The Children's Aid Blog

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!

Primp, Pamper, and Bingo

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Teens from the Boys and Girls Club Keystone group at Hope Leadership Academy hosted twelve local senior citizens at the center’s annual Primp and Pamper event. The event gives teens the opportunity to provide service to seniors in the community and develop intergenerational relationships.

Seniors were treated to make-overs, manicures, and a lunch that was prepared by the center’s nutritional chef.  The afternoon also included games and raffled prizes, as teens partnered with seniors for a few fun rounds of bingo.

We commend our teens for organizing the event and giving back to their community in a creative way. Thank you to Julissa Contreras and the rest of the Hope Leadership staff for assisting our teens in their service activities.

LeBron James Transforms the Frederick Douglass Center

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It has become a much-anticipated tradition. For nine years, LeBron James has made the NBA All-Star weekend about much more than just a basketball game. As the game moves from one city to the next, LeBron teams up with the Boys & Girls Club of America to commit massive acts of generosity at local facilities.

This year, as the marquis name among NBA All-Stars, LeBron and his team from the LeBron James Family Foundation descended upon New York City with a goal of 23 such acts (LeBron’s number with the Cleveland Cavaliers is 23). The Children’s Aid Society was thrilled to be the recipient of two of those acts.

The weekend got off to a great start on Friday evening when a team from the foundation more than a dozen strong—made up of staff members and its youth ambassadors—stopped at our East Harlem Center to deliver eight brand-new instruments. Our kids are now well-prepared to groove.

But the crowning event of the weekend took place on Saturday at the Frederick Douglas Center. For months, the LeBron James Family Foundation planned a full renovation of both the gym and the technology room. The gym now features a gleaming floor and a new scoreboard. The technology room has a fresh paint job and will soon be home to $20,000 worth of computer equipment.

This is a huge investment in our facility, so LeBron wanted to see the end result for himself. Our kids were thrilled to see the most famous basketball player in the world, who answered questions taken from Facebook as well as the audience, sharing some interesting facts about his life as well as some advice. On his way out the door, he delivered dozens of high-fives to the kids who had waited three hours to see him.

Of course, this work doesn’t happen magically. Amy Hyman and her team have been working hard for months to accommodate all the work and deserve a huge round of applause for making it all happen. 

Show Your Heart Love: February is American Heart Month

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February is American Heart Month, and this month we can treat our heart to a little TLC by cutting back on some sweets: namely ADDED SUGARS. These are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared. As the Center for Disease Control reports, “cardiovascular disease (CVD)—including heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure—is the number 1 killer of women and men in the United States.” In January 2014, a study in JAMA: Internal Medicine reported that “those who got 17 to 21 percent of calories from added sugar had a 38% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared to those who consumed 8 percent of their calories from added sugar.” Sugar-sweetened beverages are the largest source of added sugars in the American diet.

For each additional 12-ounce soda children consumed each day, the odds of becoming obese increased by 60%.  This is why,The Children’s Aid Society has disallowed all sugar sweetened beverages within its programming and functions. Water, seltzer, low-fat milk, 100% juice are allowed and encouraged.  Cutting back completely might not be easy, but taking one small step might help your heart in the long run!

Foster Friday: Meet Juana Fabre

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Juana Fabre experienced what many parents feel when their children go to college: empty nest syndrome. A neighbor was a foster parent, and Juana saw how happy the child was. This motivated Juana to welcome a child into her home in 2011. “My life has never been the same since,” said Juana. “It’s a better life, and I’m a happier person.”

Interested in becoming a foster parent? Click here to learn more.

East Harlem Center Hosts #KnowYourRightsNYC

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On January 31, the East Harlem Center Keystone Club hosted the #KnowYourRightsNYC forum, an opportunity for teens to come together to help build stronger community relations with the police while also learning about their rights if they have personal interactions with police officers.

As part of the Boys & Girls Club Million Members Million Hours of Service, the teen club members were encouraged to find opportunities to implement service projects that would benefit their local community. Four months ago, before the local and national protests over the Michael Brown and Eric Garner court decisions, the club decided that having a discussion about police-community relations would be interesting to other teens.

Keystone Club members decided to survey community members on the issues and found that a high percentage of local teens were not only unaware of their legal rights, but also wanted to improve their relationship with local police. Under the guidance of Midge Caparosa, the arts and leadership coordinator at East Harlem, the club decided an event focused on educating their peers could be a step in the right direction.

New York Civil Liberties Union trained the organizers on appropriate behaviors for interacting with police and was also present at the forum to offer advice to approximately 40 attendees, such as the importance of carrying forms of identification and how to calmly communicate in the event that they are stopped by a police officer.

The teens also facilitated conversation during breakout groups, where Children’s Aid participants and teen participants in NYPD Law Enforcement Explorers program at the local 23rd precinct discussed sources of distrust and possible ways to make their neighborhoods safer and healthier communities. #KnowYourRightsNYC greatly reflected the maturity and passion of its young organizers and reified the importance of community based service.

Associates Council members join 50 students in Study Now, Play Later

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On January 17, Associates Council volunteers gathered at the Dunlevy Milbank Community Center in Harlem to support Study Now, Play Later, a signature Children’s Aid program where students (grades K-5) spend their Saturday reinforcing concepts learned in school, specifically math and reading. In order to complement classroom activities, students end their day in the gym where instructors lead dance aerobics, team-building games, and sports.

“Study Now, Play Later is a safe environment that provides students with an opportunity to prepare for the week ahead at school,” said Eddie Britt, Saturday Program Director. “Studies show that young students benefit from ongoing educational reinforcement outside of traditional school hours and this program ensures that our students are positioned for success, especially after a weekend away from school.”

While the program emphasizes education, the scheduled activities promote relationship-building and emotional development. Students are greeted by staff and their peers, and are expected to contribute in a positive and meaningful manner by not only completing their assignments but by expressing themselves in an appropriate manner.

Following a tour of the Dunlevy Milbank Community Center, AC members joined students in each of the classrooms and worked with individual students on assignments. From there, everyone went to the gym where AC volunteers were challenged in a dodge ball-style game of “Sharks and Fishes.” Even though this was the first time many AC members had participated in Study Now, Play Later, they were all impressed by the morning’s activities and left excited about the other volunteer projects that are being planned this year.

Next month, the Associates Council will host a book fair for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Participants will play literary games and select books to take home so they can begin building their personal libraries.

To join the Associates Council, contact

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

Children's Aid Celebrates National Mentoring Month

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Last week, The Children’s Aid Society hosted 20 volunteers from Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City and the Manhattan borough president at our Frederick Douglass and Dunlevy Milbank centers in Harlem in honor of National Mentoring Month. Each center hosted Big Brothers Big Sisters volunteers who played games, participated in activities, and read books with children in the after-school programs. Manhattan borough president Gale Brewer joined in at the Frederick Douglass Center to read the inspiring book Thank you, Mr. Falker,  a true story written by a woman who was helped to read by a special teacher.