Poetry Fuels Young Minds

We can’t let April slip by without a nod to poetry. Whether a student is reading and writing poetry in April or December, poetry enhances literacy, builds community, aids in creative problem solving, and fosters social-emotional resilience. Students who have disengaged from learning because of problems outside of the classroom can often be re-engaged through poetry.

On the heels of the hugely successful Kalamazoo Poetry Festival, it’s clear poetry is alive and well throughout the city (and beyond). Here now are six reasons we know poetry is fueling the minds of some of our 12,000+ students, who are tapping into this ancient art form to learn about themselves and the world around them.

1. CIS AmeriCorps VISTA Nicholas Baxter believes in the power of poetry. He shares his talent and passion for poetry within the Kalamazoo Public Schools, running a poetry workshop at Arcadia Elementary School. Every Thursday, budding poets spend their lunchtime reading, writing, and learning about poetry. Here is Nicholas with (left to right) Roziya Rustamova, Aceanna Williams, Nabaa Eyddan, and Reem Ahmed.


2.  If you didn’t get the chance to read Tristan Pierce’s poem, “Time Waits 4 No Man!” then head over to CIS Connections and read it now because, as this Parkwood student reminds us, time waits for no one.

3.  As a CIS volunteer, I recently had the pleasure of stepping into Woods Lake Elementary: A Magnet Center for the Arts and offering a poetry lesson to Mrs. Shannon Parlato’s third graders. I couldn’t help but think of Mrs. Parlato as a literacy warrior. 


Like all great teachers, she sets clear boundaries for her students while maintaining a sense of fun and fueling their desire to learn. Every one of her students actively participated in the poetry workshop and wrote at least one poem. Woods Lake’s CIS Site Coordinator Maureen Cartmill, impressed with the students’ creativity, said, “Poetry really brings home how important and enriching vocabulary can be.”                                                                   

4.  This past March, 30 Kalamazoo Public School students read their original poems at Chenery Auditorium as part of the inaugural Spoken Word Middle School Poetry event. Superintendent Michael Rice noted that, by sharing their poems that evening, students offered the audience “a sense of who they are and how they are going to have an impact on their world.” You can read more about the event and watch the performances by going here.

5.  Friends of Poetry, an almost 40-year old organization which promotes the reading and writing of poetry throughout the greater Kalamazoo area, is gobbling up poems students throughout the area sent for consideration in their annual “Poems That Ate Our Ears” contest. While winners haven’t been announced yet, we can’t help but think of what Hillside Middle School Principal McKissack said upon reflecting on Hillside’s strong showing at the second annual MLK “Courage to Create” Celebration.

Principal McKissack out at WMU with Hillside students and staff

A number of his students made it to the semi-finalist round, read their work at Western Michigan University and took a number of top prizes in the poetry competition. He was proud, “not of the winning part, but I was overjoyed by the hard work they put into getting there—the reading, studying, the questions they asked. They didn’t give up.”

Young people, through poetry, are putting their voice out into the world. That’s a brave, beautiful, and winning act in itself.

6.  Consider this group poem, written by Mrs. Shannon Parlato’s third grade students:

Recipe for Success

First, take twenty dabs of sleep and let gently rest.

Then take food and water and pour it into a cup.

Add a lifetime of teachers for a heaping harvest

of education so that we can use the Promise

to get the career we love.

After a good long day, roll up in a blanket.

Dream of what we’ve accomplished.

Giving Back “Just Because”

_MG_3781-3This week, we’d like you to meet Rex. Rex turned five years old in March. He is starting t-ball this spring, loves inventing things, and when we talked to him prior to his birthday – he was hoping his birthday cake was going to be chocolate with vanilla frosting and a Star Wars theme.

While we don’t keep stats on this kind of thing, we have a hunch that Rex might be our youngest CIS donor ever. With support from his mom, Noelle, Rex decided to ask his birthday party guests to consider bringing donations to the CIS Kids’ Closet as his birthday gifts. Rex thought it would be good to help others and it seemed like a natural extension of the donation of food he made to Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes at Thanksgiving.

When we asked Rex why it was good to help others, he said, “just because.” We couldn’t agree more. There doesn’t need to be any specific reason to help others – it’s good to give back “just because.” Rex has a great role model in his mom. Noelle has shared her time through CIS as a volunteer at Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary.

We recently asked our staff, board, and volunteers what they have been reading lately, so we thought it would be fun to find out what Rex was reading. His latest reads: Rosie Revere the Engineer and Iggy Peck the Architect.

Thank you Rex for inspiring us to give back “just because!”



What Are CIS Volunteers Reading?

Photo taken by Kaitlin Martin, CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator and Kaitlin LaMoine Photography

National Reading Month has us wondering, what are Communities In Schools (CIS) volunteers reading? To appease our curiosity, Kaitlin Martin, CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator asked them. Here’s what 26 of these wonderful folks who share their time and talents to benefit students throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools had to say:


What a great idea! I’m an avid reader myself. I am currently reading Memories by Lang Leav. She is a talented poet my friend recommended to me and I adore her beautiful poetry.

-Danielle Favorite, Linden Grove Middle School


Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

-Jim Laurain, Maple Street Middle School


I just finished The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy; good story. I don’t read a lot of books because I read a newspaper every day and subscribe to two magazines, and then there is all that mail, both snail and electronic.  Also, I read stories off the Internet.

-Karen Tinklenberg, Lincoln International Studies School

People’s Church


I am currently reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. It is a book we are considering for our Honors College common read for next year!

-Jane Baas, Milwood Street Magnet Middle School

Coordinator of Medallion Scholars


Photo taken by Kaitlin Martin, CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator and Kaitlin LaMoine Photography

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah and Tillyweed by Mary Anne Kelly.

-Jennifer Grace, Milwood Elementary


I just finished reading The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, which I loved even more than the movie. I am now reading salt.by Nayyirah Waheed; a book of her poems. It’s pulling on the strings of my heart.

-Tanequa “Te” Hampton, Maple Street Magnet Middle School

Pretty Lake Camp Director


Currently, I’m reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Once I’m finished, I plan on starting Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.

-Kailee Smith, Northglade Montessori Magnet School & Prairie Ridge Elementary


I finished Orphan Train by Christine Baker-Kline a few weeks ago:  interesting and heartbreaking novel based on true events between 1854-1929 depicting the lives of abandoned children from East Coast cities put on so-called orphan trains carrying thousands of them to the farmlands of the Midwest where their fates would be determined by pure luck; intermixed with a storyline set in modern day foster care.

I am now well into Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a fascinating novel about immigration, American dreams, the power of first love, and the shifting meanings of skin color. A full immersion opportunity to think outside the American box.

-Mary Reaume, Prairie Ridge Elementary


Photo taken by Kaitlin Martin, CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator and Kaitlin LaMoine Photography
Photo taken by Kaitlin Martin, CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator and Kaitlin LaMoine Photography

I am always reading multiple books at a time. Currently, my books of choice are:

1) The Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest by Alvin Josephy

2) I Shall Not Hate by Izzeldin Abuelaish

3) The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay & James Madison

4) The End of Nature by Bill McKibben

-Richard Thompson, King-Westwood Elementary School


I just finished The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline.

-Roberta Sportel, Northglade Montessori Magnet School


No Easy Day by Mark Owen and Cell by Stephen King.

-Lisa Holmes, Prairie Ridge Elementary


Just this very moment, I am on Anna Maria Island looking at the Gulf and reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

-Rosalie Novara, King-Westwood Elementary & Maple Street Magnet School


The Outsider by Richard Wright after finishing Native Son by the same author.

-Nanette Keiser, King-Westwood Elementary School


Photo taken by Kaitlin Martin, CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator and Kaitlin LaMoine Photography
Photo taken by Kaitlin Martin, CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator and Kaitlin LaMoine Photography

I belong to the International Murder Mystery reader’s group at the Portage Public Library. Our selection for this month is Night Soldiers by Alan Furst.

-Judy Riccio, Woods Lake Elementary


I just finished the Orphan Train which was the community read by Kalamazoo Public Library.

-Stephen Ohs, Lincoln International Studies School


Yesterday, I finished reading Mitch Albom’s The First Phone Call From Heaven. I am about to start reading Encountering God, written by an old friend of mine, Mark A Johnson, with a major assist from his parents.

-Dewey Walker, Prairie Ridge Elementary


I am reading The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant.  It is a good read and starts back in the early 1900’s about a Jewish family and their relationships and how they cope with life and world events.

-Nancy Laugeman, Prairie Ridge Elementary 


I am currently reading the entire series of Dune. A great sci-fi series that has great insight into life and is also a great and easy read.

-Paul Ferguson, Washington Writers’ Academy


Photo taken by Kaitlin Martin, CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator and Kaitlin LaMoine Photography
Photo taken by Kaitlin Martin, CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator and Kaitlin LaMoine Photography

I am reading:  Newspapers – Kalamazoo Gazette, Detroit Free Press, New York Times;  Magazines- Time, National Geographic, Military History; Books – Budapest 1900/A Historical Portrait of a City and its Culture by John Lukacs, Ardennes 1944 by Antony Beevor, and One For the Money by Janet Evanovich.  With my Bible study group I am also reading Jeremiah, the 24th book of the Old Testament.

-James (Jim) W. Smith, Woods Lake Elementary


A series written by English author, Jacqueline Winspear. These books are set in England and France between WWI and WWII. They are historical mysteries. The main character is Maisie Dobbs, psychologist and investigator. The storyline contains delightful characters, many of whom continue from book to book. Besides the plots being well developed and interesting, Winspear’s use of the very rich vocabulary of the English is fun to explore. My Kindle allows me to find word meaning and usage on the spot! The historical settings are well researched.

-Diana Spradling, Woods Lake Elementary


I received your email and thought it was an interesting project to list what CIS folks are reading.  Right now, I am reading The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean by David Abulafia. It is a fascinating history of civilization as it developed on the Mediterranean from 22000 BC to the present. It will be interesting to see what others are reading.

-Bob Spradling, Woods Lake Elementary


Reading Love Will Steer Me True by Jane Knuth and Ellen Knuth; and Mothers, Tell Your Daughters by Bonnie Jo Campbell.

-Amy Morris, Northeastern Elementary School


Right now I’m reading John Adams by David McCullough.

-Diane Tultz, King-Westwood Elementary School


I am currently reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and The Dogs of Littlefield by Suzanne Berne.

-Susie Knox, Kalamazoo Central High School


Photo taken by Kaitlin Martin, CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator and Kaitlin LaMoine Photography
Photo taken by Kaitlin Martin, CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator and Kaitlin LaMoine Photography

Dead Wake by Erik Larson—about the sinking of the Lusitania. Strangers in the Bronx by Andrew O’Toole—about the transition from DiMaggio to Mantle in the Yankee dynasties. The Wright Brothers by David McCullough—about the development of the first successful airplane. A Man and His Ship by Steven Ujifusa—about the man who conceived and supervised the building of the ocean liner “United States.”

-Wayne Connor, Edison Environmental Science Academy


Our Unitarian Universalist Association suggests a “Common Read” each year and People’s Church accepted the recommendation of Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative. Recently, we held a group discussion of this book and related themes. My own book club is reading The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing and we also participate in the Kalamazoo Common Read, currently The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline.

-Kay Spade, Lincoln International Studies School
People’s Church


Thank you for sharing! And if you missed some of our CIS staff and board members are reading you can find them here and here.


Volunteer Newsletter An Hour A Week: January 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VS: What’s your interest in science?

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

VS: What is a challenge you’ve faced?

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

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

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

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

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


Leroy: A Living Legacy of Love

Leroy Green, Behavior Specialist for Kalamazoo Public Schools and 2015 Champ Award winner.

Today we highlight Leroy Green, one of eight individuals and organizations honored  at the annual Champ Celebration.  CIS Board Member Susan Einspahr, along with Artrella Cohn, CIS Director of Secondary Sites, presented the award. 

When CIS was in its infancy, working in just six Kalamazoo Public Schools, this next Champ was at our side. As a behavior specialist for KPS, it wasn’t in Leroy Green’s job description to volunteer his time to help us engage parents through strategies such as hosting special family math night events. And yet, after a long day, Leroy was cooking up some mean spaghetti and serving it at family math nights.  His steady presence gave us credibility with both children and their families. He helped plant the seeds of success for an organization that would one day be in 20 KPS buildings. That was fourteen years ago.

Years even before that, when Dalanna Hoskins was a 3rd grade student at Woods Lake, she recalls one day in particular: “It was gym day. I loved gym. But I wasn’t going to be able to participate—I was wearing my church shoes and had forgotten my tennis shoes. I wasn’t one of Mr. Green’s kids—my behavior was great—but I went down to his office anyway.” She knocked on his door and immediately became one of his kids. “He dug around and gave me a pair of the ugliest tennis shoes I’ve ever seen. I wore size 2 and these were size 5. But I got to play in gym that day because of Mr. Green. He was CIS before there was CIS.”

It’s funny how the world works. Today, Leroy can be found at Milwood Elementary. In many ways, nothing has changed. Leroy is still committed to kids and families and helping students who need behavior support. He, like teachers, is often the first to identify additional needs that students have—something beyond behavior that is getting in the way of their learning. What’s different now, is that he doesn’t have to spend time cobbling together these resources. He turns to the CIS Site Coordinator in his building, Dalanna Hoskins, the very woman whose day he brightened all those years ago with an ugly pair of tennis shoes.

“He is exactly the same,” says Dalanna. “He still cares about kids and knows all of their names.” She, like all of us, is grateful to have him in our CIS family. Kids are the real winners because the community is providing resources through CIS, allowing Leroy to devote more of his time doing what he does best: building relationships with kids and their families to promote and grow positive behaviors.

At the end of a long school day, when he could be packing up to head home, Leroy has been known to get on the school bus with a student who has been struggling, to be a calming presence so that their next day will be a little better. “You learn a lot about where kids are coming from when you ride their bus routes,” Leroy says. He sees the whole child, knows a student’s life doesn’t stop when the last school bell rings. We also know this: You learn a lot about a man when you see him decade after decade showing up for kids. Whether you call him a Behavior Specialist, Bus Whisperer, or Spaghetti Wrangler, Leroy is first and foremost a specialist of the heart when it comes to kids and their families.

Leroy Green, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.


Bringing Japanese Culture to Kalamazoo Students

Michiko Yoshimoto, WMU Soga Japan Center’s outreach coordinator with Dr. Stephen Covell, Chair of WMU’s Department of Comparative Religion and founding director of the Soga Japan Center.

Today we highlight Western Michigan University Soga Japan Center. This CIS higher education partner was one of eight organizations and individuals honored at the annual Champ Celebration.  CIS Board Member Bob Miller, along with O’Neal Ollie, CIS Success Coach at Loy Norrix High School presented the award. 

Western Michigan University’s Soga Japan Centerpromotes Japan and Japanese culture to the wider community. Since 2013, the center has worked closely with CIS Volunteer services to enrich students’ understanding of Japanese culture throughout a number of schools. What began as a program offered to students in CIS Think Summer, grew into leading workshops at the CIS Leadership Transformation Summit and additional programming at Hillside and Milwood Magnet Middle Schools as well as Northglade, Spring Valley, and Northeastern elementary schools.

The center’s outreach coordinator Michiko Yoshimoto and her team of a dozen WMU student volunteers have a knack for tapping into students’ natural curiosity about the world. They expose students to a variety of activities such as: calligraphy, cuisine, traditional Japanese dress, martial arts, language, and origami. Students learn to sing Japanese pop songs, practice Japanese dancing and engage in discussions about the differences between traditional and modern Japanese society and culture, as well as the differences between Japanese and Chinese cultures.

Japanese Club at Northeastern Elementary School.
Japanese Club at Northeastern Elementary School.


One of the main ingredients of this successful partnership is Michiko herself. She has a long history of volunteer work. She joined International Workcamp in 1997 and went on to plant trees at a Cambodian orphanage, teach English to children in Thailand, and build a donkey fence in Rome. And now, through CIS, she shares her passion for and appreciation of culture with our children. “Michiko has a kind and open spirit,” says CIS Volunteer Coordinator Kaitlin Martin. “She is always asking, ‘What more can I do to help? Which additional schools can we service?’

Michiko’s sense of curiosity is contagious. When she introduced students at Hillside to calligraphy, they introduced her to writing hip hop lyrics. “American culture,” says Michiko, “is fascinating to me, and I learn a lot from students.”

This reciprocity is at the core of the Soga Japan Center. The mutual relationship of learning is part of the philosophy that sustains our work at CIS and enriches our children.

Michitoshi Soga Japan Center, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.



Walking Their Talk

CIS Board Member Rex Bell congratulating representatives of Stryker employees Megan Bland (center) and Heather Maurer on their Champs award.
CIS Board Member Rex Bell congratulating representatives of Stryker employees Megan Bland (center) and Heather Maurer on their Champs award.

Today we highlight Stryker®Employees. This CIS business partner was one of eight organizations and individuals honored  at the annual Champ Celebration.  CIS Board Member Steve Powell, along with Maureen Cartmill, CIS Site Coordinator at Woods Lake Elementary: A Magnet Center for the Arts, presented the award. 

The Employees at Stryker Instruments have been supporting local students in a number of ways over the past several years. As part of the Stryker “Amazing Race” event in the fall of 2013, Stryker employees raced around the City of Kalamazoo to collect school supplies, which were donated to CIS Kids’ Closet. Kids’ Closet provides items of new clothing, school supplies, and personal care items to students in CIS supported KPS buildings.

School-supplies-from-Stryker1-300x225We had the good fortune of meeting one Stryker employee in particular at the Amazing Race event, Quay Eady. Quay made a commitment to volunteer for the 2013-14 academic year at Milwood Elementary School. During that time she tutored and mentored several 4th grade girls in the CIS After School program every Tuesday and Thursday. On average, she gave 4-5 hours of her time each week. She also volunteered at several school events, serving dinner to families at the Family Movie Night, and supporting the end of school picnic for CIS after school students at Milham Park.

This past fall, the employees in the Stryker Instruments Service Call Center took on a challenge of collecting 500 school supplies for the CIS Kids’ Closet. They met and exceeded their goal. These supplies were then distributed by CIS site teams to students who needed them. Around this same time, CIS was approached by Service Operations Leader Greg McCormick with a very generous offer: a group of 8-10 Stryker employees committing to volunteer for an entire year with CIS. When asked how they wanted to volunteer their time, Greg replied, “we’ll do whatever you want us to do.” Greg has been leading “Champions for Change,” a group of twelve employees who want to have a positive impact on students in Kalamazoo.  They help students with their homework in the CIS after school programs at both Milwood  and El Sol Elementary Schools. Every Wednesday, volunteers from the group arrive ready and willing to help students with solving math problems, learning spelling words, or reading a book.

Stryker-employees-collecting-for-ClS-Kids-ClosetAnd if that wasn’t enough, twice a month nine CIS students fromKalamazoo Central High Schooltake a van to Strkyer as part of the Bigs in Business program done in partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

One of the five CIS basics is that every child needs and deserves a marketable skill to use upon graduation. “Stryker employees, through Bigs in Business, exposes students who would not otherwise have this opportunity,” points out Deborah Yarbrough, CIS Site Coordinator at Kalamazoo Central. “The students really look forward to this. These ninth graders are making connections beyond themselves by working one on one and in small groups with the employees. It’s motivating them. They are taking more initiative and responsibility—whether it’s getting homework turned in or chores done at home.”

Over the course of getting to know these men and women who are partnering with CIS in numerous ways, we couldn’t help but notice how Stryker employees, in their service to students, live out the very values that are core to their business: Integrity: We do what’s right. Accountability: We do what we say. People: We grow talent. Performance: We deliver. What a great message this sends to our young people.

Stryker® Employees, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Click here to watch Alisandra Rizzolo and Megan Bland on The Lori Moore Show. Both are Stryker employees and  part of the Champions for Change volunteer group at Milwood Elementary.

New World Flood Filling the World With Love

New World Flood founder Todd “TJ” Duckett surrounded by students at CIS Transformative Youth Summit
New World Flood founder Todd “TJ” Duckett surrounded by students at CIS Transformative Youth Summit

Over the next few months we will be introducing you to our award winners honored at our recent annual Champ Celebration. You won’t want to miss these special installments to our blog. Today, we officially kick this series off with New World Flood, one of eight organizations and individuals honored with a Champs award. Moses Walker, CIS Board Member and Lauren Longwell, Lead AmeriCorps VISTA (based at Washington Writers Academy) presented the award. 

Presence is a powerful change-agent. Presence combined with a downpour of passion is unstoppable. That gets to the heart of our next Champ, New World Flood. This partnership, which started four years ago began, as most floods do, with a single drop: supporting students in the CIS Think Summer Program. Loy Norrix graduate and New World Flood founder Todd “TJ” Duckett rained hope, kindness, and passion upon our kids during a family barbeque picnic.  He spent time connecting, listening, taking pictures with the kids, and talking about the importance of school and learning.

New World Flood has kept right on raining—through fall and winter, and summer after CIS Think Summer. Showering support by speaking to over hundreds of CIS Think summer students to conducting student focus groups, co-facilitating discussions for a young men’s empowerment group, to reflecting with young men on the value of service and giving back at the past two CIS Transformative Youth Leadership Summits.

Artrella Cohn and Todd Duckett at Champs
Artrella Cohn and Todd Duckett at Champs

Artrella Cohn, CIS Director of Secondary Sites says this about the founder of New World Flood. “TJ has always been the biggest man on campus, in personality and celebrity. Despite all the glory and attention he receives, he is just the same as he ever was—humble and approachable.” Artrella should know. When both were students at Loy Norrix, she literally cheered for him on the sidelines through four seasons of basketball and one season of football. Artrella, who then went on to U of M, admits she stopped cheering when Todd played for MSU, but she picked right back up again when he was later drafted by the NFL. “One of his greatest gifts,” says Artrella, “is that he has a way of making people feel important. He makes time for people, particularly our youth. Loy Norrix is our home and the students are always on his radar. He’s always asking, “What more can I do? How can I give back?”

Todd-at-Summitt-300x198For the past several years, New World Flood has promoted literacy alongside CIS as part of the First Saturdays at the Kalamazoo Public Library. One grandmother confided, “We only came to the library so the boys could meet Mr. Duckett.” And here, we thought it was our catchy flyers. “Do you think he’d let me take a picture of him with the boys?” she asked. Todd politely obliged to this common refrain and after the cameras went away, he was in deep conversation with the family. Soon, both boys were checking books out of the library.

When CIS AmeriCorps VISTAs, charged with promoting a college going culture, organized a Ready, Set, College! event for the first Mayor’s Day of Service, Todd’s organization flooded city hall with college gear from his alma mater, MSU. VISTAs and their site teams were then able to distribute these and
other college items to grateful graduating seniors, many who would be the first in their family to attend college.

Flood-KM-11-300x199And, on the day before Thanksgiving, you will find Todd Duckett championing the hungriest children in the very halls he once attended as a student: Parkwood UpJohn Elementary School. Along with Parkwood’s Principal Robin Greymountain, CIS Site Coordinator Jody Sikkema, and others he welcomes families to the High Five Turkey Drive and helps them gather up a turkey and a grocery bag full of all the fabulous fixings for a Thanksgiving dinner. This year, CIS Site Coordinators and their site teams were able to identify 200 families who, were it not for the generosity of New World Flood, would have little, if anything to eat. This distribution was just part of New World Flood’s larger effort to ripple beyond the boundaries of Kalamazoo and into Lansing, this year reaching over 800 families.


CIS Board Member Moses Walker congratulating Todd Duckett on New World Flood’s Champs award.

“People,” Todd reminds us, “are in need all over and we have an opportunity to take care of a few of them, if just for one day.”

New World Flood, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.


And if you missed Todd Duckett and Artrella Cohn on the Lori Moore Show (or if you saw it but just want to watch it again), click here, to watch.Todd-Duckett-and-Lori-Moore-300x225