The Children's Aid Blog

CAS-Carrera Celebrates 29th Annual Parent Graduation

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The Children Aid Society’s Carrera Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program’s (CAS-Carrera) Parent Family Life and Sexuality Education (PFLSE) graduation took place at Hunter College on June 5 in front of an audience of more than 300 graduates, family members, and Children’s Aid staff. More than 140 parents, along with their families, came from 13 Children’s Aid sites and represented the 29th consecutive class of this essential program. Dr. Michael Carrera, vice president of the Adolescence Division and founder of CAS-Carrera, addressed parents on their great achievement of completing the 18-week program. Two parent valedictorians representing the graduates talked about their own personal experiences.

Since parents are the primary sources of sexuality information for their own children, it is critical for them to increase their sexual literacy, develop and understand a holistic definition of sexuality, and improve and practice communication skills with family members on the important issues of sexuality and sexual expression. Since 1987, the PFLSE curriculum – delivered by trained CAS-Carrera Family Life and Sexuality Educators – has provided thousands of adults with a powerful opportunity to share their experiences with peers, strengthen ties with their children, and empower themselves to play a crucial part in preventing young people from becoming parents too soon.

For 29 years in a row, this has proved to be an inspiring night—one that will have an enduring effect on all who participated. 

 

A Garden of Peace and Health

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City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said that she started working on the garden that opened this week at P.S. 50 in East Harlem when she was in her first term on City Council. Today, she’s in her third term.

Good things can take some time to come to fruition. And the Peace Garden is a very good thing—an undertaking that brought together school and Department of Education leadership, the team running the community school at P.S. 50, and stakeholders in the neighborhood. At the end of the day, the children of P.S. 50 have an amazing, hydroponic garden to tend to: tomatoes, basil, and an assortment of other vegetables and herbs.

School Chancellor Carmen Fariña has made the community school strategy the centerpiece of her reform efforts at more than 90 renewal schools in New York City (P.S. 50 is a Renewal school). “When you grow something, it lifts your spirits,” said Chancellor Fariña, adding that this is one of the first steps in making P.S. 50 a successful school and a valued neighborhood asset.

This was the culmination of tremendous effort, especially by Principal Ester Quiñones, P.S. 50 teacher Paul Clarke, and our community school director, Jeanette Then. 

Thank you for supporting “Once Upon A Time”

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Dear friends of the Associates Council,

Not too long ago (May 7), and in a magical place not too far away (The Manhattan Penthouse), Associates Council members gathered with friends, family, and supporters from all across the kingdom (New York City) for "Once Upon A Time," their Fifth Annual Spring Event. And this year, the event raised $40,000 in support of The Children’s Aid Society’s school-age literacy programs. 

Guests experienced an enchanting evening full of delectable fare, delicious cocktails featuring Tito’s Handmade Vodka and Cocktail Caviar, and mouthwatering desserts provided by Baked by Melissa, Robicelli’s Bakery, and Wat Chu Wan Wantons. Generous individuals and companies from far and wide donated prizes that introduced guests to the magic of giving. From JetBlue tickets to private tours of the MoMA to a Paramount hotel stay to dinners for two, each prize added to the thrill of the evening. Guests danced the night away to music spun by DJ Benny Blaze, took candid photos with Scar Vita and Kyle Martin (check out photos from the evening here), and were in awe of breathtaking views of the city from the dance floor.

This fairy tale evening would not have been complete without a little bit of creative storytelling.  Dallis Dillard, a young student from the Dunlevy Milbank Community Center, who won the modern fairytale contest hosted by the Associates Council, was featured in a short video with his friends for his story “Let It Glow.” The story is about three young basketball players who want to get new sneakers for the championship game, and Bilal, the Magical Ball God who grants their wish in exchange for acts of kindness. Dallis’s story underscored the impact of the work done through Children’s Aid literacy programs, and guests enjoyed seeing the creativity of New York children on the big screen.

The evening was a huge success, and the AC is thrilled that we have not only been able to contribute to this worthy cause, but also that we have been able to support and highlight it. The entire evening was made possible through generous donations from the Danzi Family, Edelman Public Relations, the Lord Family, Jonathan Rose Companies, Premiere Electronics, and Environetics.   

Finally, we would also like to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of our Associates Council members who collaborated and used their talents to make this an unforgettable evening. And finally, we are so grateful for our guests, for those who purchased tickets, made donations, and supported this worthy cause.

Again, the AC thanks you. Children’s Aid thanks you. And all of the young readers at Children’s Aid thank you.

We hope to see you again next year!

Best,

Erika and Stephanie
Spring Event Committee Co-chairs

For updates on upcoming volunteer activities and events, follow the Associates Council on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter

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Foster Friday: The Making of a Family

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Herbert Godoy and David Hatcher had been thinking for some time about how they were going to start their family. They knew they were going to adopt but didn’t know which of several routes to take. Then they saw a picture of Jaylen.

David is an executive producer for WNBC News in New York, and approves the weekly segments of “Wednesday’s Child,” a  feature that helps find adoptive homes for children who are in foster care and cannot reunify with their families. As a result, he has seen the faces of many youth in foster care come across his desk. There was something about Jaylen, now age five, that spoke to him.

“I could see his energy and his vibrance and sense of personality,” said David. “He was just unlike anyone I had ever seen.”

Herbert, who works in human resources for Ogilvy & Mather, an advertising firm, was similarly struck. “I knew he was the one.”

They met Jaylen in October 2014 and quickly started taking the full slate of classes and training that all Children's Aid foster care parents go through. Day visits led to overnight stays. “He really felt comfortable with us and very attached,” said Herbert.

The family lives in Harlem, and Herbert and David are overjoyed by how their life has changed. “He brings this love and energy, and makes our lives so much better,” said David.

Until Jaylen went to live with his new parents, he had spent his entire life in foster care. That fact isn't apparent when you meet him. After just a few months in a new school, he seems to know everyone. “He has a sweetness that is contagious,” said Herbert.

David and Herbert credit the classes and training they took with helping them become good parents. “Having support from an agency is so important,” said Herbert, “just knowing you can call someone and say, 'I don't know how to do this.'”

“If you're looking to becoming a parent through adoption, look into fostering,” said David. “It makes you look inward and think about how well-equipped you are for being a parent.”

Herbert and David appear to be on the right track. They can officially apply for adoption in July and hope to finalize soon thereafter.

A big part of their success might be attributable to the way they've approached raising a son. “Adopting Jaylen was about embracing him, who he is, and not trying to change him,” said Herbert. “We accepted Jaylen for who he is and we encourage him to be who he is.”

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 to...it 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.”