Friday, May 10th, 2013
I’ve been to a ton of great talent shows over the years, but none have come close to impressing me as much as the Garden of Dreams Talent Show. The free event, put on by the Garden of Dreams Foundation and the Madison Square Garden Company each April, gives children struggling with unfortunate circumstances, such as illness and homelessness, the chance to forget about their problems by showing off their talents on the Radio City Music Hall stage.
I blogged about the show beforehand after chatting with celebrity host Tony Vincent and was expecting it to be chock full of great performers from his behind-the-scenes preview. What I wasn’t expecting was to be sitting in the audience with tears in my eyes after each act. To watch these genuinely talented kids express themselves and their hardships through their performances was an experience I can’t quite put into words.
Take 5-year-old Malik Naser, for example. Malik has to receive daily blood transfusions due to an illness and uses music as a distraction during the difficult routine – but you’d never know from the way he stood center stage sporting a fedora and bow tie as he sang Bruno Mars’ “Walking on the Moon.” Or there was 10-year-old Jeremy Dickinson whose love for singing got him through his neuroblastoma. He says he decided to perform “Put on a Happy Face” because he was always smiling, even through his toughest treatments. And if those two didn’t melt your heart enough, 6-year-old Julianna Pierre, a pediatric cancer patient at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, sweetly sang her favorite song from The Lion King, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”
The 15 other acts ranged from a seriously talented break dancing group called “High Energy” to rapper Kasean Session, whose powerful lyrics are about witnessing his mother’s murder when he was 6 years old.
The amped up audience, awesome celeb hosts (New York Giants Super Bowl champ Victor Cruz, the Rockettes, and Darryl ‘DMC’ McDaniels from Run DMC – to name a few), and unlimited free popcorn made the whole night as fun as it was touching. I can’t wait to see what will come of these young role models and what the Garden of Dreams Talent Show has in store for next year.
Check out the Garden of Dreams video below (shown at the beginning of this year’s show) to see for yourself how incredible these kids truly are.
Photo: Performer Malik Naser with New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz
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Tuesday, May 7th, 2013
One of my most vivid childhood memories is when a boy in my elementary school had to undergo chemotherapy treatments for cancer. When he finally returned to class cancer free but with a bald head, his best friend decided to buzz off his own hair as a show of support. Even at such a young age, the friend understood how difficult it is to be the only one without a full head of hair.
Flash-forward many years later, and I’m happy to report that haircare company TIGI, which also owns popular brands Bed Head and Catwalk, has partnered with a non-profit called Children with Hair Loss. CWHL provides annual customized hair replacements and styling services, at no cost, to anyone under the age of 21 with medically-related hair loss. The goal is to empower as many children as possible by increasing their self-confidence and restoring one aspect of normalcy during a time when things are anything but normal. So now when you purchase a TIGI product you can feel great knowing that not only are you taking care of your hair, you’re helping a child regain his.
Image: Child combing hair via Shutterstock.com
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Monday, April 15th, 2013
For all of you American Idol, The Voice, and America’s Got Talent fans out there, tomorrow night is the Garden of Dreams Foundation’s 2013 talent show – a talent competition with a very meaningful twist. The third annual show, put on by the Garden of Dreams Foundation, a non-profit charity that strives to positively impact the lives of young people facing difficult obstacles, and The Madison Square Garden Company, is an event where children and young adults ages 5-18 have the opportunity to forget about their problems and showcase their unique talents at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
Unlike the sometimes discouraging tryouts we see on reality talent programs, the Garden of Dreams uses every step of the process to encourage the participants, beginning with auditions. In February, hundreds of kids performed their talents in front of a panel of celebrity judges (in past years they’ve included Whoopi Goldberg, Victor Cruz, The Strokes, and Seth Meyers – to name a few) who had the challenging job of narrowing down the talent to just 18 new acts. Broadway star Tony Vincent (American Idiot, Jesus Christ Superstar, Rent) is a judge for the second year in a row and says even if the kids don’t make it into the show, just the opportunity for them to perform and express themselves in front of celebs who’ve made it in the industry, is instrumental in giving them hope that they too can be successful despite their challenges. “We all want to feel like we’re supported and that’s one of the cool things about that first initial level. No one leaves that stage without feeling validated,” says Tony. “We want to encourage them to keep doing what they’re doing and never stop.”
Once the performers are chosen, the judges work with them one-on-one to strengthen the acts as much as possible and share their wisdom. Often, however, it’s the judges who are most inspired. Tony was awed by several acts this year, especially 17-year-old Kasean Sessions who raps about his mom who was murdered in front of him when he was only 6 years old. “There is such a connection between this gentleman’s lyrics and what he’s going through as a human being at only age 17. I was blown away,” says Tony. “If I was a major record label I’d sign him and start developing him as an artist right away.”
Tony also mentioned another favorite: Zachary Wesz, a 16-year-old pianist who plays his instrument seamlessly despite only having eight fingers.
“These kids have so much courage and patience and drive regardless of the obstacles they have to deal with – whether it’s living in foster home after foster home or dealing with medical issues,” says Tony. “I’m excited to be part of the movement to get them to perform and live out their dreams.”
Check out Kasean and Zachary’s acts, along with 16 other new performances, tomorrow night (Tuesday, April 16). The show starts at 7pm on the Great Stage in Radio City Music Hall and is free and open to the public. I’ll see you there!
Photo: Model Damaris Lewis, Run DMC’s Darryl McDaniels, Broadway star Tony Vincent, and the Rockettes at the mentor’s table for the 2013 Garden of Dreams Talent Show Rehearsals at Radio City Music Hall
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Monday, April 15th, 2013
When you have a child with autism, it’s sometimes the little things that make all the difference.That’s why Soft, a clothing brand that makes extra cozy outfits specifically for children with sensory sensitivity due to Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, and other conditions, has created a limited edition Autism Awareness tee for kids. Designed in collaboration with a mom of a child with autism, the tee is made of soft organic cotton, non-irritating seams, and non-toxic dyes and inks, and has printed labels in place of the scratchy tags that make us all cringe. The adorable and incredibly soft (trust me, I’ve felt one!) shirts will be available for $25 through the end of the month on softclothing.net. You’ll also feel good knowing that 20% of the profits go to Soft’s network of Autism organizations, such as Autism Speaks and Autism Society of America.
Image via softclothing.net
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Friday, March 15th, 2013
“The Snack Epidemic” in our March issue has been stirring up passionate responses about kids’ near constant snacking. While some parents completely agree with writer Sally Kuzemchak about the need to implement healthier snack habits at home, school, and on the field, others think it’s unnecessary to limit how their growing children eat, and think the extra treats are just a part of kids being– well –kids.
In case you missed it, Kuzemchak, a dietician, blogger, and mommy of two, shared her personal story – specifically, how giant cupcakes served as a team snack after her son’s soccer game sent her over the edge. When she started to do her homework, Kuzemchak found she wasn’t just overreacting, but that studies have shown snacking has nearly tripled since the 70s, and 8-year-olds who burn around 150 calories during the average soccer game are consuming between 300 to 500 calories in a post-game snack.
I was lucky enough to catch up with the healthy snack crusader, who had tons more to say about the munching debate. Check out my Q&A, and definitely take a look at this video, which Sally made by compiling pictures of all the snacks she and some friends have spotted on the sidelines of their young kids’ soccer games.
Photo credit: Avery Powell
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Tuesday, March 12th, 2013
Having grown up with a sibling with disabilities, I’ve seen firsthand what it’s like for a child to struggle making friends. My younger brother, Jimmy, suffered from a seizure disorder and learning disabilities, displayed violent-aggressive behavior, and had trouble regulating his emotions– all stemming from a benign brain tumor he was born with. It was clear from his earliest years that, despite my parents’ greatest efforts to give him a normal life, he was going to have challenges most kids don’t face – and creating friendships was one of them. We watched as Jimmy grew into a little boy who was kind, clever, and humorous (to say the very least), but his outbursts, impulsivity, and delayed brain development made it difficult for him to interact with kids his age.
Recently, I attended an event for The Meeting House, an afterschool program in New York City for children who lack “normal” social skills – a resource I wish we could have had during Jimmy’s growing up years. Through activities such as sports, music, dance, and homework help, the program helps school-age kids build their social skills and self-esteem in a fun environment where they can interact with others like themselves. Two fantastic experts, Fadi Haddad, M.D., the director of Child Psychiatric Emergency Services at Bellevue Hospital here in New York City and Sima Gerber, Ph.D., a professor of speech-language pathology at Queens College, spoke about developing social skills to a packed room that included parents of children with developmental delays and social difficulties, as well as educators and psychologists. Here are some points that jumped out at me, and that I hope can be helpful to parents who are in similar situations as mine were:
Know what’s normal. Be aware of the skills your child should be developing for his age group and look for any abnormalities (see red flags below). That said, if he’s behind or not interacting with others the way you’d expect him to, that doesn’t necessarily mean he has social difficulties. Dr. Haddad mentioned that it’s not unusual for over-anxious parents to bring kids to his office who are perfectly fine socially, just a little quirky.
Look for red flags. If your child is oppositional, angry/aggressive, awkward (to the point that it impacts his social interactions), or if he doesn’t show emotion, it’s worth getting a professional opinion.
Early intervention is key. The sooner the issue is identified and treated, the better chance your child has of reaching his next developmental milestones. Also, since it can affect your child’s overall happiness if he has trouble making friends, you’ll want to work on the problem right away.
There’s not always a pill. A child may have a hard time interacting with others because he is shy, or there could be a bigger issue going on, such as autism, abuse, ADHD, learning disabilities, or bullying. In those cases, once the primary cause is identified and treated, there’s a greater chance things will improve. Dr. Haddad stressed that it’s important for parents to understand there isn’t always medication that can help, and that other options like therapy, can be more effective than a pill.
Good social skills start at home. It’s just as important for children to interact well with adults as it is for them to interact with other children. Kids who have positive relationships with their parents tend to do better socially – since unhealthy parent-child relationships can create distorted judgments with friendships.
Find the right resources. While parents can make sure they’re providing their kids with positive child-adult interactions at home, it’s much more difficult for them to encourage healthy child-to-child interactions during class or playtime. Programs such as The Meeting House are so helpful because they give these kids the chance to bond with others like themselves, and ultimately build their social skills.
Image: Kids via Shutterstock
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Thursday, February 28th, 2013
This is a guest post from Ann O’Leary, the director of the Children and Families Program at the Center for the Next Generation. The Center has launched a campaign called Too Small to Fail, a national movement to raise awareness about the state of America’s children and how the country can come together to create a stronger future for the next generation; we at Parents are one of its partners.
In an effort to save $1.2 trillion over the next decade, the government may take a sledge hammer to the federal budget on March 1st, and in the process cut billions of dollars to programs that directly serve children.
That is unless Congress and the president can come to an agreement on different paths to lower debt that has accumulated over the last decade.
But, let’s step back and look at a few of the impacts if the federal government goes through with the planned cuts:
- Early childhood education through Head Start would eliminate 70,000 student positions;
- Special education, funded through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), will face a direct hit laying off 7,200 staff members who care for and educate children with disabilities;
- Cuts to Title I education spending – the program that directs dollars to schools with low-income and vulnerable student populations – will eliminate funding for more than 2,700 schools unfairly impacting nearly 1.2 million children; and
- 600,000 women and children would lose access to nutrition assistance through the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program along with leaving 30,000 low-income children and their families without the funds they need to keep their children in child-care.
Protections for children can go a long way to supporting their growth and development. Just look at Alfa, who has broader dreams of becoming the first in her family to attend college. She benefits from a learning environment at her public school, and we put thousands of more children just like her in peril if we proceed with these blunt and arbitrary cuts to their education and health.
Here in California, the hit will be felt especially hard, as some 8,200 children will lose Head Start services, thousands of teachers will face unemployment, and, in a cruel twist, over 15,000 children in the state will not receive vaccinations for common diseases such as measles, tetanus, and influenza.
Yet, these cuts also expose a harsh reality when looking at our federal spending priorities: kids, who don’t have a political voice of their own, will bear the burden of the spending reductions to pay off debts accumulated by their parents and grandparents.
The devastating consequences of these decisions will inflict harm on children, particularly because they interrupt education, health care services, and child care supports that experts agree are the building blocks of healthy adults.
While the negotiators on both sides have saved some programs from cuts, including Social Security, Medicare, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), these cuts unfairly impact vulnerable populations who rely significantly on these programs to help make ends meet.
Only time will tell if our leaders decide to make the wise – as well as moral – decision to work to find a solution to these spending cuts and continue to put investments back in children.
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Thursday, November 8th, 2012
If you’re looking for a last minute holiday get away, check out the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa in Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico – the queen bee of family stays. Located on 500 acres of a 73,000-acre Native-American reservation, the resort hosts unbeatable views of the Sandia Mountains and Rio Grande and an even more unbeatable lineup of activities for the holiday season.
The Tamaya Resort and Spa has an assortment of family-friendly excursions year round, ranging from hot air balloon rides to tribal dancing performances. But when you go in November, you can take part in hay ride tours, landscape painting classes, treasure hunts, and a pueblo-style Thanksgiving celebration. Or enter a New Mexico-style winter wonderland in December, for ornament making, gingerbread house decorating, and stories and s’mores under the stars. The best part? Most of the activities are either free for guests or super affordable.
Don’t miss out on booking one of the 350 pueblo-style rooms from now until February 28 for the awesome $155 per-room winter rate that includes 20 percent off trail rides, spa and salon treatments, and green fees at the Twin Warriors Golf Club. It’s definitely a steal for the gorgeous setting and one-of-a-kind amenities, but more so for the peace of mind that even though Albuquerque and Santa Fe are less than 50 miles away, there’s enough excitement at the resort to keep your kiddies entertained from check-in to check-out.
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