The Children's Aid Blog

AileyCamp: Blueprint of a Dream

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If you were to ask any audience member at this year’s AileyCamp finale, they would almost certainly be able to make a strong connection from the performance to a dream. Flowing from jazz to ballet to hip hop to West African and more, each presentation mapped out a story through dance. 

The night's production, “Blueprint of a Dream,” marked the 26th anniversary of AileyCamp in New York City. Children’s Aid is a primary partner of AileyCamp. This treasured relationship has brightened the lives of more than 2,000 young people from our agency, all who have had the opportunity to showcase their talent and creativity through dance while also strengthening their well-being and self-esteem.

Family members and friends, and staff members of Children’s Aid and AileyCamp, filled the auditorium and witnessed the power of AileyCamp at Hostos Center for the Arts & Culture in the Bronx this past Thursday evening. The joy and excitement was infectious. 

These young people had just six weeks to lay the ground work—some might even say the blueprint—to create this extraordinary show. Together, they built something beautiful.


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Paying it Forward

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At Children’s Aid, we guide our youth in their journey towards independence by teaching them the skills and knowledge necessary to function in the adult world through quality work experience.

Manny Torres, 22, was a participant at two Children’s Aid after-school programs in Washington Heights: P.S.5 and P.S. 152.

Eager to work at the age of 15, Manny participated in our Summer Youth Employment Program, where he held an assistant facilitator position at P.S.152, the very same school he attended as a child.

Throughout his career and growth at Children’s Aid, Manny has attended trainings like classroom management and Mind in the Making—which helps kids apply life skills—that have furthered his professional development.

Now Manny is the aquatics director and physical education specialist at P.S 152 in Washington Heights, and he feels a strong sense of accomplishment. And like many of our staff, he looks back to the environment that supported him. “I want to be able to give back to the community,” he said. “I want to show the kids what is right, and inspire them do better for themselves.”

Manny is a full-time student expected to graduate in the fall of 2016 from Borough of Manhattan Community College. After graduation, he plans to attend Lehman College where he will pursue his dreams of becoming a physical education teacher.

“Through working for Children’s Aid, I’ve gained many skills that I will use in the future,” said Manny. “The skills like the ones I learned as a kid in our programs are the ones I still use today.”

Each summer a number of exceptional young people get involved with our summer work programs. Our summer interns and program staff add a wealth of value to Children’s Aid that make our summers successful. We are particularly excited when former and current program participants revisit their childhood summers to build on their experiences and help current participants enrich their own. For the remainder of the summer, we will profile a current or former Children’s Aid summer program participant who is also working with Children’s Aid, placing them further along the pathway to career readiness and adult independence.




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Summer Reads on Staten Island

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Studies have shown that summertime can be perilous for kids—and not because they’re more likely to get poison ivy or have a nasty encounter with a yellow jacket. No, we are talking about summer learning loss. And young people from low-income neighborhoods are more likely to lose academic ground than their peers in more affluent areas.

That’s why reading is a staple of the Children’s Aid summer camp experience. Each of the nearly 3,000 kids in our camps reads anywhere from 90 to 180 minutes a week each day. Our biggest celebration of that activity occurs every August at Goodhue Center on Staten Island.

Reading Leaders Day is enjoyed as much by the elected officials and public servants who lead the readings as it is by the kids. This year, we were joined by New York State Assembly Member Matthew Titone, Deputy Borough President Ed Burke, and several other representatives from City Hall, City Council, and elsewhere. They treated kids to some classic tales including Teddy the Dog, The Power of Henry’s Imagination, Max the Brave, and When Penny Met POTUS

Many thanks to the leaders for their dedication.






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Seizing Her Opportunity, Again and Again

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Ten years ago, Betty Sanchez arrived from the Dominican Republic speaking not a word of English. She quickly found Children’s Aid and the adult education program at Salomé Ureña, where she enrolled in an English-language-learners class, helped by the fact that she could both read and understand it.  

And she never left.

Betty got a part-time job organizing supplies for the adult program. Little by little she found herself working first with sixth graders, then seventh, then other students in the Children’s Aid after-school program, most of whom spoke Spanish. She’s now the data specialist coordinator, part of the Data Information Outcomes Unit at Salomé Ureña Campus.

When an opportunity arose through a Children’s Aid partner to attend Hostos Community College, and to earn professional certification in after-school programming, she jumped at it, encouraged by her supervisors. She first earned the certification and then her associate’s degree, which led to a job promotion and a raise. “Due to the promotion,” she says proudly, “I was able to get my own apartment with my sister.” Then she enrolled at Boricua College, where she recently earned a bachelor’s degree in childhood education; she was the only summa cum laude from her class. She is a first generation college graduate from her family here in the United States. Graduate school will be her next step.

She has come full circle, from an evening ESL student to co-teaching a class this past school year (2015-2016) for parents, on the executive functions of the brain. She is also in charge of organizing signature community events such as the annual health fair, a Thanksgiving dinner, and the holiday show.  

Betty is grateful to the Children’s Aid community schools for their support to immigrants like herself and plans to give back: “My achievements will help me open doors for other children and parents in our community, the way this school opened so many doors for me.” Betty is the proud mother of 3-year-old Dewey Cruz. She has no doubt that in a few years he will be the one wearing different caps and gowns. “Until he gets his Ph.D.,” she said with a big smile.  




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A Force in the Pool

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The pool at Milbank is a bit of a treasure in Harlem. It’s not always easy to get swim time in urban settings, and countless young people—and plenty of adults—have learned to swim on West 118th Street.

Over the past years, though, swimming has taken on a new purpose at Milbank. The center’s swim team—the Stingrays—have become a competitive force. Last week, a reporter from DNAinfo came out to a practice preceding a big meet on Long Island, where five of the Stingrays were going to compete in the Regional Junior Olympics. According to the Stingrays coach, Miguel Escalante, our kids did great, all matching or beating their previous personal bests.

Read the story. And stay tuned because we’ll be doing a more in-depth piece about what this team has accomplished, and why it’s so important. 




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East Harlem Comes Together

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Melissa Mark-Viverito, speaker for the New York City Council, has always been a steadfast supporter of the youth in her district. Every year, one way that support takes shape is in the Step Up, Speak Out, Take Action East Harlem Youth Fair, which took place outside of our East Harlem Center last week. Her office presented it in conjunction with the El Barrio/East Harlem Anti-Violence Task Force.

The heat was on, but that didn’t stop the kids from coming out. They were able to learn about all the resources available to them in the neighborhood, including martial arts classes, law enforcement youth programs, as well as a number of anti-violence programs. Also, our Go!Healthy team was on the block along with members of the Keystone Club that operates out of East Harlem Center.

Great day for young people, great day for East Harlem. 


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Giving Parents the Tools they Need

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At the Children’s Aid Salome Ureña Campus in Washington Heights, adults are never too old learn English language skills and the intricacies of the American education system. The school is holding its 6th Annual Parent Summer Camp from July 7-29. According to Community School Director Migdalia Cortes-Torres, the camp serves to educate parents who are first-generation immigrants on a range of topics that will empower them to make informed decisions for their family. 

“In order for us to impact a child’s life academically and socially, we have to touch their parents,” said Migdalia. “Many parents believe that because they are uninformed about this country’s language or education system, they can’t contribute to their child’s day-to-day life. We provide workshops that teach skills like public speaking, financial literacy, college readiness, and how to negotiate resources for children in the school system.”

Migdalia expects that about 45 to 50 parents will attend the workshops. In addition to familiarizing these parents with all the services that Children’s Aid provides (including adult education and prep for GED courses), she hopes to raise what she calls their “emotional intelligence.” By this, she means improving their knowledge of the range of options available to contribute to their child’s well-being.

Parent Coordinator Lidia Aguasanta, who teaches a workshop on social justice to immigrants, mostly from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, emphasized that these workshops have the capacity to be transformative. 

“The lessons we teach here allow these parents to be a real positive force in their community,” said Lidia. “It’s all about exposing them to things they wouldn’t ordinarily be involved with [for example, trips to the United Nations and New York County District Attorney General’s Office].”

Thank you to Migdalia, Lidia, and all the educators involved with the Parent Summer Camp. You are helping to ensure that these parents are able to do right by their family.


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Using Summers to Design the Future

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We take summers very seriously at Children’s Aid. That’s because it is the perfect time for kids to make new friends, develop skills and passions, and most importantly, have fun. So, we’ve made sure to design our summers to capture everything necessary to support New York City children and their families in between school years.

Last week, we officially kicked off the summer with the start of our camps for more than 2,500 kids. They will learn and play on the grounds of Dunlevy Milbank, Goodhue, Wagon Road, and dance their way through Ailey camp. In addition to our arts and fitness programs, we offer literacy programming at each camp site—nine of which are Children’s Aid community schools—that will combat summer learning loss for each of our participants. We also operate camps in Washington Heights for parents that feature workshops on social emotional learning, fitness, and nutrition to supplement their children’s success.

And with play, comes work. This year we plan to employ more than 2,000 teens through our Summer Youth Employment Program within various internship opportunities that will keep them career focused and college ready.

We are looking forward to a busy and fun-filled summer for our youth. And as always, we are excited to see how they will use their time in our programs to design their futures.

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Dedication to our Mission

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Last week we saluted the hundreds of little ones who “walked the stage” as part of their collective moving up ceremonies. This week we look to a slightly older demographic.

The staff at Children’s Aid work incredibly hard. The challenges of building well-being and knocking down the barriers to learning rarely end when you go off the clock. That’s why it’s an amazing accomplishment when our staff members take on big goals, like furthering their education.

So today we honor these members of the Children’s Aid team who recently earned a college degree all while also fulfilling their responsibilities to the kids and families we serve. Congratulations to all!

Early Childhood Division
Thomas Cespedes, Jr.
Brittany Herbin
Armadine Etienne
Ismelda Cruz
Ashly Rose Cifu
Leandra Sepulveda
Jokairy Jimenez
Benjamin Thomas
Milagros Espaillat
Clarissa Martinez
Larissa Ferretti
Julissa Melendez
Monica Rossi

School Age Division
Betty Sanchez
Lorena Jimenez
Michelle Pinales
Ambar Azcona

Adolescence Division
Demetris Ioannou
Amani Gheith

Health and Wellness Division
Karina Avila

Child Welfare and Family Wellness Division
Jessica Toussaint
Janelle Thomas
Jessica Jones
Arrelis Harper

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Little Ones Taking the Next Step

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Toddlers waved and did their little dances. Mile-wide smiles brightened the stage. Parents, teachers, and staff gave a long ovation.

These are some of the sights and sounds of success in education. You will find them whenever we are marking transitions, celebrating the achievement of one academic milestone and anticipating the next—especially at our stepping-up ceremonies through the Early Childhood Division.

These celebrations are much more than an opportunity to get dressed up and eat cake. “We want our little ones to know that what they’ve done is a big deal,” said Moria Cappio, vice president of the Early Childhood Division. “We want them to understand that the strides they make in Head Start and pre-K are huge, and that they are ready to continue learning once they enter kindergarten.”

All told, about 600 children will make the leap to elementary school in September. But that doesn’t mean they leave the Children’s Aid family. We have constructed a comprehensive array of programs designed to support kids and families whenever they need it—to and through college.

But what was important in the previous weeks is that these kids were happy about what they did and excited about where they are going. 

Check our photo gallery to see more images from our "Stepping Up" ceremonies.