Dear Ms. Rosenbaum

thank-you-card1-300x274It’s time again to think back to when you were young and in school and recall that caring adult you felt especially connected to. Maybe it was in elementary school, or perhaps it was middle or high school. Who is that special person who you still carry within your hearts, even after all these years?

For CIS volunteer Melanie Perry, her caring adult is a former teacher in the Kalamazoo Public Schools.  Years later, Melanie is giving back by helping students with their reading–in the same school district she attended. Since 2013, Melanie has been volunteering at Parkwood Upjohn Elementary School. How cool is that?

 

Dear Ms. Rosenbaum,

You were my fourth grade teacher at Washington Elementary. I still recall the time each day when you read aloud to the class. It felt like you were reading just to me. I remember you crying as you read the sad parts, which really made the story come alive and mean so much more.

I love reading stories to my grandchildren and hope in some way I can emulate for them what you did for me.

Thank you for being an inspiration in my life.

Sincerely,

 

Melanie Perry

To My Dear CIS Family

Antasia Fareed (left) with her CIS Site Coordinator Elnora Talbert at Champs 2015
Antasia Fareed (left) with her CIS Site Coordinator Elnora Talbert at Champs 2015

To My Dear CIS Family,

One of the highlights at our recent Champs event: the closing remarks offered by Antasia Fareed. On behalf of students served by Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS), Antasia thanked everyone for their support. “Whether you know it or not,” she told the audience, “you are part of my CIS family.” She spoke from her heart, moving the crowd to tears and receiving a standing ovation. A number of you who were present requested we print her speech here at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. Antasia spoke without a written script but she agreed to try and capture the essence of what she shared with the audience.  Indeed, we all felt embraced by this daughter of CIS and hope you will too when you read what she has to say.

Dear CIS Family,

Hi. My name is Antasia Fareed. I am a Loy Norrix High School student. I am an 11thgrader, soon to be a senior. I have been working with CIS for about 11 years. What would I do without them?

When I needed clothes, they provided them. When I needed food, they gave that to me as well. I am so blessed to have this opportunity to have a second family. Like family, they provide for me. They give me a smile when I’m not confident in myself. I have been in this program since second grade and look what came out—a beautiful, confident woman.Antasia-at-podium-241x300

I never thought I could get this far but CIShas pushed me. When my grades slipped, they helped me bring them back up. That’s the main reason why I’m standing here before you with a 3.2 GPA. I never believed I could do it, but I did.

CIS means a lot to me. CIS grows children and I’m proof. To me, the “C” in CIS means carry, the “I” is improvement, and the “S” is society. As students, we want to carry ourselves with dignity. We should be prepared to help improve things when they are messed up, and I believe we will become equals as a society.

CIS has made me powerful and helped me become a leader. That’s why I will be an ambassador for Kalamazoo as I have been awarded a scholarship that will allow me to travel to our sister city in Japan for ten days this summer. That’s a great leadership opportunity. Mrs. Elnora, my CIS Site Coordinator, pushed me to get my stuff in as she believed that I could get the scholarship. And I did. I may have only known her for just one year, but it feels like forever. We always see eye to eye. I’m her helper and she’s mine. I always tell her to stop and breathe.

I’m just so glad that CIS was there for me and will continue to be there for me.

Thank you.

Antasia

Elnora-Antasia-JCO-300x200

Caring Adult: Olivia Gabor-pierce

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Nicholas Baxter, about to embark on his AmeriCorps VISTA journey with CIS, is seen here, taking his Oath of Service.

It’s time again to think back to when you were young and in school and recall that caring adult you felt especially connected to. Maybe it was in elementary school, or perhaps it was middle or high school. Who is that special person, who, even after all these years, you still carry within your hearts?

Members of the fabulous CIS team at Edison Environmental Science Academy have been taking up the challenge and sharing their caring adult. You’ve read about Principal Julie McDonald’s, CIS After School Coordinator Stacy Salters‘ caring adult. As I was preparing to run the post on AmeriCorps VISTANicholas Baxter’s caring adult, he informed me that he didn’t have a caring adult in his elementary or high school years and “so I chose the most attractive elementary teacher I had and although I do remember her being nice and, well, memorable she is not my most caring adult. I don’t recall anyone being a caring adult until college…”

NickSo, here now is Nick’s reflection about his real caring adult…

At Western Michigan University I had a German professor named Olivia Gabor-Pierce. She was the first person I ever met who spoke four languages and wrote books. She was incredibly intelligent and challenged our intellects inside and outside of class. We thought critically about the language we were learning; she loved that.

Throughout my entire college career she was always the professor who was able to ground me in a few words. No matter what was going on or how stressful things were, her caring, open, and loving demeanor instantly calmed life around us. She was the first person who ever truly pushed my abilities beyond what I thought possible, she saw things in me I never was able to see.

Nick leading students in a “Keep the Lights On After School” chant he wrote.
Nick leading students in a “Keep the Lights On After School” chant he wrote.

She told me I must go to Bonn.  “You must go to Bonn,” she said. It became a meta mantra that was engrained in my subconscious until I actually did go and realized a whole new perspective on life. Because of her heart always being open to her students, my eyes were opened to the world and for that I thank her and believe she deserves the spot of my caring adult.

Nicholas A. Baxter, AmeriCorps VISTA

Caring Adult: A Letter To Ms. Diane Lang

20150519-DSC_5883It’s time again to think back to when you were young and in school and recall that caring adult you felt especially connected to. Maybe it was in elementary school, or perhaps it was middle or high school. Who is that special person, who, even after all these years, you still carry within your hearts?

Members of the CIS team at Edison Environmental Science Academy took up this challenge. A few months back,  Principal Julie McDonald’s letter was featured. Today, we share a letter written by CIS After School Coordinator Stacy Salters, another member of the passionate, talented, and dedicated team who infuse Edison Environmental Science Academy with hope, love, and learning. and in the weeks to come, we’ll share a few more of their letters. Stacy’s letter, just like her, gets right to the point:

Dear Ms. Lang,

As we completed this mindfulness activity on thinking back to a person who made us feel special, cared for, and helped us realize that we could accomplish everything/anything, my mind instantly came to you.

You showed me that hard things (algebra) don’t always have to be hard. That enjoying life and celebrating small achievements were very important. I have translated these teachings into most of my life experiences.

You showed me the importance of logical thinking and problem solving. Although I haven’t always used these skills (on myself), I’ve always considered it my gift to others. You always had high expectations for me.

I thank you sincerely for the gift you gave me wayyyyyy back then, a gift  that I didn’t even realize I was receiving!

Love and Forever Grateful,

Stacy Salters

 

If you are up to the challenge of reflecting on and writing a letter to your caring adult, email it to me at jclark@ciskalamazoo.org and we just might publish it!

Caring Adult Series: Mr. Blink

Johnny featured with some caring adults. Back,from left: CIS After School Coordinator Stacy Salters, KPS Principal Julie McDonald, KPS Teacher Chad Chambless.
Johnny featured with some caring adults. Back,from left: CIS After School Coordinator Stacy Salters, KPS Principal Julie McDonald, KPS Teacher Chad Chambless.

If you follow our blog, you know that CIS has been asking caring adults to think back to when they were young and in school and recall that caring adult they felt especially connected to. Maybe it was in elementary school, or perhaps it was middle or high school. Who is that special person, that, even after all these years, they still carry within their hearts?

Members of the CIS team at Edison Environmental Science Academy were up to the challenge and in the weeks to come, we’ll find out who their caring adults are as we will publish each of their letters.

Today, we are excited to share a letter written by one member of the passionate, talented, and dedicated team who infuse Edison Environmental Science Academy with hope, love, and learning.

 

Dear Mr. Blink,

Many people do not believe I was ever a shy person.  Thirty six years ago, you had that shy 7th grader in your social studies classroom and on your volleyball team.  My brother was a star football player at the high school, breaking all sorts of records.  I was known as “Dean’s little sister” or “little Sharick.”  I was 12, trying to figure out who I was, what I stood for, and who my friends were.

Honestly, I don’t remember you doing anything particularly special just for me, but you made me feel special, gave me my own voice and always called me by my first name.  You allowed me to be a typical 7th grade girl – moody and well, a 7th grade girl.   You would talk about choosing friends wisely and being true to yourself.  As an adult and an educator, I now see that you took every advantage of “teachable moments.” By the time I started 8th grade, I was a new person, no longer as shy, knowing who I was (at least as much as a teenager can), and chose my friends wisely.  Most of my best friends are friends of 30+ years!

Thank you for taking this shy, 12 year old under your wing and allowing me to fly.  You were an integral part of my decision to become a teacher.  I hope I have made a difference in my students’ lives just as you have mine.

Thank you so much,

Julie (Sharick) McDonald, M.A.

Principal
Edison Environmental Science Academy
Kalamazoo Public Schools
 
 

Who is your Mr. Blink? If you are up to the challenge of reflecting on and writing a letter to your caring adult, email it to me at jclark@ciskalamazoo.org and we just might publish it!

And, if you haven’t yet had a chance to read the Story of Success within our freshly published annual report, take a few minutes to learn how KPS Principal Julie McDonald, her fabulous teaching staff, CIS staff, and other caring adults are helping Johnny succeed. Hint: To address the needs of the whole child, it often takes more than one person, one organization or resource. Johnny identifies a number of caring adults that have empowered him and gives a special shout out to: The Kalamazoo Promise®, Friday Food Packs (made possible thanks to Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes), First Day Shoe Fund, the Edison School Based Health Center (staffed by Family Health Center), Open Roads, and WMU College of Aviation.  These last two resources are offered as part of CIS After School Programming funded through the Michigan Department of Education, 21st Century Community Learning Centers.

 

Calling Out That Person Who Is Behind That Face

caringadultThink back to when you were young and in school. Maybe you were in elementary school, or perhaps it was middle or high school. Recall that caring adult you felt especially connected to. Who is that special person for you, that, even after all these years, you still carry in your heart?

Who is your caring adult? That is the question CIS has been asking lately of the caring adults we place in the paths of thousands of Kalamazoo Public School students. As part of our mindfulness training, we’ve asked it of our volunteers and we recently asked it of staff during our back to school training. We ask the question because at CIS, we know that behind every caring adult is a caring adult.

So it is not surprising that many of the caring adults recalled by our staff, volunteers, partners, and friends are teachers. After all, teachers help us learn and think. They teach us lessons about abc’s and place-values in math while they challenge us, love us, and help us believe in ourselves and recognize that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. They help us find our place in the world. Maya Angelou said this of teachers: This is the value of the teacher, who looks at a face and says there’s something behind that and I want to reach that person, I want to influence that person, I want to encourage that person, I want to enrich, I want to call out that person who is behind that face, behind that color, behind that language, behind that tradition, behind that culture. I believe you can do it. I know what was done for me.

Below are three letters written by our volunteers and staff. In the months to come, we will be posting more of these letters on our blog. In the meantime, a special thank you to all those teachers—whether you are teaching now, retired, or gone from this world, you make a difference. We can not help but carry the lessons you have taught us and impart them to a new generation of learners.

 

Mr. Ray Schroeder,

You made everyone feel equal, regardless of their social or economic background. Watching you helped me understand that it isn’t about what you have or don’t have, but how you give back.

 

Dear Mrs. Mein,

You taught our 12th grade Honors English class a valuable lesson through the infamous summer reading project you assigned—doing what you’re asked (and doing a good job) matters, even if no one is “checking up” on you. Your warmth, humor, and willingness to share yourself with us endeared you to all of us. You seemed to understand what high schoolers needed. I haven’t forgotten the time you let me run out of the room when something someone said got the best of my hormonal teenage self.

Thank you for making each of us feel special and cared about—even if we were the umpteenth class you’ve had—we still felt like we were your favorites!

PS. If it weren’t for you, and your summer reading project, I wouldn’t know who Somerset Maugham is or read Machiavelli’s “The Prince” or deepened my friendship with my high school best friend.

 

Dear Mr. Lake,

You saw me hide my flute case before band practice. I know you saw me because our eyes met even though you wore the thickest glasses. I tried to polish my flute and make it gleam like the other new ones, but it was just impossible. You saw me and my anxiety and in front of everyone, you said, “It’s not what it looks like, it’s what it sounds like.”

Thank you so much for giving me the space and encouragement to continue when I felt inadequate. You gave me courage to play away and stop worrying about what things may look like to others. I still see your eyes behind those big glasses, nodding me along.

 

Who is your Mr. Schroeder, your Mrs. Mein, or Mr. Lake? We’d love to know and possibly post your letter (signed or anonymous). If you’d like to be included in this “recalling a caring adult” project, contact Jennifer Clark at jclark@ciskalamazoo.org or by calling 269.337.1601 x 213.

Mentoring Magic: One Mentor’s Perspective

“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.”  Winston Churchill

It’s National Mentoring Month. Here’s a heartfelt piece from a mentor among us, Artrella Cohn, Director of Secondary Sites for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo.

It was almost ten years ago. I was an eager, determined, yet green, Kalamazoo Communities In Schools Foundation (KCISF) social work intern at Milwood Elementary School. I was a fresh face, a newbie amongst more seasoned professionals (mostly from the field of Education). I knew my life’s purpose was to positively impact the lives of young people. How exactly I would fulfill this purpose was still unclear to me. But it was time to get started. It was time to meet my first student-client.

Then we met. A quiet, impressionable 9 year old in the fourth grade.  According to her teacher and others in the building, this young lady could benefit from one-on-one guidance. I was not convinced I could make a difference, but I can appreciate a challenge.

The relationship grew quickly and my fourth grade student-client became more like the younger sister that I never had, but sometimes longed for. We met multiple times a week and worked on coping skills, managing her feelings, self-image, and goal setting. I shared my experience as a college student and plans to apply to grad schools. She was as interested in my world as I was in hers. Neither of which were picture perfect. But the two of us together were truly a perfect match.

Grad school and a blossoming career away from Kalamazoo would keep us physically apart over six years. But, I would often speak with my friends in Kalamazoo and get an update and send messages to her from me through them.  I would never forget the young lady who represented my first opportunity to fulfill my life’s purpose.

As fate would have it, I decided to move back to Kalamazoo in late 2009 and take a Senior Site Coordinator position with the organization that gave me my first real experience as a future Social Worker, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (yes, there was a slight name change or two since I had been gone). My site would be Kalamazoo Central High School, a building of just under 1700 students.

Many months into my new experience at Kalamazoo Central, I found myself rushing from my office, trying to leave the building for a meeting without getting intercepted by a teacher, staff or student. Thankfully, I made it to the door.

But WAIT… Am I seeing who I think I am seeing?

Ricki: Ms. Trella?!?!

Me:  Oh my goodness!!! I cannot believe my eyes right now.

We give one another a tight hug and laugh about how I have been in the building for months and our paths have not (to our knowledge) crossed.  I promised to follow up with her the next day.

It is now three years later and it feels like a lifetime. As a mentor, I have been able to have difficult conversations, help to prepare her for prom, help with college applications, chat about her desires to go into the Navy, lose my voice screaming at her high school graduation as she finishes with honors, watch and record (with tears of joy) as she graduates from Navy Boot Camp, be on the other end of the call when she shares that she is being stationed in California, have breakfast with her the morning she headed to the airport for California and have lunch together and spend quality time with her during her visit back home for the holidays.

It is apparent to me that this young lady looked at her circumstances over the years as stepping stones to reaching her full potential. While CIS and other people have played a role in encouraging her and supporting her in many ways, she has done much of the work on her own. She is the optimal example of a resilient child.

I know that she has played an integral part and helped to shape the path of my career in the field of Social Work. I am now the Director of Secondary Sites for CIS of Kalamazoo and am therefore able to work with many more students who have difficult and often similar challenges that she has faced. But, I will admit, this one student has truly been the glimmer of hope that will forever positively impact my life’s purpose. I am thankful for having her in my life more than she will probably ever know.

My plea to the community at large, but especially the young adults and college students, is to consider committing your time to mentoring a young person. It will likely do more for you than you’d expect.

Sam, I Failed You.

Let me tell you a story. It’s one I’m not proud of.

This summer, I missed the mark. I failed a child.

My husband, John, Tom, our son, and I were in the middle of the Sherman Lake YMCA forest. It was, of course, on this evening, during what has been a painfully dry summer that the sky chose to forgo her stingy behavior and instead, threw down her wet offerings upon this “Family Night.” Unperturbed by the rain, our seven year-old was showing off his excessively modest archery skills. As the rain fell, my husband and I watched, huddled under a small umbrella, swatting away mosquitoes.

Zavier, our son’s camp counselor, shrouded in a beach towel to keep himself dry (it wasn’t working well) had just introduced himself to us and offered Tom some tips on shooting. Tom had taken the advice to heart and was steadily improving. With varying degrees of success, his arrows were now hitting the target positioned in the distance.

Zavier moved on to the next child. “Sam, can I help you with that?”

An emphatic “no” came from the little boy who appeared to be Tom’s age. Zavierpersisted but Sam was adamant. So Zavier continued on to another section of the course and began helping other children in need of his support.

The child who had refused Zavier’s help was floundering. Every time he lifted arrow to bow and released it, the arrow fell to the ground at his feet. I had to give it to this kid. Despite the frustration on his face, he wasn’t giving up. But it was obvious, without intervention, the arrows would continue to litter the ground around his feet. It was only a matter of time before he gave up.

A child was in need and I didn’t help. Why? Well, because it was raining. Because I was cold and tired and annoyed that mosquitoes were snacking on me. The kid, I told myself, refused the counselor’s help, why would he want mine? Anyways, the boy’s parents should stop chatting it up with the couple next to them and help their child. Be a parent. It was Family Night at Sherman Lake YMCA Camp after all. Did I mention it was raining?

My only action? To turn around and fling psychic arrows at the boy’s parents. “Yoohoo! Hello, people!” my eyes screamed at them. “It’s Family Night and you are his parents. Get your indolent selves moving and help your kid!” My sharp looks missed the intended mark, hurling harmlessly past the oblivious parents. My plan—to stare hard enough that I could shame them into helping—wasn’t working. These kind of inept, lazy plans rarely do.

And then, my husband abandoned me. Before I could utter my dismay, he and the umbrella, were over at the upset child’s side. He walked the boy through the steps, occasionally positioning the boy’s arm. He stepped back. The boy took aim and released the two fingers holding his arrow. The arrow ripped through the rain and landed on the target, a few inches from the bull’s eye.

My husband (but more importantly, the umbrella) came back to me.

The boy’s face lit up. “Did you see that mom? Dad? I did it! I did it all by myself!” Sam’s dad managed a thumbs up.

Sam got back to the business of archery and it was clear that his new found knowledge had not yet taken hold. After four failed attempts, the boy turned to my husband, his eyes pleading for help. John again went to him, but not before I snatched the umbrella away. I watched as my husband patiently talked him through the steps. Sam pulled the bow back and released the arrow. It shot through the rain and, for the second time, hit the target.

“I did it! I did it again!” Sam shouted, jumping up and down. He had already forgotten about my husband, the caring adult who took the time to help him in some small way. That was fine with us. We three had had enough of the rain. As we left the range, Sam’s joyful whoops ricocheted off trees, hailing down upon us.

I still see Sam dancing in the forest, his face shining with a mix of rain and pride.

And, even though I’ve stopped beating myself up about my inaction, nonetheless, I feel a twinge of guilt when that memory washes over me.

It serves as a reminder to me, and perhaps will to you as well, of this simple truth. There is always among us, a child in need. Often, the child who needs help most will shun the hand that extends itself. There is and always will be reasons not to help and yet, no excuse is worthy enough to make it okay not to come to the aid of a child.

I expect more of myself. As the Director of Community Relations for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, I regularly see our CIS staff, the KPS teachers, principals, administrators, our partners, and volunteers doing all they can to help the thousands of Sams in Kalamazoo. Are you doing all you can with your time, your talent and/or your money? I realize I’m not.