At the 11th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Diane Fuller was honored with a 2018 Champ Award which was sponsored by BASIC. CIS Board President Tony McDonnell presented the award.
It was Stacy Jackson’s second day on the job as CIS after school coordinator, when Diane Fuller welcomed her to Edison Environmental Science Academy and introduced herself. “I come every Wednesday at 4:45 for homework help,” Diane cheerfully said.
Six years later and kids in the CIS after school program still can’t wait to seek out Diane for tutoring help. “This CIS volunteer is in high demand, says Stacy, “and that’s because she’s flexible, consistent, and understands the needs of our kids.”
It’s these very qualities that, three years ago, led CIS to seek Diane’s thoughts on modifying Miller-Davis Company’s Secret Santa program. Diane works at Miller-Davis as bookkeeper, and also coordinated the program. Would Miller-Davis employees, instead of providing gifts to 20 to 25 students each year, consider gifting to each teacher in the building? As Stacy puts it, “Gift one teacher and you impact 30 kids.”
Diane immediately saw the benefit to shifting to this “adopt a teacher model” and worked closely with CIS to map out a plan. Diane then presented it to her colleagues and they got right on board. So, Diane the homework helper, who recognizes and responds to students’ academic needs, also started listening and writing down teachers’ wishes—who, after all, knows better than teachers what teachers need to create learning environments most responsive to student needs?
Each year, Diane is making the list and checking it twice, trying to find out if it’s Mrs. Powell who wishes for the magazine subscription, Mrs. Smith who would love arts and crafts supplies and a gift card, and that it’s Mrs. Zarei King who could really use some flashcards or a set of books.
While students couldn’t begin to shower these gifts upon their teachers, they are a part of the experience. It is a wonderful gift to give a child: letting them see their teacher who cares for them, being cared for, too.
In her quiet yet mighty way, Diane is making a big impact at Edison, and helping her colleagues do the same.
Diane Fuller, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.
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 and 2018 Champ recipient, Chris Werme. (We popped this quiz on him at the end of the 2017/18 school year.) If you missed the post about his 2018 Champ award, you can find it here.
Chris also serves on the CIS Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council (VLAC), advising CIS on such things as volunteer recruitment and retainment. Most recently, Chris joined the CIS work group on Engaging Male Students. As part of this all male workgroup, Chris meets monthly with other CIS volunteers, partners, staff, and community members, to review data and develop initiatives and strategies for CIS to better engage our young men and support them in academics, behavior, and school attendance.
Alright, Chris Werme: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
You are a busy guy. Yet, you carve time out of your schedule to work with students. Why? And why CIS?
Why do I do it? You could say I felt a calling. Why CIS? A CIS newsletter ended up in my mailbox for no particular reason—I think somebody threw the newsletter in my box, probably because they know I do stuff with my church—and I happened to see a picture of O’Neal Ollie on it. We used to play basketball together. It actually had a picture of Montrell [Baker], too. At the time, I had no idea I’d eventually be working with Montrell!
Well, the newsletter turned up in my mailbox at the same time I had been giving some thinking as to, What am I going to do next? I’d done the board thing. I wanted to be boots on the ground, and work with young men.
So, I called O’Neal up and we met for lunch. I wondered aloud about volunteering and O’Neal said I should do it. So, here I am!
In addition to working directly with young men, you also serve on the CIS work group, Engaging Male Students. When it comes to working with young men, do you have a philosophy?
I believe that young men need to hear from old men how to act in certain situations. Lacking hearing from experienced, more mature men on how to handle things, they will handle things how they see fit.
To be clear, I don’t tutor or teach the young men anything. I talk with them and make sure they are achieving the goals they’ve set for themselves. I try not to make them be my goals.
…I’ve raised four children, two of them boys. I didn’t always do things right. I found I talked to my dad way more later in life than when I was a younger man. I discovered older men have real wisdom—and that wisdom is important.
At the 11th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Chris Werme was honored with a 2018 Champ Award which was sponsored by Humphrey. CIS Board Member Steven Denenfeld presented the award.
Loy Norrix’s Senior CIS Site Coordinator, Montrell Baker says of this Champ: “Our young men need more men like Chris Werme who’ll step up and be there for them. He’s one of my most consistent, reliable volunteers, always here each week unless a business trip requires him to be away.”
Chris is a health benefits advisor at Rose Street Advisors. Back in 2016, when Montrell connected him to two male students, he was pleasantly surprised. “Usually,” Montrell says, “when you connect kids with a resource or support person there is a grace period. ‘I don’t know about this, Mr. Baker,’ they’ll say, shaking their heads. “In my role as site coordinator, I’m encouraging students to stick with it, to give it time. This didn’t happen with Chris. The students connected with him right away.”
So, what is it about Werme? “It’s about trust,” explains DeAndre, who has been mentored by Werme for the last year and a half. “I can talk to him about anything. He shows me I can trust him…he’s only steered me to make the right decisions.” One example of how Werme’s guidance has kept him on track? “My grades were slipping and he encouraged me to go and meet with each of my teachers after school. It never occurred to me to do something like that. I did it, and I passed my classes!”
“I put a lot of trust in Werme,” he says. “When something comes up that bothers me, I can set those concerns aside and focus on school” because he knows later in the week he can count on Werme to listen and offer sound advice. As DeAndre puts it, “Werme’s kind of old. He’s got a lot of experience built up in his bones.”
Chris Werme imparts that built-up wisdom not only with the young men he mentors, but impacts dozens more by serving on the CIS Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council, advising CIS on such things as volunteer recruitment and retainment.
Most recently, Chris joined the CIS workgroup on Engaging Male Students. As part of this all male workgroup, Chris meets monthly with other CIS volunteers, partners, staff, and community members, to review data and develop initiatives and strategies for CIS to better engage our young men and support them in academics, behavior, and school attendance.
Chris Werme, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.
At the 11th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Sally Stevens was honored with the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award, a new recognition established by the Husain family to honor Gulnar’s long-time contributions to Communities In Schools and the community.
Gulnar immigrated from Pakistan in 1981 and for more than 38 years, she dedicated herself to volunteer work throughout the community of Kalamazoo. The award recognizes a CIS volunteer who emulates Gulnar’s desire to serve children with a consistent and unflinching passion. [To learn more about Gulnar and to reflect on her, read this post, “A Good Life.”]
CIS Board Member Carolyn H. Williams presented the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award, sponsored by the Gulnar Husain Legacy Fund.
Gulnar Husain, in her 14 years with CIS, first as an AmeriCorps worker and then as CIS site
coordinator at Arcadia Elementary School was not motivated by status or money or awards. She worked persistently, quietly, often invisibly behind the scenes for children. So it is fitting that Sally Stevens is the first recipient of the Gulnar Husain Annual Volunteer Award. She shares these same traits.
Sally is the invisible behind the visible. Quietly, without fanfare, she shows up each week for kids. When she retired from Borgess Hospital in 2013, Sally’s plan was to find volunteer work where she could give back and make a difference. And she has.
Visit any one the 20 CIS sites throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools and you won’t find her. You won’t see her in a classroom or in the hallways. She’s not in the cafeteria or on the playground. And yet, every day, because of her volunteer efforts, she touches the lives of students in all 20 CIS school sites.
Children want to do their job: be the best student they can be. But they need their basics covered so they can focus on learning. Sally is helping them do that by literally lifting up the generosity of this community. As many of you know, your donations to CIS Kids’ Closet help kids attend school every day with confidence and dignity, ready to learn. When students or school staff connect with the CIS Site Team at their school to meet a basic need, it is most likely Sally who has already inventoried the items CIS gives out. She has folded the sweatpants with love, organized the underwear by size, sorted socks, folded tops, gathered up the pencils, markers and crayons, and backpacks and boots, preparing them for the schools.
“Sally can organize the heck out of anything,” says John Brandon, who, as CIS partner services coordinator, oversees Kids’ Closet. “Sally,” he says, is “an incredibly hard worker, extremely efficient, and jumps in every way she can to help.” Take, for example, November 2016. When the tiny closet in the basement of the CIS/Kalamazoo Promise office building was bursting with your donations, Kalamazoo Public Schools graciously accommodated our need for more space, providing a classroom-size, walk-in closet at their building on Westnedge. Sally—who also volunteers with the Oakwood Neighborhood Association, Warm Kids, and the Bronson Park Food Pantry—bumped up her four hours a week to over seven, to get Kids’ Closet settled and up for operation. At the start of school and over holidays—when larger quantities of donations come flooding in—Sally increases her hours to meet the demand.
With Sally’s help, we’ve been able to serve children better by expanding operations at Kids’ Closet, increasing both the donations coming in and items going out to the schools.
Gulnar Husain was a prolific user of Kids’ Closet, a fact her Arcadia Principal Greg Socha could attest to. We know Gulnar would be so thrilled that you, Sally, are the first to receive this special recognition.
Sally Stevens, thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.
Keep up with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. You can learn more about Sally in the weeks to come. We popped one of our quizzes on her!
Today we highlight the Woods Lake Math Squad. At the 11th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, the Math Squad was honored with a 2018 Champ Award which was sponsored by Zoetis. CIS Board Member David Maurer presented the award.
The Math Squad is four retired gentlemen who tutor students at Woods Lake Elementary: A Magnet Center for the Arts. Each of the men is mainly focused on a different grade level and, depending on the needs, their supports vary. Some help with fundamental building blocks, while others provide tutoring that reinforces what is being taught in class. “Their support is incredibly valuable,” says CIS Site Coordinator Maureen Cartmill. “The skills, patience, and positive attitudes they bring with them each week support both students and teachers.”
The Math Squad’s combined years of life and work experience adds up to—well, since we haven’t had the benefit of their math support—we’ll say: “A Lot!” Stan Lepird, known as “Mr. Stan” was an engineer at Stryker. A volunteer with CIS since 2012, he himself is a former Champ recipient. James “Mike” Bratherton taught for 38 years in the Portage area. Bill Breyfogle, also a retired teacher, taught junior high school science and math for 36 years. Bill Becker, a self-described “full-blooded marine” has a background in business.
When asked what he would like to say to “Mr. Mike,” a student smiled, turned to Mike, and exclaimed, “Thank you for all of the math help! You make math much easier for us.”
The effect the Math Squad has on the students is palpable. When you walk by one of their tutoring sessions you see students engaged, their faces lighting up when they grasp a concept or solve a problem. As Stan Lepird’s student once put it, “Mr. Stan doesn’t give you the answers. He shows you how to figure out and get the answers yourself.”
In Bill Breyfogle’s mind, learning should be fun. “I want to teach these kids to succeed and know that they’re worth something. I don’t want them to be discouraged about the things they don’t know, but rather driven to learn more.”
Bill Becker says, “It is the best day of my week…and I am honored to work with these kids.”
Woods Lake Math Squad, we thank you for helping our kids stay in school and achieve in life.
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 Ms. Annie Brown. She has been a CIS volunteer for the past three years and is the proud grandparent of Reniyah Gillam, a second grade student at Woodward School for Technology & Research.
Originally from Tennessee, Ms. Brown came to Kalamazoo in 1968 and began working at the Shakespeare Company. Most locals know this art-deco building located in downtown Kalamazoo as Shakespeare’s Pub. However, when Ms. Brown came to town, the building housed a business that manufactured and supplied fishing equipment and other sporting goods. Ms. Brown worked for the company, helping them with cars and jeeps equipment. [If you are interested in learning more about the history of this former Kalamazoo company, go here.]
Alright, Ms. Annie Brown: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
What do you love about Kalamazoo?
Kalamazoo is a special place, because there are people who LOVE to help others. I love doing things for people. I have a prayer group, I love going to church and doing reach out ministry. I go to the Tabernacle Church of God in Christ. My Pastor is Dr. Charles G. Charles.
Praise Him! All the sickness I’ve been through and I’ve survived!
How did you come to be involved with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo?
I thought I came to help my granddaughter out but God was wanting me to do something else!…I guess you could say Reniyah was the seed and it just grew from there!…I was doing a little walk through of Woodward and to see how my granddaughter was doing. I saw the principal, Mr. Rocco, and said, Mr. Rocco, do you need me to do anything here? And he said, Yea! Come on down to the Communities In School’s room. So ever since, that what I’ve been doing! I’m an organizer and I love to organize things! I’ve been organizing clothes for CIS Kids’ Closet, sorting and folding. I organize items in the cabinets as part of the Loaves & Fishes food pantry we have here. I just do whatever [CIS Site Coordinator] Jen [DeWaele] needs me to do.
Your thoughts on the volunteer work you do with Communities In Schools?
This is right in the schools, and I tell people we are here for them, we are an organization that can help people. Sometimes, people don’t know we can help or maybe they don’t like to share about their situation. Even though they might need some help, they don’t like to admit it. But we can help them by providing them with information about what we have—right here at Woodward!—that they might need. We have a food pantry, a closet of clothes, backpacks, and a whole lot of other things we can help students and their families with, like help with tutoring. They don’t always know about it so I tuck a flyer, say about the Loaves & Fishes pantry, in their backpack.
So you have been serving in this role for the past three years now? Any other insights?
Yes, it has been three years…With the children, sometimes they don’t want you to pick them out as needing help. I just spread my love and the children don’t feel so bad about needing something. And they know me. Ms. Brown, she’s Reniyah’s grandma and she works with Ms. Jen, they say, so it’s okay. Everybody has gotten used to me here so it’s easier for them to accept the help. There comes Ms. Brown! they say, once they got used to me. So I come in on my good days and help out however I can, whether it’s organizing things or connecting with a student and doing one-on-one work with them.
What are you currently reading?
I love to read and pray. Right now I’m reading Romans in the Bible.
Is that your favorite book in the Bible?
I prefer James.
Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?
My mother. She raised five children. She was the backbone of us. She was a good mother and gave us structure and balance. She instilled in us that you can be whatever you want to be. She taught us to love and also to do whatever you can do—but don’t talk about it.
Well, both CIS and the Woodward family are so grateful for all you do for kids here at the school. We can’t help but talk about what you do. You really do a lot!
I’m like a tree and I have so many branches. Hey, that’s your closing right there! That’s what we’re all supposed to be about, trees and branches, nurturing each other.
That is a good closing! Thank you, Ms. Annie, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000+ Kids.
In the next issue of the CIS newsletter, “CIS Connections,” you can learn more about Ms. Annie and what Woodward’s Principal Frank Rocco and CIS Site Coordinator Jen DeWaele have to say about Ms. Brown!
Here’s what a few of the wonderful volunteers who share their time and talents to benefit students throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools told us. (We note what school they volunteer at within the Kalamazoo Public Schools.)
I have just finished reading The First American by H.W. Brands on the life and times of Benjamin Franklin. A well written and fascinating insight into this famous American. On a lighter note, I am almost finished with the Dan Brown thriller, Origin. It is a page turner as well!
-Bob Spradling, Woods Lake Elementary: A Magnet Center for the Arts
I just finished Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jeffersonby Gordon S. Wood. It was very good. It traced the friendship/relationship of Adams and Jefferson from the American Revolution until their deaths on July 4, 1827. I also just finished The Last Balladby Wiley Cash. It is a novel inspired by actual events that occurred in the late 1920’s during the unionization of the cotton mills in North Carolina. The author is the writer-in-residence at the University of North Carolina at Asheville.
I would recommend both books to anyone who enjoys history.
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 John Brandon.
John grew up on the east side of Michigan, in Lexington, about 20 minutes north of Port Huron. John came to Kalamazoo to attend Western Michigan University and graduated with a degree in history. In 2014, he joined CIS as an AmeriCorps VISTA worker, supporting both Milwood Magnet Middle School and Kalamazoo Central High School. John now supports all 20 CIS sites in his role as partner services coordinator, a position he’s held for a little more than two years.
Alright, John Brandon: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
How would you describe your position as partner services coordinator?
I work as a representative of CIS with many of our partner organizations. I look over the day-to-day nuts and bolts of the partnerships, making sure services are running smoothly within the CIS model.
Part of your responsibilities also include overseeing Kids’ Closet. If you could use no more than five words to describe Kids’ Closet, what would say? Go!
Clothes. Hygiene items. School supplies.
But I have to say more because those five words don’t fully fit or complete the description of Kids’ Closet. CIS is able to distribute the basic needs items I mentioned and more to students thanks to the community. We collect and store items, we operate the distribution and delivery of these items to the schools, but it is the community that is 100% providing this resource to our kids.
We couldn’t operate Kids’ Closet without the support of community donations or the volunteers. Take Sally Stevens, for example. She volunteers five hours every week to helping with Kids’ Closet. Our kids really benefit from her organizational skills and dedication. Without her, we wouldn’t be able to accomplish one fifth of what we currently do when it comes to getting kids the basics they need. We’re able to do as much as we do because of volunteers like Sally.
What item do you find the hardest to keep in stock?
Adult sizes of [new] clothing items, like adult-sized sweatpants, especially in small and medium sizes.
What item(s) have been big in demand from school sites this year?
School supplies of all varieties. Notebooks, mechanical pencils, pocket folders, dry erase markers—all the elementary kids have a white board to do math on but they need replacement markers from time to time. That’s a new thing for us this year, the dry erase markers. We also have had many requests for sweatpants for all ages and underwear at the elementary level. This winter, boots, coats, and shoes have been in high demand, as have items like deodorant and feminine supplies. Basically, while the list of what we have in stock is long, the demand for these items is especially high. Fortunately, people in our community are good about donating them!
Also, what we need depends on the time of year. For instance, at the start of year we do great with school supplies, but towards the end of the school year, we’re in need of more of these supplies, like pocket folders, notebooks, and mechanical pencils, because the kids have already gone through them. [To see the most current list of needed items, check out the Kids’ Closet wish list here.]
What is your most favorite item you have in your closet?
Probably this sweater I’m wearing. See, it even has orange elbow pads.
You look like a history professor.
[John laughs.] I do pay attention to history. I read history books frequently and listen to a history podcast.
Podcasts are really a thing now, aren’t they? Any particular podcast you listen to?
Hardcore History. It is done by Dan Carlin and one of the more prominent history podcasts out there. Most podcasts last a half hour or so. This podcast comes in at six hours. You can’t listen to it all at once. He takes a topic in history and elaborates on it. You listen and think and then you listen some more.
Kalamazoo has such a unique collection of people. I’m from a small town, so it feels like a big city to me, but without being too big. I love all the historical buildings. It’s also hip.
I live in the Vine neighborhood. Just this weekend, I was thinking how I’m so lucky I can walk to a record store or a fancy sandwich shop or a pub. I like the mingling of small businesses along with residential areas. Those are the biggest hits for me when it comes to what I love about Kalamazoo. Oh, and of course that Kalamazoo is not too far from the lake!
Any favorite places?
I am a big fan of Fourth Coast Cafe. Also, the Lillian Anderson Arboretum which is just outside of town and owned by Kalamazoo College. I enjoy the nature trails winding through the pine trees planted in rows, off to either side. It’s a good spot. There are so many good spots and that’s why the city of Kalamazoo is so great. I learned that we even have a cat cafe!
You can bring your cat?
No. It’s called Kzoo Cat Cafe and they work with Kalamazoo Animal Rescue. Debi Newsome [CIS Senior Director for Finance, Human Resources and Administration] told me about it. You pay twelve dollars and can hang out, play with cats, drink coffee and tea, and have some snacks. The cats are all adoptable through the rescue center.
What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?
I attended a conference on foster children. I got the opportunity to listen to and speak with people whose focus is entirely foster children. In being exposed to an area of advocacy I had no real prior knowledge on, it was eye-opening. I’m constantly learning how little I really know about people’s struggles in this world.
Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?
For me, that would be my parents. Both of them. They’ve been role models for me in being a good adult. They’ve always done a good job of balancing, encouraging me to be who I am but also having a realistic view of what is possible. I’ve turned into a well-rounded person thanks to them, though. I didn’t always appreciate how awesome they are until I got older.
Thank you, John, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000+ Kids.