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, 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?”
For 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.
And, 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.
“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.