The Children's Aid Blog

Zurich Gives, Families Benefit

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The new year is a prime opportunity for reflection. Here, at Children’s Aid, we’d like to take a moment to reflect on a special relationship for which we are particularly grateful—our partnership with Zurich American Insurance Company. Large corporations, like Zurich, have an obligation to their customers in much the same way that large nonprofit organizations, like Children’s Aid, have a commitment to those we serve. For Children’s Aid, it is our responsibility to maintain our 164-year legacy of providing critical supports and services in the realms of education, health, social-emotional development, and family stability that New York City’s highest-needs children and families have come to rely on and expect. Our efforts are bolstered by the support, both in terms of funding and the investment of employee time, that our corporate partners provide, especially in coordination with our Volunteer Services Department. Zurich is one such company that has demonstrated a laudable level of dedication to corporate social responsibility, and Children’s Aid is proud to provide the vehicle for that generosity.

In 2016, Zurich provided Children’s Aid with a $7,500 impact grant which has, thus far, supported a now three-year tradition, our Turkey Giveaway at our Frederick Douglass Center, as well as a spring celebration with children at Taft Day Care Center. Late last May, as the winter thaw finally receded, 12 Zurich volunteers traveled to our early childhood center in East Harlem to rejoice in the wonders of spring with about 40 of our youngest clients. Volunteers brought along seeds that they helped children plant in pots across their classrooms and then read to them from picture books about flowers, plants, and gardening to help the little ones understand how the seeds would grow and blossom. The experience was a novel one for these children, who have limited exposure to the natural environment in the urban jungle of Manhattan. With Zurich’s help, Children’s Aid opened these children’s eyes to the wonders and beauty of Mother Nature.

Children’s Aid was also thrilled that Zurich was once again on hand this past November to support a Turkey Giveaway at our Frederick Douglass Center. With funds from Zurich, we coordinated Thanksgiving feasts for 100 families in need, including a turkey with all the trimmings, along with other dishes from fresh vegetables to pumpkin pie. Eighteen Zurich volunteers signed up for distribution day when they unloaded the delivery truck and packed tote bags with a full Thanksgiving meal. For these families who struggle daily to make ends meet, Thanksgiving would be just another day of the week were it not for the generosity of Zurich.

We are excited for the year ahead, when our partnership shows no signs of slowing down, as plans for a beatification project are already being scheduled for 2017. We are proud to partner with Zurich and its dedicated cadre of corporate volunteers as we strive, together, to make a tangible impact on the lives of underserved New Yorkers. 

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Starting the Conversation at Home

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When families enter our services through the child welfare system, our number one goal is to make sure they leave it thriving. One of the approaches we use is Multidimensional Family Therapy (MDFT), which provides families with counseling to troubleshoot their most pressing issues.

Skipping school, using drugs recreationally, or facing substance abuse are the most visible signs that bring youth to our attention. However, the emotional roots of these issues, both inside and out of the home, are often the reasons behind unhealthy behaviors. That’s where our in-house experts step in.

Kim Dorsey, a deputy director in our Child Welfare and Family Services Division, Stephen Douglas, the MDFT program director, and Zakiya Thomas, the only MDFT-certified trainer in New York State, manage a small, but powerful team of therapists at Children’s Aid. They arrive at apartment doors across the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, ready to start conversations in our clients’ living rooms.

“Our therapists work really hard. They are out there in the homes early in the morning and late in the evening to support families,” said Kim.

For youth who have never had the opportunity to talk about what’s affecting them, and for parents who may be feeling as frustrated or overwhelmed as their children, that support is a listening ear.

“Parents are often struggling with issues that have nothing to do with them being a parent,” said Kim. “It’s also their time to talk.”

The one-on-ones with therapists turn into family discussions between children and their parents, which build strong lines of communication into the core of their relationship. It results in healthy outcomes for our youth: they remain sober, attend school every day, and most, importantly, they feel supported at home. Our consistent record of breakthroughs has garnered us recognition as one of the top ten MDFT programs worldwide by MDFT International. We not only take pride in these successes, but also in the ones that extend beyond our services.

“When families call a couple of months later to say a child is graduating or going to college—that’s really gratifying,” said Stephen.

Team Children’s Aid 2016

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Each year, New York welcomes fall with the TCS New York City Marathon. This year, Children’s Aid was thrilled to officially participate as a charity partner. The organization’s first marathon team, Team Children’s Aid, made their inaugural 26.2 mile run through New York City’s five boroughs on Sunday, November 6.

In true New York fashion, marathon season was a chance to bring the community together, and start a few new traditions. The Associates Council hosted their first annual Team Children’s Aid Marathon Mingle on October 27 at Atwood Bar. Friends and colleagues got together after work for a fun evening of libations, raffle prizes, and, of course, good company to raise funds in support of the team’s fundraising goal. It was a night to celebrate the team and their amazing journeys, as well as a chance to meet new people and raise awareness for the organization as a whole.

The Associates Council and other members of the Children’s Aid family also gathered on race day to cheer on the team. We posted up at Mile 22 to give our runners one last burst of energy as they made their way down 5th Avenue. It was the perfect fall day in Harlem: sunny, warm, and alive with race-day excitement.  With pom-poms, sparkly signs, and cowbells in hand, we came ready to cheer. And cheer we did!

Congratulations to our amazing runners: Volkan Kurtas, Jon Herrick, Victor Liebregt, Drema Brown, Angelic Pla, Dan Bormolini, and Patricia Lightell. In addition to their incredible athletic feats, they raised more than $30,000 to support Children’s Aid—and we couldn’t be more proud and grateful.

With a successful year behind us, we’re already recruiting Team Children’s Aid runners for 2017. We hope to see you next year for round two. We can’t wait!

For more information about running with Team Children’s Aid please contact Jennifer Warren, deputy director of institutional relations, at jwarren@childrensaidsociety.org.

For more information about joining the Associates Council, please contact Malia Poai, director of events, at maliap@childrensaidsociety.org.

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Planting Seeds Early

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Last week, our early childhood students at C.S. 61 developed little green thumbs in the Bronx with help from our Go!Healthy program. The toddlers, with help from their teachers and Go!Healthy nutritionists, learned about gardening as part of the nutrition program’s education curriculum that shapes even the youngest minds in our services.

After a reading of “Planting a Rainbow” written by Lois Ehlert, students made their own arts and crafts plants; and thanks to some face painting magic, their classroom soon filled with young colorful butterflies, lady bugs, and bees. The morning ended outside in the school’s garden where kids and their parents planted bulbs and laid down soil for the winter. The excitement for our young ones will continue in the spring when they get to revisit the garden to see what has sprouted above ground.

Go!Healthy also made the morning particularly seasonal by sharing samples and recipes of a fall vegetable chili with parents. And staff raffled off gardening packets with pots, soil, and seeds to help our families continue their gardening efforts at home.

Thank you to C.S. 61 and the Go!Healthy program for instilling a love of gardening and nutrition in our young ones that will be sure to grow along with them.

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A Very Good Year for FYSA

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The Fostering Youth Success Alliance has been going full speed since it launched in 2014, and this year has been one of tremendous achievements. Here are some recent highlights.

FYSA built upon the great success it had during its first state budgeting process by doubling funding—to $3 million allocation—toward foster youths’ post-secondary educational needs during the FY 17. In doing so, the number of young people benefitting from the program doubled.

FYSA also hosted its second Making College Success a Reality conference in late October. The 150 attendees included representatives from SUNY, CUNY, the state Department of Education, the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities, social services agencies, and county and district governments from Buffalo to Long Island. The event advanced on progress made at last year’s conference and also focused on more current developments, such as President Obama’s passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA includes a provision for the tracking of foster youths’ academic progress from grades K-12, and, therefore, correlates strongly with FYSA’s work—ensuring foster youth are engaged in a college-going culture often and early, and that they see college as a realistic and desirable goal.

FYSA also played a prominent role in local government advances this month, including several bills signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio just two weeks ago. The impetus for these bills was last year’s first-ever Foster Youth Shadow Day, during which our foster youth advocates interacted directly with council members, presenting representatives with issues that were of personal and prominent concern. Five bills in total were signed into law, and all represent a more comprehensive approach to addressing the various barriers foster youth face while in care and during the arduous transition to adulthood.

To top it all off, Jessica Maxwell, the director of the Fostering Youth Success Alliance (FYSA), is an incredible youth advocate and was recognized as such with the 2016 New York Nonprofit Media Cause Award. Working with alliance partners, she helped raise crucial issues and advocated fiercely for them—the advancement of youth in and transitioning out of foster care in the realms of higher education, employment, and housing, among others. She really earned this honor. 

FYSA’s efforts continue unabated. Children’s Aid is proud to lead the charge, along with our partner agencies who encompass FYSA, to improve the life outcomes of youth in and aging out of foster care, and we wholeheartedly believe that these recent achievements are but portents of greater successes on the horizon. 

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Giving Thanks, One Family Meal at a Time

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Every November, millions of American families gather together to share a meal on Thanksgiving. This tradition started in the late 17th century on American shores when European immigrants celebrated their first successful harvest and shared a meal with the Native Americans who taught them their local farming and hunting practices.

Today, recognized as a national holiday, Thanksgiving provides families a day out of the year to take a moment to share a meal with each other. For many families, sharing a meal might be challenging, and supporting the family during a meal time is so important, not only on Thanksgiving but throughout the year.

Family meals do much more than provide nutrition. They provide a space for learning, and are fundamental to the family core in creating a space for sharing family traditions and stories. In children’s health, three or more family meals in a week has been linked with preventing nutrition-health related problems including issues of overweight, unhealthy eating, and disordered eating, and have been shown to increase the opportunities for eating healthy foods. Children’s Aid aims to support children and their families from the cradle to and through college and career, and fully supports family-style meals. This Thanksgiving, and at any family meal, try to incorporate the following:

  • Share a family story at the table. Children who know their histories have been shown to have more resiliency and feel more connected to their families than kids who don’t.
     
  • Eat veggies and foods you like. Children learn from your example! If you are honest with your food choices and try new things, children will likely follow suit.

The Go!Healthy team at Children’s Aid works to support family meals by having hands-on fun cooking and nutrition activities with kids, parents, grandparents, and staff around family meals, and provides practical ways to include healthy food options. This fall, the Go!Healthy team supported healthy family meals by providing opportunities for purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables at the Food Box program, and hosted walks to neighboring farmers’ markets throughout the regions.

This Thanksgiving, the Go!Healthy team would like to share their famous cranberry sauce recipe with you!  

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Knocking Down a College Obstacle

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It’s always excellent to see our commitment to improving and expanding impact—to building on something that works well.

That’s certainly what has been taking place across our Adolescence sites lately. You might remember, in the last academic year, that Ruben Rivera led a team of Children’s Aid volunteers to help teens and their parents conquer the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, aka FAFSA. The group hit five sites and each evening was a resounding success.

This year, Ruben and Amani Gheith, also in our College Success program, expanded to eight sites: Opportunity Charter School, Urban Assembly Institute of Math and Science for Young Women, Bronx Career and College Prep, Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School, Bronx Preparatory, Hope Leadership Academy, Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services, and the African American Male Initiative.

All told, more than 250 young men and women have gotten a jump on the often complicated (and potentially frustrating) task of arranging for financial aid. And when they apply early, their chances increase for stronger financial aid packages.

Here’s to another successful year of seeing our kids take a big step toward college success. 

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Breaking Records for Children and Families

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We don’t stage our premier fundraiser solely for the purpose of breaking a record. But when we do, that’s good news for the kids and families we serve.

On November 3, 530 guests (record #1) gathered at Guastavino’s under the 59th Street Bridge for the 6th Annual Keeping the Promise Benefit. And by the end of the night, we had raised $1.8 million (record #2) that we will use to ensure that our kids and families have the opportunity to capitalize on every ounce of their potential.

We couldn’t have done it without the support of our two honorees: Wade Davis, the executive vice president and chief financial officer of Viacom, and Hugh F. Johnston, the vice chairman and chief financial officer of PepsiCo. Their corporate leadership and commitment to creating opportunities for young people is an inspiration to so many.

The night started with the talented Children’s Aid Society Chorus and their rendition of “Happy.” And we had four incredible young people on hand. Mahil Sumbundu, 17, a senior at New Visions Charter High School for Advanced Math & Science II, and Julio Reyes, 21, a business student at Binghamton University, served as the masters of ceremonies. Bridget Dennis, 22, who capitalized on the training she received at the Next Generation Center to land a job supervising about 200 peers in the concessions stands at Yankee Stadium, was the subject of our video and introduced the auction. She’s now studying at Bronx Community College. Finally, Dzifa Dzaba, 17, a senior at Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem, served as our announcer.

Regardless of any records broken, it was an incredible night celebrating the accomplishments that are possible for these young people when Children’s Aid is with them every step of the way. 

View more images from the evening in our photo gallery.

 

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Lifting Children’s Voice on Election Day

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Children may not have the right to vote, but on Election Day the many who attend Children’s Aid community schools made sure to exercise another important fundamental right: their freedom of speech.

Students from across our Bronx community schools participated in a special Lift Every Voice Election Day debate competition, which was hosted by Community School 61 and facilitated by the Children’s Aid African American Male Initiative (AAMI). Each year, AAMI’s Lift Every Voice public speaking series challenges elementary and middles school students to engage in issues affecting their community through persuasive speeches and debate. This week’s debate was no different, as it provided students with the opportunity to hone their critical-thinking skills and strengthen their written and verbal communication skills outside of the classroom around a critical day during the election year.

Students engaged in a fiery debate to discuss the harms and benefits of using social media and delivered expository speeches outlining what they would do if they were president. Their speeches thoughtfully addressed some of the most pressing issues affecting their generation: bullying, homelessness, health care, safe communities, and quality education. Their mature reflection reminded all those in the room that children are paying as much attention to current affairs as the adults who were voting at polling stations across the country.

We are incredibly proud of all the participants and their peers who came out to support them. And we thank the CS 61 and AAMI staff for working together to empower our students to lift their voice.

Congratulations to all the winners.

 

 

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Family Nights at Children’s Aid

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What does it take to host a successful family night? Plenty of apples, employment advice, free books, and a list of great contacts. Our early childhood staff employed this formula at the Children’s Aid Bronx Early Childhood Center last week during school pick-up hours to direct parents to resources they may have otherwise been unable to access on their own.

In addition to the array of direct services we provide children and their families, Children’s Aid also knows when to call on our friends across New York City to further support children and families. Representatives from IDNYC, Hunter College, and Workforce 1 graciously answered the call to talk with parents about applying for the New York ID and to share information on language classes and employment opportunities. And of course, our Go!Healthy program was on hand to provide a nutritious snack for the toddlers present and share healthy recipes with their parents.

Families in attendance went home with a wealth of knowledge, books for their young ones, and fresh apples courtesy of City Harvest. We want to thank all of our community partners for helping us to put together a wonderful family night that we look forward to replicating across Harlem, Staten Island, and Washington Heights.

 

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