The Children's Aid Blog

The Road to Rio Runs through Harlem

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The Summer Olympics comes once every four years. Countless athletes devote their lives to making the team and competing under their nation’s flag. Achieving that goal is quite often a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Therefore, it felt appropriate to treat what happened at our Milbank Community Center this week as another once in a lifetime opportunity. USA Basketball (USAB), which runs the men’s and women’s basketball programs that go on to compete in the Olympics, chose Milbank as the place to unveil the 2016 U.S. men’s basketball team.

About 90 of our kids came to the center on a gorgeous Monday promised a basketball clinic—and they got one from the coaches USAB. For an hour they practiced drills covering every aspect of the game. Then things got interesting.

First, Mike Krzyzewski, coach of the men’s national team as well that of Duke University, showed up. He and Jay Bilas, a former NBA player and current ESPN basketball announcer, talked to the kids about how important and exciting the upcoming Olympics would be and implored the kids to support them and be part of the team.

That’s when the retractable wall went up. Standing just beyond it were all twelve members of the U.S. men’s team, some of the finest players in the NBA. To say that the kids were excited would be like saying some of the guys on the team were kind of tall. The boys and girls went wild. It was fun. It was exciting. And it was likely a day that our kids will never forget. 

Check our photo gallery to see more images from the day.

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Fruits, Veggies, and Whole Grains: Good for Bodies and for Brains

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June is Fruit and Vegetable Month! Fruit and vegetables have a vital role in ensuring children have the proper nutrition for growth and development. Apart from being essential in our children’s health, the consumption of fruits and vegetables has been linked with improved academic performance.1 It has been shown that better academic achievement can lead to better job opportunities, housing, and access to health care. 1 Conversely, though, it might not be as well-known that a poor diet in childhood may contribute to perpetuate a cycle of poverty — mainly in areas of low socioeconomic status.1 As Children’s Aid mission is to help children in poverty to succeed and thrive, it is important to consider the relationship between good nutrition and supporting the mission that we work so diligently to achieve.

Across the nation, fruit and vegetable intake is generally quite low. In New York State, only about 1/3 of children report eating fruit less than once a day, and even fewer children (only 23%) report eating vegetables at least once a day.2 In all New York City public schools, fruits and vegetables are offered at both breakfast and lunch. However, plate studies have indicated that 55% of elementary school students and 66% of middle school students don’t select vegetables as part of their lunch, and those who do choose vegetables and fruits leave more than one-third uneaten.3

Children’s Aid works directly with youth through Community Schools and Community Centers across four targeted, high-needs areas of New York City providing comprehensive supports to children and their families. Our Children’s Aid Go!Healthy program focuses on nutrition and obesity prevention, and works to support wellness from early childhood through adolescence. Go!Healthy supports the production of hundreds of healthy meals and snacks served in early childhood and after-school programs with fruit- and vegetable-centered recipes.  To complement the healthy food being served, Go!Healthy implements cooking and nutrition classes from early childhood with Go!Kids and Go!Kids Cook, and through adolescence, with Go!Chefs, Food Justice, and Gardening. The Go!Healthy Eat Smart program offers nutrition education and culinary support for families, community members, and CAS staff wellness with classes, trainings, and healthy eating promotion tables. All discussions on food support youth and their families in making the consumption of fruits and vegetables an easy choice. Go!Healthy encourages our youth and greater community to take a hands-on approach in learning about and tasting fresh fruits and vegetables in culturally relevant recipes.

Gaining basic culinary skill and learning about the many benefits of fruits and vegetables is essential in creating and supporting healthy eating habits. There are many known barriers to fruits and vegetables being eaten regularly—one of these barriers is cost. This summer, Go!Healthy will be offering a variety of opportunities for our youth and their families to receive Health Bucks. Health Bucks are $2 vouchers that can be spent only on fresh fruit and vegetables at New York City Farmers Markets. These vouchers are offered by and distributed from the New York City Health Department. Additionally, for every $5 a family spends with their EBT/SNAP benefits at a Farmers Market in New York City, they will receive one $2 Health Bucks coupon. Go!Healthy will be hosting walking trips to farmers markets for youth and community members, and an exclusive opportunity to redeem Health Bucks in the purchase of a food box at select Children’s Aid Go!Healthy sites throughout the summer and fall.   

For seasonal fruit and vegetable recipes and information about all our healthy eating programming, including food box details, check out Go!Healthy’s Facebook group here.

For a map of all New York City Farmers markets (2015), check out the link here.

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Ease On Down the Road

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Last week, the Dunlevy Milbank Center’s art program staged a classic, “The Wiz.” Community members packed the center’s gymnasium to watch our youth put on a fun-filled performance. The center’s youth, ranging from ages 5-14, rehearsed for five weeks before they debuted their hard work.

The night was a true testament to Children’s Aid’s commitment to providing our youth with an opportunity to express themselves in a safe, engaging, and creative environment. The center’s staff said the night was also an opportunity for students to come out of their shell.

“The arts are important mostly for those kids who need an outlet,” said Casper Lassiter, Milbank’s longtime director, mentioning two kids who surprised the staff. “On normal days, the kids are usually quiet and to themselves, but on this day, they shocked all of us. It was a really special moment.”

The performance was directed by Omari Wiles and Craig Washington, the center’s art specialists, who put everything together. 

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Partnering with the Fresh Air Fund

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Fundraising is absolutely critical for the survival of nonprofits like Children’s Aid. Every dollar counts. But some donations come with an outsized impact.

The Fresh Air Fund's Young Women's Giving Circle is a youth-led organization made up of teenage girls from the ages of 14-21 from across New York City. Each year the teens research different topics that affect teenagers in the community and then choose one for advocacy and fundraising. For the past year, about 20 young women convened every Tuesday for this purpose and ultimately decided on Teen Health Awareness and how to manage physical, mental, and self-care well-being. After a series of workshops and volunteer opportunities, the group identified our Bronx Health Clinic because of our provision of health information and services to teens—and the impact that work has—and chose Children’s Aid as the recipient of their fundraising dollars. The total of $3,000 included a generous match from the Fresh Air Fund.  

Thank you for the financial support as well as your dedication to important health issues. 

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The Stern Family Paves the Path to College

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The arrival of warm weather brings many things with it—school graduations, outdoor activities, and much more. It also brings an annual demonstration of generosity and selflessness when the Stern family awards college scholarships and brings all the winners together for a special luncheon.

Over antipasti, pizza, and gelato at OTTO Enoteca, the soon-to-be graduates told Rob and Yuka Stern about where they were headed in the fall to start the next step of their academic careers. And they did so knowing that the financial barriers had been lowered because of scholarships they won.

The Jean L. Stern Memorial Scholarship is a tribute to her service to The Children’s Aid Society as a longtime trustee. Providing financial assistance for college-bound young people was a passionate commitment for her. And she was the one to establish the Wick Stern Memorial Scholarship, to honor the memory of her son by celebrating eight students who have demonstrated courage and perseverance, and overcome obstacles in pursuit of their higher education.

This year’s winners, who came from AAMI, Opportunity Charter School, Hope Leadership Academy, Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom H.S., and OASAS, are:

Student Name College Attending Scholarship
Nasiah Brown Binghamton University Jean Stern Scholarship
Allim Kamara SUNY Herkimer Jean Stern Scholarship
Tryphena Quaicoe SUNY Plattsburgh Jean Stern Scholarship
Teresa Pantoja SUNY Dutchess
Community College
Jean Stern Scholarship
Topanga Padilla Daemen College Wick Stern Scholarship
Q'Shaa Pollock Manhattanville College Wick Stern Scholarship
Beatriz Rosa SUNY Oswego Wick Stern Scholarship
Dalyia Dias CUNY Hostos
Community College
Wick Stern Scholarship
Ousmane Kamate Tyler Junior College Wick Stern Scholarship


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Iron Go!Chefs Competition Heats Up in Harlem

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Children’s Aid held its sixth annual Iron Go!Chefs competition on June 9, in Harlem. The Frederick Douglas Center gymnasium was transformed into  something of a kitchen stadium, where our young iron chefs went head to head for the glory of victory. Guest judges included our very own president and CEO, Phoebe Boyer; Anthony Paris, the executive/head Chef at Crosby Street Hotel; Patti Lubin, senior counsel and senior advisor to U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand; and Barbara Turk, the mayor’s director of food policy. Special guest Cory Nieves, owner of Mr. Cory’s cookies hosted the event’s nutrition bee.

Elementary, middle, and high schoolers from across Children’s Aid centers and community schools faced off in the competition to prepare mouthwatering—and nutritious— recipes. The winner this year in the elementary school competition was the Plat-O-Food team from C.S. 61 with their amazing whole wheat farfalle with roasted chickpeas and kale recipe. In the middle and high school ages competition, and the Ultimate Chefs from M.S. 301: Paul L. Dunbar School took the prize with their tasty and very creative plantain boats with black beans and eggplant recipe.     

The Go!Chefs program is a nutrition education and cooking curriculum for elementary, middle, and high school youth who attend programs with Children’s Aid throughout the city of New York. Since 2005, Go!Chefs has educated  youth on growing, preparing, and enjoying whole foods in efforts to educate youth on food literacy and build lifelong skills. Childhood obesity is a serious health condition affecting over one-third of American children across the country. Our Go!Chefs food service programs provide healthy meals to approximately 1,500 children each day in our Early Childhood, School Age and Adolescence programs.

Congratulations to all of the aspiring chefs for their professional high-quality performance.

Click here, to view our Iron Go!Chefs photo gallery.

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Unpacking the Energy at Milbank

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What could have been a sleepy Tuesday morning for third and fourth graders in Harlem quickly turned into an infectious dance party at the Dunlevy Milbank Center.The group’s enthusiasm was palpable in the center’s gymnasium, and their energy was matched by a high-fiving row of Soul Cycle instructors and State Bags employees.

The fun was part of State Bag’s #GiveBackPacks summer initiative to provide backpacks to 30,000 kids across the country. At Milbank, volunteers handed out close to 300 packs to surprised students in attendance and engaged them in motivational group activities that helped them reflect on ways they could stay focused on their goals in the next year. And of course, there was a lot of Nae Nae-ing to be sure.

Thank you to State Bags and Soul Cycle for providing our kids with quality backpacks and some well-deserved fun. You are helping to ensure that kids understand the power of giving back, by helping them be school ready as well.

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Leadership in Action

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This was the pilot year for the Children’s Aid Society’s Youth Leadership Council (YLC). Students representing Manhattan, the Bronx, and Westchester County came together to identify and address an issue that they believe is affecting their communities. On June 1, seven of the eight team members came together to demonstrate their work.

After careful consideration, the YLC decided to focus on teen access to illegal drugs. Every one of the team members could speak to the pervasive nature of narcotics in their schools and communities. They did a lot of research, identified pieces of cultural media that glorified drug use, and spoke to professionals active in the fight against teen drug use.

Then the YLC went to their peers to gain more insight into the prevalence of illegal drugs. Among the important data they found that 61 percent teens felt like they can easily secure drugs at school.

The team arrived at several recommendations to combat drug use and now has a goal of getting 30,000 teens stand up with them and become leaders themselves. They’re off to a tremendous start.

Congratulations to the team: Talya Lee, Jamie Lee, and Lovell Lee, all from Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School; Cesay Camara, Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics; Julia Kissi, Holcombe Rucker H.S.; Mina Bunch, Thornton H.S.; Hadiaratou Diabate, Bronx Regional H.S.; and Nadia Martinez, Bronx Academy of Health Careers. 

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COMPASS Award Winners: Headed in the Right Direction

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Nearly 60,000 young people participate in some aspect of the Comprehensive After School System of New York City, most prominently in the SONYC program. This is a cornerstone of much of the work we do in our School Age Division.

This year, the city wanted to recognize exceptional staff with the COMPASS Cares Afterschool Professionals awards. It was looking to recognize five people from each borough. Not surprisingly, Children’s Aid staff captured four of those awards (only one other organization had more than one winner—just saying).  

We’re honored to get such wonderful recognitions, knowing that this translates into strong outcomes for the students in these programs. Let’s congratulate these outstanding members of our team: Wendy Balderas, April Benedetto, Stacey Campo, and Charles Perez. You represent us well.

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Foster Care at the Garden

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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. 

View more images in our photo gallery.


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