Honoring every family’s desire to do the best for their children

East New York children love the rooftop playground at Children’s Corner Early Childhood Center – shown here in 2021

By Melissa Aase, CEO of University Settlement


We’ve operated Children’s Corner in East New York since 2010

Our Early Head Start program partners with families beginning with pregnancy and through children’s third birthdays, serving up to 72 families annually

EHS services include support for young children and families through early childhood education and care, home visiting services, and parent-child socialization groups

Raising a family is a complex challenge under any circumstances, and one that becomes exponentially harder when caregivers must also navigate poverty and systemic inequality.

Like each of our early childhood centers, Children’s Corner in East New York partners with our neighbors to build solid foundations for self-determination.

I recently caught up with Adriana Chung, who leads our Early Head Start program at Children’s Corner.

She told me about how her creative and dedicated team has become a trusted pillar of the community there:

“We’re working to reduce the achievement gap for children in low-income households compared to middle and high-income households by offering family-centered services. We do direct work with children and engage their parents and caregivers.

Home visits conducted by Family-Child Specialists are very effective, particularly for families with young children. We meet families where they are and help make their homes into supportive learning environments.

When our specialists visit families in their homes, we’re supporting parents and caregivers as they help their children develop school readiness skills. We may also collaborate on establishing consistent routines, on healthy nutrition, and many other topics based on the caregivers’ goals. We get to know families, identify their strengths, and start understanding their hopes and dreams, while always remaining mindful of culture and how it influences parenting values.

We find that families become really committed once they develop a trusting relationship with their home visitors. Grandparents living in this community have engaged with our programs for years, and people living in all the buildings know us and say hello. Here in East New York, there’s a lot of respect for people who work in child services.

We coordinate weekly family engagement events and monthly workshops for caregivers, selecting topics based on feedback we get from guardians. Workshop topics have included nutrition, applying to 3K, and social emotional development.

Supporting parent-child relationships has positive impacts on other aspects of families’ lives. When a mom struggles with depression, research shows that improving the parent-child relationship can improve their depression. Moms come and talk to me about everything – I’ll ask if they would like mental health referrals, and I’ll follow up with them.

Parenting is hard for everyone, and parents in our communities often have so many additional stressors getting in the way, including mental health concerns, poverty, and trauma. Even if a parent shows up late and seems like they aren’t fully engaged in our program, we remind ourselves that they are showing up, despite those stressors, because they really love their children. Our work is rooted in the belief that everyone wants the best for their child.

One thing that children at Children’s Corner really love is our rooftop playground. We are right next to the subway, which runs consistently. For some people, this might not be ideal, but when the train goes by, the children love it and wave at the conductor, who waves back. It’s magical for them. East New York is unique, and it’s important that we set a positive narrative about this neighborhood. Every day, our team shows up because we share a vision: we want to be agents of change so these children can succeed. That’s how we build a caring community.

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