Mike Stoddard: People Focused

We recently met up with Mike Stoddard at BASIC, where he is chief operating officer of the human resources consulting company that has been named to Inc. magazine’s list of America’s 5000 fastest-growing private companies for the fourth year running.

Mike has served on the board of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo for 13 years, holding the position of Treasurer for many of those. Mike holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Ferris State University. A former Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps Reserves, he served as a Military Police during the Vietnam era.

By 1976, Mike had started his accounting practice and in walked his first tax client, Fritz Teutsch, It was Fritz who shared with Mike his idea to start a business. The rest, as they say, is history.

In 1989, Mike and Fritz established BASIC, which stands for Benefits Administration Services International Corporation. Headquartered in Portage, Michigan, BASIC has grown into one of the largest third party administrators in the nation. A technology driven HR Compliance Company, BASIC focuses on delivering administrative and technology solutions to assist human resource departments nationwide. Their offices are located in Michigan, Ohio, Arizona, California, Missouri, and now Rhode Island.

Tell us about BASIC.

It’s a good company. We have a lot of great people that have worked with us for a long time, We’re a good corporate citizen. We take pride that we’re involved in a number of different boards, from CIS to The Salvation Army, to West Michigan Therapy Dogs,…[Mike keeps naming organizations and we found it hard to keep up. Given that “People Helping People” is one of BASIC’s values, it’s not surprising that this flows from their business culture and spills into the community. You can catch the names of all the worthy organizations here.]

The number one thing is our people. We have 186 employees. That’s doubled in the last three years. Our five-year goal is to double again and get to 400 employees. We’re fortunate and blessed, to be allowed to do the work we do. As we grow, our people grow with us as well.

BASIC is consistently recognized as an Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Private Company. What is behind BASIC’s ability to both successfully grow as a business and to manage that growth?

Hire the right people. It’s really about having a good team.

Fritz and I, we’ll be working out at West Hills, and we’ll look at each other and think back to when we started. Our office space was the size of closet, about 50 square feet. Today, [Mike gazes upwards and counts out loud, “13, 20, 25…”] BASIC is over 35,000 square feet. The success of our company is no one or two people. It’s about the team.

What trend(s) are you seeing in your field, particularly when it comes to improving staff focus and effectiveness?

Staff need to continue to be trained and stay up on trends in the business. At BASIC, we need to be up on the latest and best technology. We need to identify what clients need because that changes over time.

Be nimble. That’s one of the reasons BASIC develops new products. It’s important to keep up and be flexible. In a blink of an eye, things change, particularly when it comes to technology.

We are and always want to be an American company. For us to continue to be an American company we need to be productive. Some of our competitors outsource stuff—that’s a trend right now. We could look to India, hire a person for 400 dollars a week. We wouldn’t pay payroll taxes, health insurance, dental, vision, 401-k match, no time off, none of that. But our people are more productive even though we pay them more. Our people work hard. We are an American company and we’re proud of that fact.

You are a dedicated and long-time CIS board member, holding the role of treasurer for a number of those years. As you know, there are many great organizations throughout the area that support kids. Why CIS?

I came on board one or two years after the merger in 2003.

I only ever remember you as being part of the CIS board!

Yes, that’s just about right! [He laughs.]

Bob Borsos first approached me and asked me if I might be interested in being on the board. I went to meet with Pam [Kingery] at the PNC Building where CIS used to be housed and she showed me this video—I’ve shared this story with as many people that will listen. It really made an impression.

In the video, an African American male is wheeled into the emergency room. He’s been shot up with bullets. The video then cuts to another scene, another patient being wheeled into the ER, and you see the face of that same male—but now he’s the emergency room surgeon. The tagline: Give kids a chance to succeed. I’ll never forget that. CIS is about giving kids a chance to become educated. That the American dream. With education, combined with opportunity and the willingness to work, you can get ahead. CIS helps kids take advantage of opportunities—and, in the case of Kalamazoo, take advantage of the Promise—they change not only their lives but their future children’s lives.

What is something you’ve recently learned?

Photo by Rebecca Finneran, MSU Extension

I’ve learned what invasive bittersweet is and what it does to our forest. It kills trees.

I didn’t know anything about bittersweet until Ruth from the Kalamazoo Nature Center came out one Saturday morning. She taught us how to identify the invasive species and we pulled out bittersweet along the Eliason trail. [BASIC adopted an almost two-mile stretch of the Eliason nature trail that winds near their property and is part of the 123-acre Eliason Nature Reserve.] Bittersweet is a vine-type plant and strangles trees. We saved one big tree. We call it the Basic tree now.

What is your favorite word right now?

Grandkids. We have nine, soon to be ten grandkids come February. They range in age from zero to 18. The older I get, the more I realize how much we can make a difference in their lives. They are our future!

What is something you love about our community?

We are a caring community. People care about other people and are willing to help. That’s my experience, whether it is CIS, Portage Community Center, our church, or neighborhood. We’re Western Michigan! We’re hard workers. Family is important and we watch out for our neighbors.

Any favorite restaurants?

Let’s see. Oh, let me think. Latitude 42! I’m a bit biased, however. [He smiles. The microbrewery restaurant is owned by the Stoddards, and co-founded by their son Joe Stoddard, Todd Neumann, and Scott Freitas.] I often work there on Friday and Saturday night, as the bar back.

Bar back?

Essentially, I’m a glorified dishwasher. I like watching the interactions and seeing how well the employees treat the customers. It gives me a lot of pride. They take good care of the customers. The service is good. The food is good—the fried chicken and salmon are my two favorite dishes.

Also, on Sundays, after church, my wife Ruth and I love going to the Daily Grind Cafe for breakfast.

At Communities In Schools, we believe that every child needs a marketable skill to use upon graduation. It’s one of our five CIS basics. As an employer, what marketable skills are you looking for right now?

Communication skills. Both written and verbal. The ability to communicate—whether that is talking on the phone, composing emails, being attentive and listening to the client—is important in our service business. A lot of people, unfortunately, don’t have those skills.

What advice do you have for our 12,000+ students—the up and coming generation of workers—to prepare themselves for obtaining a job?

In our business, you need to know English. English is important. You can’t talk like you might talk at home in the work environment. You must be professional. You can set yourself apart and really advance if you can communicate. Strong written and verbal communications skills, having computer skills, composing emails that reads like you know what you’re saying…that is what we’re looking for.

Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?

My dad. Growing up on the West Side of Grand Rapids, he taught me a lot. I was the oldest of five children. My mom stayed home and raised us. My dad was a postal clerk. He worked all the overtime he could. After doing his postal work, he had a paper route. It was a rural route, in the area where Grand Valley is now. That was something! All those snow banks in the winter…

My dad was a good man, good husband, and good father. He set a good example. I learned from him that it takes effort to be successful. You don’t need to be the smartest. You just need to put in effort and be willing to sacrifice. It starts with effort.

Mike, thank you for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids!

17 New Sparks with CIS

The 2017/18 CIS interns. (Front row, left to right): Joe Conrad, Janae McEwen, Angie Franklin, Alyssa Borkowski, and Kaleigh Walters. (Back, left to right): Alyssa Smith, Matthew Krieger, Kelsey Nimtz, Courtney Mahaffy, Kali Hancock, Dan Sullivan, Karly Poole, Travis Guerrero, Neala Smith, Kayla Garrett, and Blaec Arevalo. Not pictured: Karynn Taylor and Ernest Bell.

This is the largest group of interns CIS has yet to connect to the schools! Seventeen of the students attend Western Michigan University and one attends Spring Arbor University and is pursuing her Bachelor’s in Social Work. Of the WMU students, eight are working towards their bachelor’s degree in the School of Social Work, five towards their Master’s in Social Work, three working towards their Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Health Services and one towards their Bachelors of Science in Family Studies.

In no particular order, here are the interns and the schools’ CIS site teams they will be joining. (Drum roll, please): Dan Sullivan (Loy Norrix High School), Courtney Mahaffy (Northglade Montessori Magnet School), Kali Hancock (Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts), Kelsey Nimtz (Spring Valley Center for Exploration), Matthew Krieger (Woodward School for Technology and Research), Kayla Garrett (Hillside Middle School), Travis  Guerrero (Milwood Magnet Middle School), Karly Poole (Linden Grove Middle School), Blaec Arevalo (El Sol Elementary School), Neala Smith (Edison Environmental Science Academy), Alyssa Smith (Woods Lake Elementary: A Magnet Center for the Arts), Janae McEwen (Prairie Ridge Elementary School), Angie Franklin (Washington Writers’ Academy and Linden Grove Middle School), Neala Smith (Edison Environmental Science Academy), Alyssa Borkowski (Woodward School for Technology and Research), Joseph Conrad (Kalamazoo Central High School), Kaleigh Walters (Spring Valley Center For Exploration), Karynn Taylor (Lincoln  International Studies School), and Ernest Bell (Milwood Elementary).

We popped our quiz on these newest members of the CIS family and compiled their answers below.

Alright, interns: pencils out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

  • Wisdom does not always come with age.
  • In Norway, the maximum prison sentence is 14 years.
  • How awesome Communities In Schools is!
  • A Mobile Health Clinic makes stops to local KPS schools for students who need access to them.
  • Boys are a group currently struggling with academics. Our CIS caseloads will be 60% boys, 40% girls.
  • There is an American Sign Language minor now offered at WMU.
  • Learning some Spanish here and there.
  • I’ve recently been interested in Brené Brown’s work on love/belonging and shame/fear. She talks about how love is what you allow your authentic, vulnerable self to be seen and accepted, and how shame, fear, and self-doubt often get in the way.
  • There is a printer that will staple your papers for you.
  • How to play golf.
  • All of the great resources for kids around Kalamazoo.
  • A co-worker of mine used to be employed with CIS.
  • New workout circuit for lower body with bands.
  • Recently, I’ve learned several new ways to participate in self-care.
  • The urge to kill cute things comes from evolution.
  • Expanded my understanding of positive reinforcement.

 What are you currently reading?

What do you love about Kalamazoo?

  • The focus and dedication the community has to helping the students.
  • I think the downtown scene is very cool. There is a lot going on.
  • I love that Kalamazoo is full of diverse cultures. I like eating all different types of food, going to art openings, and local festivals. Oh, also we have live music and good beer. I just went to see Verve Pipe at Bell’s Beer Garden.
  • The resources available to the community.
  • I love that Kalamazoo has a lot of donors and organizations that like to give back to the community.
  • It’s where I grew up and, as a community, we try to support and stick together as a family.
  • The food.
  • How beautiful downtown is.
  • I like that it is a bigger city with a lot of fun things to do.
  • The complexity, yet closeness, of everything.
  • The downtown culture.
  • TNT and soul food.
  • I love being in Kalamazoo because there is always something to do.
  • The arts and diversity.
  • The atmosphere. There’s always something to see and do.
  • The sense of a small town and the community. It reminds me of home.

What is your favorite word right now?

  • Persistence
  • Accomplish
  • Gnarly
  • Fascination
  • Endeavor
  • Indeed
  • Energy
  • Fantastic
  • Free
  • Creative
  • Success
  • Fabulous
  • Gooey
  • Communication & wisdom
  • Interesting
  • Extremely

Will you share with us something that has been on your mind lately?

  • How will I use my Master’s degree to make a positive impact of children’s lives? I am interested in being exposed to the potential job opportunities this degree will offer me.
  • My girlfriend, who lives in Boston. Her name is Dulce, and she’s going to accomplish great things for vulnerable and oppressed people.
  • Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the changing seasons. Fall is one of my favorite seasons so I am excited.
  • The possible threat of nuclear war with North Korea.
  • Moving to a whole new state and finding out where everything is at can be very overwhelming, as well as meeting new people.
  • Taking advantage of every opportunity given and appreciating the little moments in life.
  • Finding a way to come up with some form of a resource that can aide me on how to connect and strategically teach my current 7th graders and how to grasp the new math curriculum of “Engage” New York Math.
  • What life will be like after graduation. I often daydream about my career potential and wonder where I will be living.
  • Trying to live more mindfully and in the present moment, rather than living in the past or future.
  • Since I am a senior, pretty soon I’ll be applying to WMU’s Master program. It’s a long process of applying and then months of waiting. I’m hoping to be accepted into the advanced standing program.
  • I would like to go back to Western and get my Master’s degree in social work. I would not mind being a school social worker since I enjoy kids. I know that I would be good working in the school system, plus I enjoy learning and helping people who want to succeed in school.
  • Graduation and how close I am to finally being finished with my BS.
  • Grad school and where I will be living a year from now.
  • Graduation and my next step in my career. Grad school is on my mind, also the holidays.
  • Post-graduation and the future.
  • My future. I’m getting ready to graduate and have been thinking a lot about the future and what I’m going to do following graduation.

Behind every successful student is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?

  • My two high school football coaches and my high school math teacher.
  • My parents are my biggest support system.
  • My parents.
  • My mom.
  • My mother has always been my caring adult.
  • My brother is my caring adult.
  • My father and my 19 year old daughter.
  • My parents.
  • My aunt.
  • My mother pushed me through elementary through high school and my father has gotten me through the end of my college career.
  • My momma and first high school teacher.
  • My father. Just the way he speaks to me of family and friends helps keep me focused.
  • My best friend, Jessica.
  • My professors at Western, a few memorable instructors in particular.
  • My mom. She has always been there for me, no matter what.
  • My parents are both very supportive and caring.

Thank you, interns! Welcome aboard!

Pop Quiz: Jennifer Swan

Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we feature CIS volunteer Jennifer Swan. Senior Architectural Project Coordinator with TowerPinkster, Swan’s work schedule makes it difficult for her to volunteer on a weekly, consistent basis. Yet, she wanted to help kids stay in school and succeed in life. She came up with a creative solution and developed the Swan Snack Emporium which supports CIS Kid’s Closet. True to her name, Swan is helping children connect with their inherent beauty and value by giving kids the basics they need to stay in school and learn with dignity. You can learn about this initiative in the latest CIS Connections “Back-to-School” newsletter.

Alright, Jennifer: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

POP QUIZ

Since 1953, TowerPinkster, a design firm, has been creating vibrant places for people to live, work and play. As you know, TowerPinkster has received a number of awards. TP was named one of the “101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work for in the Nation” (National Association of Business Resources). TP was also awarded “Best Firm to Work For in the Nation” (ZweigWhite). From your perspective, what makes TP the best and the brightest?  

What I think makes us the best are the people. We are like a family. We have two offices, in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, and although it’s a little harder these days—we’ve added quite a few new people to both offices and I don’t get up to the Grand Rapids office as much as I used—we used to know everybody and know everything that everybody is doing.

TowerPinkster is a family culture and we have a lot of fun. It’s not just coming to work. It’s coming in to work with your friends, what seems like brothers and sisters, more often than not. It’s a great environment and we have a ton of fun here.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I learn something every single day with my job. There are always new things happening in the construction industry, whether it’s new process or new people you work with. There’s not just one thing that I can give you that is something that I’ve learned because I learn every day on my job. Every single day I learn from contractors and learn from the construction managers on the project site. I learn from project managers here, even our interns that come in who know the new tech stuff that I don’t know, so I’m always learning.

What are you currently reading?

While I don’t have time to sit down and read a full book right now, I get on the internet and I read a lot of blogs and news articles.

Besides Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids, what are your ‘go-to’ blogs?

The type of blogs I turn to are ones that I can learn new things related to my work and to learn how other people are doing things so I can make myself better and faster at my job.

What is your favorite word right now?

My favorite word right now is strength, not like muscle strength but strength as in being a woman in a male-dominated field. You have to have a lot of strength and tenacity to go on job sites and be with a lot of men that are very experienced in the construction industry. I don’t build stuff, but I know how stuff is supposed to go together. It’s being able to hold my own on job sites and here in the office. I mean, the guys here are great and they’re very, very easy to work with and nobody’s ever like, You’re a girl and you don’t know what you’re doing. But it’s important to always have an understanding of what you’re talking about.

What’s your story behind getting into this line of work?

I think I got into this line of work because of my mother. When she was growing up, she and many women of that time were taught that women could be a secretary or go into teaching. I think she always wanted to be an architect because she was always, always sketching house plans at home. My dad was in the construction industry and in the summer he sometimes would take me with him and I would get to go to a construction site. I was always very interested in the construction architectural field just being around that growing up. So when I was in high school I took some drafting classes and just fell in love with it all.

I didn’t go to be an architect because growing up my family we didn’t have a lot of money so I didn’t go to U of M or any of the big colleges for that. I chose a smaller school—Baker College—as they had an architectural technical program.

What is something you love about Kalamazoo?

There’s so much to do! I come from a really, really, small town called Langston. There’s a party store, a church, and an ice cream place. So to come to Kalamazoo and there are restaurants, bars, festivals, and so many things to do and just so much to pick from…it’s wonderful!

Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?

My mom is definitely 100% my caring adult. She supports me with everything I do. I grew up in a single family household. My dad left when I was 11 or 12 so my mom raised my brother and me. She had a really strong work ethic and would work late nights and weekends because she was the only income that we had. She worked really hard and I pride myself on being like my mom because, like her, I have a very strong work ethic. Her being a single mom and raising two kids by herself; it’s just always been an inspiration to me. If she can do that, then I can do anything.

Jennifer, thank you for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids!

Pop Quiz: Dalanna Hoskins

Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we feature Dalanna Hoskins. Her history with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) began in 2009 when she served for three years as the CIS Assistant Site Coordinator for Washington Writers Academy. Hoskins returned in 2014  as CIS Site Coordinator at Milwood Elementary School. She also serves as a community broker for the Arcadia Institute helping young students and teenagers with developmental disabilities figure out their life goals and get them connected to their community, with emphasis on inclusion. She says, “I love my work with both CIS and Arcadia. I really learn a lot from the kids.”

A proud graduate of Kalamazoo Public Schools, Dalanna attended several KPS elementary schools and it was during her time at Woods Lake she met Mr. Leroy Green, a 2015 CIS Champ. [You can read more about that here.] After graduating from Loy Norrix High School Dalanna attended The College of Wooster in Ohio, graduating with a degree in black studies. She then decided to “explore my more creative side and check out the fun route” and obtained a fashion design degree from Ursuline College.              

Alright, Dalanna: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

POP QUIZ

Thinking back to your years with the Kalamazoo Public Schools, who was one of your favorite teachers?

Definitely my second grade teachers at Northglade Elementary—Mr. Bushhouse and Mr. Chuck Pearson. We had great times! At Halloween, they dressed up as the Blues Brothers. We put on plays, once a month it seemed. We also made a cookbook and I still have that cookbook.

My favorite teachers in middle school were Ms. Diane Lang and Ms. Dales. They both were math teachers and took time with us and made sure that we understood. Patience is something that I’ve always appreciated. Also, Paul Rothi who taught us social studies.

One of my favorite teachers at Loy Norrix was Barbara Felkel, my Latin teacher. She made Latin fun. I still remember basic Latin principles because of her teaching.

So, what’s a basic Latin principle?

Sum, es, est, sumus, estis, sunt. Which is: I am, you are, he/she/it is, we are, you all are, they are.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I have learned about the importance of process and living in the moment. As a person who wants to just get things done, sometimes it’s hard for me to ‘stop and smell the roses’ but I have learned that I just need to enjoy it, enjoy the process on the way to my destination, instead of worrying about the destination itself.

What are you currently reading?

God’s Armor Bearer by Terry Nance and The LQ Solution by Dr. Keith Johnson. LQ stands for leadership quotient to the teaches you how to become a better leader. I’m reading both these books through my church.

What’s one way you are learning to be a better leader?

Looking at a problem and finding a solution instead of capitalizing on the problem. Okay, so there’s a problem. It’s good to identify it but now what are some solutions to the problem? Instead of taking the victim mentality and asking Why me? a leader would say Why not me? What is a solution?

What is your favorite word right now?

Compassion.

What is something you love about Kalamazoo?

I love that Kalamazoo is very rich in resources and understanding. People from Kalamazoo are very giving and service-oriented.

Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?

Both of my parents. My mother and my father have given me the foundation that I have and now I just build on that.

Dalanna, thank you for hanging out with us at Ask Me About About My 12,000 Kids!

 

POP QUIZ: Sheldon Turner

Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we feature Sheldon Turner who will soon begin his fourth year with CIS as a youth development worker at Prairie Ridge Elementary School. Youth Development Workers, as their title implies, work hard to develop the strengths and talents of our youth by involving and empowering students in their own development. Like Sheldon, these enthusiastic caring adults are passionate about helping Kalamazoo Public School students succeed in school and in life. Students often refer to Sheldon and others in this important role as “coach.”

Thoughtful, gentle, and passionate about helping kids succeed, Sheldon says it was music that brought him from Muskegon, Michigan to Kalamazoo. As both the minister of music and music director at Renaissance Church of God in Christ in Grand Rapids, Sheldon is also all in for kids. In July, we had a chance to catch up with him while he was working at CIS Think Summer, held this year at Arcadia Elementary School.

Alright, Sheldon: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

POP QUIZ

In talking with Briasha, one of the students in CIS Think Summer, she identified you–Coach Sheldon–as one of the caring adults who is helping her succeed. What do you think about that?

Briasha is a great kid. We have so many great kids in the program.

How is CIS Think Summer going?

The program is going really well and the kids are learning a lot. We just had a visit from Pfizer and that was really great for the kids. They loved it. Some of them really wanted to be basketball players and now they are like, You know, I can actually have a career with Pfizer! It has opened them up to thinking, I can be more than one thing. I can be a basketball player and be a scientist, too. It’s always good to have a plan B, C, and D!

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I’m learning from my job with CIS that kids engage better with kids and, given the chance, can naturally problem-solve together. That can be better than for me to come in and try to problem solve for them. I’ve seen it where, if students weren’t friends in the beginning, they’ll become friends by the end. I just need to let them work it out–that’s huge for me because I have a tendency to want to solve their problems for them. But it’s important to give them the opportunity to do this for themselves.

What are you currently reading?

Right now, along with the students, I’m reading a book called Long Shot by Mike Lupica. It’s about a kid and his team and how teamwork basically makes the dream work; that you can’t do things on your own.

What is your favorite word right now?

My favorite word right now is actually the “word of the week” here at CIS. This week’s word is confidence. And you know, focusing in on a word is fun and helps not just the kids, but the staff too! Confidence is about believing you can actually achieve things that you have planned. You can also think of it in terms of making it a goal to maintain confidences.

What is something you love about Kalamazoo?

I love the atmosphere of the entire town. I can go places and not feel you, know, like I’m being watched or something. Kalamazoo is just such a friendly city…the atmosphere, the people, the kids. Everything about this place is just amazing.

Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?

One of the caring adults in my life would have to be Stacy Jackson. She’s looked out for me year after year. She knows that I’m a hard worker, she knows that I love the kids, and she is part of the reason why I’m here helping with CIS Think Summer. I look at her as a mother figure.

She recognizes my work ethic and how well I work with the kids and engage with them to help them develop into what they’re not only good at doing, but also, what they’re meant to be.

Sheldon, thank you for hanging out with us at Ask Me About About My 12,000 Kids!

Our kids need more youth development workers, enthusiastic individuals like Sheldon, to step up and serve in an after school setting (Monday through Thursday) this school year. If you or someone you know might be right for the job, go here.

Pop Quiz: Stephanie Walther

Stephanie with students in Sante Fe, New Mexico.

 

Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we feature Stephanie Walther, the former CIS site coordinator of El Sol Elementary School. Prior to her work with us, Stephanie served as a Peace Corp volunteer in El Salvador and taught in Honduras. Stephanie may have left Kalamazoo, but she continues to be all in for kids, having joined the Sante Fe CIS team in 2014 as the site coordinator at Aspen Community Magnet School in New Mexico.

Alright, Stephanie: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

POP QUIZ

Stephanie, you left your position as CIS site coordinator at El Sol Elementary School in 2014 and we still miss you. However, we feel good knowing you are still all in for kids and doing the same work at CIS of New Mexico. What drew you to New Mexico as well as continuing your work as a CIS site coordinator?

I was at a transitional point in my personal life and realized that staying in Kalamazoo wasn’t going to work out for me. It was very difficult for me to leave El Sol and CIS of Kalamazoo. I was surrounded by a community of support and I still miss everybody that I met out there.

While I was figuring out where I wanted to go next in my career, I often browsed the CIS National website to see if anything was available since I had had such a positive experience with CIS of Kalamazoo. It all still feels like a dream. I sent in my resume and heard back the same day. I instantly felt the same feeling of support from my phone conversations with the administrative staff here in Santa Fe. I knew we shared the goal of helping students achieve in life and succeed. I moved out here less than two weeks after accepting the job and I haven’t regretted one moment. Everybody I have met that works with CIS has such a good heart and I’m so happy to be able to continue to work with the organization and with people that share my vision for the youth in our country. As a site coordinator, I’ve realized the level of support needed in our public schools and the level of potential our students have. I feel lucky to be able to work with such amazing kids every day.

Stephanie (right) at 2014 Champs with CIS Board Member Jen Randall and CIS Champ Kawyie Cooper (middle).

We couldn’t help but notice on CIS of New Mexico’s website that there is a quote from your Gary De Sanctis, Principal  at Aspen Community Magnet School who says “So much of Stephanie’s work focuses on the social/emotional needs of our students and as a result so many more of our Aspen kids are able to focus and learn.” As you know, social and emotional needs are a big part of what CIS site coordinators in Kalamazoo work to meet. Can you  talk  about the social emotional needs your students face and what strategies and supports you are finding helpful to meet those needs?

As we all know, families go through their ups and downs. A lot of times parents and students are coming to a site coordinator during a difficult time in their lives. Difficult times happen to everybody.

Our job is to support the students and help them succeed in life. It seems very simple, but I find the most important part of doing my job is looking at each person as an individual human being that is going through life’s experiences. What works for one person doesn’t exactly work for another. Children also have different ways of taking on experiences and different supports in their homes. Working with the individual students and getting to know them is a big part. In Kalamazoo and in Santa Fe I’ve been lucky to work with several community partners to fulfill the social emotional needs of the students.  Getting to know the community and the resources available has been a lifesaver. We have been able to work on fulfilling the various social emotional needs of the students while they are at school and in a safe and caring environment.

Partnering with school staff to ensure we are working together to care of children’s social emotional needs is also key. It benefits the entire school community.

In your seven years as a CIS site coordinator–in both Kalamazoo and New Mexico–we know you’ve learned a lot about what it takes to helps kids succeed. If you could go back in time, what advice would you, now a seasoned Site Coordinator, give yourself starting out in this position.  

I would have given myself more time to let my caseload grow naturally. I was focused more on reaching a certain number of caseload students while I should have been focused on the individual needs of the students and the school. You cannot add a student to your caseload based on a test score or looking at their attendance.  It is important to talk to them and the people in their lives. Each year I find that building relationships with students and their families becomes more natural and I’m able to really gain trust with them.

What do you miss most about Kalamazoo?

I miss the access we had to wonderful mentors and tutors we had from Kalamazoo College, Western Michigan, and Kalamazoo Valley Community College. I know how much they impacted the lives of my students and acted as great role models. We just don’t have access to college students in Santa Fe. I miss the energy they brought to our students.

I also miss everybody at CIS of Kalamazoo and El Sol. There was such a great community feeling in the school and I always felt very supported by the staff members at the CIS main office.

We’re curious, what are you reading right now?

I’m reading The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan. She has always been my favorite author and storyteller.

Stephanie, thank you for hanging out with us at Ask Me About About My 12,000 Kids!

Pop Quiz: David Hamilton

Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we feature David Hamilton. A former youth development worker with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS), at the start of the school year David began serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA with CIS at Kalamazoo Central and Washington Writers Academy. Originally from Detroit, David graduated from Cass Tech High School and has just completed his studies in health administration at Western Michigan University, graduating with his bachelor’s this Spring. David is also featured in the most recent CIS Connections, with the “Double” theme. You can read the full issue here.

Alright, David: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

POP QUIZ

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

That in Kalamazoo, in general, kids struggle here, too. Coming from Detroit, it took me by surprise and feels a bit ironic. We have this great thing, the Kalamazoo Promise, yet not every kid is in the right state to receive and take advantage of it. Through my work with Communities In Schools I’ve learned there are many other underlying issues that can get in the way.

Such as?

There are many factors, but homelessness is a big deal, hunger, and other basic needs. CIS does a very good job of getting those resources so they can be break down those barriers that students face on a daily basis, whatever those students may need to alleviates some of those challenges.

Favorite word?

Right now it’s serendipitous. I feel like a lot of things that have come about in my life are serendipitous. I try and see them as opportunities and take advantage of them.

What are you currently reading?

The Last Dropout by Bill Milliken. It’s a book that I have found to be very informative on the causes of the pressing issue that students face. It also speaks to chronic absenteeism. [David talks more about this in the latest CIS Connections.]

What is something people may be surprised to know about you?

I have a huge interest in roller skating. I’ve been to Ohio and Atlanta. I’m going to Benton Harbor. I literally skate every Tuesday. You can get into Roller World for only a dollar.

Skating is a really big culture. We enrolled in a 100 day class called Starting Gate at Western. It’s a small incubator class that helps students develop their entrepreneurial ideas. And, of course, ours is to develop a skating rink in Kalamazoo.

We?

My twin, my companion in life. We enrolled in the class together after we started skating this past summer. We’ve got surprisingly good at it.We made the right decision, taking that class, it’s been beneficial. We’re looking for a location so kids don’t have to worry about transportation. We want to offer a positive, fun, clean environment for kids. Skating is something you have to be introduced to; you don’t generally seek it out. You can dance, ballroom dance, and hustle on skates. It’s fun.

David (on left) with brother Daniel

What’s the best part about being a twin?

The companionship and the support we get from each other. Obviously, we’re so close in age so we can relate to things together and they happen to be a family member.

What’s the hardest part?

When you don’t see eye-to-eye. It’s hard to disagree with a family member. I am the oldest, and he needs to learn his own lessons. I can’t forewarn him and that can be hard.

You’re the oldest?

Technically. By five minutes. At times we’ll do something and it will make me remember I’m the oldest. For instance, both of us chose to join the fraternity. I tested the ground waters first and laid the foundation. Then I asked him what he thought about it and he said, If you think it’s going to be beneficial, I’ll do it.

You’re a busy college student. How did you come to work with Communities In Schools?

I was looking for an internship for the summer and I wanted something that would help me hone my skills in administration and mentoring kids. I wanted to do AmeriCorps VISTA. I applied but I missed the deadline. So I applied to be a youth development worker for CIS Think Summer. It was one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences I’ve had in my life. I learned so much. I had so much support: from the other youth development workers, [CIS Site Coordinator] Ms. Yarbrough, and Ms. Artrella. I worked closely with twelve students and they were respectful and looked up to me.

I ended up applying again for VISTA, attended the August 23rd VISTA training and began my VISTA work at the start of school year. My time is divided between Kalamazoo Central and Washington Writers Academy.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I’m looking to pursue my masters in counseling psychology. Ultimately, I want to end up in administration in higher education.

Behind every successful student is a caring adult. Who is your caring adult?

My parents. Until recently, I’ve taken for granted having a two-parent household. I see the support they give each other and all they’ve instilled things in me. If one wasn’t there, I don’t know how I would have turned out. I’ve benefited from the kindness and the nurturing of my mother as well as the sternness and motivation of my dad and his “go get it” drive. I like that. They complement each other and one doesn’t overpower the other.

Thank you, David!

 

Jenee McDaniel: One of Many Afterschool Professionals We Hold in Our Heart

Did you know that it’s Afterschool Professionals Appreciation Week? Did you know that, throughout the U.S., an estimated 10.2 million children participate in afterschool programs each year? Did you know that for the past 13 years, CIS of Kalamazoo has helped students succeed in school through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers and currently serves 750 students in 15 after school sites—11 elementary and 4 middle school sites? CIS After School is available thanks to the support of federal dollars awarded through the Michigan Department of Education, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers.*

Thanks to all of our wonderful Afterschool Professionals. Whether you are a CIS After School Coordinator, a Youth Development Worker, an Instructional Lead, an Evening Custodian, Bus Driver, Food Service Worker, a CIS Volunteer or Partner supporting our kids in one of the 15 after school sites, we thank you for extending our reach as a community into after school hours. None of us could not do this work without the support of Kalamazoo Public Schools: the KPS Administration, Transportation, Food Service, and the many Principals and Teachers. Thank you for supporting us as we provide high quality programs that focus on student success.

One way to honor and lift up the great work being done with kids by all afterschool professionals is to shine the spotlight on one of our own. So today, we feature Jenee McDaniel. She’s been with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) since 2010 and is the CIS After School Site Coordinator at Linden Grove Middle School.

A proud graduate of Kalamazoo Public Schools, Jenee attended Lakewood Elementary ( K-3 school that closed back in 2004), Edison, Milwood Middle, and graduated from Loy Norrix High School. Jenee moved to Detroit and obtained an associate’s degree at Wayne County Community College. She also lived in Cincinnati for a time. She moved back to Kalamazoo when her mother was diagnosed with cancer. We’re glad her mom’s doing great—and has been in remission for a long time now—and we’re glad Jenee chose to stick around Kalamazoo. Jenee continued to further her education, obtaining both her BSW and MSW in the School of Social Work at Western Michigan University.

Alright, Jenee: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

                                                         POP QUIZ

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned? 

I keep learning more and more about myself. Just how to be more in tune with what is really important, and sweating the small stuff less.

What are you currently reading?

I’m studying for my clinical licensing exam so I’m looking over materials that relate to theories, medication, best practice, that kind of stuff.

What is your favorite word right now?

I honestly don’t have a favorite word.

You’re the first person we’ve interviewed who hasn’t had a favorite word!

[Jenee’s teammate Tamiko Garrett has briefly entered the room.] What about, “Hey, boo?”

That is a go-to greeting that I use often. LOL.

What is something you love about Kalamazoo?

The Promise. I also like the stance that our mayor and the city commission have taken and the commitment to being a city of welcome to all. With the political climate the way it is right now, I love that the city is taking this stance.

Thinking back to your student years with the Kalamazoo Public Schools, who was one of your favorite teachers?

In elementary school, when I went to Edison, my favorite teacher was my fourth grade teacher, Ms. Pulley. I believe she is still teaching or just retired from Spring Valley but she had been my teacher at Edison. I really connected with her. As an African American teacher, she looked and talked like my family and me. She was relatable, firm but fair, and you just knew that she cared. Not just that, but she would check up on me throughout my life; she’s the kind of person that remembers you after you’ve left and grown.

At Milwood Middle, it was my science teacher, Mr. Chuck Pearson. I’ve always liked science but the way he facilitated our class, he just made science so fun. In high school, my favorite teacher was Coach [Dob] Drake. I hated history and he taught history. The way he presented it, though, you couldn’t help but enjoy the class. He jumped on tables, things like that, and made it fun to learn. It was always a show and you always learned something. He was a good teacher. I never minded going to his class and I never once fell asleep. Still, today I hate history but I loved that class. Besides learning history, I learned something else from him: it’s the way things are presented that can make the difference.

Can you tell us something about yourself that people may be surprised to know?

I’m a sensitive person. Some people would find this really hard to believe!

Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?

My caring adult has been a combination of my mom, dad, and grandma. My mom was very structured and consistent. She may not have been a hugger, but she taught us how to be independent, responsible, accountable, and to maintain things. My grandma—she was a Southern woman and lived with my mom—she was business-like, and even though she had a lot of health issues, she taught me so many lessons and life skills, such as cooking, cleaning, self-respect, morals, and compassion. My dad did not live in the home with us but he was always just around the corner. Some would consider him more “street” but he was always available to us and always involved—which I consider a blessing—because that was not the case for so many around me growing up. He has always been about family. He was also the kind of dad who shows up for things. He came to all my school events, cheered the loudest, which was embarrassing then, but I appreciate it now. He was a man’s man, but I learned about feelings and emotions from him. He was affectionate, gave me compliments, told me he loved me, and it was always okay to not be okay.

Outside of my family, I would have to say Barb Howes has been that caring adult for me. School has always come easy to me but after getting my BSW, I was tired. I had a family situation that was going to require a lot and I didn’t want to go on to graduate school at the time. But because of Barb Howes, I did. She believed in me, knew I was capable, and expected nothing less from me.  Knowing all the obligations I had with family, she offered me a graduate assistantship and was an advisor, mentor, confidant, and still is one of the best people I have ever met.

Jenee, thank you for hanging out with us at Ask Me About About My 12,000 Kids! And thanks for your on-going committment to helping our kids learn and grow in an after school setting!

We continue to talk with Jenee in our recently released newsletter, CIS Connections. Jenee and her CIS site team member, CIS Site Coordinator Tamiko Garrett, share insights into what it takes to work together to help students stay in school and be successful.

*The federal budget for 2017-18  proposed by the President completely eliminates funding for 21st Century Community Learning Centers. To learn more and find out what you can do to assure our kids can continue to learn in the after school hours, read the latest “Double” themed issue of CIS Connections.