When opportunity knocks, you have to open the door. The folks at Madison Square Garden offered us a way to entertain youth in foster care and their parents and guardians while also giving us a premium platform to spread the word about the benefits of foster care. So on May 31, before the New York Liberty took on the defending WNBA champs, the Minnesota Lynx, more than two hundred members of the Children’s Aid converged on the most famous sports arena in the world.
Most importantly, the kids had a great time. A group was able to get special access to the pregame shoot-around. Another dozen were on the floor for the national anthem before taking part in a special ceremony—each team member handed one of our kids an official Liberty basketball. Finally, Amy Carpio, one of our youth, got to serve as a ball girl during the actual game.
Topping it off, we made contact with a number of people who expressed interest in becoming a foster parent via a table set up on the main concourse.
It was a great night—despite a Liberty loss—as evidenced by the many smiling faces leaving the Garden that night.
Our young Picassos showcased their work at the 15th Annual Children’s Aid Art Show. Vibrant paintings, detailed drawings, animated comic strips, and hand-crafted dresses were featured at Boricua College’s art gallery in Washington Heights. The art pieces were created by students at various sites within the Children’s Aid community. Ages of participants ranged from ages 2-18.
Marinieves Alba, our director of arts programming, served as both curator and organizer of this year’s event. She presented the Arts Excellence Awards to winners Gabrielle Wheeler and Leilani Yizar-Reid, both from Milbank, for their diligence in motivating students to express themselves through art. Our students from the Hope Leadership Academy received awards for their work, also called Hope Leadership. Dancers from the Mirabal Sisters Campus performed at the event.
Proud family members and friends of our artists joined Children’s Aid in a celebration of our commitment to quality visual arts programming. Year after year our students express themselves in creative and innovative ways, and as we’ve seen in the past 15 years, their artistic talent is illustrated in their beautiful crafts.
Firsts are worth celebrating. A child’s first steps or words. The first day of school. Your first paycheck. Now, we have an official way to celebrate those who are in the first generation of their families to attend and graduate college.
It’s called #ProofPointDay, and it was founded by activist Chastity Lord. Children’s Aid quickly got behind the idea because so many of the kids we serve aspire to be “Proof,” and part of the first generation in their family to go to college. We got started at our Staff Summit, where we identified dozens of Children’s Aid staff who were first-generation graduates.
On the actual day, May 27, South Bronx Rising Together, our collective impact initiative in partnership with Phipps Neighborhood, decided to mark the day at the Bronx Family Center. Dozens of young people, and very often their parents, joined New York Assembly Member Michael Blake, Chastity Lord, and Phoebe Boyer to mark this important day.
Assembly Member Blake remembered what it was like to even start thinking about college. “I had no clue what to do,” he said. “My mom said, ‘Just go ask people.’” He cited key mentors who showed him the way to Northwestern University. He told all the young people in the room, “Don’t be afraid of the things you don’t know. Don’t limit yourself.”
Chastity Lord urged kids to follow through on their aspirations. “College changes the way you dream, and it changes the way you demand,” she said.
College success is a cornerstone of our mission at Children’s Aid. We look forward to celebrating #ProofPointDay for years to come.
Christina and Naquan are near in age and live forty minutes away from each other by train, but have had very different experiences in New York City. The two young people would also not have crossed paths had they not shared a similar passion: creating social impact.
Christina, a sophomore at Columbia University, is part of the Design for America (DFA) chapter on campus. The organization mobilizes college students to think of innovative ways to tackle social issues locally. She and her peers decided to focus on the juvenile justice system, and after some research on youth centers, connected with Debbie Rice, Director of Clinical Services and Training for Youth Empowerment Programs at our Next Generation Center.
Naquan has received work training and opportunity through Children’s Aid and also attends a weekly guidance group at the center. He and his peers have been having ongoing conversations around community policing and how the effects it has on them. When Debbie approached him, along with other youth at the center, about discussing his experiences with the Columbia students, Naquan was excited. He saw an opportunity for collaboration and he and the youth at the center did not hold back in transparency.
“The first thing that jumped out were their interactions with the police,” Christina said about talking with the youth.
The Next Generation youth not only shared their frustrations about policing in their community, but they also voiced their concerns about not knowing their rights when it came to talking to the police.
When the DFA students asked the Next Gen youth what they saw as a possible solution to tackling the issue, their answer was unanimous: social media. The two groups produced a video surrounding their discussions around community policing that they could circulate online.
“It was a way to get our voices out there,” Naquan said of the project. “The issue targets us and the message needs to come from our generation.”
The DFA members also invited the Next Generation youth to their campus for a screening of the project at the organization’s end of year showcase and to take a tour of Columbia. The visit not only widened the audience for the dialogue the group were having over the last couple of months, but widened the center youth’s horizons as well.
“The Next Generation Center is the ideal community partner,” Christina said. “The coolest part for all of us was hanging out with everyone.” She and DFA look forward to continuing a partnership and the conversation. So does Naquan.
“It starts with our rights and ends with building a better relationship with the community and law enforcement,” he said.
On Monday, May 16, The Children’s Aid Society hosted their 17th Annual Golf Classic at the renowned Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, NJ. Considered one of the country’s premier private golf clubs, Baltusrol adds yet another notch to its belt this year as host to the 2016 PGA Championship.
The 17th Annual Golf Classic kicked off with a hearty breakfast in the historic Grill Room designed by architect Edward C. Epple. Golfers then took to the putting greens and driving range to warm up for their 18 holes on the Upper Course—typically the members’ favorite. Though the golfers were met with a slight chill in the morning and some pesky winds, the sun was shining and temperatures warmed as the day progressed.
Following a spirited round of golf, guests ended the day with a cocktail reception, awards ceremony, and remarks by both Phoebe Boyer, president and CEO of Children’s Aid, and Taylor Whitaker, a Children’s Aid student who had successfully completed her first year of college. Both Phoebe and Taylor thanked sponsors and participants for the impact they have made. The crowd was also privileged to hear a few remarks from golf legend and club pro Doug Steffen during the awards ceremony emceed by Brad Gruby, member of the Golf Classic host committee. Guest auctioneer and lead sports anchor for WNBC-TV Bruce Beck then charmed the crowd via the live auction. Following the auction, Bruce invited golfers to open their hearts and wallets to provide college scholarships for our Path to College Success students. Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, the first $15,000 in donations were matched 1:1.
Raising more than $250,000, the Golf Classic was a huge success and would not have been possible without the loyal support and continued sponsorship from Accenture, our Founding Sponsor, and the Mediterranean Shipping Company, our Hospitality Sponsor.
We would also like to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of our Golf Classic host committee who made this an unforgettable and meaningful day.
And finally, thank you to our foursome supporters, guests, and other donors who made this event what it was. See you next year!
Below you will find a complete list of our contest and tournament winners. Congratulations!
Closest to the Pin Hole #3 Winner: Arjun Bedi
Closest to the Pin Hole #7 Winner: Todd Caruso
Closest to the Pin Hole #10 Winner: Steve Hatch
Closest to the Pin Hole #15 Winner: Dominic Lenz
4th Place Net Winners: Todd Egan, Neil Bhargava, Rich Sosanie, Michael Kulberg
3rd Place Net Winners: Scott Nepereny, Peter Fourie, Jim Topor, Matt Mehalick
2nd Place Net Winners: Graham Hone, Paul Mackey, Steve Duval, Adam Gehlmeyer
1st Place Net Winners: John Cowles, Dave Minning, Ray Laggan, Russ Moody
1st Place Gross Winners: Michael Costonis, Daniel Swinford, Richard Miller, John Cusano
Click here to view a photo gallery of the 2016 Golf Classic.
Last week, students at Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School hosted their 6th Annual Peace Block Party. The event has become a well-recognized tradition at the South Bronx high school, after the students saw many of their friends fall victim to senseless acts of violence in their community in 2010. Refusing to accept that tragedy should be a part of their everyday life, they decided to take action. They organized the Peace Block Party to promote a student led anti-drug and anti-violence movement.
This year the student organizers are continuing the school tradition, with an added opportunity for their peers—amidst exams and extracurricular activities—to just have fun. The event at the Children’s Aid community school featured face painting, basketball contests, double-dutch, and button-making activities.
Lester Feuerstein’s personal mission is to make sure his students stand a chance. As an after-school coordinator at I.S. 61 on the north shore of Staten Island, he aims to provide kids with well-rounded experiences that engage them academically, physically, and socially.
Lester has worked at Children’s Aid for 13 years, but the flesh of his career as an educator comes from the 25 years he spent as a special needs teacher and supervisor. He found that in each role, advocating for a student’s well-being was front and center.
“You are always fighting for kids to be part of what is going on in the school,” he said.
As a former softball coach and basketball referee, Lester is a believer in the benefits of athletics but he knows that they have to be balanced out with academics. He always emphasizes that with his students and their parents throughout the school year. He hopes that his middle schoolers will be intrigued by programs like filmmaking or robotics that will provide them with added opportunities for personal growth.
“If we can get a couple of kids to try new things, well maybe they will find something they really enjoy,” he said.
Lester and his after-school team at I.S. 61 also make concentrated efforts to prepare students for high school. They work with seventh graders to introduce them to the specialized high school entrance test. After-school test prep continues through the eighth grade, until students take the exam in November. Lester holds high expectations for kids in his programs because he knows what they are capable of accomplishing.
“The goal is to see kids achieving the highest level of education possible and achieving careers,” said Lester. “Our students can rise to the occasion.”
Mariama Kora’s life changed when she watched a mother get frustrated with an emotionally upset boy and then ignored him.
“Why are you mad, and why are you not attending to him?” she thought at the time. Mariama found out that the boy was in the foster care system, and she knew she could do better.
Mariama is originally from Gambia, immigrating to the U.S. in 1994. And she has always had a big heart. She has given birth to three children, one of whom was born with multiple congenital abnormalities. The doctors said he would be a “vegetable,” but Mariama refused to accept that. Her boy continues to exceed doctors’ expectations.
At a certain point, she realized there might be another boy who needs a good home because of similar medical problems, and that he could be a friend to her son. “I’m very sympathetic to everyone I see,” said Mariama. “I want to make a difference.”
After getting trained by Children’s Aid, she soon received a call about a 9-year-old boy in our medical foster care program who needed a home for two weeks while his foster mother went on vacation. At the end of the two weeks, the boy who would become her adopted son refused to leave. “He wrapped his entire body around my legs,” said Mariama. “At that point, he had so many difficulties that they had to restrain him to calm down. Today, he’s doing perfect.”
She has brought more kids into her Mount Vernon home. She’s currently fostering a 6-year-old and three 4-year-olds. “If I can lift up one child, then maybe I’m making a difference,” she said.
Last week, we hosted our annual Bronx Week event at the Children’s Aid Bronx Family Center. Organized by our Office of Public Policy in collaboration with our Child Welfare and Family Services Division, the event took place during the borough’s official Bronx Week. The event marks the 16th year Children’s Aid services have operated in the borough.
Activities included face painting, a bouncy house, and raffles that were complimented by sweet and healthy treats. A representative from Marcos Crespo’s office also stopped by to help raffle off some prizes to children in attendance. Our Bronx Week event was a fun way to engage our families and to let the community know about our range of services present in the area. Children’s Aid operates 12 community schools in the borough, offers early childhood classes, runs a youth center and health clinic, has foster care and adoption services, and a variety of nutrition programs.
As a program coordinator and educator for our food justice after-school programs, Natalie Greaves-Peters, works diligently to empower middle and high school students to explore how food and social justice intersect in their communities.
Her work starts with building understanding around access to healthy foods, labor rights, and environmental sustainability. Some topics are a bit sophisticated for middle schoolers—and even high schoolers—to grasp, but Natalie finds that “planting the seeds early on” helps them stick.
It also helps her students make healthier decisions around the foods they eat, a key goal that Natalie and the Go!Healthy program have for their participants.
“A lot their results in their day-to-day life comes from what they put in their bodies,” she said, talking about academics and attendance. “Educating kids about food ultimately helps them perform better in school.”
After students have assessed food systems in their own neighborhood, they come up with projects that draw attention to the food injustice present in their communities.
“These kids are making connections between what they learn in the program and real life,” said Natalie. “Seeing that understanding grow in front of your eyes—it’s a really rewarding experience.”
Most recently, she has connected middle schoolers in her afterschool program at the Children’s Aid East Harlem Center to Lunch 4 Learning, a city-wide campaign advocating for universal free school lunch. Her students have tweeted and emailed the mayor about the issue, and two of her students will go before the City Council Finance Committee to make their case this month.
“We are teaching them communication skills, presentation skills, and debate skills,” said Natalie. “I try to foster a very open space for learning. I want my students to be curious and ask questions.”