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In Praise of Our Volunteers

Volunteers are vital to everything we do at Change for Kids. You help us with everything: from working to improve literacy with our elementary school scholars through Reading Buddies and Build-A-Book activities, introducing them to coding, and helping bring their creativity to life. When we need you to lend a hand helping us move furniture and paint walls to create comfort corners and de-escalation rooms, and gather holiday gifts for our schools, you are there. This much is certain: we couldn’t do it without you. Thank you.

Many of you return year after year, always with smiles on your faces, as eager as kindergartners. It turns out that volunteering has a multitude of mental and physical health benefits. Several recent studies aimed to better understand the relationship between volunteering and measures of happiness across a large group of American adults. Unsurprisingly, they discovered that the more people volunteer, the happier they are. The University of Exeter Medical School’s 2013 global study found plenty of evidence that volunteering often leads to reported lower levels of depression, increased life satisfaction and enhanced well-being.

Porsha Pate, who most recently was a Guest Reader Volunteer at Brooklyn Landmark, puts it this way: “Change For Kids sets the bar high in terms of creating community, developing children’s skills, and modeling leadership. From the comfortable atmosphere in the classrooms to the engaged kids, it’s a combination of sharing, learning, and making a difference. It makes me feel incredibly thankful and optimistic going into the holidays, too. I’m looking forward to more volunteering in the new year!”

Thank you, Porsha, and thank you to everyone who volunteers with us. If you’d like to sign up for one of our upcoming opportunities, please reach out to Mesha Allen, our Volunteer Coordinator, at mallen@changeforkids.org.

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#WHYCFK Wednesday Leadership Roundtable

Among the many programs CFK runs, our Leadership Roundtables stand out as an important way to support our school leaders. They are collaborative forums for understanding schools’ needs and help create avenues to provide the necessary solutions. These in-person gatherings of principals and School Managers generally take place three times over the course of the school year.

Our most recent Leadership Roundtable deserves a loud shout-out of thanks to everyone who participated. It was an incredibly honest and inspirational session, and tangibly demonstrated the value of the work CFK does together with our partner schools. Remarkable for so many reasons, what stood out as each of these passionate school leaders shared their strategies and challenges was the deep respect they have for one another as educators and the exemplary way they consistently demonstrate that respect. The kids in our schools are in good hands with these amazing role models caring about their futures.

The evening kicked off with introductions, then Komal Sharma Patel of the Child HELP Partnership began our discussion by outlining services they provide to families, children, schools, and communities. Founded in 2001, CHP is nationally recognized as a leading source for evidence-based mental health treatment and prevention of childhood trauma. Their mission is to better protect and heal families from trauma and its emotional impact. Trauma affects children in so many ways that prevent them from being able to focus on education and instruction. Maintaining safe, trauma-sensitive spaces is critical for kids experiencing trauma.

The Partnership’s approach is to teach every level of the school community how to recognize and respond to behavioral, emotional, academic, and relationship impacts of trauma while maintaining safety. Workshops can be crafted to cover the prevalence of trauma disorder among children and adults; how it manifests in a school setting; how the symptoms may mask as ADHD; and what are the next steps/consequences and resources available to prevent trauma and create a safe environment at all levels.

The passionate discussion that followed demonstrated how deeply this topic resonates with our School Leadership, and their determination to create safe, welcoming, and nurturing school environments that inspire scholars and can help them through the sometimes scary and dangerous events that may create trauma in their lives. As the principals shared their questions and current approaches, it became obvious that Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) is not a disconnect from academic emphasis. It operates hand-in-hand with understanding and
educating the whole child. SEL provides positive school environments to nurture
students’ physical, psychological, cognitive, social, and emotional growth. CFK can and should take a programmatic approach to empower principals and make meaningful matches in resources to improve SEL in our schools.

Next, we heard from Dawn DeCosta, principal of Thurgood Marshall Academy Lower Schools (TMALS), as she shared some of the SEL Best Practices in place (and working well!) at TMALS.

Using the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence’s RULER approach, the school starts with a mission focused on cultural relevance, self-esteem, and social justice. The comprehensive set of best practices Dawn shared emphasize the imperative to take care of kids’ emotional and social needs so they feel safe enough to be able to focus on their academic work. The dozens of programs and strategies she shared got the entire room enthusiastically nodding their heads.  Here are some highlights:

  • Community Morning Meeting – the school starts every day with a daily breakfast program, including silent reading, poetry, a recitation of the School Creed, and a school-wide meditation session to allow the kids to decompress and focus on the day of learning ahead; these are led by Self-Awareness leaders –  students who lead meditations and mood meter check-ins in classroom who also act as peer mediators. Here’s an example of a 4th-grader’s Self-Awareness Leader profile: “I want to be a Meditation Leader because I want to bring peace to earth. I want everyone to hear and feel my calm voice.”
  • Class and Staff Charters – Charters are statements of how each group wants to feel and the necessary behaviors to ensure accountability, including how conflicts will be handled. Some example statements that are included in the Charters: We want to feel Respected, Trusted, Supported, Motivated, and Safe. In order to feel respected, we will greet each other, and treat others the way they want to be treated. In order to feel trusted, we will use discretion and express our feelings positively. Etc.”
  • Family Charters extend the idea of behavior agreements and accountability. Practices learned in the school are shared with family members. Families are invited into the school in the evenings to learn the same self-awareness strategies their students are learning.
  • Encouragement Bulletin Boards include:

    • Take what you Need: A hallway bulletin board covered with envelopes containing affirmations that the students write. They can take one whenever they feel the need
    • Give what You Can: another bulletin board covered with envelopes of suggestions  for something every kid can do for someone else (i.e. write a poem for someone feeling bad, write an uplifting letter to a friend, etc.)

Over and over again, we heard testaments to this “culture of caring” approach and how it’s working in each of our schools. We also heard that RESPECT is paramount and consistency is key to success.

There was so much to share and we soon ran out of time. To continue this conversation, CFK plans to roll out a virtual CFK School Leadership Group in the coming weeks to facilitate these important conversations and establish a platform for ongoing dialog and collaboration. This platform will also serve as a repository for best practices, recommended resources, etc..

Our thanks to everyone involved in last week’s Roundtable. We’re looking forward to more inspiring Roundtables with this amazing group of dedicated School Leaders!.

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Healthy Harvest 2018

On Tuesday, November 20th, PS 142, one of our thirteen partner schools, celebrated its third annual Harvest Feast. It was exactly what a feast should be: delicious, fun, and a grateful gathering of community. Seventeen of RBC’s volunteers fed over 300 members of our school community with amazing catered food from Sophie’s. An additional sixteen families in transitional housing fed their families the following night with the leftovers, extending the impact of RBC’s generosity from one evening to multiple days of Thanksgiving meals for entire families.  To ensure no one went home hungry or empty-handed, RBC and CFK provided 40 families with amazing food gift baskets via raffle, and five more families received Visa gift cards.

88% – that’s nearly all – of the students in the school are identified as being in economic need by NYC DOE. Which means they are experiencing economic hardship based on temporary housing, eligibility for public housing, and Census tract poverty rates.

The Harvest Feast plays a role in helping PS 142 make its mission of equity and social justice real. The school encourages students to develop a sense of agency and excitement for learning that extends beyond the classroom, and it was a pure delight for CFK’s staff and the RBC volunteers to help feed their bodies as well their minds. The event exemplifies both CFK’s and PS 142’s shared values of being responsive to the needs of the scholars and school community at large.

We are proud to support their efforts in creating an emotionally and academically supportive environment for all students, allowing them to develop empathy for others and be challenged to achieve at high levels.

We’re very grateful to RBC, all the volunteers, and to the entire PS 142 community. It was a truly great night for teachers, kids, parents, and volunteers to bond and feast as one big PS 142 family!

RBC is already making plans for next year’s Harvest Feast to be even more special. Stay tuned!

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Thankful #WhyCFK Wednesdays

On Thanksgiving, before we dive into the turkey, my family takes a moment to voice why we are thankful.  Last year my children learned the difference between a need and a want, and we spoke of the needs for which we are so grateful.  We spoke about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and how once one’s basic physiological needs are met (food, warmth, shelter, and air), they can focus on the secondary safety needs.  And how once we feel safe, we can focus on the next three tiers: the need to belong and feel loved, the need to feel accomplishment and esteem, and the need to be fulfilled as we aim for self-actualization.

But many families across our city are struggling to meet their basic needs on an ongoing basis.  On a daily basis. In this great city overflowing with resources, we have families struggling for food, warmth, and shelter.  Parents work tirelessly to ensure that their children have a home, three meals a day, and proper clothing to survive NY’s brutal elements.  When food and water are not a given, shelter and clothing become secondary needs.

This past Monday, Change for Kids was able to fulfill one of the basic needs for the students at Brighter Choice Elementary School: warmth.  

I am proud to announce that CFK recently partnered with Operation Warm and Nordstroms to provide each student at BCCS with a new winter coat.  In addition, Operation Warm will be providing coats to the 1,000 students in transient housing at all of our partner schools. Not a lightly used coat, a new coat that they could write their name in and call their own.  A new coat that is rainproof and windproof. And we couldn’t have done it without Operation Warm and Nordstrom’s joining our community. Operation Warm started twenty years ago by donating 58 coats to the local church, and this year will be giving away their 3 millionth coat.  In the words of Operation Warm’s founder, Dick Sanford, “Look around. You can always help someone. It is our responsibility to help each other survive.”

For three magical hours Monday at BCCS, students filed into the gym class-by-class.  Each student was matched with a Nordstrom’s volunteer, and each student was made to feel safe and loved as they received their new coat.  The smiles on their faces were heart-warming. And in return, the students inspired our volunteers. It is not often that one stands in a room where every single person has a smile ear-to-ear, and every single person is connecting with another human being.  

As Zareta Ricks, our Director of Corporate Strategy and Engagement, gave the day’s closing remarks, the following stood out to me.  Addressing the team of Nordstrom volunteers, our Operation Warm partners, and the BCCS and CFK staffs, she spoke about how we must not forget our students’ emotional needs. “We can focus on their intellectual needs, but we must also focus on their hearts.  We tell our students that they have a whole community that loves them and supports them, but they can be skeptical. But today that community was real.” She went on to address the impact the volunteers had on each and every student, and how the impact of a moment can reverberate throughout a community.  As Zareta eloquently stated, “The impact doesn’t end with our students. This gift of time and energy will impact the morale of our teachers, our administrators, and the broader school community.”

So this Thanksgiving, the CFK team and I are thankful for the 300 coats our students received this week, and the additional thousand coats in the coming weeks.  We are thankful for our partners like Operation Warm, who also aspire to ensure our students’ needs, basic and emotional, are met. We are thankful for our corporate partners, such as Nordstrom’s who underwrote the cost of the coats and supplied the volunteers to make our students feel special.  We are thankful for our individual donors whose funds allow us to provide other critical resources to our schools. We are thankful for our volunteers who work with us, side-by-side, to make our schools more beautiful, to keep our students safe while our parents attend classes, to teach our students how to write resumes, about financial literacy, how to tie a tie.  We are thankful for you. For without you, we wouldn’t be a powerful community that can help our city’s underserved schools thrive.

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Why I Run: Natalie Auerbach’s Marathon Story

I began running in my teens. I ran because it got me out of the house where emotions often ran high, it gave me time to be by myself, and it was a time to release whatever teenage anguish I was harboring. For these reasons, I ran for hours at a time. And running became a part of me and my identity. When I got injured training for the marathon 12 years ago, I knew in my mind that one day I would train for and complete a marathon. But, after two children and a car accident – I had considered that dream dead. Until a friend asked me (she claims I asked her, but I wouldn’t have had the courage) to run the marathon with her to support Change for Kids. And because CFK is so near and dear to my heart, I said yes.

Almost five months ago, I started out by running a mile. One mile. I swore as I ran that mile. Not in the good way – swearing that I would run daily or better myself in some way. In the bad way, the way that includes words with four letters that I don’t like to say around my children.

So, if I started out swearing, why did I keep going? The reason was twofold. The first is that I believe so completely in the mission of Change for Kids. I have spent the past six months in the office working to raise funds to supply our partner schools with the critical resources they need to get their students ready for success in middle school and beyond. I believe so completely that I decided to not just talk my mouth off, but to also put my physical and emotional willpower on the line for Change for Kids.

The second reason is one that many of us have experienced. Nothing motivates more than fear. Fear can be crippling, and in so many instances it is so hard to overcome. For me, in terms of training for and running a marathon, fighting fear is liberating. It is an obstacle to overcome. And for me, it is empowering to overcome an obstacle to meet a goal. But the true motivation comes from knowing that our students have many obstacles to overcome, and their odds of overcoming these obstacles can only be strengthened by a solid education. And that’s where I can help. I can help raise funds to help CFK provide even more resources to our students and our schools. As I’m running, when the miles start to add up and the legs start to get tired, I will focus on the ultimate goal, the reason I am running, and the goal will energize me to the end. NatalieHeadshot.jpg

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Why Am I running the NYC marathon for CFK – Yago Cuesta

Yago Cuesta

 

Running makes me a happier, better person. It gives me joy, focus, purpose, and a profound feeling of fulfillment.

Running the NYC Marathon as a fundraiser for Change for Kids gives me all of that and much more — the opportunity to give back to people by doing one of the things I like the most.

Change for Kids invests in elementary schools in NYC to help under-privileged children to succeed in middle school and beyond. In other words, it empowers them to learn; it encourages them to bring their skills up to their full potential and to push limits aside. This sounds very familiar to a runner.

Like running, learning is an endless adventure, where every single step forward counts and is worth celebrating. Everyone is invited and no one excluded. For no person is so gifted that she does not need to learn more, nor so hopeless that she cannot learn something new. And we should be equally amazed by both accomplishments, as we should by every single step that we take on the way.

There is no more powerful leverage for long-lasting change than education. Like a marathon, it’s a long-distance race that can lead you very far away. And Change for Kids makes both possible.

Let’s then keep running to learn more; let’s keep learning as we run.

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CFK Volunteers make a difference every day

Thanks to our 1,400+ volunteers who delivered over 4,500 volunteer hours last year, Change for Kids made a positive impact on thousands of NYC public elementary school children in underserved neighborhoods. See how volunteers from VSA Partners recently transformed P.S. 329.

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There are so many ways to get involved with Change for Kids. Here are upcoming ways that you can get involved!

School & Career Days Volunteer at a CFK School event in May and inspire our students to dream big about their futures.

Golf for Kids Join us on June 26th at the historic Saint Andrew’s course in Hastings-on-Hudson to benefit our 12 partner schools.

TCS NYC Marathon Every mile you run for Change for Kids will help bring programs and resources to over 4,700 CFK public elementary students.