Aug 3, 2021

COVID-19 Can't Thwart a Future Educator's Ambition

Maame
Maame

Of the many impacts COVID-19 has had on youth, academic and mental health challenges have been particularly pronounced. For young adults considering secondary education while grappling with these hardships, the data revealed this past spring was rather stark: college enrollment sank by 25%.

Maame is a 17-year-old Bronx native who has always been a stellar student, maintaining a 4.0 GPA while juggling commitments to a variety of extracurricular activities throughout high school. When finishing up her junior year of high school, she had her eyes set on college, but wasn’t completely sure what she wanted to study and how she would even afford it. Then, the pandemic ransacked New York City, limiting her ability to explore jobs and internships or make money to pay for college. As the months of quarantine went on, the social isolation caused Maame to become depressed.

In June 2020, Maame wanted to get involved in a program that would help her choose her path in life, and provide a healthy social outlet. With all of the COVID-19 restrictions, options were limited, but she turned to her mentors at our Hope Leadership Academy in Harlem who offered her a great solution. They introduced her to our “Just Ask Me” (JAM) Peer Education paid internship program, which at the time was operating remotely. Maame applied and was accepted to work as a health educator for teens on topics such as birth control, HIV/STI prevention, and gender identity. Through this program, Maame found her calling.

“Being able to answer my peers’ questions with confidence further motivates me to become an educator. The JAM Peer Health Education Program has continuously reminded me of my future goals and pushes me to become a teacher,” Maame said.

The program also helped Maame combat the feelings of isolation, and stay focused on her goals and maintain her wellness. She said it “…was a helpful outlet because it gave me something to look forward to during my days…even if it was on Zoom." Maame also shared that she took advantage of Hope’s mindfulness and meditation classes.

During her senior year of high school, Maame’s hard work paid off after she was accepted to her dream school — New York University. She received a scholarship from the school, but the remaining balance was still a financial squeeze. She knew she absolutely wanted to go there, but was overwhelmed by the prospect of accumulating so much debt.

Then, she heard about the Children’s Aid scholarship program.

“By receiving the Children’s Aid scholarship, I would be able to pursue my dream career,” Maame said in her application. Children’s Aid recognized her potential and knew her goal should not be a dream deferred, nor a dream denied. She won an $8,000 scholarship, which gave her the financial backing needed to pursue her higher education goals at her dream school.

Thank you for supporting students just like Maame. By staying engaged and focused on her goals through the help of her mentors and programs at Children’s Aid, students like Maame are able to continue their education and start their careers — despite these challenging times.

Jul 8, 2021

How We Are Continuing to Combat Hunger

Produce food relief
Produce food relief

It has been one year since we started this hunger relief project, and in many ways, this summer is a welcome reprieve from so much of the hardship. There are fewer COVID-19 cases, in-person gatherings are resuming, and life is getting back to normal. But in the backdrop of this return to normalcy remains an unfortunate reality: Today, a staggering 1 in 3 New York City children still experience food insecurity. For that reason, we are still heavily focused on combating the hunger crisis that this pandemic exacerbated. As supporters of our work, we wanted to share some updates with you on this initiative:

  • YOUR IMPACT: Through this project alone, you have raised enough funds to provide nearly 2,000 hunger relief packages to children in need. This incredible contribution is an essential part of the 150,000 total hunger relief packages we have provided so far throughout COVID-19.
  • CONTINUED RELIEF: This summer and fall, we are ramping up our food distributions to continue tackling hunger head-on. We will be providing four “food box” bulk distributions per week, and we are also adding a new food truck service option for expanded access.
  • COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS: Through a partnership that started last fall with a nonprofit called Rethink and a local family-owned restaurant called BARCHA, we have been providing 515 restaurant meals a week to families in need. This summer, we are excited to be growing our restaurant partnerships to include Gyro King food truck, which will deliver 2,000 hot halal meals per week to our children and families. These restaurant partnerships are especially critical for kids who would have otherwise relied on canned or nutritionally subpar food. We also partner with Westside Campaign Against Hunger to distribute produce boxes to an additional 550 families.
  • VIRTUAL EDUCATION PROGRAMS: Before pivoting to a hunger-relief focus in the pandemic, much of our food and nutrition programming centered around education — and that has not stopped. We have been able to maintain the education component along with our hunger relief distributions through the pandemic. Due to their popularity, we plan to continue offering those virtual options. Such options include virtual cooking and nutrition education for children and families of all ages.
  • IN-PERSON EDUCATION PROGRAMS: We are also excited to share that we are continuing to transition more of our programming back to in-person, allowing kids to get their hands in the soil, harvest a ripe tomato straight off the vine, and taste the food we cook together. During our “Summer Rising” summer school, offered to children who want to catch up in their academics, we are providing in-person nutrition education classes. We are also offering such programming at our early childhood centers and three elementary schools. And in 2022, we plan to switch our end-of-year cooking competition, Iron Go!Chefs, back to in-person. (Congrats to our winning team this year, Fairmont-Samara Campus, for their delicious dish “Soul Empanadas”!)

Thank you for making sure New York City’s children do not go hungry. We could not do it without you.

P.S. Please also look out for an email regarding a July 14 Bonus Day matching gift opportunity!

Links:

Jul 4, 2021

The Staff Behind the Refugee Success Stories

Director of Therapeutic Foster Care Julie Kaplan
Director of Therapeutic Foster Care Julie Kaplan

The saying goes that it takes a village to raise a child. But when that child is a refugee or a special immigrant juvenile (SIJ), it takes a much bigger and more fortified village.

Julie Kaplan is one of hundreds of Children’s Aid social workers who provide care and support to our children and youth in foster care. Her specific program is called “Therapeutic Foster Care,” which helps young people with severe emotional difficulties or mental health concerns. Due to the traumatic nature of what refugees and SIJs endure, oftentimes they are placed in her program. 

“Many of our refugees and SIJs are from Latin America, and escaped gangs, violence, abuse, and extreme poverty for a better life in America,” Julie explained. “Recovering from trauma and adapting to a new foster home is always a very bumpy road. Then you add the legal hurdles involved in their pathway to citizenship, and then COVID-19, and it’s too much for one person to handle.” 

Social workers like Julie are trained to provide the counseling necessary to help young people cope with emotional needs, including their past hardships, and more recently, from COVID-19 challenges. They also go the extra mile to help youth with their legal needs as they endure the arduous process of obtaining legal paperwork. “The sheer amount of logistics in attaining citizenship is really taxing, but we have learned over the years — and continue to learn — how to navigate through the maze of bureaucracy and successfully advocate for our youth,” Julie said.

Some days, Julie and her team conduct mock interviews with youth to prepare them for their meetings with immigration agents. Other days, she pours through and completes hundreds of pages of paperwork and legal forms, and makes sure the “i”s are dotted, and the “t”s are crossed. “Missteps can cause months-long delays, and that can really cause a lot of stress and heartache to a youth who just wants to have some stability after enduring so many years without it,” said Julie.

“It’s all worth it once you get that phone call — the one when the youth sounds ecstatic, belting out, ‘Ms. Julie, I finally got my legal papers!’ Those moments are the ones I always cherish and they’re why we continue to push forward.”                           

Thank you for helping to create moments like these through your support of our refugee youth. We wouldn’t be able to do it without the generosity of friends like you.

 
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