Stacy Jackson and Her Many Moms

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.

Pop Quiz

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.

Favorite word?

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?

Stacy (left) at Edison with Principal Julie McDonald

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.

What are you currently reading?

I just started the Second House from the Corner by Sadeqa Johnson. I joined my first book club this year and we’re reading some crazy books! Who thinks up this crazy stuff, these incredible story lines?

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.

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. 

What is it about Werme?

From left: CIS Board Member Steve Denenfeld, CIS Volunteer Chris Werme, Humphrey Products Chairman & CEO Bob Humphrey, and Humphrey Products President Dave Maurer.

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.

Al Heilman congratulating Chris Werme on his Champ Award.

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!   

 

Reverend Morris “Mo” Brooks: In Schools for Kids

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 Reverend Morris “Mo” Brooks.

A Kalamazoo native and proud graduate of Kalamazoo Public Schools, Reverend Mo attended Northeastern Elementary School, Hillside Middle School, and “the great Kalamazoo Central High School.” He went on to graduate from Western Michigan University with a bachelor’s in social psychology. A number of summers ago, he also served as a youth development worker in CIS Think Summer!

Reverend Mo is the Director of Youth Ministries at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, a position he’s held for almost three years. He’s written a book, Unmasked: The Courage to Be You, and is working on another book, also geared to youth. And still, he makes volunteering with youth in the schools a priority. For the past two years, he’s volunteered with CIS at Kalamazoo Central High School, supporting young men in a group that meets on a weekly basis. The young men have named the group, KC Men of Change.

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

Pop Quiz

Thinking back on your years as a student in the Kalamazoo Public Schools, who was your favorite teacher?

I’d have to say my favorites were my English teacher, Mrs. [Sandra] Daam and Mr. [Topher] Barrett. He was a forensic coach and I was also in his drama class. Mr. Barrett was patient and challenged me to be a leader. Mrs. Daam was loving and hard. Oh, she was hard! But a loving hard. She helped me out a lot.

How would you describe the volunteer work you do with CIS?

For me, the work is really meaningful, especially because when I was their age, I wish that I could have been a part of something like this, to have someone help me make wise decisions, and challenge me.

Last year, I was able to meet with them twice a week and this year, we’re meeting once a week. I’m hoping that next year I’ll be able to go back to doing the group twice a week. When we meet, I’m able to ask the hard questions of them because of my experience growing up, and we have deep conversations. I like impacting them in a positive way.

I sense a great deal of respect for our youth, whether it is here at the church, in the schools, or in the community. Kalamazoo cares about its young men and women.

CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough said one of the most impactful sessions for the students was one that had to do with self-love.

Yes, Deb wanted to have a few sessions that combined both the males and females [Young Women with a Purpose], so we did. I had them list five or more people that they love. I then asked them to name the things they do for them because they love them. They identified things like I protect them, I’m loyal to them, I make sacrifices, and so on. I asked them to list five more people they love and then asked, Now how long does the list have to be until you’re on it? It was an eye-opener for them. Too often, our young people aren’t taking care of themselves because they’re busy worrying about others. We then talked about loving ourselves and how that involves things like trusting one’s self and protecting one’s self.

When it comes to engaging our youth, what do adults often forget?

I think they forget that they were once a youth and, along with that, they forget their mistakes.

I can remember my mistakes vividly. In 2015, I wrote a book, Unmasked: The Courage to Be You. In it, I share my own struggles of when I was in high school, my mistakes and regrets, as well as being somebody who I wasn’t. Students often struggle with that.

Sometimes, adults do too!

Yes, and while the book is geared to youth, I’ve had adults who have read it tell me: I’ve needed this!

When it comes to working with young people and connecting with them, what’s your secret?

One, recall your own youth and know your own mistakes. Also, know that their emotions and feelings are real. Too often we can cast them aside or don’t recognize them. Youth don’t always share their feelings but just because they aren’t communicating them to the world, doesn’t mean they aren’t experiencing the feelings. They may be bottling them up, so offering them a safe space to bring out and express their feelings can help. When I share my story, my path, and the wrong things I’ve done, that helps get the process going. They see this guy wearing a suit and tie, and think, well, he has baggage and pain and if he can open like that, maybe I can too. And they start sharing, because now we’ve got this trust thing going on and are connecting on a deeper level, having real conversations.

Speaking of suit and ties, Deborah Yarbrough also mentioned that you implemented a “Dress for Success” day and that that too, was a huge hit and brought the group closer together, identifying even more as a team.

Actually, it wasn’t me but the young men who came up with the idea! Each week, I come wearing a suit and tie to group. We had a tie session last year and taught the young men to tie ties. Last year, the group decided to have a dress up day and it went so well we thought, why not keep this going? And so, this year we had another tie session and then another dress up day!

What are you currently reading?

I’m always reading and listening to books. Right now, I’m listening to Meet Generation Z. It’s written by James Emery White. He takes a look at this next generation that follows the Millennials, or “Generation Z.” He explores the trends, how culture is shifting, how we can reach these young people, minister to them, and serve them.

What is one way, according to the book, that we can reach this next generation?

Answer their questions. With the age we are living in, young people have a lot of questions. We need to listen to those questions and have answers.

James Emery White points out that we are living in a post-Christian world, one in which the norm is that people are no longer connected to a religion. More often than not, as a minister I’ll hear, I don’t have any religion. I’m spiritual, but I don’t belong anywhere. This generation is asking, Is religion necessary? Is it relevant?

What are some of your favorite Kalamazoo places?

Home, here [church], and Sweetwater’s Donuts. That’s about it…I’m really a home body!

Favorite word?

Self-assessment.

I feel like a lot of people have the inability to self-assess. I want to know, how can I grow? What could I have done better? We live in a blame generation. So, when things go wrong, it’s easy to point the finger and blame anybody but ourselves. But if we stop and assess ourselves, recognize hey, I could do this or that better, well, when we do that, we can move forward. If everybody did that, we could really move forward. We need to self-assess.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

The importance of habits as well as practicing those habits. By training on whatever you’re working on, you can build upon good habits. While I’m always learning, that’s the big one right now: habits.

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

During my elementary years, I’d have to say it was Mr. Gary Vanstreain. He was our basketball coach at Northeastern Elementary School. He was so positive, caring, and challenging, and would give you the shirt off his back.

In middle school, there were quite a few. I’ll go with my coach at Hillside, Steve Dunning. He was a disciplinarian and made sure you were on track and what you needed to do to stay on track. Even outside of the court, outside of basketball season, he cared and was on me. He showed that tough love.

In high school, it was Pastor James Harris. I will never forget, I was in a low moment in my life and Pastor Harris came to my house, spoke with me and prayed with me. He set out on a notecard representing where I was and then set out another notecard showing me where I could be, my potential. I doubt he’d remember that, but that moment really impacted me.

Then, in my college years, it was my own pastor, Pastor Moore. He really poured into me, invested in me, mentored and disciplined me.

Thank you, Reverend Mo, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000+ Kids.

Jennifer Johnson: Ever Moving Towards the Possibilities

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 Jennifer Johnson, Executive Director of Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes.

A lifelong resident of Southwest Michigan, Jennifer grew up in northern Michigan. “People won’t like to know that I love snow,” she laughs. “But I grew up with snow! I love it!”

Jennifer attended Central Michigan University, double majored in psychology and English and then obtained her Masters in English, Language and Literature. “When people learn I have an English degree, they’ll often ask, What makes you qualified to do this? I tell them I’m annoying,” says Jennifer. “And I ask questions.”

We’d describe Jennifer not as annoying but rather, persistent, focused, and curious, always looking for possibilities and moving not just her and Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes towards them, but the whole Kalamazoo community.

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

Pop Quiz

When we talk about hunger these days, we often hear the term, ‘food insecure.’

That is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s measure of hunger.

What is your definition of food insecurity?

People need enough food to lead a healthy active life. They need food that counts nutritionally. A person may be eating food, but not the right food. They may be taking in calories, but not the right calories. The reality is that some people don’t have enough money to buy the right food, or perhaps they have enough money but they live in a food desert. Their only access to food is the local Family Dollar or corner store that doesn’t have fresh fruits and vegetables; the foods they need to grow health and strong.

Hunger presents itself in many different ways. Teachers see it in the form of concentration problems and behavioral issues. For kids themselves it is more of an out loud thing, literally. My stomach is growling! My daughter’s teacher, like a lot of teachers, has a snack drawer in her classroom. We see the holes and we’re all trying to fill them.

Speaking of filling a need, let’s talk Friday Food packs! We are so grateful to you and all those at Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes for your commitment to this program. As you know, since 2005, your food packs have been one of the critical “tools” CIS site coordinators pull out of their tool box of resources to help students.

In the early days with the program, Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes saw the food packs as merely a bridge, a bridge to more things. It was, and still is, helpful for us that CIS site coordinators, working with teachers and administrators, identify students who need that little extra help on weekends from Loaves & Fishes. Identifying the kids has been a way to help us reach the families. We want to feed the whole family as well as the child.

So the Friday Food Packs has helped bridge that end?

It has helped with that, yes… I’d add that we are limited by the number of packs we can provide. Around 6,000 kids are on free and reduced lunch. The number of food packs provided are small in proportion to the need. We know how tough it is for CIS site coordinators to prioritize what students will receive the packs.

You’ve been with KLF for eleven years, serving these last four years as executive director [and prior to that, as resource development and public relations director]. When it comes to feeding hungry people and engaging our community in the fight to end hunger, what is one of the biggest changes you’ve noticed over the years?

One of the most recent things I learned was from talking with Deb Yarbrough, the CIS site coordinator at Kalamazoo Central. She’s been there a long time and really knows the kids. So I asked her, “When it comes to hunger in the high school, what’s changed?” She said that it’s changed a lot. Kids, she said, are more responsible than they’ve ever had to be for their food, their sibling’s food, as well as accessing food for their household.

What a responsibility that puts on our children’s shoulders! Now, there are lots of reasons for this, one being that a parent may be working at night. Whatever the case, the level of responsibility that has been put on kids in the last few years has greatly increased…I grew up as a latch key kid, but it was different then. It’s not the same thing.

If you could feed us one statistic on hunger, what would it be?

In our community, there are 40,000 food insecure people. That means in Kalamazoo County there are people living right on the edge and there are also people living deeply in poverty. It’s the whole spectrum.

One of the thing people don’t realize is that just because you have a couple of jobs doesn’t mean you have all the bases covered. Imagine, you have two part time jobs, no benefits, and something happens where you have medical bills. Or maybe your car dies and you don’t have the dollars to fix it. You need groceries, but don’t have a vehicle. Life is complicated for many people. Holes and gaps hamper their success and their children’s success. At Loaves & Fishes, we live with that every day and work to create as many access points as possible to help kids and the surrounding community.

We know [from last year’s Valentine Post] that you “love the possibilities” as seen through your daughter, her friends, and this community. What possibilities have you been noticing recently?

It’s hard to see them sometimes. It’s easy to get bogged down by external things, like what’s going on in the environment, the media, the world. It’s hard to not be negative. I encourage everyone to push all these distractions out of the way to see the possibilities. They are there! We believe at Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes—we believe to our core—that we can create a hunger free community. That is an immense task, but it is possible! And CIS is an integral part of that task.

How so?

Your CIS people are incredible connectors. We couldn’t do this work without CIS. CIS site coordinators are on the ground and in the schools. They see and can help identify a child in need and that helps us know where our food needs to be. CIS is one of many agencies that are helping us do that throughout the community.

We love partnering with Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes in the Kalamazoo Public Schools! Your organization really has an open mind set. Back in 2003, when we came to you and sought out your expertise about kids coming to school hungry, especially on Monday mornings, KLF was quick to say, Let’s figure something out! Soon after, the Friday Food packs was born.

Sometimes, possibilities are stopped by a system. We adhere too strictly to boundaries or the way things have always been done. When we open ourselves up to looking at ways systems can be stretched, that’s when possibilities can happen and we can leverage things like breakfast, lunch and summer feeding programs to their fullest.

I’m not saying it’s easy. Systemic change is hard. Real change takes work! We’re all busy and it’s hard to stop, to take the time and figure out better and new ways to do something. But if we can stop and focus—together— and say, I know this isn’t easy work, but let’s take the time to figure this out, together, we can make things better.

Do you have a favorite condiment?

I’m anti-condiment. I don’t like condiments, and that includes salad dressing. I’m boring, I know. That will be the theme of this blog interview! I’m boring.

Far from it! So, what’s the best meal you’ve ever had? What one food item is a “must have” in your own home?

We love fruits and vegetables. Mostly fruits, if you ask my daughter.

My best meal? Probably the home-made pizza I made with my daughter. I love baking and cooking with my daughter. Growing up, I cooked with my mom and grandmother and I am trying to instill that love of cooking with my eight-year-old daughter. We recently made spaghetti and meatballs from scratch. Not the noodles, though. We don’t have a noodle maker. But my daughter helped with the meal. She squished and formed the meatballs with her hands…I know how much it meant to me to bake with my mom and knowing I can do that with my daughter, well it’s thrilling to have that experience with her. Cooking and baking together is an important part of our life.

Favorite word?

Possibilities. That’s been one of my favorite words for a very long time. I can trace my thinking on possibilities back to Zora Neale Hurston and her book, Their Eyes Were Watching God. That book taught me a lot about possibilities. It really made me think beyond my own life. When you think there is no other way to go, nowhere to turn, there is. You just need to stop, collaborate, and take a different road.

What are you currently reading?

I just finished Katharine Graham’s Personal History.

Loved that book, though it was a lot of pages.

God Bless America, that was a long book! But it was so good. I really enjoyed reading about Graham’s growth as a woman, her running the Washington Post, and working in a male-dominated industry. I found it inspirational and relatable for our times: don’t give up! Oh, and I’m just starting The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. To think about the contributions to the world both of these women made, and in completely different ways. It’s inspiring.

Did you know that the librarian [Jermaine Jackson] at the Alma Powell Branch Library is related to Henrietta Lacks?

Yes, there are several of her descendants living in our community. That is exciting.

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

I’ve had several. Both my parents have been my caring adults. I lost my dad four years ago. My mom is still here. My mom was my baker, teacher, and challenger. So was my dad. I’d go to Rotary with him, we’d collect for UNICEF together. I learned to give back at a very young age.

I’d also have to say my English teacher was very influential. I didn’t like school, didn’t find it very challenging. She changed my life by showing me books I should read. In college, I even ended up going into English Language and Literature.

Without a doubt, another caring adult in my life is Anne Lipsey. She became a friend but she is also my mentor, having been my boss for years. I’ve learned so much from her, how the voice of the people we serve must be heard and how we must stand up for them, particularly during these judgemental times. I’ve learned so much and continue to learn from her. She is just amazing.

We’re so grateful to the KLF staff and board for your on-going commitment to helping hungry kids in the schools and for all you do to end hunger throughout our community. We know there are many volunteers who work behind the scenes to make your work, such as food packs and school pantries, possible. What is the size of your volunteer force?

Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes would not exist without volunteer support. On a weekly basis, it takes 300 to 400 volunteers to do what we do. That’s a massive amount of people! From front desk people volunteering, helping us answer the phone, escorting people through the building, to drivers who pick up and deliver our food, and those volunteers who deliver those food packs to schools. [If you would like to learn how you can volunteer with Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes, go here.]

Thank you, Jennifer, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000+ Kids.

What Are CIS Volunteers Reading in 2018?

National Reading Month has us once again wondering, what are Communities In Schools (CIS) volunteers reading?

Here’s what a few of the wonderful volunteers who share their time and talents to benefit students throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools told us. (We note what school they volunteer at within the Kalamazoo Public Schools.)

 

This month I just finished reading The End of Alchemy by Mervyn King and A Farewell to Arms. (Hemingway is my favorite). I have also just begun 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B Peterson.

-Jacob Gilhaus, Edison Environmental Science Academy

 

I am reading Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson by Gordon S. Wood.

-Marti Terpstra, Milwood Elementary and Milwood Magnet Middle School

 

I have just finished reading The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman as well as The Prison Angel by Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan.

-Catherine Lemus, Linden Grove Middle School

 

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng.

-Mikka Dryer, Milwood Magnet Middle School

 

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie.

-Dennette Schettner, El Sol Elementary

 

-I am reading The Watson’s Go to Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis.

-Jim Cupper, Northeastern Elementary School

 

My Unitarian Universalist church has a “recommended” read this month—Daring Democracy:

Igniting Power, Meaning, and Connection for the America We Want by Lappe and Eschen.

There are 14 of us volunteering at Lincoln International Studies School.

-Kay Spade, Milwood Magnet Middle School

 

At this time, I’m reading Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson. In the past couple of weeks I finished Cute Poodles, Sweet Old Ladies and Hugs by P.J. Miller and Good Guys Love Dogs by Inglath Cooper. I tend to read light and happy books, this time of year.

Pam Dalitz, Spring Valley Center for Exploration

 

I just finished The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

-Katie Weirick, Milwood Magnet Middle School

 

I have just finished reading The First American by H.W. Brands on the life and times of Benjamin Franklin.  A well written and fascinating insight into this famous American. On a lighter note, I am almost finished with the Dan Brown thriller, Origin. It is a page turner as well!

-Bob Spradling, Woods Lake Elementary: A Magnet Center for the Arts

 

Just finished an advanced reader copy of Beneath a Ruthless Sun by Gilbert King — really good!

Currently reading Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.

-Shirley Freeman, Parkwood Upjohn and King Westwood Elementary School

 

I am currently reading Odd Child Out by Hilly Macmillan. Just finished her other book, What She Knew.

-Nancy Laugeman, Prairie Ridge Elementary School

 

I just finished Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson by Gordon S. Wood. It was very good. It traced the friendship/relationship of Adams and Jefferson from the American Revolution until their deaths on July 4, 1827. I also just finished The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash. It is a novel inspired by actual events that occurred in the late 1920’s during the unionization of the cotton mills in North Carolina. The author is the writer-in-residence at the University of North Carolina at Asheville.

I would recommend both books to anyone who enjoys history.

-Nancy Hyde, Spring Valley Center for Exploration

 

I’m reading the Bible.

-Stanley Lepird, Woods Lake Elementary: A Magnet Center for the Arts

 

I am currently reading The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe.

-Susan Knox, Kalamazoo Central High School

 

Next week is Spring Break for Kalamazoo Public Schools. Let’s meet back here, at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids, on Tuesday, April 10th!