For over 150 years, The New York Foundling has worked in partnership with our neighbors to ensure that everyone can meet their full potential when facing challenging situations. This hasn’t changed, and our staff continue to provide life-changing and meaningful support in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. This series shares how The Foundling’s many programs are responding to the needs of their community.

Since 1982, The Foundling has been the only specialized provider of family support and prevention programs that serves the Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing community in all five boroughs of New York City The Foundling’s Family Services for Deaf Children and Adults helps keep children out of foster care by strengthening the family system and increasing access to available community supports. All of our therapists and interventionists are fluent in American Sign Language (ASL), and pre-COVID-19, they met with families in their homes and in their communities.

Since the onset of COVID-19, our team has been helping families overcome the hurdles that followed, ensuring that they stayed on their continued path to family stability.


The Foundling’s Family Services for Deaf Children and Adults is supported by 11 staff members, including therapists, interventionists, supervisors, and an interpreter. Since March, home visits shifted to videoconference – using platforms like videophone devices that simultaneously transmit and receive both audio and video signals over telephone lines, or online solutions like Zoom or Microsoft Teams. These weekly sessions run for 45 minutes or up to an hour and a half, depending on each family’s needs.

“We’re used to meeting in person,” says Diana Abayeva, a program interventionist. “It was a hard transition at first, because some of our families didn’t have smartphones or cellular reception. But thankfully we were able to resolve these technology issues.”

“Our families are managing just like the rest of us,” adds Diana. “Homeschooling their children on top of their parental and work duties or finding childcare when daycare was closed—it’s a challenge. And they want to get this right.”

“Some have reported loneliness and frustration at home, particularly when family members they’re quarantined with don’t know sign language,” therapist Kenya Bryant says.

That’s why program staff are working with the families to improve their communications skills and encouraging family members to learn American Sign Language. “And it’s working,” Kenya continues. “It’s bringing families closer together.”

Families have used this time to pick up new hobbies, and they’re reporting a heightened focus on practicing self-care at home.

And practicing self-care is needed: the virus has posed unique challenges to the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing community. “One of the downsides to our families’ ability to communicate during the pandemic is that people are wearing masks,” Diana explains. “Many people who are Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing rely on reading lips, but this is not possible with the speaker is wearing a mask. This hinders their ability to be independent.”

As an alternative, some Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing prefer to communicate in writing using the Notes app on their smartphones.

Another challenge revolves around doctor’s appointments. One family needed mental health services for their child, but the provider only conducted telehealth sessions through an encrypted videoconference platform. While the child logged into that platform, their mother, who is Deaf, had to join separately via videophone. She had a hard time keeping track of who said what across the different platforms during the appointment. Not being able to know what the doctor said about her child’s health—or what her child was saying about their own health—was incredibly emotional and frustrating. “I talked to the provider and convinced them to switch to Zoom and hire an interpreter to join the sessions to the conversation for the mother,” says Diana. “That worked out so much better.”

Getting credible and reliable news resources can be another challenge. “We have been directing them to vloggers and reporters who use sign language when posting daily news,” Kenya says.

In response to COVID-19, families have received donations such as household items, electronic devices for communication and remote learning, clothing, and money to purchase food. “We are doing everything we can to help get them through a tough time,” says Diana.

To learn more about how The New York Foundling is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in New York, visit our emergency response page. Stay tuned for more stories from the frontlines as we continue to support our neighbors on paths to stability and strength.

Read past posts in the ‘Our Work Continues’ blog series:

For over 150 years, The New York Foundling has worked in partnership with our neighbors to ensure that everyone can meet their full potential when facing challenging situations. This hasn’t changed, and our staff continue to provide life-changing and meaningful support in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. This series shares how The Foundling’s many programs are responding to the needs of their community.

In Puerto Rico, The Foundling serves 1,500 children through Head Start and Early Head Start programs. Our Early Head Start program is home-based and serves expecting mothers, infants, and toddlers. The program promotes strong parent-child relationships and helps provide high-quality early learning experiences. Our Head Start program delivers high-quality early education and child development services to children ages 3-5 in San Juan, Cataño, Vega Alta, Coamo, and Toa Baja.

The families and Foundling staff in Puerto Rico have shown tremendous resilience and perseverance, despite the devastation caused by the 2017 hurricanes, a series of earthquakes at the start of 2020, and now, ongoing hardship as families try and stay safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic.


In response to devastation caused by hurricanes in 2017 and earthquakes in 2020, The Foundling’s Early Head Start and Head Start programs in Puerto Rico were already accustomed to delivering services in new and creative ways when COVID-19 hit. “How school and teaching is conducted here changed after Hurricane Maria,” says Carmen Villafane, Senior Vice President of the two programs. “We’ve had some practice with online learning and using digital tools.” Throughout the pandemic, our teachers have become more and more creative with their teaching methods. They’re finding new online learning and practice programs for students. They’re posting instructional videos on how to do the day’s activities, and they are recording videos of themselves reading stories and sending them to the families.

Since schools in Puerto Rico have been closed since March due to the pandemic, teachers and staff have also been sending care packages to students and their families with materials including scissors, paper, pencils, markers, glue, crayons, and other craft materials. That way, when teachers assign activities and projects to do, the families are able to complete them. “Without these materials, the children would lose the crucial skills they need to progress to the next step in their education,” Carmen explains.  “So, we’re doing everything we can prepare them and ensure that nothing stands in their way of educational success.”

Activities are geared towards promoting children’s cognitive, social, and emotional growth for later success in school. The program delivers developmentally, culturally, and linguistically appropriate learning experiences in language, literacy, mathematics, social and emotional functioning, science, physical skills, and creative arts.

Teachers host a weekly virtual class and support activities throughout the week. In addition to engaging children and parents, other members of the household are welcome to join as well. During this time together, everyone is able to participate in activities such as songs, stories, and crafts, as well as teacher-guided discussions about COVID-19 and general health and safety measures. “Off-screen, the parents have done a wonderful job working with their children on educational activities,” Carmen commented. For example, teachers will recommend an activity for parents to work on with their children at home, such as making homemade Play-Doh or “Plastilina,” and the parents will share their videos of family craft-time with the teachers.

Early Head Start, which provided home-based services to 36 families before COVID-19, is now held online. Vocational home visitors, who work with a child’s family to ensure their home environment supports their well-being and education, are trained to identify family needs in both online and in-person settings. They develop programming, handle assessments, and if a need arises that requires specialized care, they provide referrals to nurses, social workers, mental health professionals, or other community resources.

Throughout the year, and especially in times of crisis — be it a hurricane, an earthquake, or a global pandemic — the families served by our Head Start programs often struggle to have their basic needs met. “Food is too often in short supply,” Carmen notes, “It’s a common challenge our families face. But with the help of local charities and generous donations, we have been able to buy and supply grocery bags full of food to the families we serve.”

“I am so proud of my employees,” Carmen adds, “They have all gone the extra mile, which is what we need in this moment, and what we’ve needed in every moment since Hurricane Maria. Earthquakes still affect south Puerto Rico every day, and there’s no end in sight. And yet, despite the uncertainty, our staff wakes up every morning prepared and ready to serve. I couldn’t be more proud of them for their hard work and continued commitment. The Foundling’s presence here in Puerto Rico really makes all the difference.”

To learn more about how The New York Foundling is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in New York, visit our emergency response page. Stay tuned for more stories from the frontlines as we continue to support our neighbors on paths to stability and strength.

Read past posts in the ‘Our Work Continues’ blog series:

Yandery

For over 150 years, The New York Foundling has worked in partnership with our neighbors to ensure that everyone can meet their full potential when facing challenging situations. This hasn’t changed, and our staff continue to provide life-changing and meaningful support in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. This series shares how The Foundling’s many programs are responding to the needs of their community.

Youth who are tried as adults for crimes committed while under the age of 19 face the very real threat of being sentenced to adult prison with adult convictions that impact their futures. The Foundling’s Families Rising program is one of a select few that targets this high-risk population and provides them with evidence-based Functional Family Therapy (FFT) as an alternative to incarceration.

Families Rising works to reduce family conflict, substance abuse, recidivism, and violent behavior in the long term. In addition to its historically high rates of treatment completion, the program has demonstrated a significant impact helping participants with viable alternatives that avoid incarceration and a criminal record, leading them to stay in school and avoid re-arrest. The program is also estimated to save taxpayers millions of dollars each year in incarceration costs.

Throughout COVID-19, our dedicated Families Rising team has continued to provide FFT treatment and support to youth and their families.


Before youth can be screened into programs like Families Rising, which is a rehabilitative alternative to incarceration, they have to wait for a court referral. With criminal courts closed due to COVID-19, referrals of youth to The Foundling’s Families Rising program have decreased dramatically. Virtual court hearings are at a minimum, reserved only for the highest-risk cases.

But for the many young people who are already enrolled in Families Rising, therapy sessions have continued during COVID-19 but in a telehealth format. “We’ve had more instances of rescheduling,” says Kimberly Sweeney, a Families Rising Supervisor. “Because of COVID-19, we cannot rely on popping up at someone’s home for a session, so we are now addressing potential attendance struggles as a clinical matter in therapy sessions.”

Negative peer influences, fights with family, and impulsive decision-making are the most common trouble factors for youth. “Kids do what other kids are doing,” says Kimberly, “Since other kids are staying home due to COVID-19, the kids we help are, too. So that works to our advantage.”

Family involvement is an incredibly important factor in the program’s success. “One of my kids wasn’t going to school,” Kimberly explains, “But then his older brother came home from college early because of COVID-19. Our client started logging into the remote learning platform and began sending screenshots of the work he was doing to both myself and his school counselor. His brother was such a good influence. He reinforced all the skills and good behaviors we were trying to teach.”

And moments like this one couldn’t happen if youth are tried as adults and put in adult prisons. “Flooding the criminal justice system isn’t going to help kids make better choices, go to school, or improve their family and community relations,” Gomattie states, “It’s not going to fix recidivism.”

“If the risk of punishment at Rikers was enough to encourage people to behave differently, then it would have worked already,” adds Kimberly, “Families need more support addressing maladaptive behaviors, so their kids don’t end up in Rikers.”

“We need more programs like Families Rising—programs that actually address the issues that got the kid arrested in the first place,” Gomattie continues, “If we don’t treat the root causes, how are we going to produce any real lasting results?”


To learn more about how The New York Foundling is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in New York, visit our emergency response page. Stay tuned for more stories from the frontlines as we continue to support our neighbors on paths to stability and strength.

Read past posts in the ‘Our Work Continues’ blog series:

Dorm Project

For over 150 years, The New York Foundling has worked in partnership with our neighbors to ensure that everyone can meet their full potential when facing challenging situations. This hasn’t changed, and our staff continue to provide life-changing and meaningful support in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. This series shares how The Foundling’s many programs are responding to the needs of their community.

Four years ago, a partnership was created by The New York Foundling which brought together New York City’s Administration of Children’s Services (ACS) and the City University of New York (CUNY) with the goal to help more young people in foster care attend college and earn a college degree. This partnership is more commonly known as The Dormitory Project. The program provides a wide range of supports – academic, social, financial, and professional – to ensure students graduate from college. Students are supported by College Success Coaches, who live alongside them on CUNY campuses across New York City and are deeply attuned and trained to respond to the challenges and stressors that young people in foster care face. The Dormitory Project also includes academic support led by a team of tutors who ensure that each student is prepared to do well in their classes, develop effective study habits, choose a major, and identify a long-term academic plan.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, The Foundling’s dedicated staff have worked tirelessly to help students adjust to remote learning and support those who are facing further hurdles and obstacles so they have an equal shot at educational success.


Before COVID-19, the achievement gap between students in foster care and their peers was already significant. Now, says Joni Rivera, who oversees The Foundling’s Dormitory Project, “students and staff face challenges exacerbated by COVID-19.” Staff spent the first month of the outbreak trying to get students access to technology, adjust to a remote learning format, and stay on track with their courses. But it’s been tough.

“Not only are they switching over to remote learning, they also had to worry about finding a place to live mid-semester and move,” says Joni, “It had an impact on their learning.”

In March, when CUNY campuses shut down, The Foundling’s staff helped its Dormitory Project students find new places to live for the short term—this ranged from family and friends, to foster families, and if that wasn’t possible, limited housing at Queens College remained available.

“CUNY has been incredibly supportive through the pandemic,” says Elizabeth Tremblay, who currently acts as the director of The Dormitory Project, and is an Associate Vice president for The Foundling’s School Based Mental Health Services. “When we couldn’t find alternative summer housing for about 40 students, CUNY graciously agreed to keep one of their dormitories open and house them there. CUNY is also letting our students store some of their belongings in secure places on campus, especially since many have moved into housing arrangements where there isn’t a lot of extra space.”

All tutoring sessions and meetings with College Success Coaches are now done online. Students connect with them on a weekly basis for career counseling, educational advocacy training, and help navigating personal and peer conflicts. Students are also hearing from their tutors on a daily basis, which is an increase from the weekly sessions that took place before COVID-19. Typical tutoring sessions last one to two hours, depending on the students’ needs.

However, the transition from in-person meetings and learning to remote formats was harder for some students than others. “Some students were stressed and frustrated,” says Joni, “It was just difficult in the beginning.”

However, tutors were able to reel in struggling students and get them back on track. “Overall, we saw an increase in student engagement and participation,” Joni continues, “and real progress with students advocating for themselves. That is, students talking to their professors about problems they were having, asking for extensions, and make-up work.”

As a result, the program reported a lot of A’s and B’s on student final exams and – in very exciting news – thirteen students graduated this spring: ten with associates degrees, and three with a four-year degree. These results “really shine a light on how important it is for older youth in foster care to have someone in their lives who will advocate for their education,” Joni says.

CUNY is now offering credit/no credit courses, and program staff are helping students decide which to choose, as well as register for summer and fall classes. Online learning will continue through the summer and possibly also the fall.

“The work we do has a profound effect, especially during these difficult times,” Joni adds, “A huge push from our staff brought students who fell off the map back around. If it weren’t for them, these struggling students might have dropped out. So, we’re really giving these kids a fighting chance.”

“But our students are resilient, too,” Elizabeth says, “COVID-19 has highlighted that with support and the right people around them, older youth in foster care can acclimate to change and achieve successful outcomes in education no matter what their circumstances.”


To learn more about how The New York Foundling is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in New York, visit our emergency response page. Stay tuned for more stories from the frontlines as we continue to support our neighbors on paths to stability and strength.

Read past posts in the ‘Our Work Continues’ blog series:

Healthy Families Staten Island

For over 150 years, The New York Foundling has worked in partnership with our neighbors to ensure that everyone can meet their full potential when facing challenging situations. This hasn’t changed, and our staff continue to provide life-changing and meaningful support in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. This series shares how The Foundling’s many programs are responding to the needs of their community.

The Staten Island Community Partnership, an initiative of the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) operated by The Foundling, works hand-in-hand with residents, community groups, service providers, and local government to encourage and develop new approaches to solving issues facing children, including child abuse and neglect. The partnership aims to weave a safety net for families with family-centered and community-based services that provide impactful and educational opportunities. Together with those closest to the challenges at hand, the partnership engages community members to understand their strengths and needs and create sustainable solutions that produce positive change.

Similarly, Healthy Families Staten Island is a free, home visiting program designed to help new and expectant parents meet the challenges of parenting and ensure the healthy development of their children. The program is designed to help prevent child abuse and neglect by promoting positive parenting skills and parent-child interaction. Participants are also connected to community resources that help to strengthen their families.

Throughout COVID-19, our dedicated staff have continued to provide meaningful engagement and support to residents of Staten Island.


The Foundling has been serving the community of Staten Island for decades. The Foundling’s Staten Island Community Partnership (SICPP) and Healthy Families Staten Island program (HFSI) are two programs that work closely together to support the North Shore Staten Island community. Together they aim to reduce the number of children and families involved in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems through preventative measures and support.

“We’re basically the glue that bands together a network of community-based organizations, and the core of what we do is finding and solving local issues.” Christopher noted, “We have ambassadors who are our eyes, ears, and feet within the community, who are trained to identify potential trouble spots. Some we’ve identified in the past include things like teen vaping, gang action, and understanding sexual consent. We’ll then either design interventions to address those issues or refer individuals to existing programs or The New York Foundling for help.”

Due to social distancing and stay at home orders, it has been more challenging than ever to monitor people’s well-being. “Most of what we know is through word of mouth,” says Valarie Taveras, The Foundling’s Assistant Vice President overseeing both SICPP and HFSI.

“With everything shutdown, one of the issues we’ve seen in teenagers is they are getting bored,” Christopher said. “All the usual summer activities, extracurriculars, and job opportunities that were available to them before aren’t around now to keep them busy and out of trouble. So, we’ve had to get creative about virtualizing our events to keep community members in touch and engaged.”

For example, SICPP now partners with other organizations to host game-oriented virtual academies where teens can meet and interact through supplemental educational activities online. By the end of June, SICPP will be distributing 200 board games to families to help pass time during the summer months.

“We have an annual Fatherhood Fun Day event coming up that’s been completely virtualized,” Christopher says, noting the event will include a DJ and other entertainment for dads to participate in virtually with their families. Various organizations will be present to explain their work and services.

Throughout May and June, SICPP has also been supporting the North Shore with a grocery distribution program. Every week, the Partnership orders a large delivery of meat, fruits, vegetables, and other essential foods to organize and distribute. “So far we have given out 50 bags out each time, and expect to distribute even more in the weeks to come,” Christopher says.

“I’d like to give a special shout out to Khristian Taveras, another Foundling employee,” Valerie added, “He has consistently received the dry and frozen goods since the initiative’s inception. Without his help, the effort would have been delayed.”

Similarly, SICPP’s Laundry Initiative, “Washing away COVID,” has generated nearly 500 emails and registrations of interest. In partnership with Clean Rite Laundry Centers, 375 laundry cards worth $40 each will be distributed amongst the community. SICP is also piloting a program with ACS and Lyft that will supply $30 in rideshare credits for transportation and MetroCards, and taking on an “assistance grant” initiative to provide direct relief.

While SICPP works with all age groups, HFSI specifically helps soon-to-be and new mothers prepare for motherhood. Through intensive home visits, now conducted virtually, HFSI provides mothers with the coaching, tools, and skills they will need as a parent. The program starts prenatal, or at the latest when the child is three months old, and ends when the child is 4-5 years old.

“Many of the mothers we see are transient or here alone in the country,” Valarie explains, “They don’t necessarily have access to family support, information, and resources about having and raising a child. Motherhood is scary and nerve-wracking as it is, and then you add those factors. So, we are here to help them.”

“I was nervous at first about the transition to virtual home visits, but it was seamless,” Valerie continues, “We’ve had to adapt some of our events to fit a virtual format, but overall, not being in an office has been the only real difference.”

Such virtualized events include regular playgroups and HFSI’s annual baby shower. For the latter, packets full of traditional baby shower games and gifts were distributed to the mothers ahead of the event. Since the annual baby shower typically serves attendees food, HFSI also provided Target gift cards so they wouldn’t miss out on the perk.

“Even though all our events are virtual now, the Staten Island community is still excited to participate and stay connected.”


To learn more about how The New York Foundling is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in New York, visit our emergency response page. Stay tuned for more stories from the frontlines as we continue to support our neighbors on paths to stability and strength.

Liv Lauser

For over 150 years, The New York Foundling has worked in partnership with our neighbors to ensure that everyone can meet their full potential when facing challenging situations. This hasn’t changed, and our staff continue to provide life-changing and meaningful support in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. This series shares how The Foundling’s many programs are responding to the needs of their community.

While some adults with developmental disabilities are able to live independently, or in the care of a close family member, others require more intensive round-the-clock services tailored to their level of need. For these people, many of whom have complex medical needs, The Foundling provides supportive and nurturing housing that is fully integrated into the surrounding community. The Foundling provides residential services for people with developmental disabilities in all five boroughs of New York City and in Westchester, Rockland, and Orange Counties.

We help the people in our residential programs engage with their community, gain more autonomy, and participate in gainful activities – from day programs to volunteer work and paying jobs.


As we featured last week, the incredible residential services staff of our Developmental Disabilities Division have selflessly worked the frontlines since the pandemic began, adapting to every challenge they have been faced with, while also providing round-the-clock support to the people in our care.

Across all of our residences, we’ve heard countless stories of staff working tirelessly – and often beyond their usual schedule – to fill the needs in our programs. Direct Support Provider Sandra Thompson, for example, did not hesitate to cover an overnight shift the day a client in the residence where she works received confirmation of COVID-19 infection.  “She had just become an American citizen and felt it was her civic duty to go in and help wherever needed,” Assistant Vice President Mary Pell Bidwell, supervisor for Sandra’s residence, shared.

Similarly, Brian Montilla was asked to temporarily relocate his work to a residence that was hit hard by COVID-19. As one might imagine, this was a difficult request to make, as Brian would be going from a familiar workplace where no clients were COVID positive to a home that had multiple cases of sick residents and staff. In addition to an unfamiliar location, he did not know any of the residents or staff, and had to quickly adapt in a crisis situation with new and different stressors.

“Brian is a team player,” Assistant Vice President Renee Pili shared, “and, as usual, he politely accepted the directive and provided support at the other location for over a month as the situation there stabilized. Through all of this, Brian performed his duties calmly, professionally, and with a smile.”

In the same vein, Felecia Sloan immediately adjusted her schedule to fill shifts after our day habilitation programs closed. Felecia went above and beyond to arrange a socially distant celebration for a resident who was hospitalized on his birthday. Thanks to Felecia’s initiative, via a video call, the staff and residents sang happy birthday and watched the candles be blown out.

“Our staff have really gone above and beyond to uplift the spirits of our residents,” Mary Pell continued, “Von Hemert, one of our residence managers, connected with the community to receive deli food donations for residences. She personally picked up the donations and delivered them to residents!”

Staff members Diaka Doumbouya and Reginald Mason have displayed the same degree of creativity and thoughtfulness. “Diaka brings her skills as a beautician to the residence and pampers the ladies who are accustomed to going to the hair salon,” Assistant Vice President Thelma Adams Moore said, “And Reginald has served residents roast duck with stuffing and all the fixings. He also does smoothie bars and engages them in the kitchen with meal preparation.”

Liv Lauser

Residence Manager Liv Lauser received PPE donations from the city government to protect residents.

Despite the incredible pressure they’ve endured, these staff members – and many others – have displayed incredible compassion and creativity. Thank you to the valiant staff of our residential services for their selfless service.


To learn more about how The New York Foundling is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in New York, visit our emergency response page. Stay tuned for more stories from the frontlines as we continue to support our neighbors on paths to stability and strength.

Carl

For over 150 years, The New York Foundling has worked in partnership with our neighbors to ensure that everyone can meet their full potential when facing challenging situations. This hasn’t changed, and our staff continue to provide life-changing and meaningful support in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. This series shares how The Foundling’s many programs are responding to the needs of their community.

While some adults with developmental disabilities are able to live independently or in the care of a close family member, others require more intensive round-the-clock services tailored to their level of independence. For these people, many of whom have complex medical needs, The Foundling provides supportive and nurturing housing that is fully integrated into the surrounding community. The Foundling provides residential services for people with developmental disabilities in all five boroughs of New York City and in Westchester, Rockland, and Orange Counties.

We support the people in our residential programs as they work to engage with their community, gain more autonomy, and participate in gainful activities – from day programs to volunteer work and employment.


On any given day, hundreds of staff from The Foundling’s Developmental Disabilities Division are reporting to work at 104 separate supportive residences across the New York metropolitan area. Each home houses several individuals, and is staffed by direct care workers and nurses. With so many in people in every home, the possibility of a COVID-19 outbreak among our staff and the people we serve has been a critical focus of The Foundling since the onset of the pandemic, especially as many of these residents live with complex pre-existing conditions or are otherwise immunocompromised.

The dedicated nurses who work with our residents have fought tirelessly since March to keep their community healthy. They rely on the incredible perseverance and commitment of the direct care staff in every home to ensure that the residents – many of whom have suffered trauma from isolation and abuse – are comfortable and happy at home, despite these challenging times. Our Developmental Disabilities division staff members have faced incredible challenges and heartbreaks over the last two months, but they, have and continue to go above and beyond to bring joy and hope to the residents in their care.

There are hundreds of stories of perseverance and compassion from our many residences for people with development disabilities.

When our residents could no longer visit the barbershop or salon for a haircut, staff from The Bronx to Staten Island stepped in – including Ricardo Wright, Jeremiah Harris, and Okechukwu “Stanley” Nwanyanwu – and established makeshift barbershops, cutting residents hair for both hygiene and fun.

Elsewhere, staff members went above the call of duty in efforts to fill in for staff who were sick, taking care of a loved one, or unable to come to work. Their colleagues took on additional shifts and worked non-stop with no questions asked, knowing that their clients needed them. Nichole Guions took on extra shifts and stayed late even while caring for her fiancé, who was ill with the virus at home. Randy Brown, meanwhile, even slept at the residence where he was assigned, to be sure he would be there if any of the residents needed him.

Wood Street Staff

With the return of warm weather, our residential staff have sought to comfort residents by planning barbecues and cookouts.

There are countless stories like these to share, but Renee Pili, Assistant Vice President of Residential Services, summarized the sentiment best:

“In times like these, it is very easy to succumb to frustration, anxiety, and fear. The easy way out would be to run, hide, and leave the worrying to other people. But that has not been the case for our residential managers and staff.”

Renee elaborated that despite incredible personal challenges, staff have risen above the call of duty, “Many have endured illnesses and passings, have embraced new roles as teachers for their children, or are living separately from their families, because they work with sick residents and do not want to risk bringing the virus home.

“They have faced crisis after crisis, and yet our people remain united and strong. They keep persevering—not only adapting to challenging new work routines but offering support to the individuals in our residences in new and creative ways. They are valuable team members, and I cannot express my gratitude enough.”

We are humbled daily by the care that our team gives to make others’ lives better. Thank you to all of our residential staff. Stay tuned next week for more updates from our Developmental Disabilities Division.


To learn more about how The New York Foundling is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in New York, visit our emergency response page. Stay tuned for more stories from the frontlines as we continue to support our neighbors on paths to stability and strength.

For over 150 years, The New York Foundling has worked in partnership with our neighbors to ensure that everyone can meet their full potential when facing challenging situations. This hasn’t changed, and our staff continue to provide life-changing and meaningful support in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. This series shares how The Foundling’s many programs are responding to the needs of their community.


The Foundling’s School Based Mental Health Services team embeds staff within partnered New York City public schools to identify and address the individual mental health needs of students. Trained staff work with the school to develop and monitor intervention plans for in-school counseling as well as provide referrals out to community-based services.

The program works to educate families about emotional wellness while identifying children and teenagers in need of mental health services. In each partner school, staff aim to promote engagement with families, establish physical environments that encourage participation in services when needed, create processes that facilitate prompt referral, and incorporate evidence-based treatment practices.

Launched in 2014, the School Based Mental Health Services program is based on a growing body of evidence showing that an integrated focus on academics, health and mental health services, social services, expanded learning opportunities, positive youth development, and family and community supports are critical to improving student achievement. Schools that utilize this approach are often referred to as community schools.

In the face of COVID-19, our dedicated clinicians and support staff are adapting, so they can provide the same level of services to young people, their families, and the school community.

School Based Mental HealthAs of April, the School Based Mental Health Services team has provided Telehealth treatment to 212 students and families, 277 therapeutic sessions, and helped schools respond to six community member mental health crises. Unsurprisingly, these statistics are on par with our impact when schools are in session, demonstrating the team’s adaptability as well as the essential nature of the program.

Last year, the School Based Mental Health Services program served approximately 1,000 kids across its 30 partnering elementary, middle, and high schools. “We are in every New York City neighborhood except Brooklyn, which we hope to expand into,” notes Assistant Vice President Elizabeth Tremblay.

Assistant Vice President Bonnie Loughner, who oversees the program alongside Elizabeth, adds: “We are there to help the greater school community meet their students’ social-emotional and academic needs. If any kids are starting to rise to the level of depressed or anxious, we’re there to teach them skills to work through their symptoms.”

Should a crisis situation arise, the School Based Mental Health Services team is ready. When the pandemic began, Elizabeth and Bonnie sat down with their team to assess how their crisis response might change. “We’re following the same procedures as before, but instead of it being in-person, it’s all done via Telehealth now,” Bonnie explains.

“It has been exciting to see the clinicians and youth adapt to telehealth,” Stephanie Riley, a program supervisor, expresses, “the staff have been so open and creative in trying new engagement strategies such as scavenger hunts and incorporating them into therapy.”

Crisis cases typically involve self-harm or suicidal thoughts. In those situations, the program’s staff are the school community’s first responders. “Pre-COVID-19, the student would be brought to our assigned rooms at the school for a full, in-person assessment,” Elizabeth says, “But the advantage of having to do that assessment by video now is that we actually get to see the student’s home. That allows us to work with the family and create an even better safety plan—one that’s tailored to the student’s specific home situation in that moment.”

But mental health doesn’t just exist in the therapy room or on video conferences. The program also works closely with the PTA and school staff to bring mental health resources and awareness to the broader school community, including workshops for students, parents, and teachers. Workshops focus on topics like mental health stigma, behavior management in the classroom, identifying suicidal ideation, and anxiety management techniques. “All our workshops are done virtually now,” Bonnie says, “We’ve also pre-recorded staff trainings for teachers to use.”

Before COVID-19, the program staff would also conduct classroom observations and work with teachers to incorporate social-emotional learning into the classroom. Though this is now difficult, staff have had many teachers contact the program to manage their own stress and to learn how to better support students during this time.

Despite the many challenges posed by the pandemic, recently, the team launched a new partnership with The Foundling’s charter school, Haven Academy. The new initiative will bring the evidence-based model, Incredible Years, to Haven Academy scholars. Used in other elementary schools served by the School Based Mental Health team, Incredible Years is designed for 4 to 6 year-old children, and uses puppets and roleplaying to teach academic and social-emotional skills like sharing and persistence.

“We’re using video vignettes and roleplaying scenarios via videoconference,” Bonnie explains, describing the evidence-based therapeutic interventions they provide. A version designed for parents has similar content, but it teaches the parents how to apply those lessons with their 6 to 12 year-old children at home. Both groups last approximately 16 to 18 weeks, encouraging families to create healthy households where mental health concerns are destigmatized.

“Overall, we’ve seen increased school engagement,” Bonnie says, “School staff and administrators were harder to track down before, but now that everyone is working from home, a lot of schools are having weekly meetings with us. Pre-COVID-19, those meetings were only taking place once, maybe twice a month. It makes me really hopeful for the future that we are setting new expectations for more regular meetings and communications.”


To learn more about how The New York Foundling is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in New York, visit our emergency response page. Stay tuned for more stories from the frontlines as we continue to support our neighbors on paths to stability and strength.

Developmental Disabilities Day Hab

For over 150 years, The New York Foundling has worked in partnership with our neighbors to ensure that everyone can meet their full potential when facing challenging situations. This hasn’t changed, and our staff continue to provide life-changing and meaningful support in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. This series shares how The Foundling’s many programs are responding to the needs of their community.

The Foundling’s Day Habilitation programs for people with developmental disabilities are based in the community and give participants an opportunity to connect with others through social, volunteer, and work-related activities. Such personalized activities help participants experience new things, get to know their likes and dislikes, and create rich experiences shaped by their preferences. These programs are offered to people living both in the community and in Foundling residences across the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and surrounding counties.


Our dedicated Day Habilitation staff continues to provide meaningful engagement and support to individuals with developmental disabilities both in and out of The Foundling’s residences.

For people living with developmental disabilities, confinement can quickly become a serious emotional burden. That’s why our Day Habilitation Specialists continue to provide meaningful daily services and programs, despite the limitations of social distancing. Instead of picking participants up and bringing them to program or classroom sites as they normally would, staff members have now donned their personal protective gear and signed on to their laptops to bring the programs to them.

For about eight hours each day, Monday through Friday, Day Habilitation Specialists are spending in-person time with program participants living in Foundling group residences, keeping their spirits up while guiding them through various academic and social activities to keep their minds occupied and engaged.

As much as possible, staff and participants are maintaining six feet of distance from each other. In cases where individuals are focusing on building their fine motor skills, like handwashing, staff are wearing masks and gloves to protect themselves and our clients as they complete the tasks at hand.

For program participants living at home, however, Day Habilitation staff like Monee Smith are forced to stay in touch by phone. “We’d do basic math skills over the phone or work on vocabulary,” Monee says.

Recently, she’s been transitioning participants to live video chatting. While technology accessibility was an issue for many at the beginning of the outbreak, The Foundling’s programs have worked to distribute tablets, Monee says.

The plan is to hold two-hour sessions with each group of participants every day. “Some will be able to join the sessions on their own, but for those that need help, a parent, guardian, or in-house staff member will help them log on.”

The ability to share screens, show videos, and see familiar faces makes the day’s lessons and activities so much more engaging. “And it’s teaching them how to use modern technology,” explains Monee.

“We want to make sure that those who don’t live in our residences are not forgotten,” said Ashley Gibbs, Coordinator for The Foundling’s Day Habilitation Services, highlighting the importance of engaging with home participants.

Whether staff meet participants in-person or virtually, many of the day-to-day activities remain the same – and there have been some special surprises as well. When our programs shifted the delivery of services from community-based to home-based, all participants received personalized care packages with materials like worksheets, crayons, and construction paper. Some participants work on their math, writing, and reading skills, while others are guided through sensory and motor skill-building activities. Additionally, there’s also time allocated during the day for puzzles, games, art, and crafting projects like Mother’s Day cards.

Unfortunately, staff can no longer take participants on recreational field trips. Steven Moore used to take his group to the beach or the pier for fishing. Stephanie Tauly took her group to the movies every Tuesday.

But staff have been creative in finding special ways for participants to feel engaged. Movie day still happens, only now through streaming services. YouTube videos guide groups through stretches, yoga poses, and simple exercises. And others have taken virtual museum tours together.

Program participants often like routines, and COVID-19 has unfortunately disrupted them. “I try to redirect them when they are feeling overwhelmed, depressed, or frustrated,” Monee relates, “They miss peer-to-peer contact, going outside, going on trips, socializing, just being out and about.”

“I find ways to keep them productive. When they’re inside their homes, they get very comfortable and sometimes lose focus,” KiAndre Caldwell, a Day Habilitation Specialist in the Bronx, says. “When that happens, I give them an activity to do that teaches them something new. Or we’ll stop and talk about what they’re feeling, what’s going on in their lives, and what they want to do instead.”

Seeing participants in their homes has some upsides. “We get to know them better. We see them cook, clean, do laundry, use the buses and trains to go to the store, and other things that demonstrate their level of independence that we otherwise may never have seen,” KiAndre notes, adding that everyone exercises utmost safety. “Whenever we go out, they’ll grab their gloves and masks. They know how far away to walk from other people, when to wash their hands and for how long—it’s a new routine.”

Despite the many struggles and challenges the pandemic has wrought, our Day Habilitation Specialists are thankful to be able to continue working with the people in their care. “They’ve become my family, too,” says Odessa Forde, a Day Habilitation Specialist in Brooklyn.

“Our staff has been doing a wonderful job working through this difficult time,” Ashley Gibbs expresses. “I’m proud of how creative they’ve been to overcome the many challenges this pandemic has thrown our way.”


To learn more about how The New York Foundling is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in New York, visit ouremergency response page. Stay tuned for more stories from the frontlines as we continue to support our neighbors on paths to stability and strength. 

For over 150 years, The New York Foundling has worked in partnership with our neighbors to ensure that everyone can meet their full potential when facing challenging situations. This hasn’t changed, and our staff continue to provide life-changing and meaningful support in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. This series shares how The Foundling’s many programs are responding to the needs of their community.

In recognition of National Foster Care Month in May, we are pleased to share updates from our foster care programs. The Foundling’s foster care programs serve over 1,000 young people, from newborns to young adults, every year. Recognizing the trauma and risks associated with family separation, as well as the abuse and maltreatment that lead to it, our programs are specially designed to support families through challenging times. In cases where more extensive support is needed, specialized foster care programming helps address significant behavioral or mental health concerns.

Through the COVID-19 pandemic, The Foundling’s foster care staff are working with families and children to address serious challenges to wellbeing while also facing their own personal struggles. Despite the difficulties, they have not only managed to continue providing essential support, but have also worked tirelessly to adapt their work and support to be effective within our current situation.


It’s no secret that family separation is a harrowing experience. For many young people in foster care, separation causes serious trauma, in turn causing anxiety and depression. Stressful situations, like stay at-home isolation, can easily trigger those symptoms.

“I tell them it’s okay to feel this way,” says Maria Lubina Qadeer, a sociotherapist in our Treatment Family Foster Care (TFFC) Program, “but to focus our energy on what we have control over and not what we don’t have control over.”

With stay at home orders keeping New Yorkers isolated in their homes, the support that Maria and other foster care staff provide to families is critical now more than ever. Many young people in foster care are dealing with incredibly difficult emotions on top of existing challenges. Some have withdrawn, are eating less and have isolated themselves in their rooms; others have acted out by disobeying stay at home orders.

“My role overall is to make sure the child is thriving in their home. If they are not, I try to support them with different interventions.”

To that end, Maria and her team have added daily check-ins, in addition to normal weekly check-ins, for more extensive support. This time ensures that families aren’t displaying COVID-19 symptoms and have access to necessities, while also providing more regular emotional support.

“The current sessions, in light of COVID-19, are foremost about ‘how are you feeling and managing today?’ Living in isolation, this additional social emotional support is what they need,” Maria explains.

“It may be harder to get the children to describe difficult emotions by phone or video conference… we are working harder to keep those relationships strong so we can help them work through whatever they’re feeling.”

Simultaneously, one of the greatest challenges facing our families and staff is the loss of foster parent lives to COVID-19. Due to various socioeconomic factors, foster parents – especially those who are relatives of the young people in foster care – generally tend to be older, and may suffer from pre-existing conditions. As a result, many fall into the virus’s most at-risk populations.

“The foster parent losses have been tragic,” Elizabeth Wright, Vice President of Family Foster Care mourns, “especially because we can’t express sympathy in the usual ways we would.” To compound this, many foster care staff have suffered tremendous losses of their own family and friends. “They go from those difficult situations at home to more difficult situations at work,” Elizabeth says, “That weighs on me, and certainly it weighs on my team.”

Nonetheless, foster care staff have rallied to support each other in order to continue supporting the families. “I’ve been amazed by their ongoing, overwhelming commitment and dedication,” Elizabeth adds, “It’s made me feel really proud.”

Maria feels the love and support on her own team: “[We are] good at utilizing each other for processing the different situations that occur with our families and youth. The most important thing during difficult times like these is being a part of a communicative team.”

Meanwhile, foster parents and birth parents alike have remained understanding and supportive as they work with staff to push through together. The Foundling’s staff have been able to continue frequent family visitation virtually, keeping birth parents in touch with their children through the crisis. Though visitation with young children and babies has been more challenging, foster parents have risen to the occasion by sending regular photos and videos to birth parents in lieu of in-person visitation.

“In the beginning there was a lot of uneasiness around how much support we would get, but there has been clear support,” Elizabeth says, explaining that the system is adapting to meet the current needs. While permanency placement had been made difficult with temporary closure of family courts, the system has started to go virtual.

The capacity is seriously limited, however, and in the interim The Foundling has pushed to review cases where extended visitation and trial discharge had already been granted. This has helped reunite youth with their birth parents sooner than originally anticipated, bringing families back together in this difficult time.

There is still work to be done and more challenges lie ahead, but Elizabeth is optimistic about things to come. “System-wide it’s been really collaborative… [it’s] been really encouraging and hopeful.”


To learn more about how The New York Foundling is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in New York, visit our emergency response page. Stay tuned for more stories from the frontlines as we continue to support our neighbors on paths to stability and strength.