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

Graduate Reflects on his Experience with CIS

Curt Johnson will soon start college. Having graduated from Kalamazoo Central High School this past spring, Curt reflected on his CIS experience at the 10th Annual Champ Celebration held this past April. Since then, a number of guests in attendance have asked us to publish it. Curt has graciously given permission for us to publish his remarks here, at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

While Curt gave the speech that follows, he did add additional comments at times. For instance, when he noticed Angelita Aguilar (a 2016 Champ—you can read about her here) in the sea of almost 400 people, he called her out and thanked her for her support through the years.

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

Curt presented with PNC gift from Steve Powell.

Here’s Curt’s speech:

I’m happy to be able to share my story with you and my experience with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. CIS has helped me a lot. I first became involved with the CIS when I was in sixth grade at Milwood Magnet Middle School. During conferences, one of my teachers recommended CIS to my mom and me. For that, I am grateful. Ever since then, CIS has been like a home base for me throughout my education.

One of the reasons I thought CIS was a good fit for me was because moving into a new school would be a way to make friends and meet new people and find out more about myself. I’d recently moved to a new neighborhood, having been adopted into a new family when I was going into fifth grade.

The CIS After School program kept me busy after school. Staying busy is important for kids and teenagers; without extra-curricular activities kids begin to look for things to do that aren’t good for them and could end up getting them into trouble. We always did fun activities. I especially enjoyed going to the gym and eating snacks. We also did homework while we ate our snacks.

I gained a lot of new experiences through CIS. For instance, as part of the after school program, we had an opportunity to sign up for various activities throughout the week, so I was always busy. I was introduced to different cultures, various forms of dance, music, and even food. I also found my passion for music through CIS. This was during seventh and eighth grade and it was thanks to CIS partner Bangtown Productions. We probably made around 20 songs throughout the two-year span. I still have the CD’s we made.

Over the years, CIS has helped me with school. That help is especially fresh in my mind this year, as I’m a senior preparing to graduate and take advantage of the Kalamazoo Promise. I’ve appreciated the tutoring opportunities and the really helpful tutors that CIS has provided. It’s been great having WMU students help me with chemistry. These college students are going to school for engineering so they explain things, and get me through it.

Throughout my high school years at Kalamazoo Central, my CIS Site Coordinator, Ms. Yarbrough has taken me under her wing. She checks up with me regularly, making sure I’m staying on top of my academics. She also helps resolve problems and situations. Those situations can range from serious issues to just needing a granola bar so I can focus and get through the day. I want to give my site coordinator a shout out for always keeping my best interest in mind. She makes it clear what I need to do, what I should do, and if anything is wrong—let the problem be known—so we can fix it.

Curt, at Champs with CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough.

I know that some kids have a hard time talking to adults, so having a CIS person like Ms. Yarbrough in their school—whose job is to be there and help you get through your school days so you can graduate—is important. As a high school student, the emotional support I’ve received from CIS helps me get through the school year. Kids deal with a lot of stress and people like Ms. Yarbrough and other CIS staff understand. This emotional support is important to so many kids—as you’ll often find many students lining up at the CIS door, waiting to talk with Ms. Yarbrough. Just like a lot of other kids, I don’t have to break down, because I have somebody I can talk to, somebody I can trust. Someone always make sure I say how I feel so it’s not affecting me during the school day.

As I reflect on my six years with CIS, I think what I’ll take away most from the experience is having gained friends, opportunities, met CIS staff and mentors and people I can turn to if I need help. Without the support and guidance from CIS, the chances of me walking the stage and receiving my diploma would have been very slim. I will be graduating this June and plan to attend Southwestern Michigan College. I’m interested in social work and theatre.

I would like to thank you for the opportunity to reflect on the years I’ve spent with Communities In Schools. I would also like to thank all the people I’ve met over these years of being involved with the program—the CIS staff, the partners, the volunteers—and to all the people who I haven’t met, who have given money, time, effort, and patience to helping all of us kids.

Thank you.

Thank you, Curt! We’re excited for all that the future holds for you. You know where to find us! Stay in touch!

Did you catch Curt Johnson along with Deborah Yarbrough, CIS Site Coordinator at Kalamazoo Central High School, on The Lori Moore Show? You can watch it here.

 

Kalamazoo Takes Stock in Children

20131106-_DSC4389Twitter and Wall Street may have had Sir Patrick Stewart (he played Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation and has a twitter following of 729,766) to ring in its public debut on the New York Stock Exchange but CIS and the kids of Kalamazoo had an even more impressive lineup to ring in the public phase of its Promise Me campaign.

1. It was KPS Parent, Audrey Seilheimer, who helped us come up with the theme of Promise Me and served as creative consultant in the development of the Promise Me video featured on our campaign website. Audrey has recently been hired as Marketing and Fund Development Assistant for Girls on the Run. (You go, girl!)I can’t do any better than Yvonne Zipp of The Kalamazoo Gazette/mlive or Sonya Hollins of Community Voices in capturing the public launch and highlights of the Promise Me campaign. Nor can I strike so poignantly at the heart as to why CIS exists, as Mickey Ciokajlo did in his column that ran in Sunday’s Gazette.  (Be sure to read their pieces and check out the fabulous photos that accompany them—links below.) But, I can share with you a few behind the scenes facts:Brief, yet thoughtful remarks were made by: Promise Me Campaign Co-Chairs Carolyn H. Williams and Janice M. Brown, Kalamazoo Public Schools Superintendent Michael F. Rice, Western Michigan University President John Dunn, Kalamazoo Valley Community College President Marilyn Schlack, Kalamazoo College Provost Michael McDonald, CIS National President Dan Cardinali, (in town to serve as keynote speaker at the PromiseNet Conference), Kalamazoo Central High School student Dominique Edwards, El Sol Elementary student Juan Carrillo Betancourt, and KPS parent Meghan Wineka. (We thank each of you for your presence and lending your voice to the campaign. We are grateful for your support.)

20131106-_DSC41542. The music that played before and after the kickoff included the Promise Me song, an original piece written just for this campaign by our students. Our fabulously talented partner, Bangtown Productions, worked with a number of students, and, as part of their CIS after school programming, wrote and produced Promise Me. You can listen to the song here. (You kids rock! And so do you, Pharlon!)

3. With a goal of $4.5 million, Promise Me is almost half-way there and is seeking the support of the greater community in reaching it. Okay, so that’s not a behind the scenes fact anymore but it allows us the opportunity to thank those of you who have already made it your business to invest in CIS and the students of Kalamazoo. (Thank you!)

4. Missed the launch? You can catch the whole thing here thanks to CIS volunteer, Howard Tejchma. (Thank you, Howard!)

20131106-_DSC4159The many events of last week got me thinking about how and where we choose to put our hope in the future. When it comes to Twitter, investors believe that the company will figure out how to make a profit from its 200 million or so monthly active users. When it comes to the Promise Me campaign, investors believe that CIS and the students of Kalamazoo are a good and worthy investment. As our freshly minted mayor, Bobby Hopewell tweeted on November 6, “No better way to start my new journey as Mayor of the city of promise than to be at an event supporting our promises.”

We have gone public. And we need your support. If you think that it’s important for every child to graduate from high school on time, prepared for post-secondary education and employment, please give us your support. Already given to the campaign? Tweet about it. (Heck, why not tweet the link to this post to Sir Patrick Stewart. Maybe he or one of his many followers will be moved to give.) If you’re not a tweeter, that is fine. Talk about it. After you’ve donated, encourage your neighbors, friends, and family members to donate as well. Let them know you have given and encourage them to give to the campaign as well. CIS and the kids of Kalamazoo need you. Do it now. Promise?

 
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Media links:
MLive/Kalamazoo Gazette http://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2013/11/kalamazoos_communities_in_scho.html

http://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2013/11/communities_in_schools_launche.html

 

Community Voices

http://comvoicesonline.com/16396/education/cis-celebrates-campaign-results-changing-lives/

Wood TV 8

http://www.woodtv.com/news/local/kalamazoo-and-battle-creek/promise-me-campaign-aids-kzoo-students

WWMT Channel 3

http://www.wwmt.com/shared/news/features/top-stories/stories/wwmt_promise-me-advancement-initiative-begins-15375.shtml

CW7

http://www.cw7michigan.com/shared/news/features/top-stories/stories/wmmt_promise-me-advancement-initiative-begins-15375.shtml

WMUK

http://wmuk.org/webclip/kalamazoo-communities-schools-launches-capital-campaign