As a parent, I always wanted the best school and education for my child, and I quickly learned that the best place to get it was at The Child Center. Continue reading
Q&A with Latoya Mann, graduate of August Martin High School
At The Child Center of NY, one of our firmest beliefs is that intelligence and drive are evenly distributed among zip codes. Unfortunately, opportunity isn’t always. That’s why we’ve been hard at work at August Martin High School, in one of the most underserved communities in the city. In the past few years, we’ve helped increase the graduation rate by nearly 40 percent — from just 24 percent to more than 60 percent — and are ensuring promising students not only can see themselves at college, but also can overcome the practical hurdles (like the steep price tag) to getting there. Continue reading
I was facing enormous challenges last year. I had escaped a domestic violence situation with my three kids, and we were on our own in a new place. My eighteen-month-old daughter, Lulu, wasn’t verbalizing, and she was tantrumming an extreme amount.
Early Intervention came to do an assessment and told me Lulu had selective mutism, meaning she was opting out of talking, and I should wait until she was 3 before doing anything. I wasn’t satisfied with that.
Thankfully, I had met Telva Rivera, from The Child Center’s Parent-Child Home Program, at a P.S. 111 fair of local CBOs [community-based organizations]. Telva had spoken about how PCHP works with families: a trained professional comes into the home with books and toys and provides guidance on supporting your child’s development. I said, ‘That’s what I need – sign me up!”
From the start, Telva elicited a big change in Lulu. Telva was amicable and over-articulated, speaking to Lulu not just clearly, but in a very organized way. She would bring a book or toy and say, “This book is Yellow and Yummy. Do you want to read Yellow and Yummy?” And she would guide Lulu to say, “Yes, I want to read Yellow and Yummy.”
I began to mirror what Telva was modeling and saw a vast improvement in Lulu’s relationship with me and with her two brothers. She was now saying more words than expected for her age!
But not all of the positive changes had to do with Lulu’s verbalizing. The Child Center has a truly holistic approach, and Telva’s assistance went beyond helping Lulu to talk; she looked at what else was going on, with Lulu and with our whole family.
With Lulu, she helped me discipline in a way that led to less frustration for us both – specifically, she helped me use redirecting as tool, and to hold Lulu accountable for her actions with consequences. I learned to not dwell on the negative, because if I did, Lulu would stay there. Instead, I could say, “I don’t like that choice, would you please do this” — and offer her an alternative.
For our whole family, Telva recommended The Child Center’s Woodside Clinic, where we got individual and family therapy. Our therapist helped me deal with my frustrations and be more consistent in my parenting; I can be a little flaky, but she helped me see how that bred inconsistency in my home, and how a few changes could improve that. She helped empower my kids with language skills to express their feelings, instead of having a tantrum.
We graduated from PCHP in the spring, and I left feeling confident that I have tools in my arsenal to deal with all sorts of challenges.
It’s not easy in the beginning to have someone come into your home, but Telva wasn’t judgmental; she didn’t come in wagging her finger. She just came with energy and a fresh pair of eyes, which was a great benefit, because sometimes you’re too close to something, and your frustration prohibits you from seeing the possible outcomes — all you see is the negative. But Telva helped me gain an understanding of Lulu that helped me parent her effectively. I don’t think I would have gotten there as quickly or fully without her.
I’m glad The Child Center helped me make changes — and to see that change was possible in the first place.
“You can do anything you put your mind to,” they said on orientation day at Aspirations Diploma Plus High School, on the border of Brownsville and East New York, Brooklyn. I thought they were just saying that because they had to, but on the first day of school, stepping into the building, I felt love and support. I learned that day that this school was meant for me.
Being new to the school gave me a lot of advantages, such as having a peer leader assigned to me. Having a peer leader gave me someone to talk to and made me feel more comfortable. I also had a youth advocate who pushed me to become a better young adult than who I came in as.
In my second trimester I, myself, was nominated to be a peer leader, based on my grades, attendance, and involvement in the school community. Upon my arrival in the peer leader program, the senior leaders were unveiling their first-ever legacy project. Our advisor, Xavier Bishop, told us that as peer leaders, we were joining up with other groups in the school, including the music and poetry studio, dance and step team, women’s group, and men’s group, to form the DREAM Factory.
The purpose of the DREAM Factory is for young people like us to build our legacy as leaders in the school and community using platforms such as dance, music, poetry, and film. The DREAM acronym comes from our principal, Ms. Fleming; it stands for Driven to Reach Every Academic Milestone. We got the name “DREAM Factory” from the fact that we were making dreams come true and guiding young people — like ourselves — to not be afraid to use our hidden talents.
We decided that we were going to make our legacy project about sexual health, because it was something we felt wasn’t commonly spoken about among our peers. We didn’t have the information we thought we had and were not well-informed about the emotional, mental, and physical impact of sex. We decided that we would catch our peers’ attention by writing songs from both a girls’ and boys’ perspective on sexual health, and recording music videos for each song. We put together a proposal to get the project approved by school administration.
Before we started telling our peers about sex, we thought we should see what they already knew. We designed a survey to help determine what we were going to focus on. To create the survey, we did a lot of research and got help from Jason Tucker, a sexual health educator from the clinic down the block. We asked six questions anonymously that would show us where our peers were regarding sexual health. We gave the survey out to a sample of 44 members of our student population. After getting the surveys back, we knew what topics we were going to base our film and music videos on.
In about three weeks we had completed the lyrics for our girls’ song, “You Wanted to Know,” about fighting the peer pressure to have unprotected sex. I wrote a poem that continued the story of someone struggling to make healthy decisions about sex, called “Delilah,” with sex personified:
Drip drip rain drops,
that thrustful hunger
Your goddess is calling
Go steal her thunder.
But lightning is coming,
You don’t wanna get burned
By her fire.
During this process my way with words was enhanced. Helping to write the song opened me up to a world I have never been in, besides in my head. It showed me that I shouldn’t limit my thoughts when I’m writing.
A few months passed; the girls’ song and video were recorded and we were now working on the boys’ song. The boys worked their magic, created the lyrics, and laid it down in the booth. A couple weeks later, the boys recorded their music video for their song, “Shouldn’t Have Trusted It (Whoa).” In the weeks to come, we also wrapped up a behind-the-scenes documentary.
During this process, we learned our project had been chosen by the NYC Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD), along with other young people’s projects, to be presented at the DYCD Young Citizens Conference on Saturday, May 13th, at John Jay College. As a part of the conference preparation, Mr. Xavier took us to a professional development training for youth facilitators. At the training, I met members of the Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council who opened my eyes to the conflicts and struggles not only in my life but facing many young adults around me. It showed me that as a group, when we join together as young people, we can make a difference in our communities. I also learned a lot about how, as a facilitator, I need to be able to guide my audience to what I need them to know without teaching them.
As we were planning our agenda for the conference, we dished out a lot of what we learned during the project. I’m not just talking about the facts regarding sexual health, but what we had learned as a team and individually, such as not feeling at fault with our mistakes but embracing them to use them to get to another level and to be able to talk about them so other people can learn from our experiences. At this point I saw the growth I didn’t see before while we were doing the different sections of the project.
On the day of the presentation everything was falling apart. My co-facilitator, Jamie Barnett, and I were up half of the night tying up the last loose ends, almost all of our facilitators for the day had not gotten any sleep, and some were missing or late so we had to substitute a lot of things in our plan. We were scared out of our minds, especially me, but after a while we were not afraid as much and, when the day had come to an end, we realized that we had so much fun at the conference and during the entire project.
I have learned so much from this experience that changed me as an individual, maturity-wise. Doing this project opened up a whole new world to me that I didn’t know existed for a young person like me, who grew up in the ghetto and didn’t really have much. Many of us grew up poor, misguided, mistreated, and didn’t have the opportunity to show people our true potential. I still wonder, how far does our voice really go and what are the effects of us making noise for what we want or what we need? I may never know for sure, but to try to find out, I applied to join the Mayor’s Youth Council to help give a voice to the voiceless.
A lot of teenagers my age are still looking for themselves, but I’m proud to say I found myself while working on this project. I am Murlisa Germain, I am a poet, I am a public speaker, I am an advocate, I am an activist, and I’m proud to be a part of the Aspirations Diploma Plus High School DREAM Factory, where you find family to build your dreams and your dreams come true. If there’s one thing I carried away from this year it would be: “You can do anything you put your mind to.”
Growing up, things were tough. My parents are immigrants from Ecuador and worked where and when they could. For a lot of my childhood, my mom worked in a factory and my dad did construction. They’d come home at 7 or 8 o’clock, leaving my older sister and me alone. Sometimes I spent days in the library.
My older brother had stayed behind in Ecuador, and it was so tough on them to be apart from him like that, but then the unthinkable happened — he died. The family members in Ecuador who were taking care of him were very closed-mouthed about it, but they said he drowned. My parents never got over it, and it was the main event that impacted their whole lives. My dad had always been a drinker, but after my brother’s death, he became an alcoholic.
With my parents heartbroken and hardly around, my sister and I basically had to raise ourselves. No one was there to help me with my homework, or make sure I did it. They never attended my school plays or parent-teacher conferences. They did attend one conference, but because they don’t understand English well, I had to translate, and it just seemed like a waste of time.
Time was a weird factor in my childhood, with my parents having not enough of it and my sister and me spending too much of it alone. We became rebels. We started hanging out with what people call gang members, going out dancing with much older guys. I was 12.
My sister ended up pregnant at 13, and I wasn’t far behind.
While we were out dancing, I met my boyfriend, who was about 5 years older. We did everything together. After my sister had my niece, my mother stayed home to help take care of the baby, and she suddenly started taking notice of what I was doing. But it was too late. She set a curfew, which I ignored. She’d say, “Don’t you be like your sister,” and it annoyed me so much. I’d be like, “I’m not like her,” and just slam the door. I was working as a tutor, earning 50 dollars a week, which gave me a lot of freedom. I had a phone that I paid for myself and felt like I didn’t need anyone—anyone except my boyfriend, that is.
We broke up about a month after we started dating, and I was heartbroken. I couldn’t imagine life without him anymore. Being a girl who doesn’t have her mother’s or father’s care, I was trying to find love elsewhere. We got back together, and two months later, I was the one who was pregnant.
I cried day and night. I didn’t tell my parents until I was in my fifth or sixth month. When I finally told them, it was a whole big issue. The hospital called the Administration for Children’s Services and got an order of protection against my boyfriend. I was so used to seeing him every day, and now I couldn’t see him at all. I felt like I didn’t want my baby, because he was the one who’d taken my boyfriend away — if I hadn’t gotten pregnant, I’d still be able to see my boyfriend. That’s what I was thinking.
I was so depressed and wasn’t doing well, relationship-wise, with others. It was a dark time, but thankfully, I had The Child Center of NY to help me through it. My sister had been referred to the home visiting program when she started abusing alcohol after the birth of my niece. Her home visitor saw what was going on with me and thought I could benefit from the program, too. She was right.
My caseworker referred me to therapy with a Child Center therapist, Gisela, which helped a lot. I could finally communicate with someone who would hear me out without judging me. Being pregnant, and then a mom, so young, people look at you with this face, like, “Oh my God, she had a baby.” You feel so judged all the time. But therapy was a place where that wasn’t true. Therapy also helped me in every single relationship, because Gisela helped me learn how to talk things out and express myself.
The home visiting program also showed me that there was a whole world out there. My first home visitor, Ms. Cindy, took me and other kids in the program on trips. We really enjoyed ourselves. I’d never been to a theater or a multiplex, and when she took us, I was like, Wow. She took us to the boardwalk, to see the Manhattan skyline, Governor’s Island…. It was amazing.
Teen Time was another way I got to meet people the same age, interact with them, and have fun without being judged.
But one of the most important things The Child Center helped me learn was how to be a good mom to my son. I had my baby boy five days before my 15th birthday. He was born at 34 weeks and had a lot of medical issues. Eventually, it turned out he was having developmental delays, and in 2014, he was diagnosed with autism. I was heartbroken. I thought it was my fault and wanted to give up; I felt like I’d already failed as a parent. But my mental health worker, Ms. Brenda, explained that sometimes these things happen, and I was going to have to be mature enough and strong enough to deal with it for my son’s sake. She showed me how to research, fill out paperwork, and ask questions. I wasn’t the type of person to ask questions; I was the kind of person who wanted to pretend nothing was wrong. But Ms. Brenda helped me deal with my son’s diagnosis, and now I know how to advocate for him.
Even with all this going on, it was still important to me that I finish high school, and Ms. Brenda helped me transfer to a high school that had child care. It wasn’t easy being a mom, working, and going to high school, especially with all my son’s doctor appointments and his being sick a lot. But I did it: I graduated high school, and today I’m a student at Queensborough Community College.
I don’t know what the future holds, but I feel like it’s going to be big. I want to become an ultrasound technician, and I’m working toward my associate’s degree and training. I’m on track to graduate next year.
There were times I was going to give up on college, but Ms. Brenda pointed out to me, “Look how strong you are. Look what you’ve been through already — you were tough enough to get through that.” That’s stayed with me. I know I am that strong.
I like that I’m a good role model for my niece and nephews and my little brother. I can set an example for them and tell them to stand up for themselves. With my brother, I’m able to help him communicate with my parents, the way I learned how through the home visiting program. I had so much anger toward my parents; Ms. Brenda helped me see that I couldn’t change them, but I could learn to communicate with them, and ignore certain things when I needed to.
My son is five now. It’s tough to arrange everything, but I try to be consistent, stay involved in his therapy and education and go to all the parent-teacher conferences. I’m not afraid to ask questions.
Sometimes I get sad and wonder, “Why is my son like this?” This isn’t the way I wanted him to be. But then I remember to go forward. It may not be the way I wanted it to be, but I have so many more years to love my son. There were times I wanted to give up, but I’d think of my son, and I persevered for him. Someday I want to tell him that I achieved everything for him, and I want to give him a diploma one day. I see big things for him, too.
Editor’s Note: In 2015, The Child Center of NY joined with Major League Baseball and community members to form Far Rockaway RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities), bringing little league baseball—and the values of teamwork, sportsmanship, fitness, and perseverance that go with it—back to the peninsula, where it had been missing for years. A mere year later, Far Rockaway RBI was invited to participate in MLB’s All-Star Youth Classic.
I was picked to go to San Diego, California, and was a part of the All-Star Youth Classic. I was so excited, first to go to a different state, and also to play baseball with other people. The farthest I’d been before that was Upstate New York for three days.
Then I realized that I had to take a plane. This was one of my fears. I do not know why, just the thought of the plane crashing.
When we arrived at John F. Kennedy airport, I was slightly frightened of the plane ride because I had never been on a plane. At 9:00 we were on the plane. It wasn’t so bad. It was a smooth and comfortable flight.
When we landed in California, I thought, this is beautiful. It was so hot and sunny. Soon we arrived at the San Diego University and we sat down for the opening ceremony and then off to the dorms. I was kind of nervous to meet so many new people. And then I realized that a lot of them were talking about us, Far Rockaway RBI. They seemed surprised we were there. I think maybe we weren’t supposed to go. Other kids were saying, “They don’t know how to play baseball, they never played before.” But I knew that we would have a great time if we listened and stuck to the plan.
The next day we took on the Chicago Cubs. We lost. But actually, we felt like we won because we worked our hardest and we learned from the experience. We did better than we thought we would.
Throughout the weekend, we kept getting better and better. The second day we versed the Cardinals. We lost that game, too, but we really enjoyed playing them. They were nice and were always chanting, supporting their team. We started chanting on our teammates, too, helping each other step up, and we played better than the day before.
The next game was against the Slaterettes. We almost beat them, but we lost.
Then we went up against the Padres. That’s when I made a home run. But that wasn’t even the most exciting part. That happened later, in the last inning. The score was really close. The ball came straight to me and I thought, this could be my moment. I caught the ball. The runners on first and second base ran from their bases but once the ball was caught they were supposed to return to their bases, which they did not. I then tagged second base and threw to first base. That meant three outs and the crowd went wild. I had made a triple play, and we tied the game. That was my favorite memory of the trip.
This whole thing helped me grow not just as a baseball player or as an athlete, but as a person. Sometimes things don’t come so easy, but you have to work hard to reach your goal. Then it might come easier next time. I learned that it takes one thing to be a baseball player, but it’s another thing to actually show that you’re a hard worker and you have courage, and you’re not in it for the fame or the hype. My coaches, Renee, Skeeter, Coach Ghosh, and Coach Sean are amazing;. they all couldn’t come to San Diego, but they all helped me learn these lessons and are greatly appreciated.
Even though we lost a lot of games, we showed we played together as a team. It doesn’t matter who wins the game. It’s about who works the hardest to achieve a goal, and the goal was to have fun and have a good experience. I felt like when I struck out, it got me closer to the home run, and in the last game I actually made a home run. I set a goal, I persevered, and I accomplished it.
I was a naïve kid. I never really paid much mind to what was going on around me. I was bullied because I like to be weird and a little out there—it makes the friends I have now laugh—but in first through eighth or ninth grade, I didn’t have any friends who were like me. People just saw me as a weird kid nobody likes.
That sounds really sad, but I just drowned it out. I’d come home from school and make my little fort out of pillows and play with my action figures.
I knew I was unhappy, but I tried not to pay attention to it. I was a little kid, so I was easily distracted. I never really thought about it until I was at school and realized I had no friends to talk to during recess.
But then I got older and it became too much. I had always pushed my feelings down because I didn’t want to seem weak or be a burden. But I couldn’t deal with myself—I started developing voices, seeing things, losing it. I didn’t know what to do. I was too afraid to die but too depressed to live. Sometimes I would hold a knife to my throat so that I’d realize how much I wanted to live.
That’s when I had a breakdown. I was 16, my girlfriend had just left me, and my grandma and aunt had passed away. I just snapped. I was at school and started screaming and crying that I couldn’t handle it anymore. The school called my mom, who came right away and took me to Bellevue Hospital. I was there for a week and a half, and then they referred me to The Child Center of NY’s home visiting program.
That’s when I met Ms. Miriam. At first it was awkward having some new person coming into my home. But over time, I warmed up to her and got used to her being around. I gradually began to realize how bad my anger was, and how I needed to treat the people in my life better—and that they needed to treat me better, too. Ms. Miriam worked with my mom and me on that, and on communicating with each other.
I’d gotten back together with my girlfriend, and the things Ms. Miriam taught me helped the two of us communicate better, too, and deal with our anger. Normally when I was angry, I’d punch things or break stuff, or hold it in. Or I’d start crying because I didn’t have any other outlet. Ms. Miriam helped me find ways to reduce the buildup when I started getting angry and gave me other alternatives to the crying and breaking things. She helped me learn to think through the consequences and decide if I should walk away or talk about it. Before I started seeing Miriam, if my girlfriend and I disagreed, I’d yell my opinion, she’d shout hers, and one of us would walk out crying. Now, we’re able to say, “Okay, this is what I don’t like….” And we talk about it. Now I know what it takes to have a real relationship, and that helps me not just with my girlfriend, but with my other relationships, too.
Ms. Miriam also introduced me to Teen Time [a group that brings together teens from The Child Center’s various home visiting programs], which I like because I have a lot of fun with the other teens there. I can be myself around them—or at least, myself toned down a little. A lot of times, other people would tell me, “It’s not that bad,” and I’d think to myself, “You don’t understand this pain.” But the people at Teen Time, they understand that it was that bad—even though they’d never say it.
After four months with Ms. Miriam, I got transferred to a less intense program and started seeing Ms. Brenda. In June, I graduated from the program.
Now that I’ve been through it, I can say that getting help isn’t that bad. Nobody ever wants to do it, but it’s definitely worth it. I’m in a much better place now and looking forward to attending Vaughn College in the fall. I’m hoping to become a computer programmer or robotics engineer and either work for a gaming company or go to Silicon Valley and work on robots in the NASA branch.
I feel ready because The Child Center showed me that when you have a problem, there are things you can do. You can work through things, and a lot of things can be fixed; If they can’t, you can move on. Ms. Brenda and Ms. Miriam showed me that I wasn’t beyond help, and things can get better.
Por fin puedo decir que me siento listo para enfrentar el futuro; ha sido un camino largo y difícil hasta llegar a donde he llegado.
Cerca de dos años atrás, mi esposa salió a hacer algunas vueltas y nunca regreso. Desde entonces he estado tratando de ser fuerte y levantar a nuestros hijos de la mejor manera posible. En mi cultura la madre es la que usualmente se encarga de la educación de los hijos así que no ha sido fácil para mí solo, encargarme de esta labor.
Para Guillermo, Cecilio y Luciano tampoco fue fácil enfrentar este cambio. Pedí ayuda al programa de Head Start al cual acudía mi hijo Cecilio en Woodside, Mercedes Jimenez, la trabajadora para la familia me ayudo a aplicar para los cupones de comida y con consejería para mis hijos. Debido a los horarios de trabajo, me vi forzado a irme a vivir en el área de Corona con un familiar quien me ofreció ayuda con el cuidado de mis hijos.
Al principio fue difícil hasta adaptarnos a la forma de cuidado de mi familiar. Mercedes nos refirió al Head Start/ Early learn program en Corona y también al Elmhurst Family Center General Prevention donde conocimos a nuestra actual coordinadora de servicios Andrea Piskunov quien es y sigue siendo una pieza importante en el mejoramiento de nuestra situación.
Estoy muy agradecido a The Child Center of NY y muy especialmente a Andrea quien nos visita con frecuencia y nos ha ayudado a desarrollar rutinas diarias- como supervisión de las tareas escolares- con mis hijos quienes tienen ahora, 7,5 y 4 años de edad.
Yo pienso que mis hijos son ahora más felices y están más seguros. Trato de hablar con ellos y hacerles entender la situación por la que están pasando y les dejo saber que yo estoy para ellos. También estoy aprendiendo a leer y a escribir para poder ayudarles a ellos un poco más. Estoy listo para poder sacar adelante a mis hijos y poder decir que tenemos de nuevo una familia.
Finally, I feel ready for the future. It has been a long and difficult road to get here.
A couple of years ago, my wife went out for an errand and never came back. Since then, I’ve been trying to pick up the pieces and raise our three young sons right. In my culture it is usually the mother that handles childcare, so taking on this new role has not been easy for me.
Guillermo, Cecilio, and Luciano didn’t handle the changes well, either. I asked Cecilio’s Head Start program in Woodside for help, where Mercedes Jiminez got us SNAP (food stamp) benefits and counseling for my sons. Then we moved so that someone in my family could take us in to help with the children, because I work such long hours. But that was also a problem at first, because our caregiving styles are so different. Mercedes sent us to the closer Corona Head Start/Early Learn program, where a social worker helps the children, and to the Elmhurst Family Center General Prevention Program, where I met our case manager, Andrea Piskunov, who has done so much to make our situation better.
I am thankful to The Child Center of NY and especially to Andrea, who visits us often and has helped me develop routines – like doing homework and getting ready for school – with my boys, who are now 7, 5, and 4 years old.
I think my kids feel happier now, and safer. I try to talk to them and understand what they’re going through, and I’m there for them as much as possible. I am learning how to read and write so that I can help them even more. I am ready for us to be on our own as a family again.
My name is Jahdiel, and I’m 18 years old. I came to The Child Center of NY on an ACS referral, because I was finding it difficult to speak to people. Having started public school after being home schooled was too overwhelming for me, and I shut down. You go from being one-on-one to one on 30 or 35. It is very hard to engage with everyone. It’s too much to take in.
In 2011, I took a year off from school. When I came back, things were much better. Since I’d had a year to work on my issues, I was able to deal with classrooms and large crowds a lot better.
I have gone to sessions with Rebecca Gannon in the South Jamaica clinic for four years, and she and The Child Center made me into a functioning person. I was like a closed-up turtle before. I lived vicariously through TV. My social skills were nonexistent, but I have slowly been able to progress from intimate conversations to group situations. I’m in 10th grade now, but people don’t seem to notice or care about the age difference.
I still don’t really enjoy big family gatherings, but I’m in a Restorative Justice group at school, and working on outside projects — like planting trees in Battery Park — has enabled me to acclimate myself to social situations and also to be a model for others with similar experience or behaviors. I hadn’t been leaving the house much before, but now, as a peer counselor, I’m counted on — I have to show up. It’s really The Child Center that helped me to help myself and also to be of help to other young people.
A few months ago, when Rebecca moved to South Jamaica from the other Jamaica location, it added at least 30 minutes to my commute time, but I didn’t want to lose this support system. It’s easy to be lazy but not to give up.
She told me she’s proud of me and that the differences in me are “night and day.” I say “night and year.” I’m a new person, but the good thing is I’m also still me. The Child Center is about becoming who you are — embracing yourself, even if you are naturally a sheltered person – and being able to handle your faults.