23 Mar

Mobile bank comes to LSA

Mobile Banking

March 17, 2017 – LSA hosted a celebration of a “pop-up” credit union financial health initiative, in collaboration with The Department of Consumer Affairs Office of Financial Empowerment, the New Economy Project and the LES People’s Federal Credit Union.

The two main parts of the initiative are, first, the deployment of a mobile banking branch of the LES Credit Union – a 40-foot bus – to promote financial health in the neighborhood, with a focus on Spanish-speaking and immigrant members of the community. In addition, a team of community members recruited through LSA Family Health Service serve as financial health promoters, or promotoras. These promoters are peer educators who conduct workshops and speak with people one-on-one to provide information about financial rights and opportunities with respect to banking. They also share information about the LES Credit Union which is an affordable banking option in the community. The goal is to bridge the financial services divide by delivering reliable, accessible information and high-quality services in the neighborhood.

Commissioner Lorelai Salas of the Department of Consumer affairs attended and commended the work of the promotoras: “the promotoras do is key… and we are grateful to be working with them.”

The initiative began with workshops with community members to understand the needs in the neighborhood. As part of their training, promotoras visited all the banks in the community and discovered that many of them had fees and ID requirements that were prohibitive and kept people from opening accounts. “In East Harlem there is a financial divide,” said Deyanira Del Rio of The New Economy Project. “There are 2 pawn shops or check-cashing places for every bank… What we’re doing today is celebrating a campaign we designed to eliminate some of the barriers to financial opportunity.”

Alicia Portada of the LES People’s Federal Credit Union described how grateful the credit union was to work with the promotoras: “For us it has been a good lesson to get feedback. [The promotoras know about the financial dynamics in the community. It has also been an excellent outreach tool — we have reached more people than we would with a flyer or an email. I want to thank the women, and I really hope that we can continue to work together.”

Guillermina, one of the promotoras shared her own story in Spanish: “I am grateful because I had an account in a bank that charged me every month for being below the minimum. I didn’t know that I could have an account without those fees. When I learned, I changed my account and myself became part of the credit union.”

The pop-up mobile banking bus will be at LSA every Friday during the month of March for people who want to open account.

Promotoras with Commissioner Salas and members of New Economy Project and LES People’s Credit Union

20 Mar

We have a new CEO!

Reada Edelstein

We are pleased to announce that Reada Bunin Edelstein has been appointed Chief Executive Officer of LSA Family Health Service. Reada was appointed CEO by the Board of Directors in February 2017 after serving for over two years as LSA’s Chief Development and Communications Officer. She served as Interim CEO from August 2016 through February 2017.

Reada brings to the position over 30 years of experience in nonprofit management and resource development. She came to LSA in November 2014 from the Center for Social Inclusion, where she was Director of Development. Prior to that, she led her own full service event firm and served as Associate Executive Director of Communications and Development for the YWCA of the City of New York. She holds a Master of Social Work degree from Adelphi University and completed two years of family therapy from the Ackerman Institute for the Family.

Most recently, Reada was part of a small team made up of senior management and Board members that led the agency through a strategic review, helping to position the agency for innovation and growth in response to the changing needs of the community.

Reada plans to lend her expertise to preserving our mission and helping the agency position itself for the future. She states:

“Our commitment to East Harlem, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the City, remains undiminished. We will continue to serve the community, with a special focus on the needs of immigrant families.”

Reada replaces Traci Lester, who stepped down from her role as Chief Executive Officer in July 2016.

07 Mar

Before PreK

Parenting and Child Development program

Photo by Micah Rubin

LSA’s early childhood program empowers parents, nurtures healthy child development

Wendy Miron, director of our Parenting and Child Development program, teacher Miriam Pena and home visitor Jennifer Ferreira met recently to share how the program prepares both children and parents for a successful experience in preschool.  The program includes home visits twice a month and participation in group socialization classes twice a week with the aim of empowering parents to nurture health child development. The goal: keeping at-risk children 0-3 developmentally on track during the most critical years of brain development. 

WM: Wendy Miron, Director, Parenting and Child Development
MP: Miriam Pena, Teacher, Socialization Program
JF: Jennifer Ferreira, Home Visitor


Building Trust, One-on-One

WM: Everything that we do is based on the five priorities – language and literacy; play and exploration; attachment, security and separation; self-regulation and emotional development; and connection to resources. That has really helped to make sure that everyone is working on the same goals with the parents. It might look different, because the home visitors are working with the parent and the child in the home and the teachers are working in the classroom setting, but everybody’s focusing on the same things.

JF: As a home visitor, I meet one-on-one with the mother and the child. The home visit gives an opportunity for the mom to speak up more. They’re in their own homes, and they don’t feel intimidated by anyone. It allows the home visitors to motivate and encourage the moms to know their rights and inform them as much as possible. That connects with the language priority – because if the mom is expressing herself more in general, she’ll be able to express herself more to her child. Encouraging the mom, motivating the mom, making her feel confident will also reflect on the child. It’s a domino effect.

MP: And I feel like having that one-on-one interaction also motivates moms to advocate for themselves. The mom can express her needs and the home visitor can guide her in the process of what to do next. The home visitors are there to push parents so that they can advocate for themselves and hopefully, later on, for their children.

One of the things happening now because of the political situation is that a lot of the kids are being bullied. I have a mom who has a child that is 6 years old. He was being bullied at school because of his background. You know, “you’re an immigrant, you need to go back to Mexico” – that sort of thing. It got to the point where the child was being aggressive at home and at school. He was feeling like he wasn’t wanted.

The mom didn’t feel she had the right to advocate for her child. So I connected her with a home visitor. The home visitor was able to say, “Its okay. You can speak for your child. He’s feeling this way. You are his advocate. You need to advocate. You need to defend him.” It was very important to have that home visitor encourage the mom to actually be heard and say it’s okay to speak up and voice what I feel – and to mirror what her child can do for himself.

“Even if we may not see it as directly related to child development, connecting parents to resources that alleviate some of their challenges can allow them to focus on the developmental priorities and making sure that the children are learning.”  –Wendy Miron, Director of Parenting and Child Development

WM: Sometimes when we talk about what the early childhood program does we focus on developmental milestones and making sure the kids are meeting those, but it’s so much more than that. We incorporate everything that’s going on in the environment for the families. Even if we may not see it as directly related to child development, connecting parents to resources that alleviate some of their challenges can allow them to focus on the developmental priorities and making sure that the children are learning.

We really work on building trust – not just assuming that people are going to trust us because we’re service professionals – but really building the trust and learning to understand who they are and valuing them. It doesn’t matter if you don’t speak English or you’re undocumented or you’ve never gone to school. We really value who you are and what you bring. I think that probably sets the program apart – and that’s why we have a waitlist. We’re never short of clients.

Preschool Prep, Starting at 6 Months

WM:  One of things we do is help parents understand what Head Start is. It’s easy to assume that families know what Head Start is, but if you’re coming from another country you might not. Whereas a family may have waited until kindergarten to put their children in school – because maybe the parent didn’t feel ready or they thought that the children were too young – by coming here, a lot of the families have been able to start their children’s education in Head Start.

MP: Our program starts with babies. We have three groups of children – the groups are 0-9 months old, then 10-19 months, and 20-36 months. With the 20-36, the focus is more on activities where the child and mom are together but there will also be occasions where they separate. We’re doing activities where the children will be with a teacher on one side of the room and moms and the other teacher will be together in a separate area of the room. Or, for example, the other day we had a workshop. Some of the children felt safe enough to stay in the classroom while the moms were in nearby room for the workshop. We do activities like that to get parents and children ready to separate when the time comes. And like Yolanda, it’s usually not the kids who have a hard time separating. It’s often a mom or dad who says “I’m not ready” or “is he going to be okay?”

Because I usually work with the youngest group – the babies, I usually focus more on moms. I ask: “How has it been for you?” “How do you feel?” We talk a lot about attachment and the importance of bonding with their children.

Earth Day Activities

A toddler explores a new texture and develops motor skills

WM: With the program priority of play and exploration, teachers and home visitors focus on talking to the parents about their experiences as children – what did they play with or how did they play, how do they understand the importance of play.

With literacy – even if a family has very low literacy, we emphasize the importance of having books around and exposing children to books, or we show parents how they can share a book even if they don’t know how to read. And we talk about how, in addition to early literacy, reading promotes attachment and self-regulation. That’s how the five program priorities come together, because a parent and child might be working on language, but by being able to express their needs they’re also working on self-regulation, because if you have more verbal ability to express your needs and understand your feelings, then you’re probably better able to self-regulate. I think it’s great the way the priorities come together in everything that the program does.

Parenting & Child Development Graduation

Graduation day for children in the program.  LSA staff help families transition to preschool.

JF: When it comes to schools and children, research shows that children from Spanish-speaking families are more likely to be delayed in speech when they enter kindergarten. For our program to focus on very young children, providing their families with the resources they need so that when their children enter school they can be ready – it’s amazing. There are not a lot of programs that start from 0-3.

WM: –and work with the parent. I think that also sets us apart. It’s really a two-generation approach. We’re working with the parent and we’re working with the child at the same time.

MP: Most of the programs that are like ours, either you have to pay or you have to have papers to qualify for them. And we welcome everybody here, whether you speak Spanish or you don’t, whether you are working or not, we just welcome everybody.

WM:  Another thing that sets us apart is that we have the resources of the other programs at LSA. Of course, we make referrals outside the agency, but I think it’s helpful to refer families to programs right here in the building if, for example, families need the food pantry or legal assistance or a mom is pregnant. That also makes the program strong. It is a holistic approach that we take. It really helps parents, they feel comfortable to get the resources. And we work really well together, and that also helps.

I think that’s one of the strengths of this program. I worked at a Head Start before and, you know, you can plan great workshops, but you have to be able to get the families there. This program helps parents understand that it’s really beneficial for them to access resources. So, in addition to the home visits and socialization groups, we may have a fire safety workshop or a “Know Your Rights” workshop or a special education workshop. Parents come to learn the value of attending them, and hopefully that understanding is something they will take with them when their children move on to PreK or Head Start.

06 Mar

Solidarity March

March 4, 2017 — Around 30 staff members, families, and volunteers gathered on the Upper East Side to walk under the LSA banner in the East Harlem Solidarity March, hosted by NYC Council Speaker and East Harlem District 8 City Council representative Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Marchers held posters with positive messages of solidarity with families in the community, especially with immigrant families. LSA was joined by the team of Cada Paso, and walked with fellow community and health organizations that serve the neighborhood. The march ended at the Johnson Community Center on Lexington Avenue, where various speakers – including our own CEO, Reada Edelstein, and Child Specialist Yolanda Tovar – spoke to express messages of unity with the families we serve.


02 Mar

Associated Press: LSA’s Mental Health Services for Immigrants

Mas alla del miedo

The Associated Press featured LSA in a story on efforts by community groups to expand mental health services to immigrants in the midst of uncertain immigration policies.

Below  is an excerp, followed by the English translation, describing a workshop at LSA called “Más allá del miedo” (Beyond Fear) which included art therapy to help participants process the anxiety they experienced.  The full story can be read here.

Ven aumento de ayuda psicológica a inmigrantes por Trump

Por Claudia Torrens

NUEVA YORK (AP) — El temor a que la deporten y separen de su hija de dos años llevó a la mexicana María Luisa a una sesión de ayuda psicológica.

La terapia llamada “Más allá del miedo” fue organizada por un grupo sin ánimo de lucro de East Harlem, en Manhattan, que busca aliviar el estrés que la política migratoria del presidente Donald Trump ha generado en los inmigrantes.

“Sentí que podía hablar, expresar mis miedos”, dijo la hispana de 34 años que prefirió no dar su apellido. “Pude compartir ideas y me tranquilizó ver a otras madres con el mismo sentir que yo”.

Desde que Trump ganó las elecciones en noviembre la necesidad de asistencia psicológica para los inmigrantes es mayor que nunca, aseguraron activistas y psicólogos, aunque aún no hay datos estadísticos disponibles. Miedo, ansiedad y depresión son los síntomas que han visto en ascenso entre la población inmigrante tras las redadas ocurridas recientemente en todo el país y las órdenes ejecutivas que tienen por objetivo la expulsión de los extranjeros sin autorización.

“La necesidad de ayuda psicológica siempre ha estado ahí, pero tras las elecciones y las acciones ejecutivas de Trump el miedo ha aumentado”, dijo Theo Oshiro, vicedirector de Make The Road New York, un grupo que por primera vez está organizando sesiones grupales para inmigrantes con una psicóloga voluntaria.

Aproximadamente 125 de los 171 miembros de un programa de padres y jóvenes de Little Sisters of the Assumption Family Health Service, en East Harlem, han manifestado un aumento en la ansiedad debido a las políticas migratorias de Trump, aseguró la portavoz del grupo. Por ello se iniciaron las sesiones de “Más allá del miedo” de las que participan unas 16 madres y donde se sirve café con panecillos, huele a incienso y se oye música relajante.

“Tengo pacientes que no quieren enviar a sus hijos a la escuela”, dijo Mónica Sánchez, la terapeuta que dirige las sesiones. “Decidimos organizar ‘Más allá del miedo’ porque vimos un aumento de personas que tenían miedo, ansiedad. Queríamos decirles que no están solos”.

En la sesión Sánchez entrega un papel y lápices de colores a las participantes y les pide que expresen sus temores a través de un dibujo. Pueden cerrar los ojos y trazar garabatos o dibujar libremente con todo detalle.

“Algunas pintan un círculo negro y lo rayan y dicen ‘no veo nada*. Otras lo describen como un remolino”, explicó.

“Yo pinté un círculo rojo porque me da miedo la sangre y la violencia”, dijo María Luisa.

Durante la reunión, que dura dos horas, a algunas se les quiebra la voz al hablar y lloran tímidamente. Sobre el final del encuentro Sánchez destaca la necesidad de estar preparado para una posible deportación en lugar de quedarse paralizado. …

More Mental Health Support for Immigrants Due to Trump

by Claudia Torrens

NEW YORK (AP) – Fear of being deported and separated from her two-year-old daughter led Mexican Maria Luisa to a mental health counseling session.

The “Beyond Fear” therapy was hosted by a nonprofit group in East Harlem, Manhattan, which seeks to alleviate the stress President Donald Trump’s immigration policy has generated on immigrants.

“I felt I could speak, express my fears,” said the 34-year-old Hispanic woman who chose not to give her last name. “I was able to share ideas and I was relieved to see other mothers with the same feeling as me.”

Since Trump won the November election, the need for psychological assistance for immigrants is greater than ever, activists and psychologists say, although statistics are not yet available. Fear, anxiety and depression are the symptoms they have seen rising among the immigrant population following recent raids across the country and executive orders aimed at the expulsion of foreigners without documentation.

“The need for psychological help has always been there, but after the election and executive actions of Trump, the fear has increased,” said Theo Oshiro, deputy director of Make The Road New York, a group that, for the first time, is organizing group sessions for immigrants with a volunteer psychologist.

Approximately 125 of the 171 members of a program of parents and young people at Little Sisters of the Assumption Family Health Service in East Harlem have expressed an increase in anxiety due to Trump’s immigration policies, the spokeswoman said. For that reason, the “Beyond Fear” sessions were started, with 16 mothers participating thus far. Coffee and muffins are served; one can smell of incense and hear relaxing music.

“I have patients who do not want to send their children to school,” said Monica Sanchez, the therapist who runs the sessions. “We decided to organize ‘Beyond Fear’ because we saw an increase in people who were afraid, anxious. We wanted to tell them that they are not alone.”

In the session Sánchez gives a paper and colored pencils to the participants and asks them to express their fears through a drawing. Participants can close their eyes and draw intuitively or draw freely in full detail.

“Some paint a black circle and scratch it and say ‘I do not see anything.” Others describe it as a whirlwind,” she said.

“I painted a red circle because I am afraid of blood and violence,” said Maria Luisa.

During the meeting, which lasts two hours, some people’s voices break as they speak and cry timidly. At the end of the meeting Sánchez stresses the need to be prepared for a possible deportation instead of being paralyzed by fear.

13 Feb

Resources for Immigrant Families

Immigration Resources

Recursos para familias inmigrantes

With changes to immigration policy and news of increased ICE activity in the New York area, LSA is responding to heightened anxiety and increased questions among the families we serve.

Anyone with immigration questions or in need of free immigration legal help can contact our Immigration Outreach Organizer, Pura Cruz.   Call: 646-672-5200 during business hours, or send an email.

Con los cambios en la política de inmigración y las noticias sobre el aumento de la actividad de ICE en el área de Nueva York, LSA responde a la creciente ansiedad ya las preguntas entre las familias a las que servimos.

Cualquier persona que tenga preguntas sobre inmigración o que necesite ayuda legal de inmigración gratuita puede comunicarse con Pura Cruz al 646-672-5200 durante el horario comercial, o envíe un correo electrónico.

Resources / Recursos:

New York Immigration Hotline/Linea telefonica sobre inmigracion de Nueva York:  1-800-566-7636 or 1-212-419-3737 – Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York.  The New York Immigration hotline number can be given to anyone who needs confidential information on immigration matters. Information is available in 18 languages.   Todas las llamadas son anónimas y las conversaciones son confidenciales. La Línea Telefónica sobre Inmigración de Nueva York es un proyecto de Caridades Católicas Servicios de Inmigración y Refugiados de la Arquidiócesis de Nueva York.

Hotline for immigrant communities affected by recent ICE raids/Hotline para ayudar a las comunidades de inmigrantes afectadas por recientes incursiones de ICE: 844-955-3425 – Legal Aid Society

“Know Your Rights” Tool Kit / Conozca sus derechos – The New York Immigration Coalition.

“What to do if ICE comes to you door/En caso de redadas ¿qué puedes hacer? flyer in English, Spanish, Korean, Chinese, and Arabic – United We Dream.

Emergency Plan in Case of the Detention or Deportation of Family Members / Plan de Emergencia en Caso de la Detención o Deportación de Familiares – Legal Aid Society

Here’s what we’re doing at LSA:

  • Offering “Know Your Rights” workshops.
  • Working with clients at risk of deportation to help them create an emergency plan.
  • Offering emotional support and creating a safe space for clients to share their concerns, including workshops for parents and children on coping with fear and stress.
  • Working with The New York Immigration Coalition, Legal Aid Society and NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, among others, so that we can share the latest information and resources with families, as well as advocate for our community.
10 Feb

Borough Excellence Award

Food Bank for NYC Borough Excellence Award

LSA’s Advocacy and Food Pantry Program was awarded a ‘Borough Excellence Award’ by Food Bank for NYC

New York, NY – February 7, 2017 – LSA was presented the Borough Excellence Award at the Food Bank for NYC’s Conference on Hunger and Poverty on February 7, 2017 at the New York Marriott Marquis in Times Square.  The award distinguished LSA’s food pantry as among the best in the entire borough of Manhattan.

The food pantry at LSA Family Health Service is part of the Advocacy and Food Pantry program.  It feeds, on average, 1,900 individuals a month in a grocery store style, client-choice pantry.  The demographic served by the pantry is the primarily immigrant, low-income community of East Harlem, which has been marked for decades as having among the poorest health outcomes for children in New York City, including having among the highest rates of asthma, childhood obesity, and infant mortality.

Providing healthy food options is an important aspect of the pantry.  It offers fresh locally farmed produce during the growing season, through United Way of NYC and Just Food’s Local Produce Link program.  It has also received fresh produce from Grow NYC and even a local community garden.  Cooking demonstrations throughout the year show families how to cook with the vegetables being offered in the pantry.  And a Community CookShop class – in partnership with Food Bank for NYC and the Mario Batali Foundation – teaches families how to shop for and cook healthy meals on a limited budget.

The Advocacy program serves as a primary entry point for LSA’s family support services.  In 2016, the program’s five staff members facilitated 6,863 client visits for food and 7,642 client visits for services. These included one-on-one meetings with families to understand and address their needs.  Key partnerships allow the Advocacy program to connect families with free legal help to prevent evictions and help enrolling in Medicaid.  As a member of the ActionNYC initiative through the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, the agency has been doing extensive outreach throughout the city to connect immigrants with free legal support.

LSA is deeply honored for the recognition of the Borough Excellence Award.

Food Bank award

LSA client advocates receive the Borough Excellence award at the Food Bank for NYC Conference on Hunger and Poverty.

01 Feb

Stand with East Harlem

We stand with East Harlem. Photo by Micah Rubin

Our statement on immigration:

LSA Family Health Service stands with immigrants, refugees and people of all faiths, and supports national and local policies that preserve and protect the rights of immigrant families.  LSA will continue to provide Health & Wellness programs and Family Support services without regard to immigration status.  We are committed to the families of East Harlem. We are friends and neighbors, and we work together to make the community better for everyone regardless of country of origin, religion, or ethnicity.

We urgently need your help to ensure that we can continue to be here for families in crisis!

Here at LSA we serve a largely immigrant population.  With the uncertainty around federal policies, now more than ever, we are on the front line with our neighbors in East Harlem, responding to their questions, making sure they know their rights, and connecting them with free legal services.
Our Advocacy & Food Pantry program is a main entry point to LSA and has led the agency in reaching out to immigrant families in our community. In 2016, this heroic team of only five staff members attended 6,863 client visits for food and 7,642 client visits for services! That includes one-on-one meetings with families to understand and address their needs as well as boots-on-the-ground work in libraries, churches, and community centers, helping our neighbors access important services.

The Advocacy & Food Pantry program budget for 2017 is underfunded. Simply put, we need to raise $180,000 to keep this program running.

Can you make a donation today to support this program?

Most of the families at LSA consist of two parents with at least one working adult in the household. But with an average household income of less than $20,000 a year, they struggle with basic necessities – including having enough food for everyone. 33% of families we serve live doubled or tripled up with other families in small apartments. They face chronic health conditions, poor housing, and other challenges that no one should have to face alone.

Every single parent we serve wants their kids to grow up healthy, educated and safe. That’s what we want too, that’s what we work towards, and that’s why we’re asking for your support.

Please donate today to stand up for immigrant families in East Harlem.

When you make a 100% tax-deductible donation to our Advocacy & Food Pantry program, you support:
• Immigration education and outreach: referrals and “Know Your Rights” workshops
• Immigrant legal support: free legal consultation through partner organizations
• DACA outreach
• Food pantry
• Housing legal support
• Help accessing public benefits
• Advocacy and empowerment
• Referrals to LSA and non-LSA programs

Thank you for your support!

Donate Now

Photo by Micah Rubin.

26 Jan

Community Service Stars

Community service student volunteers

January 18, 2017 – Three students from the Convent of the Sacred Heart school shared their personal stories of community service with our Parents Committee, illustrating how a strong collaboration with a school can lead to robust student-led service opportunities that benefit the student volunteers as much as they do LSA children and families.  The students – all seniors – have been involved for several years in CASA (an after-school art program at LSA), H.E.A.R.T. Swim Program, and H.E.A.R.T. Summer Program.

Our Parents Committee, which has been exploring ways high school students can be involved with community service at LSA, was thoroughly impressed and inspired by these community service stars!

Below are their stories in their own words.

CSH Swimming

Alessandra: H.E.A.R.T. [Health, Education, and Responsible Tools] Swim Program

After 406, the athletic facility, was completed at the beginning of my sophomore year, the H.E.A.R.T Swim Program was developed to teach underprivileged kids to learn how to swim. There were originally about 10 boys and girls from ages 4 to 12 attending these swim lessons every Saturday from 12 to 1 pm, and they were coached by a few members of our Varsity Swim Team. When I first met these children, I understood even better how lucky and blessed I have been throughout my life, and it gave me a reality check. The beauty of this swim program is that while we are constantly looking for new students to join, the same group of children has been participating since the beginning, and I’ve been able to develop close relationships with many of them. I look forward to seeing their bright smiles and cheery dispositions on the pool deck as I watch each of them fall in love with the sport that has been such a transformative part of my life.

I’ve witnessed this drastic change in all my swimmers after three years, but especially in Evelyn. At first, this swimmer struggled with developing the proper stroke techniques. I would notice that she’d feel overwhelmed by the other girls who had already mastered the basics. Now, three years later, Evelyn is effortlessly swimming laps in all four strokes. I can see her bright smile from across the pool deck every time she finishes another set. Her positivity keeps the rest of my group motivated, and her progression from a timid swimmer to a determined young girl is truly admirable.

The children that were too scared to dip their head under the water are now diving off the blocks and obsessed with swimming every stroke, especially butterfly. They learn from each other and are developing valuable skills at a young age that they wouldn’t have otherwise. I am still a volunteer for the H.E.A.R.T program, and I have watched it flourish. Just a few weeks ago, we started a second program on Saturdays because of the success that emerged from the first one. The number of participants continues to grow as more children are having the chance to utilize the Sacred Heart pool.

This has been a rewarding experience for me as an instructor because I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for the sport I’ve pursued wholeheartedly throughout high school. Now, as captain of the Varsity Swimming Team, whenever I hear a teammate groan about plunging into the pool at the crack of dawn, I remind them how much we love this sport and how fortunate we are to be able to push our physical and mental limits in a safe environment. Teaching swimming has taught me that the best way to give back to my community is to share the things I love most.

Emily: CASA (Children’s After School Studio Arts)

I began CASA when I was in eighth grade here at Sacred Heart and used it as a means to both help me transition to my new school, since I arrived in seventh grade, but also to give back to my cultural community. We used to hold CASA classes here at Sacred Heart and focused mainly on ceramics and clay.  Now, every Tuesday, 3-4 student teachers go up to Little Sisters of the Assumption in Harlem and teach elementary school students, ages 6-8, different art techniques and projects.

Although LSA recently lost some funding for the arts, they received a grant that allowed us to expand the program from what was originally only 6 kids to about 12-16 students. It allowed us to have a bigger space and have more room for the activities. We leave at 3:30 and return by 5:30 the latest. We create the curriculum and really get a chance to become leaders in our community.

I love CASA because I am able give back to students who are in the same position I was a few years ago. I used to go to public school and wasn’t exposed to the different materials and art supplies we have here. I am able to share resources that we take for granted. Every time we begin the semester with watercolors, I am surrounded by confused faces because many of the children have never even seen watercolors before.

I specifically remember one little boy named Ian. He was very shy at first and struggled with understanding some of my instructions because his first language was Spanish. I was able to remove the language barrier and make him comfortable by speaking to him in Spanish and asking if he needed any help. Ian wasn’t familiar with watercolors and I remember telling him not to soak the paintbrush too much in water and to collect more paint on the brush for more pigment. He became one of my strongest students.  It reminded me that many times underprivileged students in the public school system don’t have the tools and resources to discover their talents and reach their fullest potential. I enjoy giving these students a place to be creative and express themselves. These little things have made me stay and lead CASA for so long.

Agnes: H.E.A.R.T. Summer Program

For the past two summers I have participated in the H.E.A.R.T summer program,  a program for kids mostly from East Harlem to help them learn about new academic—yet fun—things, and about how to eat a healthy diet, started by our very own Mr. Chung. Our job is to provide them with the tools to explore and discover new experiences, giving them the opportunity to learn not only new things, generally, but new things about themselves.

This past summer was our sixth year, and I was fortunate to be able to teach a music class as well as being one of the lead swim instructors. It was important for me to make sure that they were enjoying swim class not only for fun but also for the betterment of their health. We learned different strokes, had races, and there were even a few kids who were learning how to swim for the very first time. One boy, Irving was afraid to actually even touch the pool water the first day. Within a little under a month, he was swimming up and down the pool.

In my music class, I was able to teach the kids about basic music theory, including different types of notes, rhythm, etc. We even wrote our own melodies! We also learned about different genres and composers, and prepared six or seven songs, that were ready to perform for our last celebration.

My favorite part of the H.E.A.R.T program was our end of the year celebration. I saw how happy the children were to be showing the work they had done for their families. HEART is not just about education or community, it’s about spreading love.  I’m so excited to see where it will go.