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.

20 Dec

Junior Board Holiday Campaign!

This holiday season the LSA Junior Board is raising funds our educational program. This program is underfunded and needs your help to provide children who are struggling in school, grades K-3, with the academic and developmental support they need to succeed. The Junior Board is asking you to donate today to help then reach their goal of $5,000 by Jan. 1st!

To donate, visit the Facebook campaign page at: https://www.facebook.com/donate/10100238206888403/

Donations of the following amount helps LSA to provide children with:

$10 – After school snacks for one child

$25 – School supplies for one child: pens and pencils, scissors, binders, and education resources for tutors

$50 – Arts materials for a social/emotional group workshop: paint, poster boards, printer ink, canvases, photo paper, pastels and other supplies

$100 – A field trip to a local museum or cultural performance

$250 – Classroom décor: help outfit our classrooms with child-sized tables and chairs, educational posters and other materials

$500 – LSA’s Summer Academy: support our 6-week summer camp including math and reading instruction to prevent the summer slide, athletic activities and field trips to museums.

Make the holidays brighter by donating today and please share this with friends and family!

To learn more about LSA and the Junior Board, please visit the following website: https://littlesistersfamily.org/volunteer/junior-board/ or watch our new promo video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s5O15oME1XI

15 Nov

Thank you, Barbara!

LSA staff celebrated Barbara Richert, who has volunteered as a mental health counselor with our Parenting and Child Development program for 11 years. Barbara is bringing her regular volunteerism with LSA to a close this month.

“There are no words to say how grateful we are to have her for 11 years,” said Inginia Garcia, co-director of the socialization program. “She has given unconditional support to our families. It has been amazing.”

Heather Mitchell, former director of the Parenting and Child Development program joined us for the farewell celebration. She said of Barbara: “I feel so grateful to have worked with Barbara for so many years. She’s one of the most giving people, and it’s wonderful to see her with the staff. Thank you for giving so much of yourself to so many people for so long.” True to her generous spirit, Barbara’s farewell party included a ‘gift’ from her to the Parenting and Child Development team: a lesson on slow breathing to reduce anxiety and stress.

The party also included a serenade of boleros!

Of her time at LSA, Barabara said: “It’s such a special place, in part because of you who are doing such important work, more important than ever. The work that you do here is bigger than any one individual.”

Barbara recently participated in a video, created in partnership with Catholic Charities, in which she describes her work with LSA families. We at LSA Family Health Service offer Barbara our deepest gratitude for her years of service.

Thank you!

The Parenting and Child Development team

Sebastian Cruz (left) and friends serenaded Barbara

08 Aug

Drives for Good

Organizing a drive for food, clothing, or other goods is an easy way to volunteer your time at home or work. A number of groups donate gifts for children during holiday drives, but we welcome donations all year round.
 Here are a few examples of drives you can organize to support LSA families:
  • Organize a clothing drive in your building or at your office – LSA can come pick up your donations!  Think seasonally: right now we’re in need of fall & winter clothing, coats, blankets, Halloween costumes.  (Please only donate items that are clean and in good condition!) Schedule a donation pickup
  • Organize a food drive at your work, school or church to support our pantry. Again, LSA will pick up the donation when it’s ready. We especially need food during the holidays, as we see more families during the holiday  season.
  • Coordinate an online drive.  Here’s a really easy way to organize a drive to support LSA – an online drive through YouGiveGoods.  YouGiveGoods will set everything up so that all your group members have to do is go to the drive page and pick the items they want to donate. Items will shipped directly to LSA. See a sample YouGiveGoods drive for school supplies.  In the photo above – students eat snacks donated through a YouGiveGoods drive!
  • Create a crowdfunding page to fundraise for LSA.  Invite friends, colleagues, and family to donate to LSA through a personalized page on Crowdrise. This is great if you are in a race, such as a 5K.  You could also dedicate your birthday by asking friends to donate make a donation instead of buying gifts. On your personalized page you can share photos and say why you believe in LSA.  All donations are tax-deductible, and you can be confident that all the donations made will be directed to the programs that need them most. Get started crowdfunding for LSA.  If you need help setting up your page or coming up with ideas, just give us a call (646) 672-5290, or email development@lsafhs.org – we’ll be happy to help!
08 Aug

Student Turned Teacher’s Aide

Sofia, a rising high school freshman, is volunteering as a teacher’s aide for our month-long Summer Reading and Math Academy. It’s her first time ever volunteering. With her help, children in the program will keep learning this summer and beat the dreaded “summer slide” – learning loss that can occur when children don’t read during the summer holiday.

How does she like it? “It’s really fun!” she said. “I like getting all the materials together for the class. I like to help behind the scenes.”

As a volunteer teacher’s aide, Sofia assists in the classroom of 17 – 20 kindergarten and first graders. The classes meet Monday through Thursday afternoons.  During the class, she goes around and checks the students’ worksheets to see if they are correct. The students are working on basic addition, spelling, and reading.

By the end of the summer, Sofia will complete the 75 hours of community service required by her school.  Still, she wants to return next summer to volunteer again. “I love it!” Sofia said.

01 Jul

Monte Sinai Students Volunteer

Monte Sinai Student Volunteers

June 8, 2016 — Thirty high school students from the Monte Sinai High School near Mexico City, Mexico, came to LSA to learn about our work and to participate in activities with children in LSA programs. They toured the building and had a Q&A session with LSA Advocate, Pura Cruz.

The students brought art supplies and snacks with them and played games with the children.

The activity had a great impact on the high school students. One of the facilitators from the high school wrote:

It was an honor visiting you and having an activity with the kids.

Most of our high school students come from migrant families that arrived to Mexico in WWII.  They had never before thought about what it must have been like for their grandparents to have to move to another country, and most of all they did not understand the issues of poverty and immigration and were not aware how often it still happens today. It was definitely an eye opening experience for our students to learn about the struggles of Mexican immigrants in the United States.

The conclusions they gave at the end of the trip about Little Sisters and what they learned here were amazing. They said that they just learned about an entire different  reality of the  USA, NY and the world in general that they were not aware of previously.

They learned that sometimes just by playing with someone you can give so much.

At the end of the activity, the students very generously donated from their own pockets, and the total amount was $354.

We look forward to having students from Monte Sinai visit LSA again next summer!

01 Jun

Volunteer Appreciation Night

Volunteer Appreciation Evening

LSA celebrates our wonderful volunteers!

May 31, 2016 – LSA Family Health Service celebrated the contributions of our volunteers at our annual Volunteer Appreciation Evening.

Staff and volunteers alike gathered for an evening of camaraderie, sharing stories, and a delicious dinner.  Speakers included staff members: Traci Lester, CEO; Trish Gough, Director of Volunteer Services; Russell Nobles, Chief of Program Operations; Lucia Russett, Director of Advocacy, and Wendy Miron, Director of Education and Youth Services. We also heard from volunteers Paulette Etoty, Priosca Galicia, and Robert Mazziotti. Special thanks to Omniwines for donating the beverages.

Below are words of inspiration and photos from the party…

Joyce Richardson, volunteer tutor
“I thought, ‘the kids trust me so much.’  But it’s not that they trust me — they trust the place, its friendliness and kindness — you can’t buy that.  They’re in a place where people love them.”

Robert Mazziotti, math tutor
“Something that every tutor, I’m sure, has experienced and really appreciates and gets a tremendous amount of joy out of is that ‘aha’ moment when the student finally takes something away that you gave them that’s going to grow in their garden for the rest of their life.  You’ve seeded it.  They’ve accepted it and planted it. …  That’s what I say is the main value to me of tutoring — the opportunity to help somebody step up to a new level of their educational experience.”

Prioska Galicia, volunteer with the food pantry, reception, and Education and Youth Services
“Everybody here has been really welcoming.  If you can volunteer – do it!”

Paulette Etoty, volunteer with the food pantry and The Sharing Place thrift store.
“When I realized how good, how welcoming, accomodating – how friendly this family is, I said ‘I may not have a job right now, but I’m going to give back.  I’m going to volunteer and I’m going to help.’  The joy I see in people’s faces when you put all that food in their basket, that just makes my day.”

Traci Lester, CEO
“Volunteers fuel the engine of what we do.”

Wendy Miron, Director of Education and Youth Services
“The kids thrive because of all of you.”

Lucia Russett, Director of Advocacy
“Our food pantry serves 2,000 people each month.  There’s no way we can do that without the volunteers.”

Click the arrows on the left or right to scroll through photos from the evening’s festivities.


28 Apr

Pantry Volunteer Helps Families Think Healthy

Gabriela Sanchez, Food Pantry Volunteer

Gabriela Sanchez, a recent Hunter College graduate, volunteers once a week in the LSA food pantry. She has always had an interest in nutrition and community health — volunteering at local health programs in college as well as various farmers’ markets. She currently works part-time and is a development intern for New York Cares and Slow Food USA where she helps with fundraising and outreach. Despite working and interning, Gabriela still somehow finds time to volunteer.

Having an aunt who worked at LSA for ten years, she thought that volunteering at LSA would be a great way to gain experience post-graduation. Gabriela said volunteering is a great way to obtain valuable work experience and knowledge about the community, as well as learn the inner-workings of an organization. She believes it is a “great stepping stone” for her career and an excellent way to directly contribute to the community. Working in an environment where every employee is “nice, smart and welcoming” encourages her to work harder. “Seeing people at LSA who have worked here for so long is inspiring — it’s great to see the camaraderie here.”

What is the best thing about volunteering at LSA? Gabriela paused and a huge smile covered her face from ear to ear. She responded simply, “It makes me feel really good.” Working at the food pantry every Wednesday, she does the heavy lifting, re-stocking, and often works non-stop for hours. However, she feels rewarded being able to see how many families and people they’ve served.

Although Gabriela only started volunteering in October of 2015, she has already begun two projects with a focus on nutrition and food advocacy. As a pantry volunteer she was able to see firsthand the severity of the nutritional and health issues facing members of the community.

Gabriela saw that clients were interested in learning better eating and shopping habits. She decided to reach out to a local branch of the nationwide program, Cooking Matters at the Store –a federally based program that provides materials and a curriculum to organizations to help them lead their own tours at supermarkets. Gabriela hopes to directly teach people in small groups the best practices and techniques when shopping for food. In these tours, leaders will teach various shopping skills, such as reading nutritional labels or determining the difference between fresh and canned foods. “I basically just want to teach people how to shop so they can get the best monetary and nutritional value.” She led a workshop in March with moms whose children are in the tutoring program. There will be another “Cooking Matters at the Store” workshop in May.

Her second project involves creating recipes using ingredients provided by the food pantry. She became curious as to what people really prepared with the food LSA provided every week. She began doing her own research — buying sandwiches and meals from local restaurants and stores and recreating them using affordable ingredients in her own home. Having little time herself, she believed that she had a good approach and perspective similar to the clients who had little resources and time to create nutritionally sound meals. After working closely with the Advocacy staff, Gabriela is kick starting this new project at LSA. She would like to use the ingredients found in LSA’s own pantry to create recipe cards that include nutritional values.

Gabriela believes the holistic approach has been vital to LSA’s success and is what makes it so successful and distinguishes it from other non-profit organizations. “LSA is a good model for other non-profit organizations” she said. “There should be more trustworthy organizations like LSA that focus on the most marginalized and disadvantaged groups.

Gabriela would like more people to know about LSA. She would like others to know about the  work LSA does, the range of services provided, its importance to the community.  She would like LSA to be known by everyone in New York and beyond, hoping that “when people hear East Harlem, I want them to think LSA and know the great work that they do.”

Story by Julia Correa, Development Special Projects volunteer

28 Apr

Breaking out of her comfort zone

Student overcomes shyness as a volunteer

Rosa Sanchez, Christo Rey Student Volunteer

Rosa Sanchez, a 12 grade student at Christo Rey High School on 106th and Park, says the best part of her volunteer experience has been to “really connect” with the toddlers she works with in the Parent and  Child Development program. She also loves the feeling of being “trusted” by the mothers to take care of their children. She also mentioned how welcoming the program staff have been, and how patient and willing they have been to teach her how to interact with the families. She said this experience has helped her to overcome her shyness and “break out of her comfort zone.”

Rosa began in the fall with 3 other Christo Rey volunteers; and typically the commitment is for only one semester; however she had such a good experience that she asked to be placed for a second semester at LSA, and it was permitted.

Rosa is hoping to attend Fordham University in the fall – it was her first choice of 9 colleges she applied to (she was accepted to all nine). She wants to study forensic pathology with a minor is psychology.

She said if she decides not to pursue forensic psychology, she would like to be an early childhood teacher.

We probably can guess where she got that idea!


28 Apr

Helping Families Through Art

Nicole Walker, Art Therapy Intern, Parenting and Child Development Program

“Everyone is so close in the program – teachers, aides – everyone knows each other well,” said Nicole Walker, describing what it’s like to work in the Parent and Child Development program at LSA.  “It’s a very interactive environment, and they made it easy for me to jump right in.  It’s a lot of fun, like being with family,” she said.

Nicole is a senior at Marymount Manhattan College studying art therapy. She will be graduating in May, and says her time at LSA has reinforced her interest in becoming an art therapist.  In addition to spending thee half days at LSA, she is a part time nanny for a family with four children on the Upper East Side.

She said that the most exciting part of the volunteer work is “meeting and interacting with so many different children.”  Though she does not speak Spanish, the primary language of the majority of our families, she has come to know the children well. “I learned that each child is so different and has a unique personality,” she says.

Nicole describes her most memorable experience: “When one of the toddlers in the program, named Nicole, learned that my name is Nicole, she first didn’t believe there could be someone else named Nicole! But she finally accepted it, and now whenever she sees me, she comes running right up to me, and gives me a big hug. Every time.”