Diane Fuller: Lifting up Kids and Teachers

At the 11th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Diane Fuller was honored with a 2018 Champ Award which was sponsored by BASIC. CIS Board President Tony McDonnell presented the award.

Diane standing with CIS Board President Tony McDonnell (left) and Chris Stys, Vice President of Human Resources for BASIC (right).

It was Stacy Jackson’s second day on the job as CIS after school coordinator, when Diane Fuller welcomed her to Edison Environmental Science Academy and introduced herself. “I come every Wednesday at 4:45 for homework help,” Diane cheerfully said.

Six years later and kids in the CIS after school program still can’t wait to seek out Diane for tutoring help. “This CIS volunteer is in high demand, says Stacy, “and that’s because she’s flexible, consistent, and understands the needs of our kids.”

It’s these very qualities that, three years ago, led CIS to seek Diane’s thoughts on modifying Miller-Davis Company’s Secret Santa program. Diane works at Miller-Davis as bookkeeper, and also coordinated the program. Would Miller-Davis employees, instead of providing gifts to 20 to 25 students each year, consider gifting to each teacher in the building? As Stacy puts it, “Gift one teacher and you impact 30 kids.”

Diane immediately saw the benefit to shifting to this “adopt a teacher model” and worked closely with CIS to map out a plan. Diane then presented it to her colleagues and they got right on board. So, Diane the homework helper, who recognizes and responds to students’ academic needs, also started listening and writing down teachers’ wishes—who, after all, knows better than teachers what teachers need to create learning environments most responsive to student needs?

Each year, Diane is making the list and checking it twice, trying to find out if it’s Mrs. Powell who wishes for the magazine subscription, Mrs. Smith who would love arts and crafts supplies and a gift card, and that it’s Mrs. Zarei King who could really use some flashcards or a set of books.

While students couldn’t begin to shower these gifts upon their teachers, they are a part of the experience. It is a wonderful gift to give a child: letting them see their teacher who cares for them, being cared for, too.

In her quiet yet mighty way, Diane is making a big impact at Edison, and helping her colleagues do the same.

Diane Fuller, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Come fall, our kids will need many more volunteers like Diane. Go here to consider one of the several ways you can become a volunteer today to help the kids of tomorrow. 

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.

SALLY STEVENS: FIRST RECIPIENT OF GULNAR HUSAIN VOLUNTEER AWARD

From left: Arcadia Teacher Debora Gant, CIS Volunteer Sally Stevens, and CIS Board Member Carolyn H. Williams

 

At the 11th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Sally Stevens was honored with the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award, a new recognition established by the Husain family to honor Gulnar’s long-time contributions to Communities In Schools and the community.

Gulnar immigrated from Pakistan in 1981 and for more than 38 years, she dedicated herself to volunteer work throughout the community of Kalamazoo. The award recognizes a CIS volunteer who emulates Gulnar’s desire to serve children with a consistent and unflinching passion. [To learn more about Gulnar and to reflect on her, read this post, “A Good Life.”]

CIS Board Member Carolyn H. Williams presented the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award, sponsored by the Gulnar Husain Legacy Fund.

 

Gulnar Husain, in her 14 years with CIS, first as an AmeriCorps worker and then as CIS site

Gulnar Husain

coordinator at Arcadia Elementary School was not motivated by status or money or awards. She worked persistently, quietly, often invisibly behind the scenes for children. So it is fitting that Sally Stevens is the first recipient of the Gulnar Husain Annual Volunteer Award. She shares these same traits.

Sally is the invisible behind the visible. Quietly, without fanfare, she shows up each week for kids. When she retired from Borgess Hospital in 2013, Sally’s plan was to find volunteer work where she could give back and make a difference. And she has.

Visit any one the 20 CIS sites throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools and you won’t find her. You won’t see her in a classroom or in the hallways. She’s not in the cafeteria or on the playground. And yet, every day, because of her volunteer efforts, she touches the lives of students in all 20 CIS school sites.

Children want to do their job: be the best student they can be. But they need their basics covered so they can focus on learning. Sally is helping them do that by literally lifting up the generosity of this community. As many of you know, your donations to CIS Kids’ Closet help kids attend school every day with confidence and dignity, ready to learn. When students or school staff connect with the CIS Site Team at their school to meet a basic need, it is most likely Sally who has already inventoried the items CIS gives out. She has folded the sweatpants with love, organized the underwear by size, sorted socks, folded tops, gathered up the pencils, markers and crayons, and backpacks and boots, preparing them for the schools.

“Sally can organize the heck out of anything,” says John Brandon, who, as CIS partner services coordinator, oversees Kids’ Closet. “Sally,” he says, is “an incredibly hard worker, extremely efficient, and jumps in every way she can to help.” Take, for example, November 2016. When the tiny closet in the basement of the CIS/Kalamazoo Promise office building was bursting with your donations, Kalamazoo Public Schools graciously accommodated our need for more space, providing a classroom-size, walk-in closet at their building on Westnedge. Sally—who also volunteers with the Oakwood Neighborhood Association, Warm Kids, and the Bronson Park Food Pantry—bumped up her four hours a week to over seven, to get Kids’ Closet settled and up for operation. At the start of school and over holidays—when larger quantities of donations come flooding in—Sally increases her hours to meet the demand.

With Sally’s help, we’ve been able to serve children better by expanding operations at Kids’ Closet, increasing both the donations coming in and items going out to the schools.

Gulnar Husain was a prolific user of Kids’ Closet, a fact her Arcadia Principal Greg Socha could attest to. We know Gulnar would be so thrilled that you, Sally, are the first to receive this special recognition.

Sally Stevens, thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Here’s the blessing bowl Sally received. The lip of it is rimmed with words Gulnar often said and believed: “Being able to serve others, especially children, is a blessing.”

Keep up with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. You can learn more about Sally in the weeks to come. We popped one of our quizzes on her!   

 

High School Graduate: CIS Lifted Me Up

Kanequewa Steward graduated from Kalamazoo Central High School this past spring, Last month, she reflected on her CIS experience at the 11thAnnual Champ Celebration. Kanequewa has graciously given permission for us to publish her remarks here, at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

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

 

Good evening, everyone. When writing this speech, I didn’t know where I should start. I have so many memories and was conflicted on what I wanted to bring up first. Has anyone ever felt so alone it made you want to give up on everything? You just thought, “I can’t do anything right. No one loves me, so why am I here? Do I matter? Who would miss me? We all have been there once in our lives, right? Well, I know I’ve struggled with this multiple times that it’s not even funny. Now I know, everyone’s like, “Where is she going with this?” Well, I’ll tell you…

It all started in the 6th grade when I got connected to CIS and started attending the CIS after school program. My sister and I used to go after school all the time. Mr. [Kevin] Lavender—he was our CIS site coordinator—was the best. He always helped me when I needed it. Made sure I kept my grades up, and he was a person I could confide in at such a young age.

Yeah, I know you’re all like, “How could a middle-schooler know what was so good for her at the time?” Well, it goes like this. “I was struggling with letting my anger out on other people. I knew I had a big heart, but I was always afraid to show it. But being part of Communities In Schools gave me an outlet. I could come and have fun, get help on homework. I could even cry when I needed to.

Now, going into high school I thought my CIS years were over and that was the end, not yet knowing they had summer programs, and most importantly, Mrs. Yarbrough. Taking part in CIS Think Summer opened up many doors for me. I met so many people that cared about me, they were always making sure I was okay, and that I had what I needed. It’s something I wish I could continue to do now.

Okay, so do we all remember when I asked my question about feeling helpless and what not? Well, in 10th grade I went down a bumpy road. My heart was broken and I was starting to lose hope and faith. It was at the point to where I self-harmed at least twice a day. I knew why I felt this way, but then again, I didn’t. I was only 15. Why should I feel such pain? I always thought my past was my fault. So it ate me up inside. I didn’t want to live, saw was no reason for it, until I met Mrs. [Deborah] Yarbrough.

Now some of you may ask, “Who is that? What do she do?” And that’s why I’m going to tell you.

Mrs. Yarbrough is the CIS Site Coordinator at Kalamazoo Central High School. I went to her office one day and I cried. I cried so hard I couldn’t see—and she let me. She held me and she told me it was going to be okay. She isn’t someone who says stuff to make you feel better. She said it because she knows how it feels; when you just need a break from the world. And she allows you the time to get that. While I was dealing with so much, Mrs. Yarbrough went out of her way to provide me with services. And boy, did they help! From group therapy, to one-on-one therapy. She provided the best help there was. Not only did she help me then, but also when I lost some friends in a tragic incidence I knew exactly where to go to: her. She’s always known how to help me get by; and I thank her for that.

Communities In Schools has saved my life. CIS has provided me with hope, lifted me up when I was down, and gave me so many resources I couldn’t have gotten on my own. And, at this moment, being a part of CIS has helped me deal with the death of a friend who’s been a friend since third grade.

So, here I am. Without CIS support, I would be somewhere, not knowing what to do for myself or if I should even live. This program created many opportunities and I’m thankful to have had you with me through my journey.

I want to thank everyone that helped me and guided me. It wasn’t easy, but guess what? We did it! I’ve graduated from Kalamazoo Central and have been accepted into Adrian College! And it’s not the end, but the beginning to a new life, a happy and healthy life. Again, thank you for having the faith I didn’t have. I couldn’t have done it without you guys.

 

Do you do your best and try hard, too?

Last week, more than 420 guests attended the 11th annual CIS Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec. Before guests even entered the Radisson’s Arcadia Ballroom, they were treated to a live performance by the Kalamazoo Kids In Tune Middle School Ensemble, under the direction of Ben Gudbrandson and sponsored by Warner Norcross + Judd. It was clear these young musicians had practiced and practiced as they performed at their best.

 

 

What about you? Do you do your best and try hard, too? That is one of the questions fourth graders from Woodward School for Technology and Research asked the grown-ups in the room. Kyla Clark, Isaac Dyer, Kiana Gill, Kieara Virgil, and Curtis Whitfield, representing their Woodward peers, recited “The Kalamazoo Poem” at Champs (their presence sponsored by Borgess). As part of Mrs. Calloway’s English class at Woodward, these KPS students were five of the 60 fourth graders from Mrs. Rice, Mrs. Polsco, and Mrs. Calloway’s classes who participated in poetry workshops facilitated by CIS. The poem also incorporates several lines written by students involved in the CIS After School Program at Milwood Elementary School. On April 7, 2018, “The Kalamazoo Poem” premiered at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts as part of the 5th Annual Kalamazoo Poetry Festival.

We share with you, this week, their poem and hope you’ll keep up with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids to discover the Champs experience. We’ll be publishing the two inspiring speeches given by representatives of the Class of 2018, Kanequewa Steward, Kalamazoo Central High School, and Dreon Smith, Loy Norrix High School. Over the coming weeks you’ll also be inspired (for the first time, or all over again!) by learning what each one of the eight award winners is doing to help kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Thanks to CIS volunteer Don Kingery and CIS youth development worker Nae Williams, you’ll also be able to see what guests saw (and missed!) through their photographic lens.

The Kalamazoo Poem

We love Kalamazoo.

All the wonderful places you can go,
like home, the Kalamazoo Public Library,
and all the schools.
I love going to school and learning.

Kalamazoo can be loving and caring,
even to people who aren’t always nice.

This big, wonderful city has all my friends in it.
In this city that is not too big and not too small
people can be themselves.
Did I mention I love the schools?
That teachers are teaching?

Kalamazoo does not have hurricanes.
Get this: it has a banana car!

My head feels like it will explode
because Kalamazoo is so cool.
I love the way people handle their biz.
I love the summer and wind.

My family is here. My friends.
My school. My teachers. Me!

Kalamazoo is the best city I’ve ever been to,
it’s our home, we have the Promise–and college is free!

You see, people here treat each other with kindness.

Kalamazoo can be so kind.

Kalamazoo gives presents and parties on cold, Christmas mornings.
It gives us teachers and tutors who help us with our work.

People say kind words. Someone says hi.
Students listen to their teacher.
We play together. We clean up. We get along.

When people are put down, Kalamazoo help them get back up.
We get together and help the homeless, the poor,
and those who are feeling sad.
We fix each other’s houses.

I wish everybody had a home
and that it never snowed.

Yes, there are things we wish were true about Kalamazoo.

We need more good jobs.
If only everything cost a penny!
I wish the river wasn’t polluted,
that I could see my dad.

I wish we always remembered to treat others
how we want to be treated.

I wish we had a robot.
If only rappers lived in Kalamazoo
and there was no such thing as the flu.

I wish Kalamazoo was 5,000 miles long and 5,000 miles wide.
I wish everybody-and I mean everybody-could be in my family.

I wish I could help everyone
and that we wouldn’t stop helping each other—
even when we don’t always get it right.

I wish that the power wouldn’t get shut off.
I wish everyone had a place to live and I had a bed of my own.
There should be a waterpark in the middle of town.

If only Kalamazoo was California. I miss my cousins.
I miss my mom. I worry and wonder where she is.
We need more bikes and shooting stars.

No shootings! There is a scared little street
that worries someone could get hurt today.
Will you keep me safe forever?
I dream I will become ….

A firefighter, a doctor, a teacher, an artist,
a football player, a wildlife technician…

Will you take care of me?
Help me learn today?
Be there when I grow up?
Will you do your best, like us, and try hard, too?

-a group poem by 4th graders of Woodward

At the conclusion of the poem, Kiana asked emcee, Dr. John Oliver, if they could introduce the next speaker. Dr. Oliver graciously agreed. Kyla then called Dr. Michael Rice to the stage and Curtis let everybody know that Dr. Rice is their superintendent. Kieara shared that “he likes poetry, just like us!” Isaac pointed out that every day, “and I mean every day—Dr. Rice does his best, and like us, he tries hard, too.”

The students then gifted Dr. Rice with a book, the completed works of Langston Hughes, signed by the fourth graders of Woodward.

What about you? Are you working hard for kids, too?

If you believe in our efforts to ensure that ALL kids stay in school and achieve in life, you can learn about volunteer opportunities here, or go here to learn more about other ways to support kids, or call us at 269.337.1601.

 

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.

 

Susan Knox: Doing Her Part to Create a Community of Hope

Today we highlight Susan Knox, honored with a 2017 Champ Award. Her Champ award was sponsored by Greenleaf Trust. CIS Board member and Kalamazoo Promise Board Member Dr. Janice M. Brown presented the award.

A child’s success in school and life often hinges on the opportunity to have a one-on-one relationship with a caring adult. It’s one of the five CIS basics, something every child needs and deserves. This relationship can make the difference between a student staying in school or becoming one of the 1.2 million students who drop out of school each year. Since the Fall of 2010, Susan Knox has been that caring adult for many of our high school students, particularly those struggling academically.

When Susan, a chemical engineer, retired from Pfizer, she sold her house and car, and moved downtown. “I wanted to start volunteering,” she said, “to contribute to something I felt passionate about. I picked up a pamphlet about volunteering and circled the ones I thought I could do.” We’re forever thankful she circled Communities In Schools.

Susan, on right, with CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough.

She has been a CIS volunteer at Kalamazoo Central for seven years now. Regardless of the weather, she catches the city bus and week after week, year after year, shows up consistently for our kids. “Suzie’s passion to serve students goes far beyond what is expected of any volunteer,” says CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough. “She’s willing to adjust her schedule to accommodate the needs of both our students and staff.

Her flexibility has allowed CIS to connect her with the students who need her most. She provides academic support to student one-on-one and in small groups. She’s worked with students during study hall, after school, and during the lunch hour. While she primarily focuses on math, she’s willing to tutor in other subjects. “No French or Spanish,” she says, “but I’ll give everything else a try.”

Susan and Kalamazoo Cental student taking a break from tutoring to smile.

Smart, compassionate and humble, Susan credits her success with students to the support she’s received along the way. “CIS gave me the training I needed to be successful. I learned how to do things and just as importantly, what not to do.” She refers to CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough and CIS Success Coach Jenna Cooperrider as her “CIS bosses…They aren’t bossy, though,” she says. “Because they know the students so well, they give me insight into what the students need from me. They’re role models. I watch their interactions and it helps me figure out what I should do, what I should tolerate or not tolerate when it comes to behaviors. They coordinate with each other and give me the support I need so I can support the student.”

“Volunteering,” someone once said, “is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.” Through her rock solid and steady support, Susan is creating a community of hope, one in which all children can fulfill their promise.

Susan Knox, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.