The Children's Aid Blog

Campers Dance Their Way thru the Summer

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Imagine a summer full of heart pumping beats, delicate spins and exciting jumps all while pushing yourself to realize your inner beauty and strengths. This summer the CAS/AileyCamp Washington Heights, as always, promised six weeks of an amazing experience and from what I saw on stage the evening of August 12th, I am convinced they more than kept that promise.

Dozens of children amazed a crowded theater of friends, family and staff members with all that they have learned over the summer. It was clearly evident that their time spent with talented and dedicated camp staff of group leaders, counselors and fabulous professional dancers has impacted their self-esteem and courage. These children are a bit more ready to take on the world.

“All we did was plant seeds in them six weeks ago and right now you are going to see the flowers that have been blooming for weeks…I am so proud of them,” said an emotional Amparo Chiqui Santiago, the Camp Director for the Washington Heights camp.

This summer’s final performance, "20/20 Illumination," celebrated the 20 years of The Children’s Aid Society’s partnership with Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation and honored Judith Jamison for her 20 years as Artistic Director of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater. Ms. Jamison plans to retire in 2011 and was in the audience for the CAS/Ailey Camp’s moving tribute.

The children not only delivered but inspired the audience. Please watch this video to get a taste of this talent-filled performance.

Teens ‘Do Something’ to Collect School Supplies for The Children’s Aid Society

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As part of the 3rd Annual Staples/Do Something 101 Supply Drive, Nikki Reed, star of this summer’s blockbuster film Twilight: Eclipse, is encouraging New York City teens to make a difference this summer by collecting and donating school supplies at their local Staples store from July 4 through September 18 to support kids in need within their community. In addition, Staples customers can get involved by donating $1 at any Staples store with 100 percent of the proceeds benefiting New York City students in need. 

The Children’s Aid Society has been selected to participate in this program and receive donations – but we need your help! Support our youth who need supplies to return to school prepared to learn and succeed. Donations can be dropped off at any Staples store nationwide starting July 4th through September the 18th. Specific Staples stores that our organization has been partnered with include:

Do Something 101 has done an amazing job in its first two years, and I’m excited to make the 2010 campaign the best yet,” said Nikki Reed.  “Every donated pencil, notebook and other supplies can add up to make a big difference in improving education.”

During the first two Do Something 101 school supply drives, Staples and, with the help from celebrity supporters Jordin Sparks and Ciara, raised more than $750,000

To build on this success and help kick off the 2010 campaign, Nikki is starring in a public service announcement (PSA) that will air on television and radio stations nationwide through September.  Staples is also donating more than $125,000 worth of school supplies to the program.

Yes We Can!

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Richard R. Buery, Jr.: Schott details ‘shocking divide between American ideal of equal opportunity and actual practice’ 

Receiving a high school diploma should be a rite of passage, just the start of a young person’s journey, not the result of overcoming immense odds. For a country whose core principles include equal opportunity and racial justice, the results found in the new Schott Foundation report, “Yes We Can: The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males 2010,” represent a tragedy of the highest proportion. In stark detail, the report presents a picture of an American education system that is systemically failing Black males.

While much has been written about the achievement gap between Black and white students, the report is a striking illustration of these inequities. It portrays “a U.S. system of denied opportunities for Black males;” it paints an awful picture of wasted potential. New York City is one of the five worst performing districts in the country with large Black male student enrollment. Only 28% of New York City’s Black males enrolled in high schools (in 2007-08) graduated on time with Regents diplomas. (In contrast, 50% of white males did.) Each year, 100,000 Black male students in New York City do not graduate from high school with their cohort. The report delves into the terrible details for school districts around the country.

The report articulates “Conditions for Success;” a list of basic preconditions for educational success. These conditions, such as equitable resources, high quality universal pre-school, new or renovated facilities, programs to address needs attributable to poverty, and state accountability, are so fundamental that it is extraordinary that they still have to be laid out as a preamble to closing the achievement gap.

I’m proud to say that The Children’s Aid Society has a range of initiatives that meet these Conditions for Success, creating a framework for young Black boys – and all the children we serve – to strive for bright futures and fulfill their promise. Our high quality early childhood programs provide a strong foundation for our youngest students, with early literacy activities and parental involvement allowing them to begin their educations on a more level playing field. The supports offered by Children’s Aid’s community schools – including afterschool programs, academic enrichment, health services and arts and recreation – ensure that students are physically, emotionally and socially ready to learn. Recently granted “Top Tier” status by The Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy because of its proven ability to reduce teenage births, the Children’s Aid Carrera Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program works by providing pre-teens and teens with a vision of a full life that doesn’t include teen pregnancy, but does include academic achievement, work and developing talents and interests.

Our African American Male Initiative (AAMI), a program that works to improve educational outcomes for this vulnerable population has had very promising outcomes. Now entering its fourth year, 100% of the boys in the program, currently in the 4th, 5th and 6th grades, have been promoted to the next grade for each of its three years. This is stunning when one considers that 31.6% of Black boys in the U.S. will be retained one grade by age 11. The AAMI model employs Life Coaches for each student as well as other supports for the boys and their parents. AAMI was launched with support for The Charles Hayden Foundation, and The Black Male Donor Collaborative (BMDC) has just awarded AAMI a $100,000 grant. (The Schott Foundation administers and coordinates the BMDC.) We are extremely grateful to the Black Male Donor Collaborative for its support of AAMI. Though small, AAMI hopefully will be a beacon for those who seek examples of interventions with Black male students that work. I am reminded of Langston Hughes’ famous complaint and promise: “O, let America be America again-- The land that never has been yet-- And yet must be--the land where every man is free.” These shocking statistics highlight the great divide between the American ideal of equal opportunity and America’s actual practice. We know how to solve the achievement gap. Nationwide, initiatives large and small are meeting the conditions of success every day. The question for our nation is whether we take the American ideal seriously. Will we invest the resources necessary to bring these initiatives to scale and ensure that Black men – over 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education – finally have access to an equal education? Or will we lose yet another generation of Black men to what has been America’s tragic reality?

Richard R. Buery, Jr.

President and CEO
The Children’s Aid Society

Follow Richard Buery on Twitter: @RichardBueryCAS

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.