The Children's Aid Blog

Our Frontline Hero

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When New York Nonprofit Media asked organizations to nominate their frontline heroes, the most difficult task was figuring out how to select one person from a staff that is stocked with heroes.

We nominated several people and NYNM chose Carmen Gonzalez, our Early Head Start education director at P.S. 5 in Washington Heights. They held a celebratory breakfast this week, and she was joined by members of her family and the Children’s Aid family as well.

Carmen first came to Children’s Aid in 1994 when she joined "Padres Presentes y Futuro” (Parents of the Present and Future) at P.S. 5 Ellen Lurie in Washington Heights. It soon became apparent this young parent possessed an array of skills. We hired her to teach parents how to use items in their home and daily life to bond and play with their children. In 1996, we received a federal Early Head Start grant, largely based on the success of Padres Presentes y Futuro. We immediately asked her to be a home-based teacher.

Over the next two decades, Carmen worked with thousands of children and their parents, making sure these kids would meet all their developmental challenges and are ready for kindergarten on the first day. Last year, we promoted her yet again to her current.

During her tenure at Children's Aid, Carmen has earned a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and a master’s in early childhood special education. She has Doula certification and participated in numerous births with Early Head Start parents.  She is licensed in infant massage. Both of her children, Head Start participants from the 1990s, have graduated from college. Whether it’s her kids or the many she has worked with, she has dedicated her life to making sure they succeed and thrive.

Congratulations to Carmen. And thank you for making Children’s Aid excellent.

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Our Youth of the Year

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Children’s Aid is extremely proud of its partnership with the Boys & Girls Club of America. Together, we offer programs at four sites that build well-being for our kids in so many different ways. Put another way, we collaborate on challenging our youth to reach new heights.

Perhaps the most towering test is when we ask our teens to apply to be the Youth of the Year. The competition began just weeks ago when four teens from Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School, Hope Leadership Academy, and Opportunity Charter School convened at West 125th Street to vie for the title of Children’s Aid Youth of the Year. They had already put in hours of work, writing essays, filling out an intensive application, securing letters of recommendation, and practicing a three-minute speech.

There are two constants from year to year: All the teens are exceptionally driven and accomplished, and the judges have a difficult time making a decision. This year wasn’t any different. In the end, they chose Naseem Haamid, a junior at Fannie Lou, to represent Children’s Aid in the state competition in late May. He’s got several weeks to continue prepping for what will be a busy weekend of interviews and public speaking, but Naseem has what it takes to win the title and go to nationals. Let’s all wish him luck. 

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Your Annual Dose of Inspiration

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This blog post has unofficially but quickly become one of the most anticipated among the many that appear annually throughout the Children’s Aid calendar.

Last year saw the launch of the Garden of Dreams Inspire Scholarships. They are among the most desirable in the city for one simple reason: their generosity. Each winner receives a $10,000 annual reward renewable through four years of college. That’s right, a total potential value of $40,000.

The Garden of Dreams Foundation aims to change the lives of young people with these scholarships, and seeks out young people who are excellent students and community leaders despite facing some difficult obstacles.

For the second year in a row, we are thrilled to announce that Children’s Aid youth won FOUR of the 12 scholarships, the most of any organization. Congratulations to each of our talented scholarship winners:

Bempa Ashia has been a member of the CAS-Carrera Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program since its inception at Bronx Prep Charter in August 2008. Since then, he has been an exemplary scholar in terms of his performance, behavior, and achievements. Bempa is a member of the National Honor Society and the National Spanish Honor Society, and served as the class student government representative in grades 9-10. He is also an active participant in Bronx Prep’s nationally recognized speech and debate team and has competed in tournaments across the country. In his community he has worked as a childcare worker at the Mother Hale Learning Center for the past two summers. He is a member of the Open Hydrant Theatre Company, a community theatre program that performs shows for residents in distressed Bronx neighborhoods. He has accomplished all of this despite his father’s untimely death several years ago. Bempa has already received acceptance letters from nine competitive universities and is in the process of choosing.

Cesay Camara joined the Hope Leadership Academy about four years ago, and her leadership skills quickly became apparent. She has facilitated workshops on topics such as violence prevention, victimization, healthy relationships, cultural diversity, and bullying during youth retreats and special events. She has participated in a number of Children’s Aid programs, including JPMorgan Project LIVE, MSG Classroom, the Teen ACTION program, and the Boys & Girls Club of America Keystone Club. Her high school peers elected her president of the Muslim Students Association. She carries a 96 average in her classes and last summer completed an intensive pre-college program at Brown University.

Joanna Fuentes will be valedictorian of her class this year at the Theatre Arts Production Company School in the Bronx, and has proved to be exceptional across disciplines—in academics, athletics, and artistic achievement. Joanna has been a member of the Children's Aid Society Chorus for two years. Through the chorus she has performed as a soloist at Radio City Music Hall and sang a featured role in the musical "The Odyssey" with the Public Theater which she performed for more than 6,000 people this past September. Joanna is also on her school's varsity softball team, and has maintained a perfect 4.0 average throughout high school. Joanna plans to double major in pre-law and music at college, and will be making her final college decision soon.

Ngawang Tseten came to the United States for medical treatment through the efforts of the Global Medical Relief Fund, a Staten Island nonprofit dedicated to helping children to get necessary treatments for profound physical problems. Ngawang was a member of the ethnic Tibetan exile community living in India when he suffered severe electrical burns to his upper body while trying to free a kite from a tree with a metal pole and touched some high-tension overhead wires. His arms were so severely injured that they had to be amputated, but no part of his spirit and zest for life was lost that day. 

Ngawang, known as Charlie to his friends, enrolled at Curtis High School in 2012 as a Freshman. He has devoted himself to his studies and will graduate in June with a New York State Regents Diploma. In addition to his studies, Charlie tried out for the soccer team and spent a year on the wrestling squad. His real passion, though, is music. He sings with the Curtis High School Jazz Warriors in addition to playing with friends in the Dream Band, a group of other Curtis students and alumni with a robust playlist of jazz, rock, and pop. Ngawang will pursue a college degree in business so he can fulfill his  most urgent desire is to earn enough to support himself and his mother live so she will never have to work hard again.  

 

 

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Teens Make an Impact through Service

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Youth at the East Harlem Center Keystone Club have been building an impressive name for themselves. Last year club members tackled the challenge of improving police and youth relations in their community. They decided to host #KnowYourRightsNYC, a forum to educate their peers about their civic rights. The project, part of the Boys and Girls Club Million Members Million Hours service initiative, directly addressed a serious issue in their neighborhood that the members were passionate about.

They were recognized regionally by the BGCA for their efforts. And now more recently, they have also received national praise from the BGCA Keystone Program, winning the first place Community Service Award and $1,250 from the organization.

This comes on the heels of a Boys and Girls Club Million Members Million Hours $24,000 grant to extend the East Harlem Center club's reach. That’s right, they will continue to provide service to their community, while also motivating their peers to participate. They plan to engage 1,600 more teens in service and are well on their way to reaching their goal.

“Teenagers who give back to their community tend to go through life making healthier lifestyle decisions,” said Midge Caparosa, the arts and leadership coordinator, who heads the Keystone program at the East Harlem Center.

She and a chaperone from the center accompanied seven teens from the club to the National Keystone conference in Dallas. There they joined 2,000 of their peers in attending workshops on public speaking, self-branding, and even managed to squeeze in a college fair. In the midst of all their work, the recognition provided a well-deserved opportunity for networking and fun.

We are incredibly proud of the East Harlem Keystone Club and are excited to see how they will continue to serve as great community leaders.

 

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Garden of Dreams Talent Show Puts Kids Center Stage

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Through a partnership with the Garden of Dream’s Foundation, students from across Children’s Aid received the chance of a lifetime: they got to perform in front of a live audience at Radio City Music Hall. As part of the annual Garden of Dreams Talent Show, three student acts showed off their talents that blew those in attendance away.

Stephen and Tavan from the Bronx performed “Jackie and Me,” a skit that celebrated the legacy of Jackie Robinson. Chanela and Victoria, two vocalists from the Children’s Aid chorus performed a stunning Adele mashup. And high school students from Curtis High School in Staten Island, Ngwang and Ahmend, performed an awe-inspiring duet of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” by Elton John and George Michael.

 “Today” did a segment in advance of the talent show featuring a great interview with Ngawang and Ahmed. Be sure to watch to see how the Garden of Dreams Foundation is giving our students opportunities to achieve their full potential.

 

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Building Strong Foundations in STEM

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Taryn was excited when she first learned that she would be playing with Legos in her after-school program at the Dunlevy Milbank Center. Her grandmother introduced her to the building blocks when she was a few years younger. So when given the choice of a role in the program, the 11-year-old knew right away she wanted to build.

Shelby, 12, was more intrigued in working behind a laptop. She was a newcomer to programming, but her talents were clearly demonstrated in writing code that would bring Taryn’s construction to life. Over the last seven months, Shelby, Taryn, and four other girls combined their researching, programming, and constructing talents to create a robot that could push, grab, and pull.

While girls and women are largely underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) classes and professions, at Milbank they form the majority. Under the guidance of the center’s technology director, Deja Flynn, the all-girl junior engineering team became Milbotics. At its intersection was the community center in Harlem and an immeasurable result of its after-school enrichment program: kids aged 9-13 creating long-term connections to STEM.

“Once a week we all switched off,” Shelby said of the program’s structure. Deja had the girls rotate between the research and technical roles. It was a strategy that not only gave them a well-rounded experience, but also strengthened their problem-solving skills.

“There is really no training you could get more than just diving in and trying for yourself,” said Deja.

And it is a strategy that holds true regardless of experience and expertise. The league’s robot model had changed since Deja last worked on the project, but the instructor used every new obstacle she faced as a teaching moment for her girls. “They had no idea I was figuring it out along with them,” she said.

There were long hours and some disagreements over the course of the program, but the girls honed their engineering skills. Milbotics built three robots over the course of the program and tackled an up-cycling milk carton project at the community center. In the end, they successfully designed, built, and programmed a robot that performed all the necessary movements that would get them through the Trash Trek challenge during the FIRST Lego League Competitions.

Milbotics placed third in a qualifying round of the competition—a win that propelled them forward to the regional championships.

“There were so many people,” Taryn said of the championships. Teams and supporters from across New York City packed the Jacob Javits Center.

The crowd alone would have been overwhelming, but because coaches were not allowed on the competition floor, Milbotics found that they had to tackle the robotics challenge on their own.

Their robot malfunctioned during the championships, but Shelby said she kept one of the league core values in mind. She found a reason to smile and enjoy the moment with her team.  “I just wanted to have fun,” she said.

It didn’t go unnoticed. Milbotics not only placed 27th out of more than 80 other teams, but they also took home an award for great demonstration of the FIRST Lego league Core Values. Their coach was more than proud of them.

“It was exciting to watch them grow over the past few months,” said Deja. “I’m so happy I have a few more years to work with them and build on what we did this year.”

The girls have also begun planning to top their accomplishments. In returning to the strategizing board, Taryn had one critical requirement for a future Milbotics project. The next robot they build must be a girl.

 

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Little Steps, Huge Leaps

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Parents whose children attend our Early Childhood programs appreciate how excited and prepared they are for kindergarten. Just ask Tatiana Henderson.

Gavin was her second child to attend The Children’s Aid Society’s Richmond Early Learning Center in Staten Island. For three years, the staff nurtured Gavin’s curiosity, provided encouragement, and created an environment for exploration and learning.

“Gavin loves kindergarten,” said Tatiana. “After just a few days of school, I could already see he was comfortable in the classroom.” Tatiana credits the Richmond staff for Gavin’s successful transition. Gavin’s success is built on the foundation of Tools of the Mind, the curriculum used throughout the Early Childhood Division.

The curriculum intentionally utilizes creative play to develop each child’s memory, self-regulation, and problem-solving skills. And most importantly, Tools of the Mind promotes healthy social-emotional development, while also incorporating literacy, math, and science.

“We had Gavin tested for the gifted and talented program and he scored in the 95th percentile,” said Tatiana. “I recommend this program to other families all the time.”

Click here to learn more about our Early Childhood programs.

Associates Council Announces Raffle for Spring Fundraiser: Smile Brighter

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This year, the Associates Council of The Children’s Aid Society identified dental services— a core component of health services provided at Children’s Aid school-based health centers (SBHC) – as our spring beneficiary. Tickets are now available to attend this year’s Spring Fundraiser located at the Manhattan Penthouse (www.picatic.com/smilebrightercas). All net proceeds will improve direct services for children and youth at Children’s Aid-affiliated schools and SHBCs.

Approximately 300 guests are invited to attend the event at the Manhattan Penthouse, on Fifth Avenue. Last year we achieved both record donations and overwhelming event attendance by Manhattan young professionals from various industries, such as law, fashion, finance, technology, real estate, and media, to name a few. This year, with your help, we strive to exceed these past successes.

This year’s attractions will include multiple raffle prizes in a tiered format. Event guests as well as those who cannot attend may pledge purchased raffle tickets to three tiers. Some of our premium (Tier 1) prizes include:

  • Three-night stay at Legends Hotel in Whistler, BC
  • NHL jersey signed by all 2016 Eastern Conference All-Star players
  • Three-day/two-night stay at the Courtyard Cadillac Ocean Front Hotel in Miami

Raffle prizes in all three tiers are comprised of an array of categories, including clothing and jewelry, fitness, food and drinks, home goods, as well as travel and recreation. A big thank you to our donors, including as Equinox, Theory, Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, MOMA, Dowdle Folk Art, Rustico Cooking, Quality Branded, the New York Yankees, and New York Mets, to name just a few.

Multiple tickets may be purchased per attendee/donor. Tier 2 tickets begin at $30 each; Tier 3 tickets begin at $10 each. Participants may opt to purchase a bundle of tickets for a discount (3 Tier 2 tickets or 10 Tier 3 tickets for $75).

Please visit our event website for tickets to Smile Brighter, and to learn more about the evening and our various prizes and raffles: www.picatic.com/smilebrightercas

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

 

Trying Hard Hats on For Size

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Last week, middle school students from our after-school program received a crash course in Architecture 101.

Marketing group Corcoran Sunshine and real estate developer O’Connor Capital Partners invited a group of middle schoolers from the East Harlem Center to the Upper East Side, where students learned the significance of elevation, plans, and scale in architecture design and construction. It left the students with a greater appreciation of the work behind creating a single room—from the floors to the ceiling.

The companies brought their lesson plan to life by taking the students on a tour of one their apartments at 200 E 62, under construction. The students were able to map the future rooms, as outlined on the floor plan, and saw a finished project: a fully decorated and furnished apartment.

The appliance manufacturer Miele also sponsored a demonstration in one of its model kitchens, using cutting edge stove technology to make grilled cheeses for a quick after-school snack.

We want to thank Corcoran Sunshine, O’Connor Capital Partners, and Miele for extending the opportunity to our middle schoolers to catch a great glimpse of their industries. Now our students are aware of a couple more career possibilities they can explore in their futures.

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Honoring the Dedication of Our Social Workers: Part Four

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For Karina Collado, her job as a bilingual therapist at Mirabal Sisters Campus’ Health and Wellness Center is more than just providing counseling services for students—she advocates for her clients every day. She said that her job is to strengthen the individual, lift their self-esteem, and aid them in reaching their goals.

“I’m not here to make judgments,” said Karina. “I’m not here to tell them what to do. My job is to listen and help them make better decisions.”

On a weekly basis, Karina sees about 30 students, and provides them with the tools they need to thrive not only in school, but also at home. She links her students to educational services, after-school activities, and resources to address learning disabilities. Most importantly, she advocates for her clients in times of crisis, when feelings of depression and high levels of anxiety are most likely to arise. Her job is to assess the situation and the client’s needs, then provide the necessary recommendations.

“We have to deal with what is the current need of the student,” she said.

What makes Children’s Aid so fortunate to have Karina is her ability to connect with students. To Karina, her job is not about jumping to conclusions or judging the student on what brought them to the clinic. It’s about getting to know the client as a person.

“I tell them, ‘You are an individual. Your problems are not you,’” she said.

After she graduated from SUNY New Paltz, Karina landed a job as a youth coordinator at the Riverdale Neighborhood House, where she organized and facilitated workshops to prepare students for future careers and college success. Her experience led her to earn her master’s degree in social work from SUNY Stony Brook. Prior to Children’s Aid, Karina volunteered with AmeriCorps and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

“It has always been in me, the need to want to give back to my community and to know that the work I do makes a difference,” she said.

Karina realizes that there are challenges to her position, but what makes her job so important, she says, is when the “light bulb” turns on in a student. It is then that she knows she is truly making a difference.

 

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