The Children's Aid Blog

Paying it Forward: Part Four

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Gary Perez was just looking for a place to play basketball when he first came across Children’s Aid. He found that and then some within the teen program at the Salomé Ureña Campus during the early 90s, which was part of the organization’s direct community outreach in Washington Heights.

“It got me off the streets,” he said. “My mom was happy I was there. She even took Zumba and aerobics classes at SU.”

Gary reconnected with the organization, after he started college, to work in the after-school program and would go on to wear many hats across the years, one of which was coach of the same youth basketball program he first participated in. Throughout his various roles, Gary learned how to build community and provide support to the youth and families he grew up with in Washington Heights.

“To this day I want to make sure that I keep the tradition alive of how you reach kids in the community,” said Gary. “I’m always willing to help because that was what I was taught when I was young.”

Gary continues this work today in his newly appointed position as community school director of the Clara Barton campus in the Bronx. He truly knows what it means to be there every step of the way for kids and feels privileged to witness his students, former and current, thrive.

“That’s the product of Children’s Aid—to make sure that kids know what they want, to make sure they obtain their goals, and that they know how to get there.”

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Go!Healthy Walks to the Farmers’ Market!

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This summer, Go!Healthy led walking trips for parents and youth to farmers’ markets across New York City. There are currently over 130 farmers’ markets across New York City that provide fresh local seasonal produce. Go!Healthy educates our youth and their families about the importance of eating fruits and vegetables, but most importantly advises all to shop in season. Seasonality ties in very closely with the affordability of fruits and vegetables, and this summer the selection at the farmers’ market was immense.

Walking to these markets is indeed a treat given their proximity to many of our centers and community schools, and the benefits of walking are undisputed. According to the Mayo Clinic, regular brisk walking can help maintain a healthy weight, prevent, or manage various conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.  It can also strengthen bones and muscles, improve your mood, and improve balance and coordination.

During July and August, we had more than 10 farmers’ market walking trips that directly linked our youth and their families to their pick of fruits and vegetables. Every family who attends a farmers’ market trip with Go!Healthy receives Health Bucks-- $2 coupons from the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene that families can use to shop for fruits and vegetables only at the farmers’ market. Additionally, for every $5 in EBT/SNAP dollars exchanged at the farmers’ market, families receive an additional $2 in Health Bucks. Regular farmers’ market walking trips will be ongoing through the fall in Harlem, the Bronx, and in Washington Heights.

For more information regarding the Go!Healthy farmers’ market walking trips, please check the Go!Healthy Facebook group ( for more details, or reach out to Kathleen Delgado, If you would like to learn more about Go!Healthy programming please reach out to Alyson Abrami, director of food and nutrition (

If you would like to find a farmers’ market near you, text “SoGood” to 877877; or in Spanish “MuyRico” al 877877. This service and other fresh food resources can be found at:


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Learning to Lead at Hope

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Summer is officially over. But it’s certain that the impact of the Hope Leadership Academy Summer Institute will endure.

It’s difficult to describe the Hope Leadership Academy Summer Institute because it is so many things at one time: a place to learn, to share ideas, to improve skills, as well as a place for friendship.

So it would be impossible to list everything that happened at the Harlem site this year. The 17 participants volunteered at World Vision Co., creating care packages for kids in low-income housing, and also cleaning the warehouse to create a safer environment. They took field trips. They also started two businesses and achieved some fantastic results. All this came under the dynamic leadership of our colleagues John Exorphe and Binta Sumbundu.

Muchii Made baked all-natural cookies that were delicious while being free of the artificial ingredients found in so many other products. Summertime Sweetness made fresh-squeezed organic lemonade—pink and yellow—to wash down all those treats. The young men and women on both teams built business plans, assigned responsibility areas, worked on branding, and marketed each enterprise. They held two public sales while also delivering their product to 711 3rd Ave and 4 W. 125th Street.

They got the business off the ground with initial $50 investments, and together the two groups generated more than $700 in profits. That is what we call a success story. 


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Paying it Forward: Part Three

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Ismelda Cruz remembers her favorite memory of summer camp. In the 7th grade, she and her fellow Children’s Aid campers went on an overnight visit to Wagon Road. The campers participated in activities, cooled off in the pool, and even heard a ghost story in the woods where a staff member playfully scared them at the end.

Ismelda is a product of our cradle to college approach here at Children’s Aid. Starting at an early age, she was part of after-school programs and summer camps at P.S. 5 and I.S. 218. She later went from camper to facilitator, writing up lessons and organizing activities, at P.S. 5. After earning her associate’s degree in early childhood education from Hostos Community College, she is now an assistant teacher at P.S. 5.

She says she returned to her roots because of her past experience with Children’s Aid. “I do it for the mission,” she said. “I do it to provide for kids in low-income communities like [Children’s Aid] did when I was young.”

Being a lead facilitator and assistant teacher has showed her why our programs are so important to our young ones. She mentions that at Children’s Aid, kids are safe, are given meals, and, most importantly, have fun. She said that even as a student, she learned social-emotional skills, including communication skills and maintaining friendships, which have helped her later in life.

“I learned to give back to my community because they gave me so much as a child that now I can return the favor,” she said.

In addition to her work in education, Ismelda graduated from Baruch College and earned a bachelor’s degree in corporate communications in May. Ismelda is now interning with Children’s Aid’s Marketing and Communications Department. She hopes to pursue a master’s degree and a career in human resources.

She said she strives to reach her goals and succeed not only for herself, but for all her students as well. “I want to be a role model for kids so they can learn to do better for themselves.”

It’s just one of the many ways Ismelda hopes to make an impact in her students’ lives.


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Coming Together on Community Schools

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“One thing we have to keep in our minds is how powerful it is when adults can get together for children. The biggest move we can make is to make sure that the work that we do in community schools gets all of the adults to the table for children”- New York State Education Department Commissioner MaryEllen Elia

Nearly 100 adults and key community school stakeholders from every corner of New York came together for children at the first New York State Community Schools Network Convening on August 2 at the University at Albany East Campus. The goals of the convening were to not only have partners across the state meet for the first time but to also share community schools practice, collaborate with one another on the goals and priorities for the state network, and develop a legislative and policy agenda for New York State community schools.

The New York State Community Schools Network* is an emerging coalition consisting of a diverse group of key community school partners representing community-based organizations, advocacy groups, and unions. For the past two years, Children’s Aid has served as a steering committee member collaborating with partners across the state to influence community school policy and formulate strategies to support all local and statewide community school initiatives.

Valuable networking opportunities, thoughtful conversations, and strategic planning occurred throughout the day on August 2. The synergy among community schools stakeholders, from community school directors to school board superintendents to our elected officials was invigorating. Breakout sessions were facilitated across several topics which included defining our community schools state vision and developing our legislative policy priorities. You can view the keynote addresses that were given by New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Dr. Betty Rosa and New York State Education Department Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, both articulating their support and commitment to the success of community schools.

Martin J. Blank, president of the Institute for Educational Leadership and director of the Coalition for Community Schools, moderated an excellent panel discussion on community schools policy and practice which included an esteemed group of community school champions, including New York State assembly members Donna Lupardo (D-Binghamton) and Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo).

The large attendance, key representation, and overall energy from the day strengthens the infrastructure for a robust state coalition to not only grow but collaborate to sustain, build capacity, and support high-quality community schools. Chancellor Rosa said that community schools are “very important to the solution and the issues we face today in terms of equity and social justice.” Our Office of Public Policy is dedicated to building the New York State Community Schools Network, advocating for equitable solutions supporting Children’s Aid children and families. In the next few months, the steering committee will finalize their state policy agenda for the FY18 budget cycle, actively participating in the upcoming legislative process.

*Current members of the New York State Community Schools Network: Alliance for Quality Education, Broome County Promise Zone, Capital Area School Development Association, Coalition for Educational Justice, New York School-Based Health Alliance, New York State Network for Youth Success, New York State United Teachers, Rockland 21C, The Children’s Aid Society, and United Federation of Teachers



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Paying it Forward: Part Two

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For Matthews Valdez, Children’s Aid was always a place to call home. His mother, a former Children’s Aid staff member, was a facilitator who trained many of our current employees working in Washington Heights. It was during this time that Matthews entered our services.

He began summer camp when he was 6, and since then has become an instrumental part of our community. In addition to summer camp, he also participated in our after-school programs at P.S. 5. He said his experience as a Children’s Aid kid is something he will never forget.

“I loved it,” he said. “That’s something I’m always going to appreciate.”

After growing up and realizing his passion for working with kids, he decided to come back and join P.S.152’s team as a facilitator and lifeguard. Even as an employee at Children’s Aid, he continues to find his experience as one that is rewarding.

Matthews aspires to one day become a Children’s Aid arts specialist, focusing on dance. His passion for dance started when he was chosen to participate in AileyCamp, where he learned tap, ballet, hip hop, west African, and jazz dance routines. After being in the camp for four years, he won a scholarship to take classes three days a week at the Alvin Ailey School. He says the experience helped him be the person he is today.

“Doing this made me feel more confident in myself,” he said.

Matthews continues to be a valuable asset to our community by “paying it forward” and helping kids in the community succeed and thrive. 



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Reaffirming a Commitment to Community

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This summer 19 students were placed in different offices at all three levels of government through the Children’s Aid Community Building Summer Internship (CBSI) program. The program, which runs through our public policy office and is currently in its ninth year, provides high school and college students with hands on experiences in public service in neighborhoods in the Bronx, Washington Heights, Harlem, and for the first time this year, Staten Island.

At the program’s end of summer appreciation ceremony, Children’s Aid CEO and president Phoebe Boyer commended the interns on completing the summer program and Sandra Escamilla, our new vice president of the Adolescence Division, delivered a warm and encouraging keynote speech to the young students that urged them to find their purpose.

“When you follow your purpose, the prosperity that you find is unmatched,” said Sandra.

Within each of their internships, CBSI participants completed key office tasks and learned how to support and engage constituents in their communities. Interns also attended weekly training sessions with facilitators from the Resilience Advocacy Project (RAP), which they used to collectively complete a community engagement project. After realizing that many New York City high school students lack access to information around the college process, this year’s group of interns created an online petition to urge the Department of Education, Mayor de Blasio, and Governor Cuomo to create a universal college prep program in New York City. The interns shared their project with New York State senators and assembly members and city officials at the program’s end of summer appreciation ceremony.

We congratulate our CBSI interns for completing a successful summer and for being prime examples of how integral building community is to the Children’s Aid mission.

And if you haven’t already, please sign the petition.



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Rio on the Hudson

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Earlier this August, our very own Children’s Aid Olympians competed at the Citi-sponsored “Rio on the Hudson.”  74 campers from our P.S. 5 and P.S. 152 campuses in Washington Heights attended the event, which was held at Pier 26 Hudson River Park.

Campers got the chance to meet Olympic soccer player Mia Hamm and enjoyed activities like face painting and making their very own Olympic torches. They also participated in a virtual "sprint" challenge against track and field gold medalist Allyson Felix, tested their swinging skills in a golf simulator, and took professional soccer and basketball lessons. At the end of the day, campers even got to celebrate with some ice cream at a miniature version of Copacabana beach.

Team Children’s Aid had so much fun at the event, and we thank Citi for inviting us down to be a part of the games.




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Team Children's Aid: Part One

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There was a time when Angelic Pla couldn’t stand the thought of running. About five years ago, she pushed past that one-mile barrier that had proved to be her limit and discovered something new about herself.

Today, she’s running four or five times a week in preparation for the 2017 TCS New York City Marathon. When she takes those first strides across Verrazano Bridge, from Staten Island to Brooklyn, she’ll have the entire Children’s Aid family rooting for her.

A cousin invited Angelic, 26, to a volunteer reading promotion event at Dunlevy Milbank Center in Harlem, and she liked what she saw. She joined the Associates Council this past spring. “I’m grateful for all the blessings I have,” said Angelic, who works in human resources at Columbia University. “Not everyone has the same opportunities, so working with kids for Children’s Aid is my way of trying to make sure all kids get a fair shot.”

As if training for a marathon isn’t hard enough, Angelic has committed to raising $3,500 for Children’s Aid. She’s going to be seeking out support from the same people she expects to cheer her on the streets.

For now, though, her next challenge is running 18 miles this weekend, the next step in her quest. Best of luck, Angelic.




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Lessons Learned

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For rising high school seniors like Titus Cleveland, the summertime can be transformative in many ways. This summer, Titus is interning in our Development department, where he assists with Children’s Aid fundraising, event planning, and donor relations. His summer role not only provided him with office experience, but was further supplemented with skills-building workshops through the Summer Internship Program (SIP) at the Children’s Aid Hope Leadership Academy.

The six-week program educates high school-aged youth on how to develop their personal brand, while also exposing them to different working environments. The program has given Titus a completely new understanding of all that goes into being career ready.

“During SIP, we went to corporate workplaces to get the feel for how people behave in business environments,” said Titus. “As a summer intern, I got to observe how a professional environment is run, and for me, learning how to dress was a great lesson on how to be career ready.”

One of these workplaces was Madison Square Garden’s Varsity Sports offices, an added treat for Titus. He plans to study sports management or communications in college and found the visit to MSG Varsity very transformative because it helped him see how he could translate his love of sports into potential career opportunities, like sports broadcasting. SIP also helped Titus hone his networking skills, by teaching him and his peers how to advocate for themselves with professionals. An example was simply asking for business cards.

“I got a card from a supervisor I met at the Varsity Sports office, and now I am coming in the fall for a meeting with him,” said Titus. “It’s a new contact that could potentially lead to a job. This is a world where connections really matter, so I am very happy I had the chance to speak with someone whose career I would like to explore further.”




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