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.

Pop Quiz: Amy Kuchta

Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about.

January is National Mentoring Month and today we feature Amy Kuchta, Chief Executive Officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters. Whether it’s school-based mentoring or working together on initiatives like Bigs in Business, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo have been working together for over a decade to serve students in the Kalamazoo Public Schools. Amy has been involved in both sides of the partnership, having left Big Brothers in 2009 to serve as director of elementary sites for three years and then returned to Big Brothers Big Sisters in 2012 to serve as CEO. “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 needs of our services.”

Did you know that Big Brothers Big Sisters serves five counties and there are over 200 children waiting to be matched with a mentor? Amy says this number stays fairly steady as once a child is matched, another is then added to the waiting list. Think you might want to be a Big Sister, Big Brother, Big Couple, or Big Family? Click here for more information.

Amy Kuchta
Amy Kuchta

Alright, Amy: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

POP QUIZ

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned? 

This may sound geeky but I like looking at our program data, reflecting on 2015, and thinking about what we can do to improve in 2016.

What one thing did you learn in pouring over the data?

We expanded some of our programs. This made it more flexible for mentors and because of this we were able to serve more middle school and high school students. Traditionally, when people come in they want to be paired with an elementary student. People assume middle and high school students don’t want mentors—which isn’t the case at all. They want to be connected with caring adults, too.

What are you currently reading?

I’m re-reading a book by Barbara Ehrenreich called Nickel and Dimed. I love that book! I read it every couple years. I find it fascinating. Her book provides a striking picture of the challenges many individuals with minimum wage jobs face, that struggle to get by day to day.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I see myself here for a long time. I love what I do and the impact we’re having on the kids we serve.

What did you want to be when you were little?

[Amy laughs.] A Supreme Court Justice or President of the United States.

You’d be good at either, but were glad you’re here in Kalamazoo. Tell us something more about you.

Hmmm. I do read a lot of books about list of post-apocalyptic fiction. I find them intriguing—all the survival scenarios. I guess I like books that focus on ways people creatively figure out ways to survive in challenging circumstances.

Behind every successful student is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?

I had a teacher in sixth grade named Mr. Pierce. My father had died about a year before and Mr. Pierce really took me under his wing and looked out for me. He made sure I had everything I needed, including emotional support, to get through a tough time.

As you know, it’s Mentoring month. We hear that word a lot, mentoring. How do you define mentoring?

I’d say that mentoring is a consistent and caring relationship between two people. At Big Brothers Big Sisters, we call them ‘Bigs’ and ‘Littles’ but we know there is an impact on both.

Thank you, Amy!

 

 

 

 

 

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.