Waging the Battle Against Childhood Poverty

As CEO of the Children’s Aid Society, Phoebe Boyer ’93 works to ensure that kids in some of the most challenging neighborhoods in New York City “have the potential to develop into happy, healthy, and productive adults.”

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Phoebe Boyer ’93, center, with several Children’s Aid Society program participants.

Photo by Jon Roemer

Helping the Youngest New Yorkers

One out of every three New York City children lives in poverty. In some areas, such as the South Bronx, it’s one out of every two.

That’s where the Children’s Aid Society comes in. Founded more than 160 years ago, the organization serves nearly 50,000 at-risk children across the five boroughs and in Westchester County. It takes a holistic approach to tackling the challenges these young people face, providing services in education, health and wellness, social and emotional development, and family support.

“What we’re really trying to do is think about the child as a whole from the perspective of these four domains,” explains Children’s Aid Society CEO Phoebe Boyer ’93. Issues such as homelessness, failing schools, violence, and a lack of access to nutritious food and high-quality healthcare all contribute to poor school attendance and ill health—which, in turn, narrow the children’s long-term prospects, Boyer says. “All of these things are interconnected. We make sure that kids in … some of the most challenging neighborhoods in New York City have the potential to develop into happy, healthy, and productive adults.”

A History of Doing Good

Boyer, who oversees 1,100 full-time and anywhere from 700–1,400 part-time employees in more than 40 locations, was originally drawn to nonprofit work in college, when she spent a summer in New Haven working with domestic violence survivors. At Columbia Business School, she studied nonprofit management, earning the Joanne Martin Academic Award for Public and Nonprofit Management upon graduation. After stints as executive director at the Tiger Foundation and then at the Robertson Foundation—which, respectively, target poverty in New York City and national issues like education reform—she found her way to the Children’s Aid Society. “It is incredibly intriguing to be able to work on all the issues that I’ve cared about in one place,” the Connecticut native says, adding, “I’ve loved New York City since I was little. The capacity of people in this city is extraordinary.”

Success in the City

Last year, with Boyer at the helm, the Children’s Aid Society partnered with Juma Ventures to pilot a new program that provides teens with jobs at Yankee Stadium. The program was a success, with more than 100 young adults now employed, and one of the original participants is now running the entire program. By the end of the year, the Children’s Aid Society also hopes to unveil a new $45 million school complex that it’s building in the South Bronx.

Going forward, Boyer says she plans to focus on how data can inform the organization’s strategy. “The thing I’m proudest of is when I hear a story about what we’ve learned from our data or how it’s changing actual practice,” she says. “I want to be able to show that evidence-based outcomes across our four domains are changing the lives of children who are living in poverty. I hope that we’re going to be a model, not just for this city, but for other cities as well.”

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