Nkenge Bergan: Keeping the Focus on Kids

At the 11th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Nkenge Bergan was honored with a 2018 Champ Award which was sponsored by Chase. CIS Board Member Pam Enslen presented the award.  

Positive. Hard working. Forward thinking. These are just three of a host of wonderful qualities that only just begin to describe Nkenge Bergan. As Director of Student Services for Kalamazoo Public Schools, Nkenge refuses, for convenience-sake, to lump students into categories based on a single need to make it easier for grownups to render a ‘one size fits all’ approach. For Nkenge, it’s about helping students succeed academically while also being prepared to respond effectively to the needs of the whole child.

As many of you know, Kalamazoo Public Schools incorporates CIS within 20 schools to increase our collective impact on children. Artrella Cohn, Communities In Schools’ Sr. Director of Community Engagement and Student Investment, says, “Nkenge lives out this partnership. She goes above and beyond to ensure that CIS is able to perform effectively in the schools. She carves time out of her busy schedule to meet with me on a regular basis with an eye on how we can both assure that students can be served to our fullest capacity.”

Spend just a few minutes with Nkenge and you’ll quickly learn that she seeks to understand where students and families are coming from and actively encourages the adults around the table to do the same. As she often says, “But what do our kids need? That’s what I care about!” Her mantra is much like the traditional greeting among the African tribe of the Masai who place high value on their children’s well-being. “Kasserian Ingera,” they say to one another. It means: “And how are the children?”

Living to the beat of this kid-focused mantra, Nkenge works with CIS to problem-solve, modify program designs, and identify needs as well as gaps in service delivery. This is the kind of input that helps our system of integrated student services work, so CIS, KPS and our partners are positioned to move students forward in areas of attendance, behavior, and academics.

Barriers and challenges naturally arise when working together. Moving forward doesn’t just happen. It takes hard work, a lot of behind the scenes planning and coordinating—and not giving up.

Oprah Winfrey once said, “Doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment.”

Nkenge always gives her personal best. It’s that stick-to-it-ness and mindset of ‘let’s figure this out together’ that Nkenge brings to the partnership table, always with an eye for doing her part—and helping others—to seize each moment and keep moving forward for kids’ sake.

Nkenge Bergan, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

From left: Pam Enslen, CIS Board Member Nkenge Bergen, Director of Student Services for Kalamazoo Public Schools, Darren Timmeney, Market Manager and Community President of Chase Bank in Southwest Michigan, and Kevin Bing, Vice President, Commercial Banking, Chase.

High School Graduate: CIS Helped Me Find My Voice

Dreon Smith recently graduated from Loy Norrix High School. In May, he reflected on his CIS experience at the 11thAnnual Champ Celebration. Dreon has given permission for us to publish his remarks here, at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

PNC was the Student Spotlight Sponsor and Steve Powell, on behalf of PNC, presented Dreon with an Apple iPad Pro as a gift to help him continue his education this fall as a Kalamazoo Promise scholar

I still remember that day. I was a fourth grader in Ms. Clawson’s class at Washington Writer’s Academy. I was nervous and scared as I made my way to the CIS office. I got there and saw my cousin, Dalanna. She is the CIS site coordinator at Milwood but back then she was at Washington. Well, Ms. Hoskins—that’s what Dalanna told me to call her at school—she introduced me to this tall dude. Turns out he was Mr. Larry Manley, the CIS after school coordinator.

Thinking back on that moment, it was like I was a young branch that became planted in CIS. I became a part of something that was bigger than me. I also became part of the first group of students who got to be part of the CIS after school program at Washington.

Not only did my grades begin to improve, but I grew in ways I didn’t know I could. Sports has always been important to me. So it really helped that Mr. Manley liked basketball just as much as me. He used basketball to help us kids grow. It was a way for us to talk and learn and dream. He taught me how to be a young man and how to be a gentleman. You know, like at lunchtime, let the ladies go first.

With CIS, there’s always been people there to catch me. Like Ms. Melissa [Holman], who worked with CIS Think Summer. It was a time when, as a branch, I had to learn to grow a different way. See, I’d had some surgery and my dream of a sports career over. There I was, a middle school student with a pin stuck in his hip, in a wheelchair. I’d wanted so badly to be part of CIS in the summer but now I didn’t even know how I could make that work. It was Ms. Melissa [Holman] who caught me then. She helped me to get there. Literally. If I didn’t have that ride, I would never have been able to go.

CIS helped me find my voice by giving me opportunities I might not have had otherwise. I’ve been able to explore my passion for poetry and music. My grandma loves music and can sing and I wanted to get into that too. I believe putting poetry and music together really gets your voice out there. One CIS partner that especially helped me with that: Bangtown Productions. We wrote and performed songs and to this day, you can find some of them on YouTube, songs like “Rise Above It”—we performed that one at Bronson Park.

CIS helped me find my voice by helping me speak up about things that are important to me, like funding after school programs. Back in 2013, when I was in 7th grade, I was one of the student representatives who went to City Hall. We wanted the Kalamazoo City Commission to help us: keep the lights on! Thanks to our voices—and those of you who advocate for after school funding to remain a priority, the lights have stayed on. At least for another year.

 

Back in 2013, Dreon (far right) advocating for after school funding before the Kalamazoo City Commission.  (Ms. Melissa is at the podium.)

When you find your voice, you can do things you never thought possible. Just this year, I wrote a poem called “We have something to say” and it was a finalist for the MLK Courage to Create Poetry contest. I read it on the campus of Western Michigan University. That was really special, to think that people came to hear my voice…

Now back to when I left eighth grade. There wasn’t an after school program at Loy Norrix; it kind of hurt. It had really helped having the structure, the homework help, and all the enrichment activities. Monday through Thursday it had been a big part of my life. So, in 9th grade, I found myself going home after school and struggling to get homework done. And even though my mom and dad were on me, I didn’t always make the best choices, like choosing to sleep over doing homework.
In 10th grade, things started to look up. Ms. Trella [Artrella Cohn], who I knew through CIS Think Summer caught me and connected me with Mr. [Montrell] Baker, who has been my CIS Site Coordinator ever since.

One thing I’ve learned along the way is that I like helping people. A lot of freshman look up to me. Being tall helps! They literally look up to me. So, by connecting me to a lot of opportunities, Mr. Baker has helped me with being able to give back to my peers and other, younger students. Because I’m really good at math, I’ve been able to tutor students that need help with math. I volunteer with the food pantry we have at my school, thanks to CIS partner Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes. I do a lot of the heavy lifting and sorting, and stacking the food items. I’m working Tuesdays and Thursdays at Parkwood Upjohn Elementary School. Through Literacy Buddies, I support students in their reading.

Most recently, I have become involved with the Men’s group which is led by Dr. [John] Oliver. Young men meeting with older men. We talk about our futures, current events—important things that need to be talked about for us to grow. Some of my good friends are a part of the group and for some of them, I never knew their stories until we had that group. It’s meant everything to me, to hear from those higher branches. I’m going to be that higher branch some day. And I’ll be passing that wisdom they poured into me, down to the next branch.

I’m grateful to CIS for catching hold of me, nourishing me, and feeding my desire to help others. Thanks to CIS, I am the young man I am today. And I’ve made great friends along the way. We have all came together as one through Communities In Schools.

As for my future plans? I have a few ideas. I’m thinking about going into business or communications, or maybe I’ll pursue teaching and coaching in a sports area. What I know for sure is that thanks to all those of you who have nourished me, I am using the Kalamazoo Promise to go to college because I’ve been accepted to KVCC!

I’d like to close with a poem I wrote for this occasion. But first, thank you all for doing your part. Know that when you work and volunteer and partner and donate to CIS—you’re making sure the kids that come after me will have the “Mr. Manley’s,” the “Ms. Melissas,” the “Ms. Trellas,” and the “Mr. Bakers” they need to grow strong, so they can be there for the next group of branches that have yet to even bud.

Thank you.

Dreon Smith with Dr. John Oliver

What are CIS Staff Reading?

It’s National Reading Month and a time when Kalamazoo Public Schools hosts literacy activities throughout the schools. We prepare ourselves by engaging in the annual ritual of asking: What are you reading? Here’s what some Communities In Schools (CIS) staff are reading…

I just finished Perfect Peace by Daniel Black which was an amazing story reflecting a mother’s desperate decision to acquire something she’d always wanted through methods that the rest of the world would see as imponderable. When the truth is revealed, a story of unconditional love, family, and sexuality is born.  I am currently reading Evicted by Matthew Desmond, Second House from the Corner by Sadeqa Johnson, and Discerning the Voice of God by Priscilla Shirer.

-Stacy S. Jackson, CIS After School Coordinator, Edison Environmental Science Academy

[Note: As part of Reading Together, you can meet Pulitzer Prize winning author Matthew Desmond on Friday, March 16 at 7pm at Chenery. It’s free, but KPL would like you to first register here. ]

 

The last book I read was Reading with Patrick by Michelle Kuo. This book inspired CIS volunteer, Dr. Zhu, to help with tutoring. (See the blog post by clicking here.)

-Emily Kobza, Director of Development & Business Engagement

 

I am reading The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin. I just finished Reading with Patrick by Michelle Kuo – recommended by Dr. Jim Zhu.  Very good reads!

-Missy Best, Senior CIS Site Coordinator, Milwood Magnet School

 

With my four-year-old, I’m reading Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book.  With my seven-year-old, I’m reading Kate DiCamillo’s Flora and Ulysses. With my (38-year-old) spouse, I’m reading a collection of poetry with authors that include Mary Oliver, Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, and Clare of Assisi, among others.

Thanks for asking one of my favorite questions!

-Angela Van Heest, CIS Site Coordinator, Parkwood Upjohn Elementary School

 

I’m reading Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff.

-Shannon Jones, CIS After School Coordinator Milwood Magnet School

 

I am currently reading Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I took my students to see the movie. They had such good discussions comparing and contrasting the book from the movie they encouraged me to read it.

-Phillip Hegwood, CIS After School Coordinator, Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts

 

I’m always reading several…

-Maggie Walters, CIS Success Coach, Loy Norrix High School

 

I’ve just started reading The Shack by Canadian author William P. Young. This was a favorite of my Mother’s. She had me buy extra copies a few years back, before she passed, so she could share them with others who also lived at her nursing home. I saw the movie when it came out and loved it.

-Kelly Cedarquist, CIS Site Coordinator, King-Westwood Elementary

 

I just finished The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. It’s the kind of book you can’t stop thinking about. I’m now reading Ordinary Light: A Memoir by poet Tracey K. Smith. The book was a finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction. I also love reading work by local writers, so each night I’m reading one poem by Elizabeth Kerlikowske in Off the Wall: How Art Speaks and studying the accompanying painting by Mary Hatch. A stunning and fun book!

-Jennifer Clark, Special Projects & Initiatives

 

I have been reading books in the King Killer Chronicle series by Patrick Rothfuss. I am currently on the second book in the series, The Wise Man’s Fear. A couple books ago I read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie which probably is the best book I have read in the last year. I highly recommend it.

-Jenna Cooperrider, CIS Success Coach, Kalamazoo Central High School

 

Our Native Bees: North America’s Endangered Pollinators and the Fight to Save Them by Paige Embry.  Honey bees are frequently in the spotlight. I’m fascinated by them. I’m a beekeeper. Looming as an even larger concern are our native pollinators and native bees. Complex topic and simple steps that everyone can engage in.

Also reading The Bee: A Natural History by Noah Wilson-Rich. It’s that time of year to continue to educate myself, prepare, and network with other beekeepers before the first nectar becomes available. Great information.

-Maureen Cartmill, CIS Site Coordinator, Woods Lake Elementary: A Magnet Center for the Arts

 

My book club (The Lovely Ladies of Literature) is reading The Patternist series by Octavia Butler. We are on Book 1, Wild Seed. The interesting thing about the series is that she wrote them in the opposite order that you read them in. So, the last book that she wrote is the first book that you read. Also, there was a fifth book, but she shelved it because it didn’t really flow the way she had hoped for.

-Artrella Cohn, Senior Director of Community Engagement & Student Investment

 

I recently finished a fascinating, but tragic story called Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. It is a fictional story but is based on a little known historical event that took place between 1854 and 1929, where over 200,000 orphan children were sent across the Midwest by train to be placed with families, often to be used as free labor. It was excellent. I am presently reading The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. I learned of this author at Cara’s SEL [Social Emotional Learning] training and so far am really enjoying it!

Joan Coopes, CIS Site Coordinator, Arcadia Elementary

 

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. It’s historical fiction. And this, from the NYT’s book review: A finalist for this year’s Man Booker Prize, The Narrow Road to the Deeper North portrays a singular episode of manic brutality: imperial Japan’s construction of the Thailand-Burma Death Railway in the early 1940s. The British had long investigated this route, but they deemed the jungle impenetrable. Once the Japanese captured Burma, though, its army needed a more efficient resupply route, and so the impossible became possible in just over a year by using some 300,000 people as disposable labor. Flanagan’s late father was a survivor of that atrocity, which took the lives of more than 12,000 Allied prisoners.

Keely Novotny, CIS Site Coordinator, Edison Environmental Science Academy

 

I am usually reading three to four books at a time.  I always have one book I listen to in the car, one I can pick up and put down easily, one I read before I go to sleep, and one I can’t put down.  The car book at present is The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald. It is the story of a young woman from Sweden who loses her job in a bookstore and decides to visit her elderly pen pal in a dying town in Iowa, and what happens next.

The pick up/put down book is often short stories or essays.  Currently it is Spoiled Brats, a book of short stories by Simon Rich. The summary on the back of the book starts out with “Twenty years ago, Barney the Dinosaur told the nation’s children they were special. We’re still paying the price. From “one of the funniest writers working today (review from Rolling Stone) comes a collection of stories culled from the front lines of the millennial culture wars.”  I have only read the first story in which the narrator is a guinea pig living in a second grade classroom.

My bedtime book is from the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley, The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place.  Flavia is an eleven-year-old girl growing up in England in the 1950s.  She is fascinated with chemistry and uses her extensive knowledge of poisons and decay to help the local inspector solve murders.  This is the ninth book in the series.

And, finally, the book I can’t put down is Need to Know by Karen Cleveland. The protagonist is Vivian who works for the CIA who, while trying to find out more about a Russian handler and the agents he handles, finds information that threatens everything that matters to her. I read the first chapter of this book online in an email I get about books. The sender takes the first chapter of a book and breaks it into five segments and sends each segment daily for a week.  At the end of the week, this one got me….

-Barbara Worgess, Project Manager of School Based Health Initiative

 

Keep up with us at Ask Me About My 12,000+ Kids and you’ll soon find out what our volunteers have been reading! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big Brothers Big Sisters, A Community of Caring

Today we highlight Big Brothers Big Sisters, A Community of Caring, one of seven school and community partners honored with a 2016 Champ Award. Their award was sponsored by BASIC and CIS board member James Ritsema presented the award.

BASIC & BBBS
From BBBS, accepting their Champ Award, right to left): Amy Kuchta, Chief Executive Officer, Carmen James, Match Support Specialist, and Ann Woolley, President-elect. They are joined (right to left) by Fritz Teutsch, President of BASIC, Mike Stoddard, Executive Vice President/Principal of BASIC and James Ritsema, Kalamazoo City Manager and CIS board member.

Strategic partnerships strengthen Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo’s ability to meet the needs of the over 9,000 young people we serve. To have the biggest impact on learning, CIS aligns with those who offer evidence-based approaches. Over a decade ago, when CIS Site Coordinators positioned within the Kalamazoo Public Schools began identifying students in need of mentoring, the choice was clear. CIS turned to Big Brothers Big Sisters, A Community of Caring.

Partnership, like a healthy marriage, demands commitment and energy. It’s an adventure that can take you further than going it alone. Amy Kuchta, Chief Executive Officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters says, “CIS is critical to us. We have a powerful partnership and are able to provide services directly to the kids that need them. CIS is the link that makes sure we are able to reach the kids who are in the greatest need of our services.”

Those services, whether it’s school-based mentoring, Bigs on Campus, or Bigs in Business, require a planned, coordinated effort to magnify outcomes for students. Artrella Cohn, CIS Director of Secondary Sites says, “Big Brothers Big Sisters staff are always available to work with us on barriers and challenges that naturally arise when implementing and expanding any program. We work together,” she says, “to improve processes to ensure students are being served at fullest capacity. Right now, we’re discussing how we can expand Bigs in Business to more schools next year.”

Local businesses, brought under the Bigs in Business umbrella, help reach more students than ever before. Big Brothers Big Sisters works in concert with CIS so that, twice a month, Kalamazoo Central High School students can take a van to Stryker, Loy Norrix High School students head to Kalamazoo Valley Community College and Stryker, while middle school students from Maple Street go to National Flavors. Students make connections beyond themselves, working one on one and in small groups with the employees-mentors. It widens their world. As CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough puts it, “It’s highly motivating for students; we’re seeing them take more initiative and responsibility—whether it’s getting homework turned in or chores done at home.” CIS Success Coach Jenna Cooperrider agrees. At the start of the school year, she consulted with Deborah on a student who was failing school and at-risk of dropping out. “We connected him to Big Brothers Big Sisters and that,” says Jenna, “was his turning point. Today, he’s not just passing all of his classes, he’s getting A’s and B’s!”

CIS site teams throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools engage in similar conversations for students. For those needing one of the CIS basics: a one-on-one relationship with a caring adult or a marketable skill to use upon graduation, they know they can count on Big Brothers Big Sisters to deliver.

Big Brothers Big Sisters, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Representing Big Brothers Big Sisters at Champs (left to right) Cindy Schrauben, Communications Manager, Amy Kuchta, Chief Executive Officer, and Ann Woolley, President-elect.
Representing Big Brothers Big Sisters at Champs (left to right) Cindy Schrauben, Communications Manager, Amy Kuchta, Chief Executive Officer, and Ann Woolley, President-elect.

We are an open book

Today begins National Reading Month. In anticipation of all the fabulous literacy activities kicking off throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) staff once again prepare by asking each other: What are you reading?

Crash the Chatterbox by Steven Furtick.

-Deondra Ramsey, CIS After School Site Coordinator at Washington Writers’ Academy

 

I am reading the Mindful Manifesto by Jonty Heaversedge and Ed Halliwell and I love it!

-Missy Best, Site Coach & Mentor 

 

I am currently reading From Babylon to Timbuktu- A History of Ancient Black Races Including The Black Hebrews, written by Rudolph R. Windsor.

-Montrell Baker, CIS Site Coordinator, Loy Norrix High School

 

I just finished Memory For Forgetfulness, by Mahmoud Darwish, which is a poetic account of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Beirut. I’m now reading Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin and How The Irish Became White, by Noel Ignatiev.

-Kaitlin Martin, Volunteer Services Coordinator

 

I just finished Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari, which is a case study and research summarization of how people are dating now that technology is involved. I laughed out loud on every page. Everyone on my flight on Tuesday morning thought I was crazy. Now I am going to start reading Sick In The Head by Judd Apatow.

-Elyse Brey, Director of Elementary Sites

 

Station 11 by Emily St. John Mandel.

-Keely Novotny, CIS Site Coordinator, Edison Environmental Science Academy

 

I am reading the first volume of a collection of graphic novels by Jaime Hernandez entitled Love and Rockets. Very fun!

-Katherine Williams, CIS After School Coordinator, Hillside Middle School

 

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

-Stephen Brewer, AmeriCorps VISTA, Edison Environmental Science Academy

 

I am reading…Tales of a Female Nomad  Living at Large in the World by Rita Gelman and We Need New Names by No Violet Bulawayo. Here’s to Good Reads….

-Lauren Longwell, AmeriCorps VISTA Lead

 

I am reading In a Rocket Made of Ice by Gail Gutradt. It’s about Gail’s volunteer experience at my uncles orphanage in Cambodia.

-Terra Mosqueda, AmeriCorps VISTA, Loy Norrix High School & Hillside Middle School

 

I just finished M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A. Through narratively linked poems, A. Van Jordan tells the story of MacNolia Cox. She won the 1936 Akron, Ohio Spelling Bee and then became the first African American to reach the final rounds in the national competition. It’s beautifully written and reads like a play. Now onto reading Nora Webster by Colm Tóibin.

-Jennifer Clark, Special Projects & Initiatives

 

I am currently reading The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Stacy Schiff. It is a psychologically thrilling nonfiction account that is rather dense with facts and light on sensationalism. In other words, readers really have to commit, but the payoff has been well worth it.

-Carly Denny, CIS Site Coordinator, Prairie Ridge Elementary

 

The book I currently started dissecting again is The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness written by Michelle Alexander; a former director of the Racial Justice Project at the ACLU of Northern California and past director of the Civil Rights Clinic at Stanford Law School. The New Jim Crow is about the US prison system, its rise to have one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, and how, when systems are created, the social views those systems are predicated on can play a huge role in the systems operation.

Sure to polarize people to one side or another of an already controversial topic, this book is great at inspiring critical reflection on one of Modern America’s major topics!

-Nathaniel Wolfe Easlick, CIS After School Program Coordinator, Milwood Elementary

 

I’m currently reading and listening to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Full Catastrophe Living:  Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness. This book details Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program, which in many ways, forms the foundation of mindfulness practices in the United States. I’m also reading The Whole Brain Child, by Dan Siegel, which offers specific strategies for helping kids to integrate the various parts of their brain to help them manage socially and emotionally.

-Deb Faling, Director of Social Emotional Health Initiatives

 

I am currently reading: The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson. A wonderful science fiction classic that deals with computer programming, nano-technology, and the limits of artificial intelligence.

Re-reading: Delivered from Distraction: Getting the Most Out of Life with Attention Deficit Disorder by Edward M. Hallowell, John J. Ratey. A fantastic strength’s based model and, in my opinion, a great read for both those with ADHD and those who work with or love those with ADHD.

Also, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen is my book club read this month. A fun read so far, it also has poignant themes about the treatment of people living in elder care communities.

-Ellie Galas, CIS Site Coordinator, Linden Grove Middle School

 

I just finished The Wright Brothers and am currently reading two books: Connection Culture by Michael Lee Stallard and Desire Lines by Christina Baker Kline, the author of Orphan Train (the community read this year).

-Mary Oudsema, Special Projects

 

I’m currently reading The Walking Dead Compendium Vol. 3 by Charlie Adlard and Robert Kirkman. It’s a collection of the graphic novels that the television show is based on. If you like the show, you’ll love the graphic novels – they’re amazing!

-Donielle Hetrick, CIS After School Coordinator, Woods Lake Elementary: A Magnet Center for the Arts

 

I have been reading a lot of articles lately on trauma-centered approaches to working with youth as well as other research papers on program design. But, I am about to crack into two books, Beating the Odds: Raising Academically Successful African American Males and Overcoming the Odds: Raising Academically Successful African American Young Women both by Freeman A. Hrambowski, III, Kenneth L. Maton and Geoffrey L. Greif.  Mr. Hrambowski was a keynote speaker at the National Summer Learning Associations training in October in Baltimore.

My book club, The Lovely Ladies of Literature, is voting in a little over a week on our next read.

-Artrella Cohn, Director of Secondary Sites

 

I am currently reading The Girl from the Tar Paper School by Teri Kanefield.

-Tamiko Garrett, Site Coordinator, Milwood Magnet School

 

 

Caring Adult: A Letter to Mrs. Benton

If you follow our blog, you know that CIS has been asking caring adults to think back to when they were young and in school and recall that caring adult they felt especially connected to. Today, we publish a letter written by CIS Director of Secondary Sites, Artrella Cohn. A proud graduate of the Kalamazoo Public Schools, Artrella’s poignant letter reminds us that school staff and teachers touch our lives and inspire us, stay with us even after we’ve left their classrooms and school buildings behind.

My Dear Mrs. Benton,

I want to start this letter by saying, “Thank you.” You have carved out a special place in my heart forever. I am almost certain that you have no clue the impact that you have had on my life and the endless stream of HOPE that you poured into me as an impressionable youth. You truly have no clue!

Your spirit and your smile alone has helped me through some difficult times (the image of your smile lives within my heart). Even as an adult who has carved a place in the hearts and lives of the youth of this generation, your care and concern for me remains in my thoughts.

Thank you so much!

Trella

Loy Norrix High School, Class of ‘99

Pictured below: Artrella with Mrs. Benton…back in the day when she was attending Loy Norrix. And below that, with her caring adult years all these years later! Mrs. Susan Benton is still supporting students in the Kalamazoo Public Schools as a Guidance Counselor at Loy Norrix High School.

Artrella with Mrs. Benton...back in the day!

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Who is your Mrs. Benton? If you are up to the challenge of reflecting on and writing a letter to your caring adult, email it to me, Jennifer Clark, at jclark@ciskalamazoo.org and we just might publish it!

Women Making Kalamazoo Better For All

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Pam (right) receiving her YWCA Women of Achievement Award from Carrie Pickett Erway, President and CEO of The Kalamazoo Community Foundation.

Kalamazoo is bursting with strong, wonderful women.

Just last week, the 2015 award celebration for the YWCA Women of Achievement was held at the Radisson. Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo  was one of four women to receive the Women of Achievement Award.Kalamazoo Community Foundation sponsored her award and, as President and CEO, Carrie Picket Erway shared with the packed audience: In December 1999 Pam took on the challenge of developing a new organization from scratch, known as Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. Pam’s recipe to success was in using a national model to overcome the barriers that disrupted kids, giving them hope and the belief they can succeed in school, graduate and be prepared for life. Under her leadership and vision, the organization has steadily grown to over 140 employees, serving 20 schools, reaching 1,300 students, coordinating 175,000 hours of service, and over 9,700 students receiving service through community partnerships coordinated by Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo.

Several of you have asked that we run the speech that Pam gave  that evening. We think you’ll find it straightforward and sincere, just like Pam. But, before we share it, just a few words about some of the other award winners with connections to CIS….

The YWCA Lifetime Woman of Achievement Award was given to Carolyn Alford. A former CIS board member, who, among many other volunteer and professional accomplishments, also served 16 years on the Kalamazoo Public Schools Board of Trustees. She  reminded the packed audience that we can make an impact on our community “when we work together as one on behalf of others.” She definitely lives these words.

CIS and our kids have also benefited from the wisdom and expertise of former CIS board member and YWCA Woman of Achievement Sherry Thomas-Cloud. Currently, Sherry is the executive director of the Douglass Community Association.

(Right to left) Tiara Blair, Pam Kingery, Cynthia Cooper, and Artrella Cohn
(Right to left) Tiara Blair, Pam Kingery, Cynthia Cooper, and Artrella Cohn

The YWCA Young Women of Achievement Award was bestowed upon 19 young women from area high schools and organizations that show exemplary leadership through extracurricular activities, volunteer work, serving as role models, and academic achievements. Special kudos to our own Tiara Blair!

We are so proud of her and how she and all the Women of Achievement serve as role models for the next generation. In fact, later this week, Thursday, May 21st, our future women–over 2,000 3rd-5th grade girls–will pound through the streets as part of the Greater Kalamazoo Girls on the Run 5K. You go, girls!

Here now, is Pam’s speech:

I love this community!  I came here with my husband for his graduate school program, intending to stay one-two years. Now, 41 years later, I feel very blessed to be in this special place.  I have had the good fortune to have two careers here—one in mental health and one with Communities In Schools.  And in both, I have been extremely lucky to work with smart, talented colleagues who care about their work as much as I do—several have honored me with attending this evening.  A special thanks to Jennifer, Emily and Trella for nominating me for this award.  I want to thank my family—my husband, Don, my daughter Logan and my sons, Noah and JB; not only have they been very supportive of me, they embrace my work with Communities In Schools with their own time, talent and treasure. They conspired to surprise me with the special visit by Noah from Washington DC to attend this event. My very special friend, Tyreese and his mom, Renee, also enrich me every day by sharing their lives.  Thank you, Tyreese!

I so appreciate this award and the YWCA’s history of supporting and lifting up the women of Kalamazoo. To be a part of that group of women is inspiring to me.  To theKalamazoo Community Foundation for sponsoring my award, please accept my genuine gratitude. I really believe in “For good and forever”—it isn’t just a tag line—and so it is especially meaningful to have your support. Thank you.

Diane Eberts (center) and Lisa Rodriguez (right) congratulate Pam on her YWCA Women of Achievement award.
Diane Eberts (center) and Lisa Rodriguez (right) congratulate Pam on her YWCA Women of Achievement award.

I want every child in this community to benefit from its resources as much as I have, and as much as my children did—for the good of us all, forever for Kalamazoo and beyond.  And so my deep and profound appreciation includes in particular the Board members of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo and our generous donors.  Thank you for giving so much of yourselves and taking this journey of faith and determination that together we will surround our kids with love and a community that continues to say “we believe in your ability to succeed.”

Finally, I believe my mother’s spirit is here with me.  She is the person who instilled in me a love of education, in spite of having to give up her own. Thanks, Mom—I am forever your grateful daughter.

That’s Me When I Used To Be A Grown Up

Volunteers (not all pictured) gathering to carry out First Saturday at the Kalamazoo Public Library. Every KPS secondary site in which CIS has a presence was represented by student volunteers and CIS staff who turned out for this February’s First Saturday @ KPL.
Volunteers (not all pictured) gathering to carry out First Saturday at the Kalamazoo Public Library. Every KPS secondary site in which CIS has a presence was represented by student volunteers and CIS staff who turned out for this February’s First Saturday @ KPL.

Volunteers (not all pictured) gathering to carry out First Saturday at the Kalamazoo Public Library. Every KPS secondary site in which CIS has a presence was represented by student volunteers and CIS staff who turned out for this February’s First Saturday @ KPL.

“That’s me when I used to be a grown up,” explained Donna Carroll’s grandson, 3 1/2 year old Malcolm, when he saw a picture of Malcolm X on the cover of a book his mom, Ursula, was reading.

How powerful when a child sees himself reflected in another, when we see ourselves in each other.

For many of our young people feeling like they’re part of a larger whole comes from a sense that they’re connected at the larger community level. But how can young people make this connection?

Volunteering is a great way to challenge ourselves and put ourselves on a path of meeting new people. For young people, it’s a chance to gain valuable experience, learn about themselves, interact with people they might not otherwise meet, and explore career interests.

Did you know that teens who volunteer are less likely to become pregnant or to use drugs, and are more likely to have positive academic, psychological, and occupational well-being?  According to Child Trends, other positive outcomes include development of greater respect for others, leadership skills, and an understanding of citizenship that can carry over into adulthood.

An opportunity for students to give back to peers and their communities is one of the five CIS basics.  Our young people are giving back every day. Here’s just one recent example.

Loy Norrix Senior Tiara Blair helps put event bracelet on one of the littlest partiicpants.
Loy Norrix Senior Tiara Blair helps put event bracelet on one of the littlest partiicpants.

In partnership with  the Kalamazoo Public Library, The Kalamazoo Promise® and New World Flood,  Communities In Schools hosted February’s First Saturday at the downtown Kalamazoo Public Library. Free and open to the public, the event welcomes families with their young children to enjoy stories, activities, guests, and door prizes. CIS partnered with the library last year to host one of their First Saturdays and it was a great experience for all involved. But Artrella Cohn, CIS Director of Secondary Sites (and lead for CIS  for organizing First Saturday events) felt something was missing: our older students. “This event,” she said, “is a perfect opportunity for students in our secondary schools to give back.” So, this year, the missing piece to the puzzle was complete. With support from CIS staff, AmeriCorps VISTAs,  wonderful KPL librarians, and New World Flood’s Todd “TJ” Duckett, thirteen middle and high school students volunteered. They ran five different literacy stations throughout the library: Read to Me, Scavenger Hunt, Spelling Bee, His & Her Story Station (writing their own stories), and Fantasy Station (which involved picking an item out of a basket to help build upon a collective story).

Artrella Cohn, CIS Secondary Site Director, reviews with volunteers how the literacy stations will work.
Artrella Cohn, CIS Secondary Site Director, reviews with volunteers how the literacy stations will work.

“Seeing the middle and high school students in action truly warmed my heart,” said Artrella Cohn, CIS Director of Secondary Sites and organizer of the First Saturday’s event. “The presence of the WMU Students added to the whole ‘reach back and give back’ message that I envisioned for this event. There were middle school students who were signing in, and with smiles on their faces asked, “There are 11th and 12th graders here to volunteer too?” I could visibly see our high school students—who are already mature young ladies—really jump into their role when they realized that there were older high school students and college students involved. Wearing WMU gear, Carmelita Foster and her team of college volunteers stood out in a real way for those of our students looking to successfully complete high school and obtain that Kalamazoo Promise®.”

“This event ran like a well-oiled machine because the youth volunteers knew where they fit. These young people took ownership of their stations,carried out fun learning activities and served as positive role models for the little ones.”

Todd Duckett, of New World Flood
Todd Duckett, of New World Flood

Colleen Marie Deswal, mother of one of those little ones wrote, “My son Teddy participated in his first story time! He volunteered and stated that the dog wiped his nose with the kleenex since that was his prop in the circle. I was shocked he understood what was going on and added to the story since he is only 2 1/2. Was an amazing moment in time. Glad you all are doing these types of events for the community. One reason I moved back to Kalamazoo is the wonderful community involvement.”

We may be stepping out of Black History Month into March, but many of our young people will continue to give back and make good choices, like choosing to give up their Saturday to volunteer. In giving back, they make history, and our future.

“I see myself in the future of these young people,” reflects Artrella. “It’s a beautiful cycle.”

Do you recognize yourself in our youth? If you do, despite what your mother told you, it’s okay* to point your finger. Point proudly at our young people and say, Yea, that’s me…when I used to be a grown up.

 

*sometimes