Youth Profiles

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Benjamin Becerril

Not long after Benjamin Becerril’s first day at Staten Island’s Richmond Early Learning Center, other children began to notice the discoloration on Benjamin’s teeth. When they started asking him questions, he didn’t know how to answer.

This unwanted attention led Benjamin, already a shy toddler, to become uncomfortable with his appearance. He soon became less verbally expressive as a result, unwilling to talk to the other children or even to his teachers at times.

To tackle the problem, Children’s Aid staff quickly arranged for an in-house dental hygienist to clean his teeth, and worked with Benjamin’s mom and her insurance company to find a highly recommended dentist.

Upon evaluation, the dentist determined that Benjamin had a condition known as baby bottle tooth decay, which was caused by Benjamin falling asleep with his bottle in his mouth. The sugar from the liquid had remained on his teeth, and promoted decay and discoloration as a result.

Benjamin received a filling and appropriate care for his condition, and his overall dental health improved. The color of his teeth improved noticeably, too. The dentist also stressed the importance of routine brushing to Benjamin, and told him all about the best ways he can take care of his teeth as he grows into adulthood.

While boosting Benjamin’s dental health, the staff at Children’s Aid also worked closely with Benjamin to increase his abilities in verbal expression. They provided targeted interventions and developed his social skills so that he would gain the confidence to speak with his peers and teachers. Slowly but surely, he started to show signs of progress.

After just a year, he has greatly improved his verbal expression, chatting frequently with his classmates and teachers. He also looks in the mirror and says, “My teeth are clean and strong.” He no longer feels self-conscious about his appearance.

Benjamin is currently in his second year at Richmond, and when he finishes up, his mother has no doubt that he will be ready for kindergarten.

Eva Evangelista

When the time for kindergarten arrived, Nancy Evangelista knew she needed a school that would provide her daughter, Eva, with a challenging academic curriculum.

But the public schools in her Parkchester neighborhood in the Bronx were not offering the structure she desired. When she heard that a highly rated principal had taken charge of Children’s Aid College Prep Charter School, she applied to send her daughter to the new school.

Eva was chosen to become part of the inaugural kindergarten class in 2012.

An active child, Eva can be a challenge to manage, but Nancy found that teachers at Children’s Aid College Prep were willing to help Eva transition between home and school, and emailed her often with updates on Eva’s progress.

When they discovered that Eva read above grade level, her teachers ensured that she stayed engaged and interested in reading by placing her with the first graders during reading time and giving her access to higher level books.

Now in first grade, Eva continues to read above her grade level and her behavior has improved markedly. Her teachers continue to find ways to keep her motivated and nurture her interest in reading.

At home, Eva is already talking about college, reminding her mother that school continues after the 12th grade. For now, she would like to be a teacher when she grows up and knows that a college education is necessary to achieve that goal.

Recently, Eva received a college savings account as part of the CAS College Savers program – a joint initiative of The Children’s Aid Society, the Citi Foundation, the 1:1 Fund and Tuck’s R.U.S.H. for Literacy.

Children who enroll in College Savers receive $100 in seed money. Then every dollar a parent, friend or family member adds to that account in the first year is matched, up to $100. Additional incentives will be offered as family members continue to contribute.

Research shows that low-income students with just $500 or less in college savings are three times more likely to enroll in college and four times more likely to graduate.

Eva is already looking forward to receiving her monthly statements in the mail so see how her savings have grown. Nancy is grateful that her daughter is part of such an innovative school that pushes her daughter to succeed and prepares her for a future that includes college.

Xavier Reyes

For the past two years, Xavier Reyes, 13, has traveled all the way from the Bronx to attend a Children’s Aid community school in Washington Heights. The reason is simple: your support has opened up a world of opportunity to him.

An eighth grader at our Mirabal Sisters campus, Xavier takes advantage of a variety of after-school programs that help reinforce what he learns each day. So far, he has participated in an after-school club in robotics, taken a boat-building course and even attended a space camp halfway around the world, in Izmir, Turkey.

“No other school would have given me so many opportunities and helped me be the person that I am today,” Xavier says.

Children’s Aid programs are a family affair. His mother, Margarita Ramirez, is an engaged and active parent at the school, where she has taken part in workshops on nutrition, baking and curtain design.

As Xavier moves on to high school and then college, Children’s Aid is monitoring his progress along the way. To ensure his academic success, we track his attendance, his interest in learning new concepts and his capacity to manage his time and set appropriate short- and long-term goals.

Providing social-emotional support is another priority. Through his participation in multiple, structured peer groups after school and throughout the summer, we are watching as Xavier builds trust and deep personal connections with peers, and develops strong feelings about his own capabilities—all of which helps him express his thoughts and feelings in productive ways.

To keep him healthy, we provide Xavier access to a full-service health center—with medical, dental and mental health services—right in his school. Meanwhile, through exposure to our “Go!Healthy” program, Xavier has demonstrated a strong interest in nutrition and a desire to prepare healthy meals at home.

Our last area of focus is on Xavier’s family life. We help him maintain strong connections to adults by building positive relationships among our staff and his family. His mother says that these friendships are “like a second family watching out for Xavier.” And through her involvement in the life of the school, she has high aspirations for Xavier’s higher education, which research shows will increase the likelihood that he gets to and through college.

For now, Xavier is focused on computer science and math, while the community around him nurtures and supports him to follow his dream: One day, he says, he will work at Apple as an engineer.

Jonatai Saintilus

Jonatai Saintilus, 16, is a junior at Cathedral High School in Manhattan, where she maintains an A average and takes honors classes in English, history, science and trigonometry.

As she starts planning for her future, Jonatai gets college prep support at The Children’s Aid Society’s Hope Leadership Academy in East Harlem. Thanks to its comprehensive curriculum, Jonatai attends workshops on financial literacy, public speaking and scholarship opportunities.

Personal family experiences have inspired Jonatai to eventually pursue a career as a physician with a specialty in geriatric medicine. She knows that if she works hard enough, she will become the first member of her family to graduate from college in America.

This goal is extremely important to her as she strives to be a good role model for her four adopted siblings and to make her father, who emigrated from Haiti to the United States, proud of her accomplishments.

The Hope Leadership Academy was established by The Children’s Aid Society after 9/11, as a safe place for adolescents to process their feelings on violence and victimization. Our youth development model is designed to compensate for real or perceived lack of opportunities by providing an environment that promotes success and celebrates achievements.

Hope trains youth to be community educators and leaders, imparting the skills for youth to make changes in their own lives and inspire change in others.

As Jonatai navigates the challenges of her junior year in high school and a heavy work load, she leans on the support and guidance from Hope. With encouragement from the staff, she has broadened her view of what her college experience should be and is paying attention to criteria other than specific degree programs. She is now looking closely at campus size, the diversity of the student population and other factors that will lead her to choose a school that is a good fit for her as a student and individual.

She is also hoping that her performance at school, boosted by the support from Hope staff, will allow her to consider Ivy League schools.

“The Children’s Aid Society has given me the building blocks to prepare for my future,” she says.

Julio Olmedo

Originally from Mexico, Julio Olmedo travelled alone to the U.S. at 15, driven to help his family back home by finding work here. He made his way to New York City, where he lived with an older brother.

Two years later, police found the pair sleeping on the subway with their belongings, having been evicted from the room they shared. An “unaccompanied, undocumented youth,” Julio was referred to Children’s Aid’s teen foster care program in May 2010. He was placed in two temporary settings before finding a stable home with his current caregiver the next year.

Despite having left school after seventh grade, Julio had a strong desire to graduate high school and attend college. He entered Liberty High School in Chelsea—which serves students newly arrived to the United States—as a 17-year-old freshman.

At Liberty, he took ESL classes in addition to his regular coursework. Children’s Aid provided his medical and dental care, including braces and even a referral to treat his lisp.

In November 2012, Julio began meeting with a coach as part of a new program funded by the Hilton Foundation that aims to get youth in foster care to and through college—one study shows that just 6 percent of former foster youth earn a two- or four-year degree by 24.

During their first meeting, Julio and his advisor assessed Julio’s strengths at school, as well as his struggles with math and science. Together, they developed a plan for Julio to enter college in the fall of 2013.

Throughout his senior year, Julio and his advisor met regularly to review his progress, prepare his applications and explore financial aid. Julio also got enrichment services—in-home tutoring and SAT prep—that helped him make significant strides. The 65 he earned in geometry last November jumped to an 85 by June. In the spring, his perfect attendance at 10 test prep sessions helped him raise his scores.

In May, Julio was accepted to his top choice, CUNY’s John Jay College, which offers special academic and financial support to students in need. This includes a summer program he attended to help prepare for the demands of attending a four-year college.

Today, Julio is a college freshman and, at 21, has formally “aged out” of the foster care system. But he remains in our care, getting support and services as he needs them on his astonishing path to graduation day.