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By: Eugene K. Chow

Since leaving her abusive husband life has not been easy for Carmen Tejada. But as a single mother raising four young kids, she is determined and will go to any lengths to ensure they have everything they need to succeed.

The last five years have been a remarkable, but difficult, climb for her. At its worst, Carmen was homeless, unemployed, and spoke no English. Now she has her own apartment, a full-time job, and is fully fluent.

“Necessity is the best teacher,” Carmen said. “I had to adapt to this country and help my children improve in school.”

With help from the Robin Hood-funded Children’s Aid Society, a nonprofit that holistically addresses the needs of low-income children and their families by providing assistance in everything from healthcare to academics, sports, and the arts, Carmen has painstakingly built a stable life for her and her children.

Her journey began after she summoned the courage to leave her abusive husband of 15 years, taking her children with her. With nowhere to turn, she ended up in a domestic violence shelter.

As an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, she spoke no English, which made her feel isolated and helpless.

“People couldn’t understand me and I couldn’t understand them,” she recalled. “I didn’t know how to communicate my needs and I lacked the tools to help my own children.”

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Help came after her eldest son told a Children’s Aid social worker at his school that his mother was crying herself to sleep each night. The social worker reached out to Carmen and connected her with a domestic violence services agency.

The help didn’t end there, Children’s Aid stayed with Carmen every step of the way providing everything from translation services, legal assistance, counseling, high-quality care for her children, and even furniture.
When she first entered the shelter, she had absolutely nothing.

“[Children’s Aid] gave me a table and chairs because we were eating on the floor,” she said. “We didn’t have anything.”

She also received clothes for all her children along with shoes and a crib for her youngest, she remembers gratefully.

But more than material goods, Children’s Aid helped Carmen heal emotionally. She was still struggling with the psychological trauma of her husband’s abuse, but with help from a Children’s Aid therapist she overcame it.

“He helped me to understand that it’s not my fault, I’m not guilty,” she said.

At Children’s Aid, she also found a safe place where she was supported and could communicate. It was a “space where I could cry and hug someone.”

Perhaps even more importantly, “[Children’s Aid] helped me to help my own children,” she said.

As a single mother, Children’s Aid provided invaluable support for her children including weekly speech and occupational therapy sessions for Daniel, her second youngest son who has autism. Through these sessions, Carmen learned how to understand his needs, more effectively communicate with him, and to play games that developed self-control, patience, and other important social skills.

Reflecting back on the days before he received therapy, she said, “It was so hard for me. Sometimes the only thing I could do was just hug him and cry with him because I couldn’t understand my own child.”

Since entering the program, Daniel has made enormous strides. Carmen proudly reports that he has excellent grades, is hitting all the key milestones for his grade level, and teachers are very impressed with his academic performance.

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Her other kids participate in various educational programs at Children’s Aid, and the results have also been phenomenal. Carmen is thrilled watching her children grasp new subjects faster, completing their homework with greater ease, and performing better academically overall.

Knowing how transformative Children’s Aid programs were for her children, for 11 months, Carmen would ride the train three hours a day to take her children from the shelter where they were staying in Brooklyn to Washington Heights where they received services.

With her kids in a positive, nurturing environment, Carmen turned all her energies into providing for her family. She began looking for jobs, volunteering at Children’s Aid, attending the organization’s various job training seminars and workshops, and learning English.

Caring for her children while working nonstop to build a better life took its toll on Carmen. She was hospitalized twice from stress and exhaustion.

But her hard work and steadfast resolve have paid off. The family has their own apartment in the Bronx and she has a full-time job, cooking for kids in the early childhood program at a Children’s Aid community school in Washington Heights.

“My life was changed, from the street to heaven. I can’t even express how grateful I am”


Children’s Aid Society, a Robin Hood-funded nonprofit, helps children living in poverty in New York City reach their full potential by providing comprehensive services to them and their families. Support programs are tailored to children at every stage of their life, from prenatal care to high school, college, and even job training programs. To ensure that kids have a stable environment at home, Children’s Aid works closely with families providing housing assistance, health care access, counseling, and more.

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