their library. The book fair provided an opportunity for AC members to share their love of reading and favorite books with eager children. Check out some of our members and their thoughts on the books that shaped their childhood on Instagram (@CASACYNYC).

Over the next few months, the Associates Council will be busy prepping for our annual spring fundraiser. We’ve partnered with several Children’s Aid classrooms to host an original short story contest where a winning story will be previewed at the event.

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


SBHCs: Keeping Kids Healthy at Mirabal Sisters Campus

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Last week, during a meeting for the New York City Coalition for Immunization Initiatives, the Bureau of Immunization of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene recognized our Mirabal Sisters Campus for the high immunization coverage achieved through the school-based health center (SBHC).

The SBHC was one of three medical practices that the city recognized from a group of more than 100 practices that were audited during the quarter of November 2014-February 2015. To be considered, a practice had to have more than 25 patients, a Vaccine for Children (VFC) Doses Administered Report of more than 90 percent, and attain at least 65 percent coverage based on Citywide Immunization Registry (CIR) data for the Tdap, MCV, and HPV among 13-17 year-olds.

Mirabal Sisters Campus had more than 500 patients registered, reported 100% of the doses administered, and had a 90 percent coverage rate for TDAP, 83 percent for MCV, and 67 percent for HPV.

When accepting the award, Katherine Mar, the nurse practitioner at Mirabal, emphasized that this was a team effort and acknowledged her medical team: Maria Acero, administrative assistant, Gremaris Breznicar, medical assistant, and Felicia Rodriguez, the health escort. Adria Cruz, director of SBHCs and Special Initiatives for the Children’s Aid, said that this award demonstrates that SBHCs are highly effective public and primary health care providers as they are located where the children are: in school.

Hope Leadership Academy and Go!Healthy Promote Healthy Eating

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This year, our Go!Healthy Food Justice Program partnered with the Hope Leadership Academy to run a series of workshops related to food justice, with the goal of connecting Hope’s high school students to the knowledge and skills necessary to critically examine their food environment and to make healthy, informed decisions about the food they eat. Students attended weekly workshops, where they discussed food justice issues and used those discussions to fuel art-as-activism pieces. Guest artists, poets, and photographers were also brought in to work with the students. The series culminated in a “What’s Your FOODstory?” gallery night on February 26, sponsored by the local Heath Gallery. Students presented their array of work at the Gallery Night, including photography, ceramics, painting, conceptual art, and spoken word. The night also had an open mic component, where students volunteered original spoken word pieces and addressed the affect the program had on them. The overall experience was a great success – for both administrators and students alike. As one student mentioned, “This program really opened my eyes to what’s going on around me. What we’re eating, what we’re buying, and how important it is to take care of yourself.”


Foster Friday: Meet Malinda Cousins

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When Malinda Cousins takes on a new client, she goes deep in her efforts to get to know that teenager. It’s not enough to learn only about the young man or woman. Malinda wants to know about the entire support network. She invites friends to meetings, gets their phone numbers, and will call them if her client falls out of touch.

“Helping teenagers is my passion,” said Malinda, who has worked at Children’s Aid for 10 years, during which time she got her graduate degree and became a licensed social worker. Today, she is a supervisor in our Bronx family foster care unit. 

“When it comes to working with teens, you really have to keep the talking to a minimum and listen to the maximum,” said Malinda. “These kids never stop needing support. For those years before they turn 21 and age out of foster care, the fear is building.”

Her commitment to her profession comes from her own experience as a young person. She said that she needed her own help growing up in a difficult family situation and trying to find her way in the world.

She will do whatever it takes to get her teens the help they need. “So many of these young people feel like they don’t have control over their lives,” she said. “What I try to do is give them some of that power that they need.”

Thank you to Malinda and the many social workers who work in our foster care programs for the great dedication they offer. They truly bring the kind of positive change that makes people’s lives better. 

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!