The Children's Aid Blog

Miss Teen New York Visits The Children’s Aid Society

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At 17 years old, Thatiana Diazis a regular teenager enjoying her summer before starting college in the fall.  She is hanging out with friends, going to the movies, playing mini-golf, and shopping for clothes.  However, there is more to this young lady than meets the eye.  When she isn’t doing normal, everyday stuff, she is also representing the state as Miss New York Teen USA 2010.     

This month, Thatiana spent some time with a group of 11-13 year olds from the Frederick Douglass Center talking with them about her experiences as a teenager growing up and the unique journey she finds herself on.  With an ease that belies her age, Thatiana spoke candidly about facing peer pressure to smoke and drink, trying to fit in with the wrong crowd, and finding the strength to discover her own path towards success.  She encouraged the group to be open to new experiences and shared a story about how responding to a flyer in her school turned into an once-in-a-lifetime trip to France as part of a student exchange program.  “You should never be afraid to try new things”.

Students also listened intently while Thatiana spoke about an issue that she is especially passionate about, stopping the cycle of teen dating violence.  “More than 80% of young girls stay in relationships after being abused by their boyfriends.  You should never allow yourself to be disrespected because there are places that can help”.  Thatiana has gone one step further and created her own campaign; apply named Teens Against Domestic Abuse (TADA) to help provide assistance to teens dealing with both physical and verbal attacks.  “I saw a lot of girls [in high school] being emotionally and verbally abused and wanted to do something about it.  I want talk to kids about it and tell them that help is out there”.   

Thatiana also answered other less intense questions that helped her to really connect with the group, such as, “What is her favorite color?” (Yellow), “What celebrity does she want to meet?” (Alicia Keys), and “What does she do for fun?” (Cook, Read books).

Always up for new challenges, Thatiana is someone that epitomizes the volunteer spirit of giving back.  “Volunteering is very important.  I want to help raise awareness and get others to help.  When I volunteer, I know that I have affected the lives of others”.  Thatiana credits her mother Katty, with inspiring and motivating her to achieve success.” She’s my shoulder, my manager, my everything”.    

Supported by her mother and over fifteen family members, Thatiana recently traveled to the Bahamas to compete in the Miss Teen USA pageant, finishing in the top fifteen.  She graduated with honors from high school and will be attending college this fall on scholarship, majoring in Criminal Justice.  She plans to become a lawyer. For more information about TADA, check out Thatiana’s DoSomething project page.

3rd Annual African American Male Initiative Awards and Recognition Ceremony

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Young men were honored on July 10th, 2010 for their improvements and accomplishments at the 3rd Annual African American Male Initiative (AAMI) Award and Recognition Ceremony on July 10th, 2010. This event was held at the Milbank Chapel at Columbia University’s Teacher College.

At left: Justin Pakeman-Chery, an AAMI participant, is accompanied by his uncle to receive his award.

AAMI strives to tackle the issues facing Black male children and provide them with the resources they need to become productive, contributing and well-respected members of their communities and society. AAMI, created by The Children’s Aid Society, and its Steps to Success program which launched in 2007, developed a combined set of methods to improve the outcomes for this vulnerable population which include academic support, parent support and positive and enriching relationships with a life coach.

During the event certificates and trophies were handed out to the young men for perfect attendance, resiliency and strife.

A Night to Remember

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CAS/AileyCamp's 20/20 Illumination

Is there anything more beautiful than children expressing themselves through art? Not in my book.  On August 12, 80 of the most beautiful children imaginable performed a powerful tribute to Judith Jamison, the outgoing artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, through dance, music, poetry, and visual arts at the culminating performance of the Children’s Aid Society Ailey Camp.

Art programs help to nurture children and provide them with an opportunity to demonstrate their mastery of a creative art form.  This performance marked the 20th year of the partnership between The Children’s Aid Society and the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation that brings CAS/AileyCamp to children in Washington Heights and Staten Island. Dedicated to helping young people develop self-discipline of the body and mind, CAS/AileyCamp is but one example of Children’s Aid’s commitment to bringing high quality arts programming to the children we serve.

It is amazing to watch how much children can grow in six weeks.  Most of the students in the camp had no dance training when camp began, which made the power of their performance all the more impressive. The grace and honor these dancers displayed in “Our Prayers,” a dance that directly honored Ms. Jamison, brought tears to many in the audience. And the exuberance and energy of “Lighting Up Their Spirits,” in which West African dances came to life, made the children’s joy contagious.  Performing before an audience of peers, siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins is an unforgettable experience, and these AileyCamp-ers let us know how much the evening meant to them.

Ms. Jamison, seated in the front row of Columbia University’s Miller Theater, was swept up by the beauty and emotion of it all, responding to the children’s grace and harmony and honoring them with her applause and gestures of praise.  CAS/AileyCamp’s “20/20 Illumination” was an evening memorable for the audience, but unforgettable for the young dancers.

Richard R. Buery, Jr.

President and CEO
The Children’s Aid Society
New York City

Freshness Grows in the Bronx

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What would you expect teens to do on a warm summer afternoon? Hit the pool or beach? Sure! Spend time in a mall or movie theater to cool off? Why not? Well, on Wednesday, August 4th, 2010, teens from the Bronx Family Center brought fresh fruits and vegetables to their South Bronx neighborhood. The Youthmarket, the first to be held at this center, was operated by youth from the Foster Care program. The teens worked hard together to meet the demands from dozens of children who visited the Youthmarket from surrounding Children’s Aid Society early childhood programs and summer camps. Many kids were willing to purchase carrots and corn, which pleasantly surprised me, though the fruits remained popular throughout the day and sold out quickly.

Also present were the Next Generation Caterers, who demonstrated how to make zucchini pancakes, poached peaches with blueberries and fresh salsa. The Next Generation Caterers specialize in creating healthful, innovative cuisine made from fresh and seasonal ingredients. All the produce used in their cooking came from the Youthmarket. Along with preparing mouthwatering recipes, the caterers were excellent teachers for the younger children who were not as willing to try something “new.”

On hand to lend his support, and to organize a few carrots and potatoes, was Michael Wagner, Director of Permanency for Adoption and Foster Care at the Bronx Family Center.  

Watch this video to hear from him!

Photos Courtesy of Giany Mejia.

Fun and Fitness in Harlem

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The Children’s Aid Society’s first ever Fitness Jamboree was an amazing display of how the agency has taken on the challenge to promote healthy lifestyles among the children and families that we serve. Children living in poor neighborhoods in Harlem experience obesity and its related poor health effects at distressingly high rates. They are also faced with countless obstacles that hinder healthy life choices. For example, there are very few safe, well-lighted parks and recreation areas; families lack ready access to fresh produce and are surrounded by inexpensive and unhealthy fast food; and city budget cutbacks have resulted in inadequate physical education in public schools.

The rain held off on Saturday, June 12th for our Fitness Jamboree, spearheaded by Coach Kelsey Stevens, Director of Fitness & Recreation and Scott McLeod, Director of Volunteer Services. The event was hosted and sponsored by The Children’s Aid Society’s Associates Council and enhanced by an energetic group of NY Cares Volunteers. The goal of the event was to foster enthusiasm for physical activity and provide a safe and welcoming environment for Children’s Aid youth and families to get active and try new and different fitness-based activities. Approximately 150 youth and parents from six Children’s Aid sites, Dunlevy Milbank, Frederick Douglass Center, East Harlem Center, Hope Leadership Academy, P.S. 50 and C.I.S. 166, gathered at the Dunlevy Milbank Center in Harlem. Activities included martial arts, yoga, flag football, ballroom dancing, Pilates and more.  The different activities were taught by volunteer fitness professionals and Children’s Aid staff. Each activity was inclusive to participants from any Children’s Aid center and the kids enjoyed the camaraderie of playing on a team together with new friends. The Fitness Jamboree was an incredible celebration of fitness and fun! At the end of all of the excitement, each participant was awarded a medal to commemorate this special day.

Student-Run New York City Markets Honored by The Boys & Girls Clubs of America

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The Children’s Aid Society recently received a national Boys & Girls Clubs of America Honor Award for Program Excellence in Health and Life Skills for its Youthmarkets, operated in partnership with GrowNYC. These youth-run farm stands were created to address the acute lack of fruits and vegetables by bringing fresh, local and healthful produce directly into schools for students and families. The Award was presented at the Boys & Girls Clubs 104th National Conference held recently in New York, N.Y. MetLife Foundation sponsors the annual awards program. The Children’s Aid Society received a $3,500 cash award in recognition of its outstanding achievement.

The Honor Award for Program Excellence in Health and Life Skills recognizes the program that helps young people develop the capacity to engage in positive behaviors that nurture their own well-being, help them set personal goals and live successfully as self-sufficient adults.

The students who help organize The Children’s Aid Society Youthmarkets sell the produce, do cooking demonstrations and tastings and distribute recipes to families to take home, all in partnership with GrowNYC. The Youthmarkets happen in three Children’s Aid community schools in the Bronx and Washington Heights.

Volunteers Expand Urban Garden in the Bronx

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The Urban Garden at I.S. 98 Herman Ridder, a Children’s Aid Community School in the Bronx, received a face-lift on Tuesday, August 3rd thanks to the employees at Jana Partners, LLC. The generous volunteers donated their time and supplies to build ten garden planter boxes for the children to grow their own fruits and vegetables as part of their Cooking and Nutrition program. The project also included the priming of a section of the building so that the children can paint a mural in the near future. Thanks to these wonderful volunteers, the I.S. 98 Urban Garden will serve as a tool for children to learn how to grow their own produce, promote a healthy lifestyle by eating nutritiously and encouraging healthy habits that will stay with them throughout their lifetime. Charlie Penner, of Jana Partners shared that his team had been searching for a way to give back to the children of New York City. “We are interested in kids and their families eating more healthy, and this really struck a chord with us.”

This project was organized by Children’s Aid’s Volunteer Services department, which is committed to ensuring that volunteers have a rewarding experience during their time with us. Volunteer Services provide Children’s Aid programs and staff with access to dedicated individuals looking to donate a portion of their time working directly with and on behalf of our children and families. Currently, the Office of Volunteer Services supports over forty programs and events involving volunteers.

Can't Stop…You May Be Addicted

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Have you ever wondered why it is that when you turn the corner, cravings kick in instantly for the local fast food spot? Or why a day at the mall is not complete without the usual snacks? Does 3:00 pm mean a quick run to your favorite frozen yogurt supplier?

According to Dr. David A. Kessler, former commissioner of the Food & Drug Administration and author of “The End of Overeating,” this behavior can’t be simply attributed to bad eating habits. It’s a powerful addiction, and you might need rehab. Dr. Kessler says that the food industry, much like the tobacco industry, is intentionally designing products high in fat, salt and sugar to get consumers addicted. He estimates that about 70 million Americans struggle with “hyper-eating”.

Through his own observations and studies, Dr. Kessler has found that foods containing fat, salt and sugar stimulate the release of Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a major role in alcohol, drug and cigarette addiction. He explains that over time Dopamine pathways light up at even the slightest food “cue” like a time of day or the neighborhood you are in, regardless if you are hungry. As a result, portion control is almost impossible due to the fact that you are no longer eating for nourishment but for stimulation.

What can we do to break the cycle? Dr. Kessler says that what is needed is a “perceptual shift”. The way we look at food and respond to the urges need to be changed in order to rewire our brains and break the addictive cycle.

Stefania Patinella, Director of Food & Nutrition Programs at The Children’s Aid Society says: “Among the solutions Dr. Kessler offers is a return to eating “real food”—food that is whole and fresh, that is not processed or pumped with sugars and fats, and that is free from misleading advertising. At Children’s Aid, our Go! Healthy programs aim to help children and families discover and develop a love for real, healthy foods. Our cooking classes make healthy foods a cause for family celebration, and our nutrition discussions help children uncover the advertising tricks of the food industry so they can become smart and conscious consumers. Dr. Kessler explains how rewiring our brains and freeing ourselves from food addiction is no easy task, a lesson many American adults know well as they struggle their whole lives with overeating. Better, we think, to encourage healthy habits from the very beginning of children’s lives.”

Don't Let Children Slide This Summer

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Out of all the things low-income parents worry about during the summer months - family vacations, the pool and activities at home - this might very well be at the bottom of their list or not on there at all! It's called the "summer slide," and it’s what could happen to children during the summer while their minds are “inactive,” at least compared to how “active” they would have been during the school year. Approximately two months worth of knowledge is lost during the summer according to the National Summer Learning Association. A major study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University shows that during the school year, regardless of economic status, students made similar progress but come summer break, those in disadvantaged financial situations fell behind while the more privileged students either progressed or held steady.

A cover story in the August 2nd issue of Time magazine addresses this issue in the article “The Case Against Summer Vacation” written by David Von Drehle. Von Drehle says that more privileged children have access to higher quality activities during the summer like museums and enrichment classes that keep their minds sharp. The story highlights some of the organizations across the country that have taken steps to further engage students during the summer, such as the Hawthorne Community Center in West Indianapolis where elementary age students are learning pre-algebra and exploring plant science. Ellen Galinsky, posted for the Huffington Post, “7 Ways to Help Your Children Thrive During Summer,” tips parents can use to keep their children engaged while out of school. Among her suggestions is helping children pursue their own interests and showing your children by example that you enjoy learning as well.

At The Children’s Aid Society, summer break is not only spent at theme parks or the beach, but in activities to expand one’s mind and exercise the cerebral muscles. Children's Aid summer camps not only help keep children safe, but introduce fun, engaging and intellectually stimulating activities that counter "summer slide," when students lose educational ground during summer vacation. Gwendolyn Taylor, Director of the Bridge Program at the Dunlevy Milbank Center has experience in engaging the toughest of age groups, “tweens,” during the summer break. For more of Gwen’s advice, watch this video!

Two Children’s Aid Community Schools Receive Excellence in School Wellness Awards!

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P.S. 152 in Washington Heights and C.S. 61 in the Bronx, both Children’s Aid community schools, for receiving Excellence in School Wellness Awards from the NYC Strategic Alliance for Health! P.S. 152 was awarded silver for Manhattan and C.S. 61 a bronze for the Bronx.

The Awards recognize that schools and their partners are working to create healthy school environments as a means to prevent childhood obesity and improve academic achievement. Applications for the award were sent out to 272 elementary schools in Northern Manhattan and the Bronx. Forty schools met one of the top tier Excellence in School Wellness Award levels: 15 schools were awarded gold, 10 silver, and nine bronze. Six schools will receive Honorable Mention.

The Children’s Aid Society’s Go!Healthy initiative is empowering our community schools throughout Washington Heights and the South Bronx to create healthy environments for students” says Stefania Patinella, Director of Food & Nutrition Programs at The Children’s Aid Society. “Our multi-faceted approach includes Go!Chefs cooking and nutrition programs for students of all ages, school gardening programs, fitness and yoga programs, and Youthmarkets (student-run greenmarkets). We also provide health and wellness training for staff so they can be positive role models for children. “