The Children's Aid Blog

Children’s Aid Celebrates Community

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On Wednesday, September 30, The Children’s Aid Society’s Family Success Network hosted more than 20 families for “Celebrate Africa Night,” a cultural evening of food, entertainment, and community building.

The celebration kicks-off the African Immigrant Engagement program, a pilot program developed by life coach Lyrica Files-Aime to support West African families at Children’s Aid community schools at C.S. 211 and Children’s Aid College Prep in the South Bronx.

The program will offer families a series of workshops on parenting strategies and immigrant rights, in addition to providing mental health and English language learning services. It also looks to connect African families within the community and to provide cultural competence trainings for Children’s Aid staff to better serve immigrant populations.

For more information about the Immigrant Engagement program, please contact Lyrica Fils-Aime  at

Getting into High Gear

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A huge advantage to being an organization with a storied history and well-established presence throughout New York City is that great opportunities often come our way. That was the case with SoulCycle, a national fitness company that offers indoor cycling, or spin, classes. 

The company founders started SOULSCHOLARSHIP last year as a way to give back to the community. The initiative brings teens to their cycle studios to take classes, learn about fitness and nutrition, and create opportunities for change in their lives.

Courtney Carrera-Ghatan, the assistant director for national medical and dental services in the CAS Carrera Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program, is leading the effort for Children’s Aid and asked our team to recruit 15 teens from both Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School in the Bronx and Urban Assembly Institute in Brooklyn for six-week programs that began over the summer.

The teens attended two mandatory classes each week. They also met with a nutritionist and took a work-readiness workshop to talk about interviewing and resumes. But the heart of the class was the exercise, led by SoulCycle instructors.

“It was unbelievable, truly life changing for these kids,” said Courtney. “At the end, the kids were able to articulate how they made better choices with food and health. But they also left with the feeling that they could do anything.”

The credit for that goes to the instructors. “They were supportive and kind and motivating, and they talked to our teens about how they could do anything,” said Courtney.

The “graduates” will now proceed to phase two of the initiative: twice-a-month rides with a mentor for several months. After that, they have lifetime access to take SoulCycle classes, an amazing benefit.

In the meantime, Courtney is putting together another 30 students for a second class of SOULSCHOLARSHIP participants. And she can’t recommend it enough. “SoulCycle really made this like a family.

YES Teens Gain a Different Perspective

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More than two decades ago, longstanding Children’s Aid supporter Michael Stern wanted to offer high school students an opportunity to make the concepts of college and a career substantive through dynamic experiences. From that idea came the Youth Employment Summer Program (YES).

YES partners some of the most ambitious teens in our Hope Leadership Academy with corporate internships throughout the summer, to get a sense of what kind of careers were possible after a successful college career. Prior participation in the Children’s Aid Corporate Workplace program is a prerequisite to YES.

The program includes mentoring sessions, opportunities to network with professionals, as well as cultural opportunities across the city, including the Museum of Natural History and the Hunger Games Exhibit-Discovery Times Square. This year, the group, which also includes some college freshman, visited the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Wall Street Journal, and an information session at the United Nations, where they heard a U.N. expert talk about the organization’s peacekeeping missions. YES participants learned that an exciting job could take them across the globe. The trip to the FBI office had special impact because several of the participants were already thinking about a career in law enforcement.

This year featured a brand-new writing workshop. Writing has always had a place in YES, but this was the first summer for a more rigorous effort designed to help participants succeed in college when they begin writing longer, more complicated papers.

Speaking of college, one of the highlights of every summer is a weekend trip to Dartmouth College, where Mr. Stern is an alumnus. Many students have spent little time outside New York City. So this trip offers them a chance to see a different way of life. It also makes the concept of college feel less abstract.

One of this summer’s participants, Shanyia David, a senior at Urban Assembly Institute, summed YES as well as anyone can: “YES teaches you the means to success.”

Future Policy Leaders

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For nine years running, The Children’s Aid Society Community Building Summer Internship (CBSI) program has provided high school and college-ready youth from high needs neighborhoods with the opportunity to intern in the offices of their elected officials. This summer, CBSI placed 15 students in different offices within all three levels of government.

The students developed leadership skills required to succeed in a public service setting. They also attended weekly training sessions—which they used to collectively complete a community engagement project—with facilitators from the Resilience Advocacy Project, a youth empowerment organization.

This year’s group of community builders unanimously rallied around a dynamic anti-bullying campaign. After weeks of learning about peer advocacy and gaining awareness around dating violence, the students came up with three ways to get their word out:

  • They created informational posters about cycles of violence and distributed the flyers to their peers.
  • They created a sticker campaign to increase active bystander awareness around bullying.
  • They utilized social media as a tool for advocacy and created an Instagram page (@bullyoutstanders) and a hashtag campaign #defeatthecycle.

The interns showcased their efforts at the End of the Summer Appreciation Ceremony, on August 7th, where members of Congress, New York State senators and assembly members, and city officials and staff joined the students to celebrate their achievements over the past six weeks.

The CBSI is funded through the College and Career Pathways Summer Job Program, which is generously funded by the New York Times. We are proud to provide our program participants with valuable hands on experiences and are grateful for the meaningful partnerships that allow them to thrive as leaders.





AileyCamp: Inspiration

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In certain respects, this year’s AileyCamp finale was a blur of variety and contrast. Ballet, hip hop, West African, modern, jazz. The music raced and then slowed. Girls and boys, short and tall, owned the glowing stage.

The unshakeable constant throughout was the joy and excitement that all the dancers brought to the final performance, at Hostos Center for the Arts & Culture in the Bronx. The night’s theme was “Ailey Spirit…Catch It,” and if the crowd was a fair indication, the dancers accomplished their mission.

This summer marked the 25th anniversary of AileyCamp in New York City. Children’s Aid has been the primary partner of AileyCamp for most of those 25 years, and it is a cherished relationship. More than 2,000 young people from Children’s Aid have experienced the power of AileyCamp.

“These youth learn about much more than dance during their weeks here each summer,” said Phoebe Boyer, who had a few minutes at the beginning of the performance to talk about its impact. “They make new friends. They discover New York City. And most importantly they learn quite a bit about themselves. It’s no exaggeration—this camp changes lives.”

The fact that these young people can put together this caliber of performance in just six weeks is stunning. It was an unforgettable performance.      





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.