The Children's Aid Blog

Honoring the Dedication of Our Social Workers: Part Two

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Lori doesn’t advise her students—she guides them. If someone is struggling with an issue, she challenges that student to consider a different perspective, rather than rely on an adult for the answer. “Helping my students reflect on their situation teaches them how they can handle it on their own in the future,” she said. “Empowerment really is the core of my work.”

As a graduate student, Lori interned with the school based mental health clinic at the Mirabal Sisters Campus. It led her to her current work with the Carrera Pregnancy Prevention Program at Brooklyn’s Urban Assembly Institute of Math and Science for Young Women where, “with a guiding hand,” she aims to make her students feel safe and supported.

On a day to day basis, Lori helps high school girls successfully make the transition from their home environment to school. “Normalizing their experiences for them lets them see that they are not the only ones going through what may be happening at home,” she said. And it leaves them fully able to focus in the classroom and on their future. The college process presents another set of anxieties for high schoolers, but Lori and her colleagues also provide social-emotional support around college applications and the transition that comes with leaving high school.

Students might not always be willing to talk at first, but that doesn’t stop Lori’s work. “Just being there is important,” she said. “The fact that you are there and the fact that you have a relationship with them – even if they are not ready to talk to you yet—they feel comfortable knowing that they can approach you at a later time.”


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Celebrate National Nutrition Month!

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March is National Nutrition Month. We want to take a second to recognize how important nutrition is to our work in building the well-being of New York City children and offer some a way for you to get invested in this month.

We are proud to offer quality nutrition education to our youth and the families we serve, in addition to providing healthy, wholesome meals to our children in Early Childhood and School Age divisions. This work is led through our Go!Healthy program and touches nearly every corner of the organization:

  • Go!Chefs—This after-school program teaches cooking and nutrition to youth and culminates in the Iron Go!Chefs competition each year.
  • Go!Kids and Go!Kids Cook—This Early Childhood program teaches children ages 3 and 4 about healthy foods and has them preparing their own meals and snacks in the classroom.
  • Eat Smart New York— This vast initiative includes nutrition and cooking education for youth in our after-school programs, healthy eating workshops for adults and Children’s Aid and Department of Education staff, and recipes and resources for building and maintaining healthy habits.
  • Food Justice—This after-school program encourages middle and high-school students to connect food to social, political, and economic themes that affect their communities.
  • Gardening— We support the creation and maintenance of indoor and/or outdoor gardens at a number of our sites, using them as teaching and learning tools.
  • Go!Healthy Meals— Children’s Aid provides hundreds of thousands of fresh, wholesome meals to children in early childhood and after-school programming across many Children’s Aid sites. This involves planning menus, training and supporting cooks, and assisting in food procurement.

The theme for National Nutrition Month 2016 is “Savor the Flavor.” You can use it as an opportunity to honor and savor traditional food culture and appreciating flavors and foods as we eat. 

TIP! Take time to savor your food and drinks: this practice will help you truly understand what your body needs to stay energized and well. Check in with your own hunger and fullness throughout the day to help your body adjust to the demands of your daily life. And be mindful to honor what and how much food you need to feel good.

One way to honor your food is to connect it to your culture and history. As Go!Healthy nutritionist Kathleen Delgado notes, “There is such an important connection between culture and food. My mom emigrated from Ecuador in the 1980s and had a difficult time adjusting to American culture and life. Trying to prepare and hold onto the traditional recipes that she grew up with were sometimes all she had when thinking about her family back home and raising her daughters in a new place. She found peace and comfort in teaching us these recipes, and I’m grateful that I can make them too.”

This month, enjoy your family’s favorite recipes and take time to appreciate its history and place in your life!  


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Honoring the Dedication of Our Social Workers

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Washington Heights

March is National Social Work Month, and Children’s Aid is proud of our social work staff for their tireless efforts in the communities we serve. Every week in March, we will shine a light on one of our very own social workers, caseworkers, case planners, and family advocates, all of whom are fulfilling the organization’s mission to help children and their families succeed and thrive. This week we put the spotlight on Veronica Miller.

Veronica, a family advocate at P.S. 5, is working with families to ensure that they help their children develop. Her dedication to Children’s Aid stems from her own experience as a parent seeking the same resources and opportunities she provides her clients today.

“I know how it feels to be a parent,” she said. “It’s not an easy task. I wanted to give to someone else what I felt I got from Children’s Aid."

Her drive to assist parents begins with the idea that if parents receive the tools they need, their children will succeed. In her words, “If the parents are okay, the children are okay.”

Her commitment to Children’s Aid began 17 years ago when she was a volunteer for a parent engagement group with P.S. 8. She then earned her degree in early childhood education and became a home-based teacher two weeks after she graduated. However, she later realized that her passion was in helping Washington Heights families receive the professional, medical, and educational resources they needed to thrive.

“I said, ‘We need to do something to help these people.’”

In 2007, she took on the role she holds today. A true testament to her work is the fact that she has attracted a number of people to join the Children’s Aid Society. In total, seven parents have become family advocates or teachers in Washington Heights.

“Children’s Aid is close to my heart because it did a lot for me,” Veronica said. “We all go through what we go through. Why not share it?”


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Connecting Community to the Classroom: 5th Annual Lift Every Voice Competition

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This past weekend, The Children’s Aid Society’s African American Male Initiative (AAMI) hosted its 5th annual Lift Every Voice competition. The public speaking series, part of the program’s Black History Month tradition, challenges its young participants to strengthen their writing and verbal skills beyond the classroom by critically engaging in social issues through persuasive speeches and debate.

Approximately 75 participants, from grades 4-12, took part in this year’s competition. They assessed the validity of the statement, “If you work hard, you can achieve anything in America.” The students also presented expository speeches that answered the question, “What would you do to address police brutality?” New York Assembly members Michael Blake and Marcos Crespo attended the event to support the young participants. Blake spoke about how public speaking was critical to developing his career in politics, and Crespo served as a judge during the expository speech round.

Clifton Watson, director of AAMI, said, “We recognize that the competition’s continued success speaks to just how much young people welcome being challenged and the opportunity to speak about—and offer solutions to—some of the most pressing issues facing their communities.”

Each year, Lift Every Voice reinforces our goal at Children’s Aid to bridge the gap between the classroom and the community by providing enriching opportunities for our young people to put the skills they develop in our schools and programming to use. 


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Advocating for School-Based Health Centers in Albany

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Advocates for School-Based Health Centers

Children’s Aid is lucky to have so many parents who are deeply engaged in their children’s well-being. Dozens of them trekked to the state capital last week—along with students and staff—for another successful advocacy day for school-based health centers (SBHCs). In partnership with the New York School-Based Health Alliance, we asked our state legislators to a) support Gov. Cuomo's $20.6 million budget for SBHCs, b) add $3.8 million to bring us to previous year's level of funding, and c) to extend the deadline for big changes to the way Medicaid treats services at SBHCs. We heard from SBHC champions like Assembly member Richard Gottfried and received immediate results from legislators who signed the Governor’s sign-on letter.  We had two buses from Children’s Aid—one from Washington Heights with parents from MSC and SU Campus, and another one from Staten Island with Curtis High School students. All told, 60 activists made the trip, including 22 students, 29 parents, and 9 staff.

One mother, Maria Morales, explained the effect the SBHC has had in her child’s life due to severe asthma: “I consider it of vital importance to continue supporting the SBHCs for the great care that they offer our children and fighting for our community for a better life. I hope our legislators support this noble cause.”

One Curtis High School senior explained how she’s grateful to have an SBHC in her school. Prior to the SBHC opening two years ago, she was forced to miss school due to severe anxiety. She said, “Coming from a family who believes prayers will cure everything, I knew I needed more help. I went to the health center one day and since then my grades, attendance, and confidence have improved significantly. I wouldn’t be able to share my story if it wasn’t for the SBHC. Whenever my anxiety flares, which doesn’t happen as often anymore, I go to the health center, center myself for a period or two, then go right back to class. Before it was a call home and my mom had to pick me up from school.”

SBHCs are in danger of losing at least $16.3 million in funding when they are “carved-in” to the new Medicaid Managed Care. Our SBHC parents and students met with their district legislators, including Assembly member Guillermo Linares, a staffer on behalf of Senator Adriano Espaillat, Senator Gustavo Rivera, Assembly member Blake, a staff member on behalf of Senator Diane Savino, and a staff member on behalf of Assembly member Matthew Titone. Our advocates asked them to support Governor Cuomo’s proposed State Budget for 2016-2017. We also asked our legislators to permanently exclude mental health services from this new Medicaid program.

When the buses rumbled back to New York City, the people inside them knew they had done a good day’s work. 


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Providing Mirrors for the Future

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Providing Mirrors for the FutureSchool was out last week for mid-winter recess, but our programs and services were still operating in overdrive. Our African American Male Initiative (AAMI), Comprehensive Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program (CAPP), and  Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) joined forces to create holistic support systems for young men of color in our programs. What resulted was Male 360°, a day-long assembly at Milbank that provided a multitude of resources to the youth in attendance.

A panel of adult male mentors started the day off discussing the importance of giving back to their community, how they found passion and purpose in life, and how mentorship was central to their individual successes. Their experiences ranged from being educators to working in corrections, and they drew parallels to the young men sitting across from them. “In a few years you will be sitting on the other side of this panel,” said one panelist, who had created his own nonprofit. The mentors were able to create a several more figurative mirrors for the young men, reflecting greater possibilities of who they could become.

Providing Mirrors for the FutureBreakout workshops followed in the afternoon and were led by AAMI, CAPP, and OASAS staff to address healthy relationships, anxieties around college, and job employment strategies.

In organizing the event, CAPP Health Educator David Anderson believed that “we could give a little bit more attention and guidance to our young men.”

Children’s Aid is at its best when it can bring together programs from several different angles, and Male 360° is a perfect example of that. By ensuring our youth have access to all we can offer, we are giving them more than one way to succeed.


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Teens Learn Love Should Never Hurt

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In honor of Teen Dating Violence Awareness month, the Health and Wellness Division's Just Ask Me (JAM) Peer Educators hosted their annual event to educate other teens across the organization on healthy dating practices and relationships. It comes at an important time when 81 percent of parents believe teen dating violence is not an issue, but 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience abuse in relationships.
JAM Peers, led by health educator David Anderson, referenced pop culture examples and acted out scenarios to illustrate unhealthy behaviors that often times go unnoticed by teenagers. The activities sparked a candid conversation surrounding dating culture for the youth in attendance, who didn’t hold back in sharing opinions and experiences.
The Violence Intervention Program, a community-based organization that empowers Latina women to live violence-free lives, also educated our students on the realities for victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault, and family violence. They emphasized the importance of recognizing early signs of abuse and also provided resources on how to get help and support.
In addition to providing direct services for our clients, our community centers are places to facilitate much needed conversations, and we applaud the JAM teens for making great use of the space to advance the health and well-being of their peers.
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Something to Smile About

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Healthy children have one less reason to miss a day of school and have one more asset to prosper in adulthood. And dental health is a critical component of overall health. However, dentist visits are not always accessible to families living in poverty. That is why Children’s Aid is proud to be one of few health care providers to offer dental care to children while they are in school.

We send dental hygienists into our classrooms to conduct “no-touch” dental screenings. With just a flashlight, the hygienists examine each student’s mouth for signs of obvious dental disease. From there, students receive any necessary dental services at our community centers clinics or our school-based health centers. No-touch screenings have been a mainstay service in our community schools for the last seven years with significant impact.

Last year alone, 2,664 patients benefitted from dental services at our community centers and school-based health centers. And this year, thanks to our partnership with Healthplex, we will expand this work to bring no-touch dental screenings to children in dozens of schools affiliated with Children’s Aid.

In addition to screenings, our students will receive a dental hygiene kits with a toothbrush, toothpaste, and dental floss. These are small things, but they encourage kids to continue to practice healthy habits at home that will stay with them for a lifetime.

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At the Capitol, Strength in Numbers

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On Tuesday, February 2, the Fostering Youth Success Alliance (FYSA) descended on the New York State Capitol from many corners of the state. For the second consecutive year, dozens of young people—students from high school and college, recent graduates—joined representatives of the 18 organizations in the alliance to make a case for expansive higher education support for youth in and aging out of foster care.

This year, though, was different. Last year’s advocacy resulted in $1.5 million in the budget for the Foster Youth Success Initiative. Governor Cuomo called for that same amount in the coming budget, a clear signal that New York is taking seriously its parent-like role for youth in foster care. The $1.5 million proposed by the governor for FY 17 would maintain support for the 350 young people currently being helped by last year’s initial round of funding. But we can and must do better.

Our collective group of FYSA advocates had 80 scheduled meetings with senators and assembly members. In each meeting, we asked to expand the funding to $4.5 million for FY 17 so that we can double the number of college students in the program who receive both extra financial aid as well as the support services often supplied by a young person’s parent. This can include financial aid counseling, general student counseling, access to housing during breaks, and much more.

The day was a huge success. And Jessica Maxwell, the coordinator for FYSA, appeared on two news programs that are staples of the legislative in-crowd in Albany: Capitol Press Room and Capital Tonight.

There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic as our elected leaders head into the thrust of budgeting season. Stay tuned for more news. 

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College Access Keeps the Promise

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Children’s Aid is fully committed to making college a reality for as many youth in our services as possible. That is why staff from across the organization volunteered this past month to help college-bound students and their parents submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Financial aid can make or break the hopes for low-income students when it comes to attending college; the process can be enough of a barrier to thwart students who would otherwise be the first in their families to attend college. This is where our College Access and Success team gets to work.

“We believe it’s important for students to apply for financial aid early because it increases their financial aid packages,” said College Access Manager Ruben Rivera. And like Ruben told his volunteers, “More money is always a good thing for our students.” He and Felipe Ayala spearheaded volunteer trainings and FAFSA nights at five Children’s Aid sites to help students and their families navigate this crucial step in the college application process, months before the application’s federal deadline.

An important part to the FAFSA process is making sure you have your tax return in order. So we felt very lucky to have New York area tax prep firm R&G Brenner raffle off 50 vouchers for free tax services. Their generosity helped remove one more barrier for students and their families, making the path to college just a little bit smoother.

This was a great project by the College Access and Success team, very much in line with the Children’s Aid approach to our mission: bringing together a multitude of resources to ensure that we keep the promise to our young people. 

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