The Children's Aid Blog

Volunteers Expand Urban Garden in the Bronx

Email Twitter Facebook Stumble Upon Digg | More |

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

Email Twitter Facebook Stumble Upon Digg | More |

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

Email Twitter Facebook Stumble Upon Digg | More |

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!

Email Twitter Facebook Stumble Upon Digg | More |

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. “

Bishops and Knights in After-School

Email Twitter Facebook Stumble Upon Digg | More |

Twice a week, battles occur at P.S. 5 Ellen Lurie Community School-- battles on the black and white chessboards in Ms. Feng’s room where each student vies to dethrone his or her opponent’s king during Chess Club. Each Tuesday and Thursday, groups of students spend 45 minutes of afterschool time in Chess Club. The Club’s curriculum is varied for each group’s level of competency and cognitive ability. For example, kindergarteners focus on learning the different pieces, reading storybooks about chess amd playing human chess by standing up and moving around via the square floor tiles. Older students in the 4th and 5th grade focus on strategy and calculating risk during heated matches. 

Each match of chess begins and ends with a handshake, a gesture of sportsmanship and respect. Students deftly maneuver pawns, rooks, bishops and knights; they memorize the intricate patterns in which each piece is able to move. Students learn to carefully consider their moves in a safe and relaxing environment—kids are able to think, play and unwind from the academic day during this activity. Chess proves to be more than just a game. Each semester, students display measurable increases in skills and proficiencies including: thinking ahead, math skills, visual and spacial awareness and improved self confidence. The Chess Club is a prized part of the afterschool clubs at PS 5.

Mary Newcomb
Development Assistant
The Children's Aid Society

Food + TV = Bad Eating Habits?

Email Twitter Facebook Stumble Upon Digg | More |

In the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity Report to the President, released in May 2010, it is clear that the challenge America faces in fighting childhood obesity is daunting. This national epidemic not only has life altering and threatening consequences but is also extremely costly. One in three children is obese and direct medical costs due to childhood obesity are estimated to be at $3 billion a year. The plea to the President is hopeful that because some contributing factors to childhood obesity are apparent, there can be regulations to possibly reverse these growing numbers.

One of the many factors contributing to childhood obesity is the increase in time spent watching television and surfing the internet. Not only does this decrease a child’s physical activity but children are bombarded with advertising for unhealthy lifestyle choices and food products. Marketers know that children and adolescents are an important demographic to advertise to because they will be the future adult consumers. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimated that in 2006 more than $1.6 billion was spent to promote food and beverage products to children and adolescents. One popular marketing technique used in advertising is the use of characters from popular television programming. In a research study conducted by Sesame Workshop in 2005, it is shown that the use of popular characters has a strong influence on the food choices little ones will make regardless of it being healthy.

In response to a growing concern by the public, the Council of Better Business Bureaus created the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI). The initiative is intended to regulate food and beverage advertising. One of the conditions set by the CFBAI for companies is that 50% of their advertising must promote healthier lifestyle choices. And what about those fuzzy and adorable characters that our youngsters follow so much? If they are not promoting “healthier-for-you” products that meet the criteria set by the CFBAI, their air time must be reduced. Though a step in the right direction, the efforts of the CFBAI have been criticized for failing to apply to all forms of advertising, including displays near check-out counters. In 2009, Children Now commissioned a study to analyze the efficiency of the CFBAI and also found that the use of popular characters in advertisements for unhealthy products had nearly doubled.

Clearly, more work is needed and stronger standards must be set. Congress formed the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children (IWG) in 2009. This group developed tentative standards in December of 2009 and is working on publishing set standards in the Federal Register, the official daily publication of proposed new rules and regulations, in the near future. Federal government guidance and regulation will be necessary to turn the corner in the fight against childhood obesity. Other recommendations by the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity include:

  • Extending the self-regulatory initiative to cover all forms of marketing including point of purchase displays
  • Limit the use of popular characters to products that are truly healthy
  • Both food and media industries should adopt a uniform set of standards for marketing to children

Additional comments by Kathy de Meij, Director of Marketing, The Children’s Aid Society: “While we’re pleased there’s movement to protect our children’s health, the tightening of regulations should only be the first step. The Task Force should then pursue a total ban on junk food advertising to children (similar to the ban on advertising tobacco products). The ban should define junk foods in a very rigid manner to include all foods high in sugar, fat and salt, including products such as high-sugar cereals that falsely market themselves as healthy by including synthetic vitamins. We also need a comprehensive national outreach program that moves public opinion and children’s behavior permanently to healthy eating for long term health, similar to the efforts undertaken to use seat belts for safety. “

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

Email Twitter Facebook Stumble Upon Digg | More |

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!

Email Twitter Facebook Stumble Upon Digg | More |

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

Email Twitter Facebook Stumble Upon Digg | More |

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

Email Twitter Facebook Stumble Upon Digg | More |

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.