The Children's Aid Blog

A Space for Healing

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Within our Child Welfare and Family Services, the Children’s Aid Family Wellness Program offers critical support to families with either past or present cases of domestic violence to help ensure their well-being and achieve long-term stability.

“We try to get to the root of the problem,” said Manny Yonko, director of the Family Wellness program. The program’s caseworkers and counselors assess the needs of each family and strategize support for all members who either experienced or witnessed abuse.

Survivors are given the space to heal in both individual and group counseling. And to ensure that child care doesn’t present an additional barrier to accessing help, the Family Wellness program also offers play groups and counseling for children. Teens who witnessed abuse at home or are in abusive relationships themselves receive counseling where they learn to define healthy relationships.

The Family Wellness program also offers intervention work for abusive partners who are invested in ending the cycle of violence. Through therapeutic services and counseling, parents who were aggressors understand the effects their actions have on their children and learn how to have age-appropriate conversations with their kids around their actions. In his work with abusive partners, Manny has found that many parents think they need to take drastic steps to transform their relationship with their children. He advocates for small and important steps first.

“I just need you to hold yourself accountable,” he advises parents who participate in the intervention services. “And then you’ll really be your child’s hero.”

In many cases, children who witnessed their parent being an aggressor in intimate partner violence display signs of anxiety and fear. So he encourages his participants to verbalize to their child that “it is okay for them to feel their feelings.”

 “That kind of validation is so important for kids,” said Manny.

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Perrigo Exposes NGC Youth to Robots, Diversity and Career Possibilities

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It might not seem noteworthy to report that about 10 young people from Children’s Aid’s Next Generation Center (NGC) visited a pharmaceutical company in the Bronx last Thursday and met a worker named Charlie. But what if you found out that Charlie was actually a robot on the line at a Perrigo facility? Now that is something to make note of.

Charlie was but one of the highlights of youths’ tour of the pharmaceutical lab. While the robots mixing vats of ointments and topical medicines were indeed intriguing, NGC members also benefited greatly from the human connections made that afternoon.

Wearing protective gear, including hairnets, booties, gloves, and earplugs, youth took a brief tour of the plant and had the chance to ask questions of various Perrigo employees. The teens peppered workers with questions about educational requirements and job trajectory, and they were delighted to see a significant amount of diversity in the company and to learn that moving up the ranks within Perrigo is not uncommon.

The youth described the trip as an “eye opening experience” and an “inspiring venture.” Through NGC, Children’s Aid promotes workforce readiness for the young adults who seek out our myriad services across the city, and we are more than happy to expose them to opportunities, like employment training programming and visits to local job sites, to help prepare them for the increasingly competitive workforce.

To be sure, the tour and subsequent meeting with the head of Perrigo’s human resources department were an enlightening and positive experience. Perrigo even agreed to attend NGC’s next Employment Mixer, our newest method to expose youth to NYC companies looking to hire. The mixers are organized by the center’s job developer, Wendell Moore, who was also on hand for the Perrigo tour. He said, “It was not only a learning experience on manufacturing, but also a valuable lesson on how to develop a solid plan to pursue a career in this field.”

It would be safe to assume that before last Thursday these young people likely had not given much thought to working in pharmaceuticals. It would also be safe to say that, now, a few youth walked away with a different perspective on the pharmaceutical industry and the role they could one day play in it. Children’s Aid thanks Perrigo and its employees for their time and for opening the eyes of our teens to a new avenue of possibilities for the future.  

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Summer on the Boulevard

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For the past two weekends, we joined our friends at WHEDco in shutting down Louis Nine Boulevard for the third annual Bronx Summer Fest. The event, which featured an array of performances from local talent, was an opportunity for Bronxites to enjoy the last few days of summer weather, celebrate heading back to school, and learn about the social services available to them in the Southern Boulevard neighborhood.

Children’s Aid showed up in strong numbers. Just Ask Me (JAM) Peer educators provided information on our health services in the Bronx. Staff from the Next Generation Center asked youth what resources they saw missing in their community. Our pre-k services and Children’s Aid College Prep provided enrollment information to interested parents, and the Go!Healthy program provided tips on healthy eating and nutritious samples for the public. And collaboratively, South Bronx Rising Together used the opportunity to highlight Attendance Awareness month for students and their families and the work they are doing to address chronic absenteeism in community schools like C.S. 61.

We had an amazing time out in the community over the last few weekends and thank WHEDco for inviting us out on the Boulevard this summer!

 

 

 

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Team Children's Aid: Part Two

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Dan Bormolini runs because he used to live in Colorado. Why is that? Because according to Dan, everyone in Colorado runs. And it’s served him well.

The technology VP travels a lot for work. “It’s an activity that you can do anywhere,” said Dan, “and it allows you to see so much.”

On Sunday, November 6th, he will see each of New York City’s five boroughs as he joins the rest of Team Children’s Aid for the 2016 TCS New York City Marathon.

Dan has also always been interested in helping change the lives of others. In Colorado, he served on the board of an organization that operated a teen shelter. When he moved to Chicago, he worked to help homeless teenagers find housing while on the board of another teen outreach organization.

“Then I had kids,” said Dan, a father to a pair of boys ages 3 and 5. “They made me understand the importance of early childhood education. If we can get all kids good education experiences at an early age, they’re going to be much better off.”

Luckily for us, this became especially important to Dan after he moved to New York City. So he’s joined Team Children’s Aid, and the money he raises will help not just the little ones but young people of every age. Please support Dan on his run and as he works to reach his fundraising goals.

 

 

 

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School Every Day

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When families face multiple barriers to their well-being at home, children experience the effects in school as well. Housing instability, health concerns, financial hardships, and other domestic problems can repeatedly take children out of school, creating a dangerous pattern of chronic absenteeism.
 
That’s why Children’s Aid has built attendance awareness into our work, whether it’s through our collective impact work in the South Bronx, our leadership on community schools across New York City, or any of the other ways we work to encourage the success of young people in school. 
 
It all starts in pre-K. Even at this early level, chronic absence can damage a child’s academic career. So we work to make sure that families in our services understand the importance of having their children attend school every day. In addition to classroom teachers, family advocates at our pre-k sites are a crucial first point of contact with our families to help them develop strong attendance records. Family advocates will call home to ask parents why their child is absent. Milagros Espaillat, who works at P.S. 5 in Washington Heights, is a pioneer in employing this tactic to track absences in her pre-k program.

“We had a lot of parents who were confused about what would qualify their children to stay at home,” said Milagros.
 
A barking cough, a tired toddler, or unpleasant weather are not reasons to keep children from home at school, Milagros explains to her parents. She encourages parents to still bring their children in, even though the school day is already in session. In addition to a school-based health clinic, P.S. 5 has licensed social workers and psychologists on site to navigate families through any crisis.
 
“Bring them in because we can take care of them here,” Milagros reassures families. The calls and the check-ins have helped. P.S. 5 began to see stronger attendance patterns. And families began to see glimpses of the long-term results.
 
Tamara Royal, director of Head Start at P.S. 5, heard back from a client whose son recently graduated from her site’s pre-K program. The mother shared that her son’s kindergarten teachers were impressed and thanked Tamara and her team for preparing her son. 
Tamara in turn commended the mother for her efforts.
 
“I told her, ‘He wouldn’t have been so prepared if he missed school. It’s because you brought him to school every day.’”
 
Establishing this foundation early is absolutely critical and is just as relevant for kids in elementary school and each successive level. As children advance in school, our work against chronic absenteeism changes shape to better support their needs.
 
One of our most successful tactics is through mentoring. We employ the Success Mentors model in many of our elementary- and junior high-level community schools, and a similar model with teens in high school. 
 
The Success Mentors model pairs students who are chronically absent from school with adult mentors responsible for checking in on these young people regularly over the course of the academic year. Depending on where a student is on the chronic absentee spectrum, success mentors adjust their tactics to support the student. Their outreach ranges from welcoming students upon arrival in the mornings to calling parents at home when they see a student isn’t in school that day. The model, first implemented in 2013, is currently in eight Children’s Aid community schools. Many of the mentors work in partnership with attendance support teams to track student absences and strategize ways to promote a strong attendance-oriented school culture.
 
The C.S. 61 team in the South Bronx has accomplished this feat. During the 2014-2015 school year, 60 percent of students who had been either chronically or severely chronically absent in the previous academic year improved enough to shed themselves of that distinction. Put another way, they missed less than 10 percent of the school year.
 
Our community school team and school staff decided to raise the bar even higher this year. During the first full week of classes this year, C.S. 61’s attendance support team led the entire school community, grades pre-K-5, in an attendance rally that outlined the community’s goals for the 2016-17 academic year. Every student was going to strive for fewer than five days absent during the school year. Success Mentors created slogans and helped students design posters for the rally. The event set a positive tone for the remainder of the school year.
 
“We wanted to reinforce the importance of coming to school every day in a way that would get every student involved,” said Stacey Campo, community school director. “We want students to encourage one another to be here and on time.”
 
Although Attendance Awareness Month wraps up in September, our commitment to helping children attend school every day is year round. And we will continue to aid them in their academic success every step of the way.

 

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Go!Healthy Fights Childhood Obesity

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September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, and Children’s Aid is proud to be a leader in this battle. Created in 2003, during the peak of the obesity crisis, the Go!Healthy initiative began offering nutrition-related programming through the Early Childhood division with the Go!Kids program. One specific study from this time period found that in a group of more than 3,000 New York City elementary school students, 43 percent of the students were overweight, and more than half of the overweight students were clinically obese. Hispanic and black children were identified as having higher rates of obesity than other groups, and today although the incidence of obesity in New York City youth has dropped overall, the disparity among children of color is still high.

According to the State of Obesity, an annual collaborative report by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, overweight and obesity rates are higher among African American children when compared to White children.

Overall, in the U.S.:

  • almost 21% of all African American girls were obese compared to about 16% of white girls
  • almost 20% of all African American boys were obese compared to almost 13% of white boys

The same is true for Latino children with obesity rates being markedly higher in younger children.

In children ages 2-5:

  • Nearly 17% of all Latino children are obese compared to 3.5% of white children

Between ages 6 to 11, twice the amount of Latino children are obese compared to white children. 3

  • 26% of all Latino children are obese compared to 13% of white children

Through the Go!Healthy program, Children’s Aid works to educate youth and their families around healthy eating habits, with the intention of reducing these marked percentages in our four neighborhoods: Washington Heights, the South Bronx, Harlem, and northern Staten Island. These neighborhoods are home to large populations of African American and Latino families, and the programming that Go!Healthy develops is culturally sensitive to each population.

The manifestations of childhood obesity, unfortunately, are not only linked to physical complications like type 2 diabetes, asthma, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure, but are also linked to social and emotional complications like low self-esteem, bullying, behavior and learning problems, and even depression.  The mission of Children’s Aid is to help children in poverty to succeed and thrive from a cradle through college approach, and the Go!Healthy program works in conjunction with the myriad services Children’s Aid provides to achieve this. When obesity challenges a child’s overall health and success, something must be done.

There are many social and environmental contributors to childhood obesity. However, one of the ways that Go!Healthy encourages everyone to take part in reducing childhood obesity is to minimize or eliminate the use of added sugars from their day-to-day activities—namely from sugar-sweetened beverages. Sugary drinks have been identified as a major contributor to obesity, as it has a large number of calories, little to no nutritional value, and might not satisfy hunger the way food does. This is why sugary drinks like soda, juice drinks, and iced teas are recognized as sources of “empty calories.” Unfortunately, there is a higher volume of marketing sugary drinks to black and Latino children than to white children, and major companies allocate millions of dollars toward this effort. For this reason, Children’s Aid adopted a sugary beverage policy in 2011 that disallows Children’s Aid staff from drinking sugary drinks in the presence of the children it serves. It is through this concerted effort from staff, caregivers, and surrounding community members that we can support our youth in achieving success. Go!Healthy Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist Kathleen Delgado reminds everyone, “Our kids look up to us, and it’s by our example that they’ll learn about positive, healthy habits for a lifetime.”

To join us on supporting our healthy kids and to find out more about the work Go!Healthy does, join Go!Healthy’s Facebook group at CAS Go!Healthy.

 

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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 (https://www.facebook.com/groups/CASGoHealthy) for more details, or reach out to Kathleen Delgado, kdelgado1@childrensaidsociety.org. If you would like to learn more about Go!Healthy programming please reach out to Alyson Abrami, director of food and nutrition (aabrami@childrensaidsociety.org)

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: https://www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/health/health-topics/cdp-farmersmarkets.page

 

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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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