A Young Man Moving Forward, No Matter What

IMG_29721-1Dareon Martin, in his quiet voice says, “Everybody has their own story. I went through stuff when I was younger. I needed somebody. I was fortunate to have some people in my life that cared and now I want to be one of those people for someone else.”

Without a doubt, Dareon is one of those caring people. A 2015 graduate of Loy Norrix High School, he is a young man who is giving back. Hired upon graduation by the YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo, Dareon is supporting young people by helping them with homework, reading with them, engaging in activities, and more.

“Being a Literacy Buddy* while I was at Loy Norrix helped me get this job,” he says. “I gained the skills I needed to help me work with kids.” Literacy Buddies pairs high school students with elementary students to serve as positive role models and offer one-on-one support to motivate success.

Dareon plans to soon tap into The Kalamazoo Promise and attend Kalamazoo Valley Community College. He wants to explore a wide variety of his interests, ranging from culinary arts, to dance, music, and the criminal justice system.
Things haven’t come easily for Dareon. He could have easily given up and become a negative statistic, but he didn’t. Dareon’s personal mantra is: keep moving on…no matter what.

“I wouldn’t have graduated high school on time if it wasn’t for Communities In Schools, that’s for sure,” says Dareon. “I probably would have ended up on the streets doing something I shouldn’t have been doing.” Reflecting further, he says, “I just didn’t care about school. It wasn’t until about the end of my freshman year of high school that it all hit. Everybody else around me was caring about me and how I was doing. It hit me that I needed to start caring about myself.”

And just who were those people who paved the way for Dareon? Dareon points to a host of people, like his sixth grade teacher at Edison Environmental Science Academy. “Ms. [Erika] Adams, she helped me through a lot of stuff.” [Ms. Adams now goes by Mrs. Zavasky and is still teaching at Edison.] And in 2008, Dareon was matched with Dan Hinkle, a mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters, A Community of Caring. “Dan Hinkle, he’s a great man. He’s always been there for me. He still is.”

“I was an immature kid,” Dareon says matter-of-factly. “And when I got to high school, I was fighting and getting into trouble. I didn’t care about school. It was just bad.” Meeting the polite, well-mannered man that Dareon is today, it’s hard to imagine him otherwise. What changed and helped get him on track to graduate from high school?

“I’d say the people in CIS helped focus me. I visited the CIS office every day. They also gave me somewhere to go after school where I could get my homework done. Ms. Jenee [McDaniel], Mr. Charles [McCall Lipsey], Ms. Rola [Emmanuel], Mr. Ja’male [Jordan], Ms. Shayla [Jones], and Ms. Elnora [Talbert]….they all helped me a lot. Coach too.”

The coach Dareon is referring to is CIS Success Coach O’Neal Ollie. “Dareon is a natural leader,” says Ollie. “And despite the obstacles, he doesn’t give up.” Together, they mapped out a plan tailored for Dareon’s success. “It’s really more of a game plan or road map,” says Ollie. “It helps make the impossible seem possible.”

IMG_1706Kalamazoo Public Schools recognized the gains Dareon made and in his senior year, Dareon was selected by Principal Prewitt to represent Loy Norrix at the NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet.

It’s Dareon’s positive attitude, grit and perseverance that fuels him forward. Were it not for all the caring adults in Dareon’s life, he says his story would have turned out differently. “I probably wouldn’t be here talking to you today, that’s for sure. And CIS, you guys saved my future.”

All of the great work you’ve been reading about is made possible by people like you who volunteer with or donate to CIS. Please invest in local kids and be a part of more success stories like Dareon’s.

Make a gift to CIS today.

This story and more can be found in the latest issue of CIS Connections

Read more in our in our newsletter, CIS Connections: Why Boys?
Read more in our in our newsletter, CIS Connections: Why Boys?

CIS Connections: Why Boys?

These days, the road to becoming a man is fraught with peril. Throughout our nation:

  • Boys are suspended at roughly twice the rate of girls.
  • Two-thirds of the D’s and F’s given out in school go to boys.
  • Boys are one-third more likely to drop out before finishing high school.
  • African-American males are particularly vulnerable; one in five receives out-of-school suspension compared with one in ten white males.

These are just a handful of the somber statistics when it comes to boys and education. So, why a newsletter devoted to boys? It’s a good reminder to keep our eyes and hearts open to boys so that we can close the achievement gaps that exist. At CIS, we believe that when we take time to reflect on boys we all benefit.

For example, when reviewing the CIS After School Program data from 2012-13 and 2013-14, we noticed a trend that female participants outnumbered their male counterparts. To meet the needs of boys, we must connect with them. By setting goals of enrolling more boys to reflect the overall population of the school and offering services directed at their interests, we have made significant progress in engaging young male students. In the 2014-15 school year, a majority of the CIS After School Programs have met their goals in increasing male students. There is still more work to be done, but CIS will continue to look at ways to make a difference for boys including engaging our community to join with us.

Thank you for showing you care for all kids by supporting CIS with your time, talent, and resources.

Read more in our in our newsletter, CIS Connections: Why Boys?
Read more in our in our newsletter, CIS Connections: Why Boys?


2015-11-25 23.44.27
“A chance to give back to peers and community” is one of Communities In Schools’ Five Basics. That is what these young men from Loy Norrix High School did. Together, they helped to distribute over 300 Thanksgiving meals to community family members as part of the Community Feast at Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary School. This event is held in partnership with New World Flood. Pictured from left to right: CIS Success Coach O’Neal Ollie, Loy Norrix students: DeAndre Buchanan, Xavier Gillon and Quay Evans & CIS Site Coordinator Montrell Baker.

Volunteer Newsletter An Hour A Week: January 16

Pat Early, CIS Volunteer Photos were taken by Kaitlin Martin, CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator, and of Kaitlin LaMoine Photography
Pat Early, CIS Volunteer
Photo taken by Kaitlin Martin, CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator, and of Kaitlin LaMoine Photography.

Pat Early is in his third year volunteering with students at King-Westwood. I met with Pat at Water Street Coffee Joint for a brief interview.

Volunteer Services: Has volunteering always been a part of your life?

Pat: Yes. It starts with my parents. I helped my dad take supplies from the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) to Fort Custer as a kid. My mom was involved with church activities-I hooked up with the Red Cross at fourteen to send care boxes to soldiers in Vietnam. As an adult, I worked for Loaves & Fishes seven years, but there are many people I help just on my own, without an organization. Volunteering has always been a part of me in one way or another, and I try to instill [the love of it] in others-you’d be surprised what you get out of volunteering. What a reward, after retiring, to give back.

VS: What type of activities do you lead with students? What’s your interest in those activities?

Pat: The number one thing is to make sure students show up to school every day. I tell them how much I enjoy having them there, how important it is. Encourage kids to read read read. I run a monthly science club with 4th graders. They have 2-3 terms to learn and 1 principle to understand. Those are the takeaways. The goal is to make science fun and hands-on. Recently, we made lava lamps. The base in Alka-Seltzer tablets, reacting to water, and giving off carbon gas, was the principle. Density was one of the terms. Water Wizards, a prototype and curriculum purchased by Pat Crowley, the Kalamazoo Country Drain Commissioner, is another program I run. I just worked to bring in the Birds of Prey show and tell from the Nature Center (see above). The kid’s loved that!

Staff from the Kalamazoo Nature Center came to this 4th grade classroom at King-Westwood Elementary School to offer a Birds of Prey show & tell. Photos were taken by Kaitlin Martin, CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator, and of Kaitlin LaMoine Photography
Staff from the Kalamazoo Nature Center came to this 4th grade classroom at King-Westwood Elementary School to offer a Birds of Prey show & tell.
Photo taken by Kaitlin Martin, CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator, and of Kaitlin LaMoine Photography.

VS: What’s your interest in science?

Pat: I worked at Pfizer for 35 years, so there’s that. But I come from the philosophy that the Earth doesn’t belong to us, we belong to the Earth. I feel strongly about showing up and lending support-at the very least listening and being informed. It’s our job to actively take care of our environment. It probably came out of the hippie movement to care about the planet. That logic sunk into me! (laughs).

VS: What is a challenge you’ve faced?

Pat: I’ve grown and learned how to not do the work for the kids, but to help them do their own work and accept that we might get less work done but they’re learning. I’m getting better at encouraging them to take ownership over their own learning.

VS: What is the most rewarding aspect of volunteering for you?

Pat: The pay! The pay is the kid’s look forward to being with me, and I look forward to being with them. We care about each other. They share their concerns with me, and their joy. We have a relationship where there’s a give and take. I give credit to everyone involved-CIS and school staff, the cafeteria staff and playground helpers; they encourage the kids every day and encourage me just by witnessing it. Raising kids is a daunting task, but it pays off big time.

“Pat is truly committed to supporting students!  Not only does he tutor several hours a week, he is a rare tutor who can connect with all different kinds of students.  He doesn’t back away from any challenge, and trust me, some of these kids have tested him!  He genuinely enjoys and cares about each student, and that makes them look forward to learning with Pat each week.  Pat makes learning exciting for his students by bringing his own passions and interests to the table.  He hosts monthly science lessons, engaging students in fun and meaningful curriculum that really helps kids understand and connect with the world around them. We are thrilled to have Pat Early join our team for the 3rd year in a row!” –Laura Keiser, CIS Site Coordinator at King-Westwood Elementary

Thank you, Pat! For everything you do for students and everything you bring to Communities In Schools. We are so grateful to have you as one of our all-star volunteers.


A Promise of Success

A Promise of Success“If I didn’t have CIS in my life, I would not be a senior right now,” says LaShawnda Melton. “I would have given up and dropped out.”

It’s hard to imagine that this bright young woman who is a senior at Kalamazoo Central High School was on the cusp of dropping out, but she was. Like the nearly two million teens who find their hunger for learning dampened by depression, LaShawnda found herself struggling just to get out of bed in the morning. It was during her freshman year at Central that the school, concerned about LaShawnda’s attendance, reached out to CIS Site Coordinator, Deborah Yarbrough. “She was facing, and continues to face, challenging situations,” says Deborah. “She is a fighter, though. I coach her, connect her to supports—but it’s LaShawnda who puts in the work. We can provide all the services students need, but for progress to occur, they need to take advantage of them. LaShawnda comes to me, she seeks help, and puts in great effort.”

“Ms. Yarbrough’s been there with me every step of the way,” explains LaShawnda. “When I didn’t want to talk with anyone else, she helped me get my attendance and grades straight. Ms. Yarbrough, she acts like your momma. She pushes you. When she sees you doing wrong she fusses at you. She won’t help you if you don’t help yourself. She feels your pain.”

LaShawnda readily ticks off a number of resources and opportunities that her Site Coordinator has connected her to over the past four years: “JUMP [Just Unleashing My Potential focused on health & wellness, homework assistance and more, funded through The Greg Jennings Foundation], I’ve Got Next [a mentoring approach to attendance, made possible by AT&T Michigan], field trips, and college visits. Every year she connects me with counseling through WMU and Family & Children Services, dental services, tutors, and even school supplies when I’ve needed them. Ms. Yarbrough also led me to Ms. Aguilar, our Dean of Students, and she has been really helpful. She really cares and, just like Ms. Yarbrough, keeps me on track even with stuff going on in my life.”

On track to graduate this spring, LaShawnda wants to become a nurse practitioner and is considering Wayne State, Grand Valley, or Eastern Michigan. “I’m so thankful for The Kalamazoo Promise®,” she says. “I see my family struggling and The Promise gives us a lot of opportunities. I wish I could find the founders and thank them.”

LaShawnda shows her thanks every day by showing up to school and doing her best. It’s having a CIS Site Coordinator at her side, along with a combination of supports and the caring adults who provide them, that keeps her “not just focused on school but also thinking about my future.”

“It is amazing to see her resilience,” says Deborah, “and it is an outstanding testimony that through it all, she will be graduating and taking advantage of The Promise. I’m so proud of LaShawnda. This is just the beginning for her.”

All of the great work you’ve been reading about is made possible by people like you who volunteer with or donate to CIS. Please invest in local students and be a part of more success stories like LaShawnda’s.

Make a gift to CIS today.


Our Promise to You: Annual Report 2014-15

Dear Friends of CIS,

When Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo was founded more than a dozen years ago, we made some promises to you—

  • Together with the school district we would improve the well-being of students, including their academic achievement and graduation;
  • We would engage the existing resources of the community and connect them to students within the schools to remove barriers to success; and
  • We would leverage additional resources to fill gaps and address additional student needs.

We are proud to say, we have kept those promises. And you as community members, have also kept your promises—

  • To volunteer—as tutors, mentors and classroom supporters;
  • To partner—ensuring that Kalamazoo Public School children benefit from your expertise—in food security, in health care, in counseling and more; and
  • To donate—financial contributions, school supplies, personal hygiene products, socks and underwear, warm winter gear and more.

As we celebrate 10 years of The Kalamazoo Promise®, we are also celebrating you because you keep your promises. Thank you!


Tim Light, 2015-16 Board President, and Pam Kingery, Executive Director

Read more in our 2014-15 Annual Report, Our Promise To You.
Read more in our 2014-15 Annual Report, Our Promise To You.

Keeping our Promise: Dr. Janice Brown


We met up with Dr. Janice Brown on the heels of the 10th Anniversary Promise Community Celebration in Bronson Park. A Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo Board Member since 2000, you can read our conversation with her in our latest newsletter which has a theme of “promise.” Here is just a little of what she had to say, including a few bites we didn’t include in the newsletter due to space constraints.

Since the announcement of The Kalamazoo Promise®, what have you learned over these past ten years? What has surprised you? Disappointed you?

I’ve learned many things since the announcement of The Kalamazoo Promise®. The first thing I’ve learned about our youth is how committed and resilient they are in carving their future. I’m amazed at how many times they keep trying. It’s very difficult to go to college. When I see somebody who has struggled and left college but then shows up and says, “I’m here to try again,” that makes me so happy.

How unknowingly smart we were to offer a ten year window. So much growth and maturation can take place in that time. Youth are not stagnant. They can grow over that ten year period and that can help them accomplish their dreams. I’ve learned that the youth understand the privilege and the obligation about such a tremendous gift and they are interested in paying it forward.

We don’t even know yet the implications of The Kalamazoo Promise®. We are in our tenth year and being a ten-year-old is like being a fifth grader. While we think we know everything, we are just beginning to understand the implications and the ripple effect this is starting to create.

Can you talk more about how youth are paying it forward?

I can tell you by a story. One of our graduates has become a nurse and he has consciously decided to work with what I think is one of our most difficult populations—people going through drug and alcohol detox. When asked why he has chosen to do this, his response was, “I love the work and I want to give back to the community that is so good to me.”

This desire to pay it forward was also clearly demonstrated at the tenth anniversary party in Bronson Park. Many pre- and post-Promise scholars attended. I’m just amazed at their enthusiasm. They want to be involved and pay it forward. On Promise Day during winter break over a 100 Promise scholars returned to talk to kids at Loy Norrix about college. I have loads of letters, in a variety of ways expressing gratitude for this gift.

Paying it forward isn’t just emotional or subjective. We have data that our youth are improving their outcomes both at the K-12 and post-secondary level. For example, we’ve seen a 15% drop in the number of kids that need zero level classes [classes to take to prepare for college]. More students are coming to college college-ready is a delightful surprise. On the community side, businesses, organizations, and individuals have been incredibly generous in giving and participating in the success of the Promise. I can’t name names because there are so many. During my time as Executive Director of The Kalamazoo Promise® I was only told no once in those five years. And even that no wasn’t really a no; they wanted to be asked again in the future, when they were in a better financial position.

The Promise celebration in the park—all the costs were bore by the community, another excellent example of the generosity of our community and the universities that serve them.

What’s surprised me? I didn’t anticipate the national media coverage or that vast amount of communities want to replicate the promise in some way. We are known as the flagship of this type of scholarship. I get phone calls weekly from around the country with communities wanting to replicate their own promise. Here in Michigan we have promise communities—ten promise zones—these are direct spin offs from the promise.

What, in your opinion, are some ways members of this community can help our children reach their promise?

People always ask, “What can I do?” If everyone took on one child we’d have an increased success rate. One very simple thing that doesn’t take a long term commitment that working with one student does is that non-profits, government, businesses can try to do a better job of including and infusing youth in the work they do. Youth are very interested in learning about occupations, non-profits, and how government works. Just doing this could make a big difference. I think it will happen. We will see a convergence of our community really wrapping their arms around our youth—youth that they didn’t know before— which is the beauty of it. Youth like and thrive with that attention and security of adult advocates.

Kalamazoo, as you know, is rich with so many resources to support kids. What is unique about CIS?

I have been a long-time advocate of Communities In Schools. The reason is because it is the organization that helps frame the wonderful work that the nonprofits do. CIS has the capacity to individualize the nonprofit work and get those services to the children who need it. And, of course, the vehicle is through the schools. As an educator, I’m a CIS endorser. We now have an arm-in-arm partner who can take away the burden of the social needs of our students so that teachers and educators can do the best that they can do—and that is teaching for learning. I also believe in CIS because of the measurement system. CIS measures its progress based upon student data from KPS in reading, math, behavior, and attendance.

The anonymity of the donors puzzles people. What unique opportunities does this anonymity give our community?

I’ve never asked the donors why they chose to be anonymous. It doesn’t matter. It places the burden on the development of the community and in the hands of the families of the children and that is where it belongs. The donors have more than done their part by their incredible investment of dollars. We have to figure out the rest. We don’t want to burden them with further work when they have already worked so hard to give this money. Now it’s in our hands.

It’s a brilliant model. Like you mentioned, the anonymity causes us to turn to each other to figure out how to make this work and take ownership.

There are many interpretations out there.

I’m going with yours. Any final thoughts?

Never miss an opportunity to say thank you to the Kalamazoo Promise ® donors. And thank you CIS, for being such a strong organization for bringing our students to the promise.

Thank you, Dr. Brown!

To find out what four words encapsulate The Kalamazoo Promise® for Dr. Brown, what she believes is the biggest misconception about The Kalamazoo Promise®, and more, read the rest of the conversation here.


The Promises You Keep: CIS Connections

20150815-DSC_6724On Saturday, August 15th in beautiful downtown Bronson Park, this community celebrated the ten year anniversary of The Kalamazoo Promise®. At our CIS station we heard a mantra of thanks offered throughout the day:

“I wouldn’t be in college right now if it wasn’t for The Promise.”

“I still can’t believe we have this awesome gift in our community.”

“How can I help support The Promise through CIS? Can I volunteer? What can my business/organization do?”

But, it was what happened before the event, even before the park filled with people, that underscored the beauty of this tremendous gift.
While attempting to put up the tent, we were approached by a stooped, old man in dingy clothes. After explaining the event, the man replied: “I’m just a street person,” as if to apologize for his presence. “I don’t have kids in the Kalamazoo Public Schools. Am I even allowed to come to this event?”

“You are a part of this community,” we told him. “That means that you are also a part of The Promise. Help us celebrate!” His face lit up. He seemed to stand a little straighter. Before he left, he gave us the one gift he had—he generously blessed us.

There were a variety of community volunteers working together and our tent would not have been set up without their help. The recent words of Von Washington Jr., Executive Director of Community Relations for The Kalamazoo Promise® came to mind. He said, “The celebration in the park is designed for everyone in the community to come out, have some fun and revel in being a part of a city that enjoys this wonderful asset.”

No city, like no person, is perfect. We need each other to lift the tents that separate us from each other. The Promise is a wonderful reminder that we too, must be generous and give, however and whenever we can. We are responsible for each other and for making sure all of our kids can take advantage of the profound gift of The Kalamazoo Promise®.

So many of you work together with us to overcome the barriers that derail kids, giving them the hope and belief that they can succeed in school, graduate, and be prepared for life.

We thank you!

If you are reading this newsletter, you are a part of The Promise. Want to play a bigger role in helping Kalamazoo Public School students stay in school, graduate and be prepared to take advantage of the gift of The Kalamazoo Promise®? Volunteer, donate, or, partner with CIS today! Help us keep our promise.

Download the full version here:

Fall 2015

Nourishing Wisdom…from Jen Randall

Jen Color
Jen Randall, CIS Board Member and President of Maestro

We recently met up with Jen Randall at Maestro, where she is President of this software development company that builds tools for some of the most advanced companies in the world.Maestro believes that we all deserve a chance at success. For her company, nothing is more elemental than this:  Allow everyone freedom and space to succeed by doing what they do best. She also puts this belief into action to benefit Kalamazoo Public Schools students through her service as a Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo board member. We feature this conversation in our latest newsletter which has a theme of “nourish.” Here is just a taste of the conversation we had with her, including a few bites we didn’t include in the newsletter due to space constraints.

What feeds success?

Success feeds success. If we are talking about a child, you can’t just give a child success. They need to discover it, feel and find it for themselves. Once children have a taste of success—they can crave that for themselves. This is where CIS and everyone else in the community comes into play. We can be that spark that fuels that hunger for hope, helps kids experience success so they can move forward in life, with a healthy appetite for success, along with the skills and tools they need to feed themselves.

What do you think are some of the fables we feed our kids?

Judgement. We’re pretty quick to judge each other, and judge critically. Judgement isn’t necessarily a fable, but our children can’t grow when they’re served a steady diet of judgement. Whether we’re talking about an individual or a community, it is not our place to judge. We are taught to love and serve others. I believe that it is through the pure love of Christ and service we have the opportunity to change lives.

Speaking of love, you have also been busy feeding this community through [Rob Gardner’s oratorio] Lamb of God. I attended this year and it was an incredibly moving experience. Thank you for bringing this to Kalamazoo.

We had 200 local people on stage from 50 churches in the community. Our performance dates are already set for next year—March 11 and 12. Like anything else, it will take the community coming along, supporting Lamb of God and spreading the message of love and hope.

Any final thoughts?

Nourish makes me think of this book I have—about Mother Teresa. She was serving all the time, and yet she also nourished herself. She took the time to feed her spirit so she could continue to feed and nourish others. If we take the time to nourish ourselves, then we are in a good place, and have even more to give. If we don’t take that time to nourish ourselves, we have less to give. Nourish. It’s a really amazing word to contemplate.

To find out what feeds and nourishes Jen, some ways she believes the community can nourish our children, and more, read the rest of the conversation in the latest issue of CIS Connections.