Our Programs

NY Mets Celebrate Child Center of NY Staff!

NY Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo shakes hands with Child Center of NY staff of the Cohen Family Wellness Center.

NY Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo shakes hands with Child Center of NY staff of the Cohen Family Wellness Center.

In observance of Mental Health Awareness Month, the New York Mets invited nine employees from the Child Center of NY to Citi Field to recognize their impactful work in the mental health space.

The visit was part of Nimmo’s 9, a new player initiative led by Mets Outfielder Brandon Nimmo. This program offers support, empowerment, and memorable experiences to local community members. Throughout the season,  Brandon Nimmo is meeting with individuals from diverse communities, including the elderly, youth in foster care, individuals with disabilities, military personnel, first responders, and under-served youth. We were thrilled to be a part of the first installment of Nimmo’s 9!

Right before the May 30 Mets vs. Diamondbacks game (the Mets won!), Brandon met with and recognized nine employees of the Child Center team. They got to speak with Brandon about their work and how it helps strengthen the local community. Brandon listened intently to their individual stories and presented them with a signed baseball bat that will be displayed at The Child Center’s Cohen Family Wellness Center.

NY Mets Outfielder Brandon Nimmo presents a bat to be displayed at The Child Center of NY's Cohen Family Wellness Center

SNY posted a clip of our team members chatting with Brandon. Through this interaction, two things were crystal clear: Brandon’s genuine interest in mental health and his gratitude for those who provide mental health services. Our nine colleagues who attended could not stop raving about the experience and how meaningful it was to feel seen and appreciated by someone outside our organization in such a public and personal way.

“Vising Citi Field with my co-workers was truly memorable and impactful, as it highlighted the importance of mental health awareness,” said Sarah Garner, a social worker who works with adolescents and adults at the Cohen Family Wellness Center. “One of the standout moments was sharing with Brandon our mission of helping individuals overcome life’s challenges. Hearing him share his personal stories about mental health was incredibly meaningful. As a lifelong Mets fan, stepping onto that field with everyone was an unforgettable experience.”

Sarah Garner, a social worker who works with adolescents and adults at the Cohen Family Wellness Center, chats with Brandon Nimmo

Sarah chatting with Brandon before the game.

Our employees are the heart and soul of The Child Center. They are the unsung heroes who change lives, often in some of the most challenging circumstances imaginable. We are delighted to see them get the recognition they so richly deserve.

The New York Mets and the Amazin’ Mets Foundation have been longtime supporters of The Child Center.  From a dramatic renovation and expansion of services at our Cohen Family Wellness Center, which was made possible by the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation, to Mets players having been generous with sharing their time and resources with Child Center employees and clients for years,  we are deeply grateful for the Mets’ commitment to shining a spotlight on mental health issues, their dedication to the community, and their support for The Child Center’s efforts to make mental health services accessible to all.

How Head Start Helped a Migrant Family

Corona Head Start Senior Program Director Yolanda Vega with Johana and her two children, a migrant family.

A long-time Child Center employee reflects.

By Yolanda Vega, LMSW
Senior Program Director, Head Start Corona

Corona Head Start Senior Program Director Yolanda Vega with Johana and her two children, a migrant family.

Blog author Yolanda Vega (far right) with Johana (center) and her two children

This is a story about a family who traveled on foot from South America to the United States.

Johana and her partner, José, had their first child in Venezuela. When their first child was one, Johana and José made the decision to leave the country, as economic and political turmoil made it increasingly more difficult to get by. The family then settled in Peru for six years where they welcomed their second child. In 2022, the family made the difficult decision to leave Peru, facing economic hardship and challenges accessing critical services and resources because they were not recognized as citizens; only their baby, who was born on Peruvian soil, was considered a citizen. Traveling by foot through Mesoamerica and Mexico with two small children, Johana and José were determined to make it to the U.S. to provide the best future possible for their family.

I met the family in the fall of 2023, shortly after they had finally made it to the United States. I made a recruitment outreach visit with my co-worker Aaron McIntyre, Corona Head Start’s family service coordinator, to the homeless shelter where the family lives. It is customary for us to conduct these outreach efforts to let families in the community know of our program. On the day Aaron and I met Johana and her young son Misael, I was immediately struck by Johana’s enthusiasm for our program. She wanted to give her child the opportunity to learn how to read and write, as she never learned these skills and knew how hard life was without them. She wanted better for her son and worried that she couldn’t teach him. Aaron and I quickly shifted our attention to speaking with mom rather than showing her pamphlets and forms. We talked, and Johana listened attentively. She was so happy to learn that her son would be eligible, and about all he would learn at Head Start, including, though not limited to, academic readiness, so that he could begin his educational journey at the same level as his peers, and her own lack of knowledge would not hold him back.

Many of our migrant families have made the trip north through very dangerous circumstances, especially when walking through the “frontera,” or the divide between two countries, which many times is filled with gangs and other perilous circumstances. This family, sadly, was no exception. They were robbed in two countries. One time, the robbers pulled out machetes and stated they would slaughter them if they did not give up their cash. Though they had little money with them, who can argue with a machete against their throat?

The family’s journey through eight countries took them through Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and, finally, Mexico, where they surrendered to U.S. immigration officials and, eventually, got on a bus to New York for a 36-hour ride to the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan, where all migrants are taken upon their arrival to New York. After they completed the process for entering a shelter, the family was given a room with a kitchen and their own bathroom. When the family got to their room, Johana got on the floor to thank God for finally having a bed for her family to sleep on.

After the family had been living at the Manhattan shelter for a year, the NYC Department of Homeless Services moved them to a shelter in Corona, Queens, which is how my team and I came to meet them and enroll Misael in our Corona Head Start program, where he has been thriving.

After assessing Misael’s development in various areas, as we always do with students, our Head Start team worked with Johana to get Misael evaluated through the New York State Department of Education (DOE) Committee for Pre-School Special Education for a suspected speech delay. As Johana awaits word about Misael’s placement for speech therapy (which we can provide on-site through a collaboration with the DOE), Misael is flourishing in the classroom. The class’s language immersion has helped him tremendously. He is able to state his wants and needs to his teachers, which he hadn’t been able to do previously. As a result of being understood, he is much calmer and ready to learn.

The Child Center takes a holistic approach to serving families, and while we care for Misael’s development, we also help the family meet other needs. Both Misael and his brother received backpacks filled with school supplies that they can use in their shelter room, pajamas, sneakers, books, and coats. Through the collection efforts of several of our teachers, Johana received much-needed shoes, a coat, and other clothing.

Johana is extremely grateful for all of what she has gained from being connected to our program, and she often comes to my office to keep me posted on the jobs she and her husband have taken. Johana has found work in offices, though she doesn’t find openings as often as she would like. Her husband, who is a food delivery person on an e-bike, is busy working seven days a week. On a recent weekend afternoon while I was in my car waiting for the light to change, I heard my name, “Miss Yolanda,” and as I turned my head to face where the voice was coming from, I saw that it was Misael’s dad, who was waving at me. I blow my horn, and wave “hello.”

It is moments like these, when I run into clients, and they seem so genuinely happy to see me, that confirm why I continue to work for The Child Center of NY. The mission drives right into my heart, and I often think of that professor who said when I wanted to join the Peace Corps, why are you doing this when you are so needed right here where you are! Indeed, I love living and working in the communities I serve as it confirms: The Child Center of NY strengthens children and families with skills, opportunities, and emotional support to build healthy, successful lives.

Yolanda Vega has worked for The Child Center of NY for 22 years, first as a part-time Head Start social worker, followed by promotions to assistant director of early childhood programs and director of one of The Child Center’s Prevention and Family Support programs, and now as the director of our Corona Head Start. 

Photo of the Month: Brooklyn Pride!

Staff and volunteers of Brooklyn Community Pride Center stand at a table with information during the 28th Annual Brooklyn Pride Multicultural Festival.

Brooklyn Community Pride Center staff and volunteers tabling at the 28th Annual Brooklyn Pride Multicultural Festival.

On Saturday, June 8, our friends and partners at the Brooklyn Community Pride Center participated in the 28th Annual Brooklyn Pride Multicultural Festival. Their presence  showed the Brooklyn LGBTQ+ community that the Pride Center is here for them with compassion, support, and, yes, pride!

The Pride Center has participated in the Brooklyn Pride Multicultural Festival and Twilight Parade in Park Slope every year since the Center’s inception in 2008. “Having celebrations like Brooklyn Pride is essential, as they uplift and celebrate our diverse and expansive community right here in our own backyard,” said Omari Scott, the Pride Center’s director of development and communications. This year, the Pride Center was one of dozens of contingents, in what appeared to be Brooklyn Pride’s largest Twilight Parade yet.

The Child Center’s partnership with Brooklyn Community Pride Center is part of The Child Center’s behavioral health consultation model. The model is based on the belief that community trust is one of the most important components of service. Here’s how it works: The Child Center lends its mental health expertise to other organizations—like Brooklyn Community Pride Center—that already have relationships and earned trust with people in their communities. Brooklyn Community Pride Center delivers the clinical services through a Child Center satellite license. LGBTQ+ youth and adults who know and trust the Pride Center can access the care they need and deserve in a place where they already feel comfortable. In this way, we all reach more New Yorkers with what they need to thrive.

Brooklyn Community Pride Center is dedicated to meeting the community’s needs in many ways, including the provision of HIV self-test kits, mailed discreetly to your home at no cost. Condoms, as well as other safer sex and harm reduction supplies, are included upon request. When you report your test result back to the Pride Center, you’ll receive an electronic $20 Visa gift card. Pride Center staff can connect you with other sexual health services, too, such as PrEP, a medication used to prevent HIV. Reach out to them with questions by text at 347-943-4227 or via email at resources@lgbtbrooklyn.org.

As Pride Month continues, so do the celebrations! Check out this full listing of BCPC’s Pride programming.

Happy Pride Month, and remember that The Child Center and Brooklyn Community Pride Center are here for LGTQ+ community members year round!

Literacy Leaders

Jismerlyn and Emma, participants in Literacy Leaders, sit at their desks and complete worksheets.

Spotlight on our sight word program, and a 6-year-old who shows its importance

Jismerlyn and Emma, participants in Literacy Leaders, sit at their desks and complete worksheets.

Six-year-old Jismerlyn (center) and fellow student Emma are participants in Literacy Leaders.

Did you know that 60 percent of all the words in print come down to the same 220 words? Those magical 220 words are known as sight words. They are common words that can be difficult to “sound out” (think “could” and “does”); but if children recognize them by the end of first grade, they are well on their way to fluency and being on grade level for literacy. 

That’s why The Child Center of NY piloted a sight word program for kindergartners and first graders at seven of our afterschool programs for elementary schoolers. Reaching 280 kindergarten and first grade students, the program helped 76 percent of participants improve their sight word skills, and 60 percent of participants were reading at grade level by the end of the program. This means they are on track to outperform the citywide average of 49 percent in third grade (the first year that standardized testing is administered).  

“These results are especially impressive considering our afterschool programs often serve children with the greatest learning barriers in the school,” says Senior Program Director Frances Keogan. “Barriers such as poverty or a family who lacks familiarity with the public school system frequently translate into children starting out their education already behind—and then it can snowball, making the child feel like it’s impossible to catch up. At Child Center afterschool programs, we counteract this by offering targeted academic and emotional support, measuring our results, and scaling up what works.”  

Keogan is thrilled that the sight word program is having such a positive effect on children just beginning their academic journeys. “Not only will this help them stay on track,” says Keogan, “but it will also give them a good feeling about school, and their own ability to succeed.”  

One first grader who is well on her way is six-year-old Jismerlyn, a student at P.S. 56 in Richmond Hill, Queens, and a participant in the sight words program at The Child Center’s COMPASS afterschool program there.  

“Jismerlyn was having a difficult time,” says Assistant Program Director Cesar Guzman. “She struggled with sight words in her first year in the program. She had a hard time advancing to the next level. It’s tough for students like Jismerlyn who may only speak Spanish in the home. But after working with her teacher, Ms. Stephanie, and Ms. Jamelia, our literacy specialist, Jismerlyn began to improve. Ms. Stephanie and Ms. Jamelia make learning fun with different games and by reading books with sight words in them with the students. Over the past few months, Jismerlyn has improved greatly! She knows all 190 sight words and has surpassed grade-level expectations for her sight word knowledge as a first grader. She is well on her way to being able to read at or above grade level by third grade, which is an important predictor of school success and high school graduation.”    

The sight word program is the first part of a suite of literacy initiatives The Child Center offers through our afterschool programs. Once sight word recognition has been achieved, our literacy initiative continues with Ready Readers for second and third graders. Ready Readers focuses on highly engaging grade-level texts and read-alouds that get students excited about reading. 

“We are so proud of our Literacy Leaders and Ready Readers teams, and all they are doing to help children begin their literacy journeys on the right foot,” says Nicholas Ferreira, Senior Vice President of Youth Development at The Child Center. “These programs and children like Jismerlyn stand as testament to the fact that with the right support, children of any background can achieve academic success and thrive.” 

Read this Q&A with Jismerlyn to see what she likes about the Literacy Leaders program and learning to read. 

Photo of the Month: Our Client Speaker at The Child Center of NY’s inaugural immersive play at Lincoln Center, “Outside In”

Child Center Residential Treatment Facility (RTF) client Jonah with Talia Banks, RTF creative arts coordinator, at Outside In at Lincoln Center
Child Center Residential Treatment Facility (RTF) client Jonah with Talia Banks, RTF creative arts coordinator, at Outside In at Lincoln Center

Photo credit: Anthony Artis

Meet Jonah, our brave, smart, funny, and insightful client who shared their story with more than 200 Child Center of NY friends and supporters on May 7—National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day—at “Outside In.”

Instead of celebrating with a traditional gala this year, The Child Center of NY joined forces with the Emmy award-winning minds at Giant Step and the Emmy-nominated team behind Disney’s “Growing Up” at SoulHouse to create “Outside In,” a unique immersive play at Lincoln Center that explored mental wellness with an engaging interactive performance. “Outside In” highlighted The Child Center’s progressive approach to mental well-being by inviting audience members to be an integral part of the experience.

There were three shows during the night, and each was filled to capacity. Each one was a dynamic adventure where guests influenced the narrative, making each performance a unique reflection of its audience. The night offered an intimate look at the challenges facing our youth, in no small part because of clients like Jonah, who chose to tell their story.

Jonah is a client at The Child Center Residential Treatment Facility (RTF), a place where youth who have had multiple psychiatric hospital stays, as well as juvenile justice-involved youth with psychiatric disorders, can get the support and fresh start they need to address their mental health challenges and begin to build the lives they see for themselves. At “Outside In,” Jonah spoke candidly and movingly about their mental health journey. They ended with wisdom beyond their years by saying to the audience, “There’s a lot I would like you to know, but because of time I can give you this one thing: Be kind, be sensitive, and try to listen.

Link to the RTF creative arts video

See the RTF creative arts program in action in this powerful video.

This Photo of the Month features Jonah with Child Center team member Talia Banks, the RTF’s creative and therapeutic arts coordinator. As Jonah confided in the audience, Jonah finds their glimmer in being able to express themselves through art, writing, and drawing. Jonah has even merged these passions into a comic book they are creating. You can see in this photo the rapport that Talia has developed with Jonah, who is building confidence in their own abilities every day with the help of Talia and the rest of the team at the RTF.

Also featured in this photo is the night’s vocal talent, FCBC Worship Ensemble Choir of Hope Center Harlem, led by Tamish Bates, and Nina Grae, musical director and composer for “Outside In.”

Jonah is a powerful reminder of why we do what we do here at The Child Center: provide more than 58,000 New Yorkers each year with the support they need to build the healthy, fulfilling lives they are capable of.

“There are many things ‘Outside In’ meant to me,” Jonah said. “One thing it meant to me was that it was insightful and it was uplifting. I hope that the audience took from the experience that whatever demons you’re facing inside are not stronger than the light outside.”

While “Outside In” was a one-night-only experience, there is still ample opportunity for people to join us in making mental health history. The Child Center began in 1953 as a children’s counseling center, and a commitment to mental health remains at the heart of everything we do. In our post-COVID reality, this commitment has never been more important, and the need for innovative solutions has never been more urgent. That is why The Child Center is launching the groundbreaking Innovation Collaborative, which will convene the brightest minds in mental health, technology, art, community work, and science and serve as an incubator for a new paradigm in mental well-being solutions—one that is dynamic, inclusive, and revolutionary.

Learn more in our press release, and see all the fabulous photos from the event in our Facebook album.

Photo of the Month: Supporting Young Children and Their Families

CEO Traci Donnelly with a client of our Perintal Intensive Outpatient Program for families with postpartum depression and other challenges

Child Center of NY CEO Traci Donnelly with a client of the Macari Perinatal Intensive Outpatient Program for families with postpartum depression and other challengesWe can’t get enough of the engagement, connection, and plain old cuteness in this photo! Pictured here are Child Center Chief Executive Officer Traci Donnelly with 19-month-old Lula.

Lula and her mom are clients of The Child Center of NY’s Perinatal Intensive Outpatient Program, which supports parents who are pregnant or have recently given birth and may be experiencing Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders, more commonly known as Postpartum Depression.

“Nearly 80 percent of people who have recently given birth experience what we commonly call the ‘baby blues.’ This is a temporary condition that can cause the new parent to feel sad, exhausted, and stressed, even as they are filled with love for their baby,” explains Beverly Gould, director of the perinatal program. “In some cases, time and the support of family and friends can help a new mom through this transitional period. But sometimes what a mom is experiencing is actually a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder. This is more intense, serious, long-lasting, and can cause the parent to feel hopeless and disconnected from their baby. In these cases, more help is needed.”

Our perinatal and early childhood mental health teams know that the love these parents have for their babies is deep and enduring, and that with the right skills and support, parents with postpartum depression and other challenges can become the confident, healthy, and loving parents they want to be for their babies.

In honor of the Week of the Young Child earlier this month, The Child Center is proud to support young children like Lula and their families with programs like the perinatal program, as well as in our early childhood education programs, and throughout the organization.

For more information on any of our programs that support young children and their families, give us a call! We tailor our services to each family’s needs and help children and parents learn, grow, and support each other together.

Media of the Month: Destination: Princeton University for WIOA Participants

By Michelle London
Program Director, WIOA Learn & Earn

On March 1, participants of The Child Center’s WIOA Learn & Earn Program had a wonderful opportunity to visit Princeton University, thanks to the generosity of Child Center supporter Ken Jones. The WIOA program works with youth from low-income families to strengthen their academic skills, as well as their readiness for higher education and the workforce.

In advance of the Princeton trip, we tasked each young person to maintain passing grades in their classes and 90% attendance in school and workshops all the way to February. We were impressed that 41 out of 68 WIOA participants met the requirements, signed up, and went on the trip.

Students were given a folder containing a pre-survey to complete before the trip and examples of questions to ask during the tour. The folder also included information about Princeton University and the different majors the school offers. The survey included questions such as “What are you hoping to learn from this tour?” and “What are your top priorities when choosing a college?”

By the time we arrived, the students were eager to learn about the school’s culture, history, academic programs, and campus life. They split into two groups to ensure all students could ask questions and get the full Princeton experience. The tour guides were warm and generous in their answers. They showed the students many aspects of the campus, including the libraries, dorms, classrooms, and athletic facilities. They also shared exciting stories about the school’s history, student life, sports, superstitions, and majors, which helped the students understand what college life would be like at Princeton. They also talked about the tuition fees and financial aid available.

In addition to a traditional tour, the students participated in a scavenger hunt, which gave them an exciting, fun, and hands-on way to learn more about university life. They took pictures in front of various buildings and completed challenges to learn more about the school. They also participated in an “interview 101” with current students. They had a great time and were excited to share their experiences with their peers!

After the tour, we stopped for lunch and talked about what they learned. It was heartening and inspiring to hear the excitement in their voices. Everything my team does at WIOA is to prepare our scholars for the next chapter. We want them to know that college is not just something other people do—it is something they can do. This visit to Princeton drove that message home for them, and I could see the sense of hope in their faces and hear it in their words. I hope that you see it, too, in this collage that has the honor of being this month’s Media of the Month!

A post-tour survey allowed scholars to reflect on their experiences and share their thoughts on the visit. They put a lot of thought into it and clearly left feeling inspired and motivated to pursue their academic goals.

On behalf of all of us at WIOA, I extend my deepest thanks to Ken Jones for sponsoring this trip and opening up a whole new world for our WIOA youth! Child Center supporters play an invaluable role in ensuring our students have access to the experience and opportunities all young people deserve.

Creative Arts at The Child Center Residential Treatment Facility

Link to the RTF creative arts video

The Child Center Residential Treatment Facility is a place for youth who have had multiple psychiatric hospital stays and youth with both psychiatric disorders and juvenile justice involvement. It is also a place where young people who have had a rough start find their way to a bright path. Residents at the RTF learn positive coping strategies through which they realize a strength they never knew they were capable of, discover talents they didn’t know they had, and begin to envision and plan for a future based on both those things. For many residents, the RTF’s creative and therapeutic arts programming plays a vital role in their journey. Watch this video, produced by the RTF’s creative arts team—including the young people—to learn more and see the breathtaking, extraordinary art that has come out of this program.

Photo of the Month: Happy National Women Physicians Day!

Dr. Brown of Strong Children Wellness with a client at The Child Center's Jamaica Family Wellness Center, on National Women Physicians Day

Dr. Suzette Brown and a client at The Child Center of NY’s Jamaica Family Wellness Center

February 3 was National Women Physicians Day, which provides the perfect opportunity to spotlight Drs. Omolara Uwemedimo, Nicole Brown, and Suzette Brown, whose primary care practice Strong Children Wellness supports healthy families in our communities!

National Women Physicians Day honors the pioneering achievements and ongoing contributions of female physicians in the field of health care. It is symbolically held each year on the birthday of Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in America to receive a medical degree. That was in 1849. Today, 175 years later, we know that representation in medicine matters. Studies show that having a diverse workforce in health care improves outcomes and makes patients feel respected, comfortable, and valued. It is an avenue through which patients can feel reassured that they are receiving the very best care.

The physicians at Strong Children Wellness (SCW) epitomize the noble tradition begun by Elizabeth Blackwell and the gift that is diversity in health care.

Comprised of three women doctors, SCW partners with trusted community-based organizations (CBOs) to integrate primary care services into their wide array of existing support services and programs. Through this unique approach, families have access to a personalized, multidisciplinary care team that addresses physical, developmental, emotional, and social needs—right in a client’s own community or through virtual visits.

The Child Center of NY is proud to be one of Strong Children Wellness’ partner CBOs. SCW has provided care to more than 300 Child Center clients since our partnership began in 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, when health care for our clients was hard to come by. The partnership has helped an increasing number of our clients receive regular care ever since. The doctors see patients in our Jamaica Family Wellness Center and in our Macari Family Wellness Center in Flushing. We are planning to open a third site for SCW visits at our Cohen Family Wellness Center in Woodside this year.

“As pediatricians, we are often the first to care for children and families with medical and mental health issues, and identify social needs such as food insecurity and homelessness,” Dr. Nicole Brown, SCW’s chief health officer and pediatrician, explains. “Many families face the challenge of navigating complex medical, mental health, and social systems with little support, and receive care that is fragmented and poorly coordinated. SCW’s partnership with The Child Center has transformed the way we practice medicine. We are able to collaborate closely with staff across The Child Center’s many programs to deliver comprehensive care that addresses medical, behavioral, developmental, and social needs. Our partnership has created a ‘village’ of support for families as their children grow. Care is delivered in one setting, creating a ‘one-stop shop’ of services. This has significantly improved access to care for the families we mutually serve.”

Visit the Strong Children Wellness website to schedule an appointment or to learn more!

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