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Program Lends Comfort to New York City's Largest School District

United States, November 19, 2002

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    Photo: Mercy Corps Photo:

Eleanor Riley is the director of Early Childhood Education and Development for Community School District #10 in the Bronx in New York City. The district is the largest in the city with 43,000 children (compared to just 8,000 children in CSD # 1 in Manhattan) and is predominantly low-income with most families living below the poverty level. After receiving a faxed flyer about a Mercy Corps Comfort for Kids general session held in Manhattan that focused on addressing kids' reactions to trauma, Riley quickly dispatched one of her family workers to attend and "check it out." This participant understood the potential impact the training would have on their overburdened district staff. After a few phone calls back and forth, we scheduled a training session for Riley's department.

On February 28th, they held an on-site training that included 21 of their district staff including SPARK counselors, CSW's, family workers and guidance counselors, all working primarily with pre-kindergarten and elementary age children and their parents. The training was held in the family room as parents came in and out, used the phone and picked up materials but the participants remained completely focused on the discussion, despite the fact that they were sitting on pint-sized kid's chairs huddled in a circle.

Just five months after 9/11/01, incidents of racially motivated outbursts among parents were on the rise. One family worker shared a story about a Muslim mother bringing her child to school. Walking up the steps was a father and as he passed her on the stairs, he shoved her, yelling at her to keep her kid away from the others. The family worker happened to witness this father and courageously stepped in and told him he was out of line. The group echoed the need to model good behavior by treating others well and never allowing a racial comment to go unchallenged in their presence regardless of whether it comes from a coworker, parent or child.

Since the training in February, this district has held approximately 30 parent meetings with anywhere from 65 to 105 parents attending each session. The materials continue to be shared with parents visiting their Welcome Center, where immigrants are assisted with the transition to this country. Their district also includes several homeless shelters in the area, many of which received the parent booklets in Spanish.

They also have distributed roughly 350 Comfort for Kids comfort kits to children who were especially vulnerable in the months that followed 9/11/01 and have developed similar kits used in each of the schools during playgroup or in counseling programs.

Comfort for Kids was developed in response to the tragic events of September 11 by Mercy Corps in partnership with JPMorgan Chase and Bright Horizons and the Dougy Center - the National Center for Grieving Children and Families, The program's goal is to provide positive solutions to help low-income, minority, refugee, immigrant or at-risk populations in the greater New York City area address childhood trauma and racial intolerance.