Kids deserve a chance to give back. We must create environments for young people in which everyone’s gifts are nurtured, and service to others is both expected and rewarded.
This opportunity to give back to peers and community is one of five basic principles underlying the work we do at Communities In Schools (CIS). [You can learn more about the 5 CIS Basics here.] At the end of last school year, we met up with four students doing just that, giving back. Here’s their story.
These dedicated elementary students volunteered during their lunchtime and chose to give up recess (which they love!) to help with the food pantry.
Matthew Krieger, a Western Michigan University student working towards his Masters in Social Work, interned with CIS during the 2017/18 school year and provided the boys with guidance and direction. His favorite part of working with the boys? Seeing the look of pride that comes with mastering skills. “They have many skills now that they did not know before,” Matthew said. “Now they know to face food to the front, to place food with the same type, and to make room by consolidating items.”
These skills extend beyond organizing a pantry. “There is also a sense of group togetherness,” he noted. “We are always working on vocalizing our needs in a clear way. I have seen improvements in their ability to express their feelings and needs to each other, which helps them to avoid conflict. I really enjoy seeing them use their words to communicate what they’re feeling.”
Ask any of the students why they volunteer and they will tell you, “Because it’s fun!”
Kensavion said he has looked forward to being part of the team that keeps the pantry up and running for his school. “Kids need food,” he said. Along with his three other peers, he has been part of the team that makes sure Woodward’s pantry is well-stocked.
“There is a lot of food that comes off the truck,” explained Andrew, “and we get to take it out of the boxes and put it in the cabinets.”
“We help put food away and people come and get it because they are hungry,” said Dawon, “and then they won’t be hungry anymore and won’t be starving and can do better in class and do a good job.”
“So they can survive,” added Lashaun. He is right. Food is a basic, human need and in living out the CIS basic of giving back to peers and the community, these students have been doing all they can to make sure hungry students and families have what they need.
To learn more about how Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes partners with CIS in the schools to combat hunger, check out this conversationwe had a few months back with Jennifer Johnson, Executive Director of Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes.
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. Today we feature Danyelle Brown, a youth development worker (YDW) with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo.
Danyelle got her start with CIS volunteering in the after school program at Northglade Montessori Magnet School. In January of 2018, Danielle was offered a position as a youth development worker. We were thrilled when she accepted!
Danyelle is from Detroit, Michigan and beginning her junior year at Western Michigan University, studying early childhood education.
“It’s amazing to get my feet wet with CIS and getting the opportunity to do what I’m going to be doing for the rest of my life!” Danyelle says.
[This interview took place during CIS Think Summer! You can find out more about Danyelle in the upcoming issue of CIS Connections.]
Alright, Danyelle: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
What is something interesting you’ve recently learned this summer?
I’ve learned patience. It’s definitely a process when it comes to behavior and meeting kids right where they are and working with them from that place that they are in.
Reflection. I think that reflection is vital, especially working with children, it gives them an opportunity to acknowledge the things going on and, if necessary, can allow them to re-direct or correct themselves and move forward. With my kids, we do reflection every day, at the end of each day.
Reflection is an important skill to acquire, isn’t it?
Yes, it’s definitely a skill we need to teach. Sometimes, kids don’t even want to acknowledge the day that they’ve just had, but when they do, I find it modifies behavior, to say the least. Mistakes that they may have made are usually not made anymore.
What are you currently reading?
A really cool book! My kids and I just read Bigmama’s by Donald Crews. We all really enjoyed it. Just experiencing the joy they got out of reading that book got me excited in experiencing that with them!
What do you love about Kalamazoo?
Just one thing?
It can be more than one, if you’d like.
I love the environment of Kalamazoo and the people. It’s a very safe place. And a great place to raise a family, in my opinion. Though, I would prefer more shopping centers at the mall. That’s my only issue!
This city is not too big and not too small. It’s a good distance away from home. People here are so loving and friendly and I love that, since I’m a people-person. I’m accepted here, and appreciated.
What’s one of your favorite places in Kalamazoo?
My church, Mt. Zion Baptist Church. My pastor, Dr. Addis Moore, is so amazing. It’s a privilege to be able to sit under his great teaching. And everyone there is so loving.
Behind every successful student is a caring adult. Who is one of your caring adults?
I have so many loving people, and have been fortunate to have a great support system, so it’s hard to choose just one, but I’m going to say my mother, Kallee Brown. That woman is amazing! She’s showered me with so much love and wisdom. She is the reason that I’m the woman I am today. I don’t know where I’d be without her. She is my superwoman.
What makes her super?
She has so much love. And she’s a mother to everyone. To her nephews, to children that aren’t her children, and you experience that love with just one encounter with her. She is loving and kind to all.
Thank you, Danyelle, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.
Our kids need more Youth Development Workers, enthusiastic individuals like Danyelle, to step up and serve after school (Monday through Thursday). If you or someone you know might be right for the job, go to CISKalamazoo.org and apply today!
While each school year brings changes, this year feels especially different. That’s because Liza Wolfe, a Kalamazoo icon, has retired. Since 1976, Liza Wolfe has launched the success of over 1,000 children by offering high quality preschool through Mrs. Wolfe’s Preschool. She transformed the basement of her Westnedge Hill home into a preschooler’s dream, complete with books, a slide, huge building blocks, dolls, art materials, and more. For 43 years she prepared kids to be the best future students and citizens they could be by teaching them how to listen and share, how to be patient and how to participate.
Mrs. Wolfe’s Preschool has been such a part of the beautiful and whimsical fabric of Kalamazoo. Even if you don’t have a child, grandchild, niece, or nephew who attended her school, you probably know of her. Each June, you might have seen Mrs. Wolfe and her friends marching through the streets of downtown.
Since the Do Dah Parade’s inception in 1985, Mrs. Wolfe, her students, parents, and on occasion, alumni, have joined in the fun, parading through the streets in zany outfits they’ve made. When the Kalamazoo Gazette asked Mrs. Wolfe why Do Dah? she said, “We do the parade because when I was little, I never got the chance to be in one but I could play in the street,” she said. “Now, kids can’t play in the street anymore but they sure can do a parade.”
Through the years, Liza Wolfe has also taught parents important lessons. For instance, she’s helped helicopter parents set down their hovering tendencies. Parents have always been welcome to visit during their child’s morning or afternoon session under one condition. “You must be a fly on the wall,” Mrs. Wolfe instructs parents at the start of the school year. She explains that when conflict arises it’s important to give children space to solve their own problems. Rush into solving the conflict or intervening for any reason, and you rob kids of the opportunity to learn.
While early childhood is “hot” right now, Liza Wolfe embraced it long before it was “a thing.” She’s been around long enough to see trends come and go. When it comes to ideas about how preschool should be taught, the importance of play in early childhood education programming has, at times, been undervalued in favor of direct instruction. Ever the champion for children and what they truly need, Mrs. Wolfe has protected and reinforced the role of play in her students’ early childhood development.
Fred Rogers pointed out that, “Play is really the work of childhood.” Mrs. Wolfe knows this and because she recognizes that play is the foundation of learning, she takes play seriously.
As with all high-quality preschool programs, she helps students answer their own questions through exploring different options, experimenting and engaging in conversation. She focused on basic building blocks, growing young people’s social and emotional skills, language and vocabulary, imagination and creativity. Her graduates, numbering in the thousands, have learned much from her. The behaviors they practiced over and over during their preschool years (repetitive practice has a tendency to instill habits), served them well in their elementary school years and beyond. From her, they have learned:
Hang up your coat.
Wait until everyone is served before you start eating.
Take only what you need.
Learn to wait your turn.
Co-operate with others.
Listen to stories.
Imagine what the world could be like if everyone had a Mrs. Wolfe. We might all be better at listening to each other and cooperating for the better of all.
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. Today we feature Sally Stevens, CIS volunteer and first recipient of the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award.
A native of Kalamazoo, Sally attended Western Michigan University’s Campus School and University High through 10th grade. (These schools were once located on WMU’s East Campus.) After graduating from Kalamazoo Central High School, she attended Kalamazoo College for three years, then finished up her liberal arts degree at Western Michigan University.
Not long after retiring from Borgess Hospital in 2013, Sally began volunteering with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS). She started out at Washington Writers’ Academy, distributing Friday Food Packs. Later, Sally, along with her superb organizational skills, moved to the downtown CIS office, helping the organization with volunteer efforts, large-scale mailings, and more. Then, in early 2016, she began applying her organizational skills to CIS Kids’ Closet. [You can read more about that, and her Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award, here.]
Like Gulnar Husain, the namesake whose award she receives, Sally makes her community better and stronger by giving her time to other great causes throughout Kalamazoo. In addition to CIS, Sally volunteers for the Oakwood Neighborhood Association, the Bronson Park Food Pantry, one of Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes food distribution sites, located at First United Methodist Church, and she serves on the board of Warm Kids. [Warm Kids is in it’s 32nd year of providing new coats, boots, hats and mittens to elementary school kids in Kalamazoo County and Plainwell.]
Alright, Sally Stevens: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
I don’t know…I wasn’t striving for any award. I wasn’t expecting to be noticed or awarded so it came as a complete surprise. I’m usually working behind the scenes and don’t get recognized, so I was surprised to learn I’d been selected for the award. It feels good, though, and I’m happy about it!
Given all you have done in your volunteer role with CIS Kids’ Closet, I know Gulnar would love that you have received this award, named after her. When she was the CIS site coordinator at Arcadia Elementary School she often turned to Kids’ Closet to meet student needs. How would you describe the volunteer work you do with CIS?
I support the CIS mission through Kids’ Closet. I generally volunteer four hours a week, sometimes more, depending on what’s going on. I inventory donations and see what additional needs we have that should be requested on the CIS website. I pull together items requested by CIS coordinators that John [Brandon, CIS partner services coordinator] then delivers to the schools. Or, when coordinators stop down to the closet, I assist them with gathering up what they need. I’m often cleaning up, folding clothes, sorting items, and basically doing anything John needs me to do!
I like volunteering with CIS, I like the people and the way it’s managed. It’s just a good organization, made up of people who really care about kids.
John Brandon says this of you: Sally can organize the heck out of anything! Can you share a tip about organizing?
It helps to be detailed-oriented; I am. It also makes it less overwhelming if you can break things in pieces and see how those pieces are a part of the big picture. I like how things look when they are organized and that I can easily find what is needed. When our site people come to Kids’ Closet, I want it to look neat and organized. It’s a good feeling when things look visually appealing and I can readily find things to fill an order. While CIS buys a few things most of it comes from donations, so it helps that I can easily spot when we’re low on a particular item and we can then ask the community for donations.
What item do you find the hardest to keep in stock?
There is so much that is hard to keep in stock! Clothing. And boots. We didn’t have enough winter boots this year. Boots can be expensive item to donate. Also, personal items like deodorant. Deodorant is flying off the shelves right now. We got a lot of school supplies this year thanks to the generosity of the community. And because of that, we were able to give out more school supplies than we ever have before.
What is your most favorite item you have in your closet?
Oh, gosh! I don’t know. I don’t know if I really like all that I have in my closet! There isn’t one favorite item that comes to mind. I have certain clothes and shoes that I like to wear, but not one thing that stands out.
What are you currently reading?
I just finished Grandma Gatewood’s Walk. Emma Gatewood was the first women to walk the entire Appalachian Trail alone. She did it back in the late 1950s when she was in her late 60s! She just took change of clothes, shower curtain (for rain), food, and a little money. The author, Ben Montgomery, is related to her. It’s because of her that the Appalachian Trail became popular. At the end of Emma’s walk, when she was asked about her experience, she was quite vocal about areas of the trail not being in good condition and poorly marked in places. Because of her comments, the trail and markings were vastly improved.
I’ve just started reading Elephant Company by Vicki Croke. It’s a true story about a man who went to work for a British teak company in Burma. During World War II, he used the elephants to help people get to safety in India. In reading the book, I am also learning about elephants. They are really something!
I also like to walk. I’ll take walks at Asylum Lake, Kellogg Forest, Yankee Springs, and Fort Custer. Right now, I’m favoring places with steep hills as I’m trying to get in shape for an upcoming hiking trip in Yosemite National Park.
Favorite word right now?
Spring. If it ever comes. [This interview took place on a gray day that felt like late November, though it was actually April.]
What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?
I took a class this morning on how the states were formed. It was through OLLI [Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at WMU] and Randy Shaw taught it. I learned that there was a lot of negotiations that went on when state lines were formed. When it started out, lines were determined by the king or queen of England. When states gained independence, it was Congress that determined the lines, but, at times, arbitration was needed. Sometimes, disputes would even reach the Supreme Court. That class was really interesting and now I want to get the book, How the States Got Their Shape.
Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?
I’ve had so many people in my life that have been influential. My folks, so many teachers, my husband…a lot of wonderful influences in my life, too many to name!
Thank you, Sally, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000+ Kids.
–Read The Cyberlibrarian Reads, a wonderful blog by Miriam Downey, a retired librarian who is also a proud KPS grandparent. Miriam, who also co-edited the anthology Immigration and Justice For Our Neighbors, (a project we blogged about here last year and includes works by students from Arcadia Elementary School) read The Journey by Francesca Sanna at the anthology launch to the grownups and kids in attendance. In one of her more recent posts, she blogs about reading Sanna’s beautifully illustrated new book, Me and My Fear, with her granddaughter. You can read her post here.
–Ask your neighbor, your kid, your friends what they are reading! We asked a couple CIS board members and here’s what they said:
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. Today we feature Stacy Jackson.
A graduate of the Kalamazoo Public Schools (Loy Norrix, Class of 1991), Stacy went on to graduate from Davenport University with a degree in accounting. Stacy’s CIS career began in 2011 when she gave a year of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA, working at Loy Norrix and Kalamazoo Central High School. After that, she moved into the role of CIS after school site coordinator at Edison Environmental Science Academy. Since 2013, she has also served as the elementary site coordinator for CIS Think Summer.
Alright, Stacy Jackson: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
Diane Lang taught you math during your middle school years and is clearly one of your favorite teachers. In your letter to her that we published several years back as part of our “Caring Adult” series, you wrote: You showed me that hard things (algebra) don’t always have to be hard. [Click here to read the entire letter.] Name another Kalamazoo Public Schools teacher who impacted you.
Mr. Bill Arney, my 9th grade Social Studies teacher at Loy Norrix High School helped me through the 9th grade career aptitude test. I took it and tested for social work. We talked about the potential outcome, and knowing my personality, said that I probably should go with my second pick, which was accounting. I’m sure he’d be pleasantly surprised that I figured out how I ended up doing both.
That’s an interesting question. I say, I know, right? I say that phrase a lot. It’s a quick way to show empathy but since that’s not one word, I’ll say: smile. I like to walk past people and say, Smile! I do that with kids, too. It can give them an opportunity to tell me why they aren’t smiling. I think there is power in a smile.
Can you talk a little bit about being a CIS after school coordinator?
Persistence comes to mind, because it is key. We must persist and we must help kids persist. It’s sometimes too easy for grownups to give up on kids if they have given up on themselves. I think of CIS as a vehicle through which we can help students, be there and show them we’re not giving up on them. When kids really feel that someone has their back, they stick with it and can push themselves to a place—both student and person-wise—farther than they can imagine. We just need to be there and not give up on them.
This makes me think of the time one of my after school kids was refusing to go to class. In talking with him, it quickly became clear that he wasn’t acting up just to be naughty. There’s always a reason behind behavior. Sure enough, he admitted he’d acted up the day before with a guest teacher. He knew he’d let his teacher down and that she was probably going to be disappointed with him. He didn’t want to face all that.
I told him, Ms. B is still going to love you, but you have to own your stuff. We discussed how, when you make mistakes, you need to own up to your behavior. People will still love you, Ms. B will still love you, but it’s important to own your stuff. Now get into class! And he did.
That’s another phrase I like to say. Own your stuff!
There are both good and negative consequences to behavior. If you are going to accept the good, you also have to accept the bad. In my role as after school coordinator, that is a part of what I’m always doing, with both students and CIS staff. I want to provide a safe space for kids to be after school and to have access to academic supports, and to be surrounded by people that care. I mother everyone. I’m the mother of everyone! [Stacy laughs.]
Sheldon Turner agrees! I remember last summer when we interviewed him for this blog [you can read his interview here] he described you as a mother figure.
I love Sheldon!
Any favorite places?
Studio Grill of course! I also love the greenery of Kalamazoo and all the many parks we have here. I like beach areas and really enjoy being by the water. Water is my favorite element.
What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?
I’m working on my spiritual growth. In Discerning the Voice of God, Priscilla Shirer talks about body, mind, and spirit; how God leads through our conscience to help us make decisions.
My pastor always says we have moral compass inside us, that the Holy Spirit dwells in us, yet, until recently, I’ve thought of my conscience and God as two distinct, different things. But I’m seeing that the Holy Spirit is guiding our conscience, helping us make more Christ-like decisions so we can be out there doing the work that is needed in this world.
Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?
My mom. She is a strong woman and as a single mom raised me and my brother—we were 17 years apart. I also was fortunate to have a family and community of support. In addition to my mom, my Aunt and three of my mother’s best friends helped raise me and I give credit to each of them for the different pieces of me. One of my mother’s best friends, Ms. Willie Mae Lee, showed me how to be sassy.
You definitely know how to rock sassy!
[Stacy laughs.] Mrs. Barbara Loftin gave me humility and gentleness. My Aunt Iris Salters taught me the power of education. Ms. Bobbie Ryan worked in the unions most of her life and taught me to fight for injustice. And within all of that, my mom-mom encouraged me to be me, to not be anybody outside of who I am.
I owe a lot to all my moms, and the many others who have provided and continue to provide influence, but especially my mom-mom, Ms. Mabel Salters. She’s no nonsense, she’s a conqueror, and she’s everything I want to be.
Thank you, Stacy, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000+ Kids.
At the 11th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Chris Werme was honored with a 2018 Champ Award which was sponsored by Humphrey. CIS Board Member Steven Denenfeld presented the award.
Loy Norrix’s Senior CIS Site Coordinator, Montrell Baker says of this Champ: “Our young men need more men like Chris Werme who’ll step up and be there for them. He’s one of my most consistent, reliable volunteers, always here each week unless a business trip requires him to be away.”
Chris is a health benefits advisor at Rose Street Advisors. Back in 2016, when Montrell connected him to two male students, he was pleasantly surprised. “Usually,” Montrell says, “when you connect kids with a resource or support person there is a grace period. ‘I don’t know about this, Mr. Baker,’ they’ll say, shaking their heads. “In my role as site coordinator, I’m encouraging students to stick with it, to give it time. This didn’t happen with Chris. The students connected with him right away.”
So, what is it about Werme? “It’s about trust,” explains DeAndre, who has been mentored by Werme for the last year and a half. “I can talk to him about anything. He shows me I can trust him…he’s only steered me to make the right decisions.” One example of how Werme’s guidance has kept him on track? “My grades were slipping and he encouraged me to go and meet with each of my teachers after school. It never occurred to me to do something like that. I did it, and I passed my classes!”
“I put a lot of trust in Werme,” he says. “When something comes up that bothers me, I can set those concerns aside and focus on school” because he knows later in the week he can count on Werme to listen and offer sound advice. As DeAndre puts it, “Werme’s kind of old. He’s got a lot of experience built up in his bones.”
Chris Werme imparts that built-up wisdom not only with the young men he mentors, but impacts dozens more by serving on the CIS Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council, advising CIS on such things as volunteer recruitment and retainment.
Most recently, Chris joined the CIS workgroup on Engaging Male Students. As part of this all male workgroup, Chris meets monthly with other CIS volunteers, partners, staff, and community members, to review data and develop initiatives and strategies for CIS to better engage our young men and support them in academics, behavior, and school attendance.
Chris Werme, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.
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.