The Children's Aid Blog

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 ( for more details, or reach out to Kathleen Delgado, If you would like to learn more about Go!Healthy programming please reach out to Alyson Abrami, director of food and nutrition (

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:


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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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Coming Together on Community Schools

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“One thing we have to keep in our minds is how powerful it is when adults can get together for children. The biggest move we can make is to make sure that the work that we do in community schools gets all of the adults to the table for children”- New York State Education Department Commissioner MaryEllen Elia

Nearly 100 adults and key community school stakeholders from every corner of New York came together for children at the first New York State Community Schools Network Convening on August 2 at the University at Albany East Campus. The goals of the convening were to not only have partners across the state meet for the first time but to also share community schools practice, collaborate with one another on the goals and priorities for the state network, and develop a legislative and policy agenda for New York State community schools.

The New York State Community Schools Network* is an emerging coalition consisting of a diverse group of key community school partners representing community-based organizations, advocacy groups, and unions. For the past two years, Children’s Aid has served as a steering committee member collaborating with partners across the state to influence community school policy and formulate strategies to support all local and statewide community school initiatives.

Valuable networking opportunities, thoughtful conversations, and strategic planning occurred throughout the day on August 2. The synergy among community schools stakeholders, from community school directors to school board superintendents to our elected officials was invigorating. Breakout sessions were facilitated across several topics which included defining our community schools state vision and developing our legislative policy priorities. You can view the keynote addresses that were given by New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Dr. Betty Rosa and New York State Education Department Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, both articulating their support and commitment to the success of community schools.

Martin J. Blank, president of the Institute for Educational Leadership and director of the Coalition for Community Schools, moderated an excellent panel discussion on community schools policy and practice which included an esteemed group of community school champions, including New York State assembly members Donna Lupardo (D-Binghamton) and Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo).

The large attendance, key representation, and overall energy from the day strengthens the infrastructure for a robust state coalition to not only grow but collaborate to sustain, build capacity, and support high-quality community schools. Chancellor Rosa said that community schools are “very important to the solution and the issues we face today in terms of equity and social justice.” Our Office of Public Policy is dedicated to building the New York State Community Schools Network, advocating for equitable solutions supporting Children’s Aid children and families. In the next few months, the steering committee will finalize their state policy agenda for the FY18 budget cycle, actively participating in the upcoming legislative process.

*Current members of the New York State Community Schools Network: Alliance for Quality Education, Broome County Promise Zone, Capital Area School Development Association, Coalition for Educational Justice, New York School-Based Health Alliance, New York State Network for Youth Success, New York State United Teachers, Rockland 21C, The Children’s Aid Society, and United Federation of Teachers



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Paying it Forward: Part Two

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For Matthews Valdez, Children’s Aid was always a place to call home. His mother, a former Children’s Aid staff member, was a facilitator who trained many of our current employees working in Washington Heights. It was during this time that Matthews entered our services.

He began summer camp when he was 6, and since then has become an instrumental part of our community. In addition to summer camp, he also participated in our after-school programs at P.S. 5. He said his experience as a Children’s Aid kid is something he will never forget.

“I loved it,” he said. “That’s something I’m always going to appreciate.”

After growing up and realizing his passion for working with kids, he decided to come back and join P.S.152’s team as a facilitator and lifeguard. Even as an employee at Children’s Aid, he continues to find his experience as one that is rewarding.

Matthews aspires to one day become a Children’s Aid arts specialist, focusing on dance. His passion for dance started when he was chosen to participate in AileyCamp, where he learned tap, ballet, hip hop, west African, and jazz dance routines. After being in the camp for four years, he won a scholarship to take classes three days a week at the Alvin Ailey School. He says the experience helped him be the person he is today.

“Doing this made me feel more confident in myself,” he said.

Matthews continues to be a valuable asset to our community by “paying it forward” and helping kids in the community succeed and thrive. 



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Reaffirming a Commitment to Community

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This summer 19 students were placed in different offices at all three levels of government through the Children’s Aid Community Building Summer Internship (CBSI) program. The program, which runs through our public policy office and is currently in its ninth year, provides high school and college students with hands on experiences in public service in neighborhoods in the Bronx, Washington Heights, Harlem, and for the first time this year, Staten Island.

At the program’s end of summer appreciation ceremony, Children’s Aid CEO and president Phoebe Boyer commended the interns on completing the summer program and Sandra Escamilla, our new vice president of the Adolescence Division, delivered a warm and encouraging keynote speech to the young students that urged them to find their purpose.

“When you follow your purpose, the prosperity that you find is unmatched,” said Sandra.

Within each of their internships, CBSI participants completed key office tasks and learned how to support and engage constituents in their communities. Interns also attended weekly training sessions with facilitators from the Resilience Advocacy Project (RAP), which they used to collectively complete a community engagement project. After realizing that many New York City high school students lack access to information around the college process, this year’s group of interns created an online petition to urge the Department of Education, Mayor de Blasio, and Governor Cuomo to create a universal college prep program in New York City. The interns shared their project with New York State senators and assembly members and city officials at the program’s end of summer appreciation ceremony.

We congratulate our CBSI interns for completing a successful summer and for being prime examples of how integral building community is to the Children’s Aid mission.

And if you haven’t already, please sign the petition.



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