Finding His Voice

LennyThis article about Lenny was featured in the latest issue of our newsletter, CIS Connections: Graduation Beginning with the End in Mind. You can read the full issue here.

Lenny Williams has always been soft spoken. “He’s wasn’t disruptive,” Gulnar Husain explains. “In fact, he was quite the opposite. Quiet and introverted, he had a habit of shutting down and being off-task. He didn’t listen or follow directions. His academics suffered because he just wasn’t applying himself. He is a very sweet boy but he just wasn’t living up to his potential.”

So when Lenny’s then kindergarten teacher, Michelle Hiller, referred him to CIS, one of the first things Gulnar Husain did was connect him with a tutor.

Lenny believes tutoring as well as a number of other supports have helped him move in a positive direction during his time at Arcadia Elementary School. “Ms. Gulnar gives me things that have helped me be better in school, things I need, like foodpacks, coats, shoes, boots, and gloves.” It’s these basic supports, along with tutoring, that have allowed Lenny to be ready to learn every day from the dedicated teachers he’s had throughout his elementary years.

Ask Lenny who his favorite teacher is and he can’t pick just one. He’ll tick them off one by one, from kindergarten to fifth grade, but try and nail him down to one or two and he can’t do it. “Arcadia just has really good teachers,” he explains.

Cindy, America Reads Tutor, with Gulnar Husain and Lenny.
Cindy, America Reads Tutor, with Gulnar Husain and Lenny.

A loving family and great teachers, along with community support funneled through CIS is helping Lenny realize his potential. “He’s really blossomed and he has confidence now,” says Cindy Kesterke, Lenny’s former America Reads tutor. “It’s great to see and I’m excited for his future.”

“You think I’m persistent?” Gulnar laughs. “Lenny is one of the most persistent people I know. That’s because he’s anxious to learn. Always polite with his requests, this persistence extends beyond himself. He’ll even stop by the CIS office and advocate for his younger brothers to also receive CIS support. Because of the tremendous support he’s received from the school and the community, Lenny came to the decision that he needed to turn things around. Once he decided he wanted to do better, things naturally began to fall into place.”

Lenny describes it this way: “I just thought I should get better grades, so I started behaving myself. I used to always get referrals for not listening. I decided for myself to work hard and get good grades.”

Lenny’s looking forward to attending middle school and building on what he learned at Arcadia. “I’m going to do good and them I’m going to college,” he says.

Read more in our in our newsletter, CIS Connections: Graduation, Beginning with the End in Mind.
Read more in our in our newsletter, CIS Connections: Graduation, Beginning with the End in Mind.

 

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?

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.

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Doing What It Takes To Get Her Promise Back

IMG_2959When JacQuese Steele graduated from Loy Norrix High School in 2008, she headed off to Michigan State University, fully intending to use the gift of The Kalamazoo Promise® to obtain a degree.

Bonnie Terrentine, CIS After School Coordinator for Lincoln International Studies and former Kalamazoo Area Academic Achievement Program (KAAAP) staff  knew JacQuese as a young student at Chime Elementary, then Milwood Elementary, Milwood Magnet Middle School, and then Loy Norrix High School. “She was extremely bright,” recalls Bonnie. “Talented, too. Even when she faced obstacles, she kept on going. She’s very resilient, a pioneer, really, as she was the first in her family to head off to college. I remember she had really supportive grandparents. She was just a great kid.”

JacQuese recalls Ms. Terrentine fondly and says that when she was in fourth grade, the KAAAP mentor she was connected to, Carol McGlinn, changed her future. (Initiated in 1992 by the Kalamazoo Chamber of Commerce, KAAAP was later absorbed by CIS. It matched elementary students to a mentor committed to seeing the young person through high school graduation.)

JacQuese started doing better in school thanks to the tutoring support she received from her mentor. “I wouldn’t be able to read if it wasn’t for her [Ms. McGlinn]. She saved my reading life. She saved me.”

Yet, the transition from high school to college was challenging. “Going off to college was hard for me,” recalls JacQuese. “My family loved me. They were in support of me going and said, ‘Do it!’ but that was it. I needed someone to guide me. I needed help with the how. I realize nobody has a blueprint for you but when you go to college you need a game plan. I felt like I just got dropped off. ‘Do good,’ they told me. Okay, but how? What are the steps I need to take to get through college?”

A talented woman with a variety of interests, JacQuese found herself changing direction frequently and switching majors. While at Michigan State, she studied Communications, Interdisciplinary Arts and Humanities, Religious Studies, Social Work, and Theater.

It was at the start of her fifth year of college, her degree in sight, that things began to unravel. JacQuese’s grandfather, a great ally and whom she was very close to passed away on her first day back to school. To make matters worse, shortly thereafter, JacQuese was robbed. “My bank card was stolen and my entire bank account was wiped out. I was very depressed. I couldn’t pay the rent. I didn’t know what to do.” So, when a new opportunity arose, JacQuese dropped out of college and headed to Atlanta to “chase my singer-songwriter dream.” While JacQuese experienced some success with her musical career she ultimately determined “it ended up not being the opportunity for me that I thought it would be.” As she puts it, “The music industry, well, let’s just say snakes aren’t always low in the grass.”

Recently, JacQuese decided to return to Kalamazoo. Through Facebook, she connected with her former middle school math teacher, Diane Lang. They met for lunch, caught up, and talked about JacQuese’s future. Afterwards, with JacQuese’s blessing, Diane reached out to friend and Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, Pam Kingery. Was there a way for JacQuese to get her The Kalamazoo Promise back?

And before September faded into October, JacQuese, with Diane Lang at her side, met with Bob Jorth, Executive Director of The Kalamazoo Promise®. Thanks to Bob, JacQuese got the information she needed and is now doing what it takes—including making a recent trip to Michigan State University—to finish what she started.

JacQuese couldn’t ask for a better cheerleader at her side—and someone to help navigate the how questions all college students have—than Diane Lang.

“This kid has tons of talent and positive energy,” says Diane. “She just needs to finish up her degree. I’m proud of her.”

“This time, I’ll be going back to college,” says JacQuese, “just  a little wiser.”

 

Sailing the Sea Of Success

20140506-DSC_7608Today’s guest blogger is CIS graduate and former CIS board member, Ricki Harris. Ricki graduated from Kalamazoo Central High School in 2012, and later that year she graduated from Naval Station Great Lakes. Her former mentor, Artrella Cohn, CIS Director of Secondary Sites, was there to celebrate with her. (Artrella shared her memories of meeting Ricki when she was just nine years old and how their lives have intersected over the years. If you haven’t read that beautiful post, you can find it here. Ricki’s “Story of Progress” was also featured in the 2010-11 Annual Report. )

Ricki, whose official title is DC3 (SW/AW) Harris, now serves as a Damage Controlman for the Navy. She has been nominated for the Blue Jacket Sailor of the Quarter and has received a Letter of Accommodation from her Commanding Officer.We are proud of Ricki and her accomplishments. We admire her perseverance, intelligence, warmth, modesty, and bravery. Not everyone can spread their wings and fly around the world. So when Ricki came back to visit us a few months back, we were so happy to see her and bombarded her with questions. Her decision to enter the Navy has given her a chance to see the world. We wondered. What were some of her favorite places? Why? How did visiting those places change (or not change) the way she sees “the place” of Kalamazoo? What exactly does she do as a Damage Controlman? What is it that sticks out for her as something that has (or is) influencing her growth as a young woman? What advice does she have for Kalamazoo Public School students? She was kind enough to write this post so we could share this with you…

DSCF8433Since graduating and leaving Kalamazoo, I’ve been to the Philippines, Jebel Ali Dubai, Jordan, Eliat Israel, Singapore twice, Bahrain, Hawaii, and Oman. My favorite places would have to be Israel, Singapore and Dubai. If you are on the fence about what you want to do, then the military may be a great choice. It doesn’t matter what branch you choose as all of them have different expertise and can offer good experiences. Whatever you do, think about the decision. Make sure it’s something you love or can grow to love.

In Israel, I got to visit Jerusalem and the Holy Land and experience the different religions that were there—which was an eye-opener since I’m not too religious. Singapore was very clean and offered different religious sectors, such as “Little India” and “Chinatown.” In a sense, it was like having a little taste of India and China. The people were very friendly and spoke  English very well. Dubai is probably one of the richer countries the world has. They have one of the world’s biggest malls and their King even came on board our ship! With all the lights and night life, you would think the party never stops there. It’s a beautiful city and a nice place to vacation. Being overseas and visiting all of these places made Kalamazoo seem super small, though nothing takes away from how beautiful downtown Kalamazoo is with the older neighborhoods and big houses. Plus Kalamazoo College is so beautiful…

My role within the military is as a Damage Controlman. I’m responsible for the ship’s integrity. This means fighting fires, and combating casualties on the ship. We are the first responders to any casualty on board a ship. We teach people how to do our job and we also work with chemical, biological and radiological (CBR) warfare equipment just in case there was ever a CBR attack. It’s exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time, but I love it.

Being in the military has greatly influenced me. I have received training that would cost a fortune in the real world. It has given me endless possibilities that I would not have had otherwise, especially right out of high school.

My experience with the military has also shown me how to deal with people. The military is a melting pot. Befriending the people I meet has helped me learn and understand other cultures. Altogether, it is a learning experience. People may like you or just down right hate you. That will happen where ever you go in life. As long as you put your mind to it and do what’s right, you will succeed. If you do what you’re supposed to do, you will get recognized.

I would encourage any student who is in school to continue with school. Work hard and make the best of it. Thanks to the Promise, you have your education paid for. I came to KPS in fourth grade so I still received a large amount of the Kalamazoo Promise®. I would also encourage high school students to attend AP Courses. I took roughly about six, and I even tested out of Economics and Algebra.

You’ll be surprised what you can do if you put your mind to it. YOU have to want to do it, though.

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Paying It Forward At An Early Age

20140506-DSC_7712 - CopyToday we celebrate the work of Kawyie Cooper who was honored at the seventh annual Champ celebration. CIS Board Member Jen Randall along with Stephanie Walther, CIS Site Coordinator at El Sol Elementary School, presented the award. Following the award, Kawyie gave a speech.

If you saw our youngest Champ of all time coming down the hallway at King-Westwood Elementary School, you’d first be struck by her gigantic smile and bright eyes. As you’d get to know her a bit better, like her CIS Site Coordinator Laura Kaiser has, you’d find out what a caring, outgoing, friendly and hard working student Kawyie Cooper is. Over the past year, this fifth grader has embraced the CIS mission, empowering herself to take full advantage of the CIS resources Laura has connected her with to stay in school and achieve in life. Over a matter of months she made huge improvements in her reading, math, and behavior. How many grownups can boast that?

When AmeriCorps VISTA Maggie Orlieb started an Environmental Club, Kawyie enthusiastically got on board, serving as a positive leader within the group, full of ideas. “She really helped set the tone for the other kids,” says Laura. “She is a real leader.” This young leader is flourishing with the support of her parents, KPS teachers, and the efforts of yet another Champ, her tutor and mentor,Rosalie Novara. Funny, how that works, isn’t it?

20140506-DSC_7628Kawyie’s literacy teacher and 2010 Champ recipient, Ms. Killen, says this: “Kawyie has also made improvements in systems of organization and management.  She is able to arbitrate for herself, respectfully, when she disagrees with someone, and her classmates respect and admire her.” Ms. Cruz-Davis, her homeroom teacher, says this: “She is more responsible for her homework since the beginning of the year. Academically she has made improvements in allareas… “

It’s clear that Kawyie’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. When, during a school team meeting, the CIS Site Coordinator recommended that Kawyie serve as a mentor for a young student, the school team unanimously agreed.

20140506-DSC_7714Surrounded by a community of support, Kawyie is living out that CIS basic: an opportunity to give back peers and her community. She mentors a second grader, reviewing a daily checklist created by the CIS Site Coordinator to keep her young charge on track. Turns out, Kawyie is just what this second grade student needs: a caring, older student who is looking out for her, and always with that beautiful smile. With Kawyie’s support, this student is improving her own academics and behavior.

At the end of the day, the Site Coordinator will often catch a glimpse of Kawyie, taking her mentee’s hand, walking down the hall and out to the same bus they ride together.

Kawyie Cooper, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

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Kawyie’s Speech

The following is the acceptance speech read by Kawyie Cooper, 2014 Champ Recipient, at the 2014 7th annual Champ Celebration, help at Cityscape. 

20140506-DSC_7716Hi, my name is Kawyie Cooper.  I am in the 5th grade at King-Westwood Elementary.  I am so proud to be honored tonight as the first elementary school Champ!

In my school planner, I wrote down this quote that my mom told me:  “Birds soar with other birds because you can’t fly without wings!”  I like this quote because it reminds me that my friends and I need to work hard in school in order to achieve our goals.

School can be a big challenge for me, but I have made huge improvements this year with the help of my parents, my teachers, and all the support I get from Communities In Schools.

My parents have high expectations of me.  My mom inspires me with positive talks about staying on track with my grades and behavior. She makes sure I have food, clothes, and a safe place to live.  My mom has a rule that we do homework first and no TV on school nights. My dad sets a good example for me by going to work every day at the Old Peninsula.  I know if he’s doing his job, I should be doing my job by doing my best in school.

I am also lucky to have awesome teachers.  Ms. Killen is special because if I make a mistake, she always gives me the chance to turn my behavior around.  She understands how hard I am working this year and helps me keep a positive attitude.  Ms. Cruz-Davis is a big help when I don’t understand my math.  She reminds me not to worry and is patient when she helps me work through the problems that frustrate me.

I am also really thankful for my tutor and mentor, Miss Rosalie.  We have lunch and recess together once a week and she helps me to understand my school work.  We also learned how to give each other feedback – both positive and negative! When she compliments me on things she notices, I feel proud.

Kawyie Cooper, 2014 Champ
Kawyie Cooper, 2014 Champ

Each day I look forward to being a mentor to my 2nd grade friend, Nevaeh!   At the end of the day, I help Nevaeh get ready to go home.  Together, we gather her things and walk to the bus.  Working with Nevaeh has taught me to appreciate how hard my teachers, parents, and tutor work to help me!  It calms me down at the end of the day to know that I am helping Nevaeh end her day on a positive note.

[CIS Site Coordinator] Miss Laura and {VISTA] Miss Maggie have helped me improve my school year, too!  When I have problems with my friends I come talk to Miss Laura and she helps me learn to solve problems through positive communication.  Miss Maggie is the leader of our Fuel Up Play 60 group.  She helped me learn that kids have the power to come up with our own ideas and make them happen in our school!

Also, this is my first year participating in Girls On The Run.   It’s really exciting to practice for the 5k and learn how to motivate ourselves to keep going if we get tired during the race!

Today, I am so proud of myself and how hard I’ve worked to earn this Champs award and I am so thankful to everyone who has helped me soar in school!  Thank you so much.

Pop Quiz: Hailiey From Spring Valley Center For Exploration


IMG_2192Today’s pop quiz features Hailiey Houser, a fifth grader at Spring Valley Center for Exploration. She has been involved with CIS for three years now and is featured within our latest CIS Connections newsletter which you can read 
here.  Alright, Hailiey, pencil out. Here we go!

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I’m in Read 180 and it’s really great. Right now, we’re learning about how to stop bullies and stand up for ourselves. Some school have formed anti-bulling clubs, the kids will make posters, hang them around the school. We’re talking about what we want to do in our school when it comes to bullying.

What are you currently reading?

Right now I’m reading Writing Freedom. It’s about a girl whose parents get in an accident and they pass away. She ends up finding a horse she loves. I think this story is interesting because it’s about animals and a mystery at the same time. I also love the Percy Jackson series. I’m on The Son of Neptune, the first book in the second series.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I have the Kalamazoo Promise® so I want to go to either Michigan State University or Western Michigan University. I plan to be a writer, doctor, a vet, a singer, and a teacher. I love little kids.

What is your favorite word right now?

Fantastic. 

You said that quickly, without blinking an eye.

Well, it’s been my favorite word for the past five years.

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

Seeing my dad for my birthday. Since he lives in Tennessee I don’t get to see him often. 

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

My mom, my step-dad, and my dad…They have gotten me through really tough times. Also, my math teacher, Mr. Smith and my Read 180 teacher, Ms. Krzebietke, or “Ms. K” as us kids call her. They are both great. And Ms. Martha because she’s helped my family a lot, especially this year.  She  got me involved in College Club, Girls on the Run and the Writer’s Workshop where all the people—especially Ms. Molly, help me with writing. Ms. Molly has been with me all this year and she helped me write my first book, The Powerful Mouse which I dedicated to my family and friends! [Hailiey holds up her book.] Oh no! I just now noticed the mouse is missing a leg! [She laughs, then sets the book down.] I’m working on my second book now called The Connection. It’s about a girl who is a vet, finds a dog without a tag, and develops a relationship with him.

Thank you, Hailiey!

IMG_2196While you can read ”All the Write Moves” in the current CIS Connections newsletter, in which Hailiey and her CIS Site Coordinator reflect on the academic success Hailiey is experiencing at Spring Valley Center for Exploration, we’ll end today’s post with a portion of the interview that you’ll only find here at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids… 

Hailiey is keenly aware that she must work hard now to prepare herself not just forLinden Grove Middle School come fall, but for college. “Going to college is important,” she points out. “That way, you can have a good life and get a good job. Since Ms. Martha got me involved in the College Club I have written a letter to Michigan State. They wrote back and sent me a banner, a packet of things I need to know to prepare for college. Did you know that you have to stay in college for a certain amount of time, depending upon what type of job you are looking to do? I also learned that you also have to write well to do well in college. Every Wednesday at recess time I do the Writer’s Workshop. I work closely with Ms. Molly. I do the work but she has been there all this year to help me. I’m also doing Girls on the Run again. I first did it in 3rdgrade and I have a medal at home for running the 5K we do at the end of the program. Girls on the Run is about running but it’s also about meeting new people and making new friends. I did a good job with that, so I’m looking forward to it again. Ms. Martha also helped me get to Pretty Lake Camp last year and I’ll also be going there again this summer. Last year, a turtle peed on my shoes and luckily I made some good friends because one of them had an extra pair of tennis shoes I could wear. That was good because my shoes smelled something awful.”