The Children's Aid Blog

Richard R. Buery, Jr. Celebrates Iron Go!Chefs Competition

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On June 11th, I had the honor of serving as a judge at the first annual Iron Go! Chefs competition at the East Harlem Center! (To see the NY1 story about the competition, click here.) Teams of middle school students from our East Harlem Center, IS 98, Mirabal Sisters Campus, IS 166, and Fannie Lou Hamer Middle School competed in a healthy cooking competition. My fellow judges included ABC News Health Correspondent Dr. Richard Besser, James Beard award-winning cookbook author Lorna Sass, and Children’s Aid own Jacqueline Morillo, our cook at East Harlem, and Next Generation Catering crew member Ryan Frazier.

The judges had the honor of tasting five delicious meals, any of which I would be happy to be served in a restaurant, and the difficult task of choosing award winners. I was blown away, as I usually am, by the talent of our children and the dedication of our staff.

The Iron Go! Chefs competition exemplified the best of Children’s Aid: programmatic innovation, project based learning, youth development, healthy eating and lifestyles, and – of course – fun! Not only was each participant a winner but each team stood out for their delicious culinary creations:

  • Taking the award for the Most Healthful Dish was the tasty whole wheat pasta with beans and veggies created by the I.S. 98 Chefettes.
  • Best Teamwork award went to the Mirabal Sister’s Campus Food Fighters for their collaborative efforts on the Omelette a la Mirabal and Papaya Strawberry Smoothie.
  • The award for Best Presentation went to the home team, the East Harlem Center Mighty Bites, for their decorative Salmon Caliente with Quinoa, Asiago Asparagus and Spiced Sweet Potato Wedges.
  • The award for Most Original Dish went to IS 166’s Fire and Spice team for their creative Seared Salmon with Asparagus and Carrot Brown Rice Risotto.
  • The awards for Best Tasting Dish and Best All Around in the competition went to the Fannie Lou Hamer Saute Champions for their perfectly executed and delicious tasting Shrimp Saute with Creamy Polenta and Pesto Sauce.

I would like to give a special shout out to all of the people who made this fantastic evening possible:

Stefania Patinella – Children’s Aid’s queen of healthy living and the leader of this effort!

Ellen Barker – who did a fantastic job coordinating the entire celebration!

East Harlem Center “Mighty Bites” team: Diana Matias, Educational Coordinator and Jasan Edwards, Chef Instructor…and of course David and his whole staff for hosting!

IS 98 Chefettes team: Venus White, Program Director and Farah Reyes, Chef Instructor

IS 166 “Fire and Spice”: Chevar Francis, Program Director and Brandon Henry, Chef Instructor. Chevar deserves a special shout out, because he conceived the idea in the first place!

Fannie Lou Hamer Saute Champions: Oscar Guzman, Program Director and Corinne Shaw, Chef Instructor

Mirabal Sisters Campus Food Fighters: Atiyya Abdur-Rahman, Assistant Program Director, Luz Jimenez, Chef Instructor and Katherine Mordan, Chef’s Assistant

Wishing you a summer full of happy and healthy eating!

Richard R. Buery, Jr.
President and CEO
The Children's Aid Society

The Arts are Alive at Children’s Aid!

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It was hard to tell who was more excited – the children or their parents – as everyone poured into the auditorium at El Museo del Barrio on the evening of May 21. Anticipation ran high for the 13th annual Children’s Aid Society Spring Concert, the first to feature performances from the agency’s Arts Alive program, which now encompasses dance, musical theater and a jazz ensemble, in addition to choruses from Children’s Aid community centers across the city.

Over 200 children between the ages of 5 and 18 from Washington Heights, Harlem, Greenwich Village and the Bronx dazzled the crowd with their talents. From the opening note of the Chorus’ first song, “Fever,” everyone knew that the concert would be special. The Drew Hamilton Harmony in Harlem Jazz Band transported the audience to a jazz club with a range of classics.

The evening also featured an awards ceremony to honor The Children’s Aid Society’s “Future Songs of the City” Composition Grants winners. The Chorus debuted “Music Box,” a new song by Grand Prize winner Polina Nazaykinskaya.

The grand finale brought all the young performers to the stage for a rousing, cheerful rendition of “Let the Sun Shine In.” Even in the darkened auditorium, everyone felt the sun’s warm rays and left with a song in their hearts.

Charlene Visconti Named New Director of Homemaker Services for The Children’s Aid Society

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The Children’s Aid Society is pleased to announce the appointment of Charlene Visconti as Director of Homemaker Services.

The Children’s Aid Society’s Homemaker Services was founded in 1933 to directly assist New York City families at home. Today’s Homemakers are certified para-professionals trained to help some of NYC’s most stressed families stay together through difficult times. Homemakers are supervised and supported by social workers and assist families with household management, including caring for children; and offer family support counseling and advocacy, connecting families to concrete services such as public assistance and health insurance.

Ms. Visconti, a graduate of the NYU School of Law, brings a wealth of experience in the health care field and in risk management. Most recently she served as the Assistant Dean for the Preprofessional Advising Center at the NYU College of Arts and Science. Previously Ms. Visconti was the Director of Risk Management at Bellevue Hospital and a staff attorney for Legal Services of New York.

“We are fortunate to have someone with Charlene Visconti’s rich background to lead our Homemaker Services,” said Josh Friedman, Director of Counseling and Home Based Services at Children’s Aid. “Charlene will play a pivotal role in helping Homemaker Services thrive during a time period in which the City’s social network is being so severely challenged.”

Ms. Visconti succeeds Mary Hutson, who retired in June after 29 years with The Children’s Aid Society.

Helping Families Heal: The Children’s Aid Society’s Domestic Violence Services

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The family is the corner stone of our society. More than any other force it shapes the attitude, the hopes, the ambitions, and the values of the child. And when the family collapses it is the children that are usually damaged.When it happens on a massive scale the community itself is crippled. So, unless we work to strengthen the family, to create conditions under which most parents will stay together, all the rest — schools, playgrounds, and public assistance, and private concern — will never be enough.

Lyndon Baines Johnson

Domestic violence is a serious behavioral issue which adversely affects every member of the family. The Children’s Aid Society’s innovative Family Wellness Program provides comprehensive services to help parents and children stay safe and eventually heal from the effects of domestic abuse.

Safety is critical, handled by the Program’s experienced case managers, advocacy specialists, and crisis management counselors. From safe shelters, housing, and public benefits to legal assistance with orders of protection and emergency response – the Family Wellness Program Case Manager is the “go to” person for families in crisis.

We begin the process of helping families heal from the trauma of domestic violence by giving them free access to support groups, as well as one-to-one and group counseling sessions with Family Wellness Program therapists specializing in abusive relationships. Survivors, witnesses and perpetrators (abusive partners) of domestic abuse receive professional help to understand the effects of violence, learn to modify extreme behavioral patterns and begin healing.

Our objective is to, whenever possible, keep families together.

Recently, The Children’s Aid Society has expanded domestic violence support services to East and Central Harlem and the Washington Heights district, as part of our unwavering commitment to helping families in crisis – one family at a time.

These Kids Have Common Cents!

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Students at P.S. 1, The Alfred E. Smith School on the Lower East Side in NYC, recently held their annual Penny Harvest Check Presentation Ceremony. The Children’s Aid Society was one of nine lucky organizations chosen by the Penny Harvest Roundtable Philanthropy Service group at P.S. 1 to receive a Penny Harvest check from Common Cents. The 2nd and 3rd graders at P.S. 1 were able to raise $1,000 over the course of the year, a portion of which was donated to Children’s Aid.

The funds were raised through the efforts of the students, staff and parents. In the fall the students held a festival where the monies raised from the purchase of food, pumpkins, games, books, toys, plants, pottery; and a raffle all went towards their Penny Harvest Initiative. Additionally, over the course of the year, the students continued to pass their class collection containers to add to the total monies raised.

How did these 2nd and 3rd graders narrow down the competition, you may be wondering? The students chose the organizations after exploring community needs. They explored different organizations by asking for suggestions, computer research, and phone interviews, as well as hosting on-site speakers at P.S. 1. The students then matched organizations with needs and voted on which needs to address and which organizations to contribute to.

Along with Children’s Aid there were many worthy causes in attendance to receive their checks, including The American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, The Fresh Air Fund and New Yorkers for Parks. Along with the students, teachers, parent aides and staff in attendance, Time for Kids magazine, a representative from Common Cents, creators of the Penny Harvest, as well as a representative from NYC Service of the Mayor’s Office were all in attendance. The afternoon included brief statements on the importance of giving and philanthropy, check presentations, Penny Harvest Roundtable Student Award Presentations and a pizza party.

It is so encouraging and inspiring to see NYC children finding ways to truly make a difference to those we provide services for. As cultural anthropologist, Margaret Mead said so wonderfully, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Thank you P.S. 1!

Patty Landry
Manager, Annual Giving
The Children's Aid Society

Helping Families Heal: The Children’s Aid Society’s Domestic Violence Services

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Domestic violence is a serious behavioral issue which adversely affects every member of the family.  The Children’s Aid Society’s innovative Family Wellness Program provides comprehensive services to help parents and children stay safe and eventually heal from the effects of domestic abuse. hands wed Safety is critical, handled by the Program’s experienced case managers, advocacy specialists, and crisis management counselors. 

From safe shelters, housing, and public benefits to legal assistance with orders of protection and emergency response – the Family Wellness Program Case Manager is the “go to” person for families in crisis. We begin the process of helping families heal from the trauma of domestic violence by giving them free access to support groups, as well as one-to-one and group counseling sessions with Family Wellness Program therapists specializing in abusive relationships. Survivors, witnesses and perpetrators (abusive partners) of domestic abuse receive professional help to understand the effects of violence, learn to modify extreme behavioral patterns and begin healing.

Recently, The Children’s Aid Society has expanded domestic violence support services to East and Central Harlem and the Washington Heights district, as part of our unwavering commitment to helping families in crisis – one family at a time.

Fixing Foster Care

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For some children, the foster care system is the best route out of abusive living situations to stable loving homes. Thanks to new state reforms and procedures children are spending less time in foster care limbo- court cases are being expedited and adoptions are happening faster.

In June, many websites, including Forbes.com and MSNBC.com, and print publications ran a story by Associated Press David Crary on the successful reforms of the foster care system. The system has three key components- shorter stays in foster care; faster adoptions; and reaching out to, intervening and offering support to troubled families so that children can avoid entering foster care in the first place.  This strategy that approaches foster care from all angles has had great success in many states dramatically lowering the number of children in foster care. John Mattingly, commissioner of New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services, pointed out that since the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1990s, the foster care population in New York City has been declining from its highest at 50,000 children. According to the most recent federal data the number of children in foster care in the United States has decreased by 17% since 1998.

Though some worry that budget cuts will affect the new policies, it’s not stopping some states - New York, Florida, California and Ohio, to name a few - from pursuing their goals of significantly lowering the foster child population.  These states have been working diligently to reduce their budgets, and they deem a child’s removal from their home the ‘worst case scenario’. One of the major problems keeping foster children out of adopted homes is the slow moving court system. Even though drastic reforms are being made, it’s not the norm yet, and delays in the courts still occur.

A new budget cut in New York could cost 3,000 families any preventive services , and without the funding, it’s hard to tell whether these new procedures will continue to be successful or not. Preventive service programs provide counseling to struggling families to try to avoid a child’s removal. Jane Golden of The Children’s Aid Society said, “All of these models that we’ve seen as successful are in danger - there’s a great risk of going back to the old days.”

Whatever the situation - poverty, neglect or abuse - many children are removed from their homes but often have long waits to join new, safe and supportive families.  Only time and perseverance can bring about change, and we hope the budget cuts do not affect the hard work and great progress that have been made in improving the foster care system.

Children’s Aid Parents Graduate from Pepin Leadership Institute

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They arrived early to set-up their work - decorations, upholstered furniture, dresses and curtains.  Their family and friends oohed and awed at the creativity and obvious hard work. Great things are always happening at  Children’s Aid Community Schools.

On Saturday, June 5th, nearly 400 parents from five Washington Heights Community Schools graduated from The Children’s Aid Society Ercilia Pepin Parent Leadership Institute at the Mirabal Sisters Campus. The Institute offers guidance on navigating the school system in order to improve their children’s education. While getting empowered to advocate for their children in their schools, the Institute also offers parents educational and personal enrichment of their own. Parents can take GED, literacy, technology or child care licensing classes. Courses in upholstery, dress making, wood and fabric painting and culinary arts are also available. Many of their finished pieces, edible or wearable, decorated the school’s cafeteria for all eyes to see.

The parents were greeted and congratulated by New York State Senator Bill Perkins, New York State Assembly Members Adriano Espaillat and Herman Farrell and New York City Council Member Robert Jackson. On hand to award the “We Are New York” Conversation Program certificates for English was Anthony Tassi, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office of Adult Programs.

More Than Art

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Adolescence is a difficult time for most of us. Teenagers struggle to fit in, stand out and define themselves.  This time period is even more difficult for adolescents who become involved with the court system, either spending time in juvenile detention or incarceration facilities. The Children’s Aid Society’s juvenile justice programming is designed to give these teenagers the skills and unwavering support they need to make better choices in all areas of their lives. This multi-faceted effort is called Lasting Investments in Neighborhood Connections (LINC) and it focuses on connecting youth re-entering their communities (after being incarcerated) with adults who will positively influence their lives.

Since 2008, Artistic Noise, an arts entrepreneurship program for youth involved in the juvenile justice system, has partnered with LINC to offer arts programming to participants in Brooklyn, The Bronx and Harlem. This partnership provides a safe space for youth to process and document their lives using visual arts while learning valuable life and job skills. Their artwork explores issues that range from self-identity to incarceration.

On June 10th, Artistic Noise held an opening reception for the presentation of “Unfinished Business”, this year’s art exhibit.

“Unfinished Business” Exibition Statement- written by teen curators

“Artistic Noise is about
devotion, determination, meditation and unfinished business.
Inside and outside, the worlds connect.
The spirit is open-minded with a diverse perspective.

The picture of me is bigger than words.
What we see and what reflects us- that’s what we are,
that’s what makes our art.”

The program participants were not only artists and curators of the exhibit but they were also the event hosts and business professionals responsible for selling merchandise and greeting their guests. With support and encouragement teenagers can transform from youth at risk of lagging behind their peers emotionally, socially and academically to future business leaders and creative artists.

Children’s Aid Youth Councils Overcome Obstacles and Celebrate the End of the School Year

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With the school year coming to an end, many students will look back at what they have learned, how they have grown and how these experiences have shaped the road ahead. The 2010 Children’s Aid Society Middle Schools Youth Councils have a lot to be proud of. Their accomplishments were on full display at the End of Year Award Ceremony on Monday, May 10th, 2010 at the National Center for Community Schools.

The youth and their group developers honored each other with awards and by sharing their most memorable stories. Many were brought to tears when they recalled their experiences, the personal issues and the positive impact made on each other’s lives.  All can confirm that their work in the Youth Council has improved their self-esteem, confidence in public speaking and that the friendships made will be remembered always.

The Youth Councils empower students to make a change in their school and communities. This year, the Youth Councils focused on the issues of Domestic Violence, Child Abuse and Animal Cruelty and facilitated workshops on these topics at their 2010 “Make a Change” Conference.

Congratulations to the 2010 Community Schools Youth Councils for all that they have accomplished!