Women Making Kalamazoo Better For All

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Pam (right) receiving her YWCA Women of Achievement Award from Carrie Pickett Erway, President and CEO of The Kalamazoo Community Foundation.

Kalamazoo is bursting with strong, wonderful women.

Just last week, the 2015 award celebration for the YWCA Women of Achievement was held at the Radisson. Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo  was one of four women to receive the Women of Achievement Award.Kalamazoo Community Foundation sponsored her award and, as President and CEO, Carrie Picket Erway shared with the packed audience: In December 1999 Pam took on the challenge of developing a new organization from scratch, known as Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. Pam’s recipe to success was in using a national model to overcome the barriers that disrupted kids, giving them hope and the belief they can succeed in school, graduate and be prepared for life. Under her leadership and vision, the organization has steadily grown to over 140 employees, serving 20 schools, reaching 1,300 students, coordinating 175,000 hours of service, and over 9,700 students receiving service through community partnerships coordinated by Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo.

Several of you have asked that we run the speech that Pam gave  that evening. We think you’ll find it straightforward and sincere, just like Pam. But, before we share it, just a few words about some of the other award winners with connections to CIS….

The YWCA Lifetime Woman of Achievement Award was given to Carolyn Alford. A former CIS board member, who, among many other volunteer and professional accomplishments, also served 16 years on the Kalamazoo Public Schools Board of Trustees. She  reminded the packed audience that we can make an impact on our community “when we work together as one on behalf of others.” She definitely lives these words.

CIS and our kids have also benefited from the wisdom and expertise of former CIS board member and YWCA Woman of Achievement Sherry Thomas-Cloud. Currently, Sherry is the executive director of the Douglass Community Association.

(Right to left) Tiara Blair, Pam Kingery, Cynthia Cooper, and Artrella Cohn
(Right to left) Tiara Blair, Pam Kingery, Cynthia Cooper, and Artrella Cohn

The YWCA Young Women of Achievement Award was bestowed upon 19 young women from area high schools and organizations that show exemplary leadership through extracurricular activities, volunteer work, serving as role models, and academic achievements. Special kudos to our own Tiara Blair!

We are so proud of her and how she and all the Women of Achievement serve as role models for the next generation. In fact, later this week, Thursday, May 21st, our future women–over 2,000 3rd-5th grade girls–will pound through the streets as part of the Greater Kalamazoo Girls on the Run 5K. You go, girls!

Here now, is Pam’s speech:

I love this community!  I came here with my husband for his graduate school program, intending to stay one-two years. Now, 41 years later, I feel very blessed to be in this special place.  I have had the good fortune to have two careers here—one in mental health and one with Communities In Schools.  And in both, I have been extremely lucky to work with smart, talented colleagues who care about their work as much as I do—several have honored me with attending this evening.  A special thanks to Jennifer, Emily and Trella for nominating me for this award.  I want to thank my family—my husband, Don, my daughter Logan and my sons, Noah and JB; not only have they been very supportive of me, they embrace my work with Communities In Schools with their own time, talent and treasure. They conspired to surprise me with the special visit by Noah from Washington DC to attend this event. My very special friend, Tyreese and his mom, Renee, also enrich me every day by sharing their lives.  Thank you, Tyreese!

I so appreciate this award and the YWCA’s history of supporting and lifting up the women of Kalamazoo. To be a part of that group of women is inspiring to me.  To theKalamazoo Community Foundation for sponsoring my award, please accept my genuine gratitude. I really believe in “For good and forever”—it isn’t just a tag line—and so it is especially meaningful to have your support. Thank you.

Diane Eberts (center) and Lisa Rodriguez (right) congratulate Pam on her YWCA Women of Achievement award.
Diane Eberts (center) and Lisa Rodriguez (right) congratulate Pam on her YWCA Women of Achievement award.

I want every child in this community to benefit from its resources as much as I have, and as much as my children did—for the good of us all, forever for Kalamazoo and beyond.  And so my deep and profound appreciation includes in particular the Board members of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo and our generous donors.  Thank you for giving so much of yourselves and taking this journey of faith and determination that together we will surround our kids with love and a community that continues to say “we believe in your ability to succeed.”

Finally, I believe my mother’s spirit is here with me.  She is the person who instilled in me a love of education, in spite of having to give up her own. Thanks, Mom—I am forever your grateful daughter.

Kawyie’s Speech

The following is the acceptance speech read by Kawyie Cooper, 2014 Champ Recipient, at the 2014 7th annual Champ Celebration, help at Cityscape. 

20140506-DSC_7716Hi, my name is Kawyie Cooper.  I am in the 5th grade at King-Westwood Elementary.  I am so proud to be honored tonight as the first elementary school Champ!

In my school planner, I wrote down this quote that my mom told me:  “Birds soar with other birds because you can’t fly without wings!”  I like this quote because it reminds me that my friends and I need to work hard in school in order to achieve our goals.

School can be a big challenge for me, but I have made huge improvements this year with the help of my parents, my teachers, and all the support I get from Communities In Schools.

My parents have high expectations of me.  My mom inspires me with positive talks about staying on track with my grades and behavior. She makes sure I have food, clothes, and a safe place to live.  My mom has a rule that we do homework first and no TV on school nights. My dad sets a good example for me by going to work every day at the Old Peninsula.  I know if he’s doing his job, I should be doing my job by doing my best in school.

I am also lucky to have awesome teachers.  Ms. Killen is special because if I make a mistake, she always gives me the chance to turn my behavior around.  She understands how hard I am working this year and helps me keep a positive attitude.  Ms. Cruz-Davis is a big help when I don’t understand my math.  She reminds me not to worry and is patient when she helps me work through the problems that frustrate me.

I am also really thankful for my tutor and mentor, Miss Rosalie.  We have lunch and recess together once a week and she helps me to understand my school work.  We also learned how to give each other feedback – both positive and negative! When she compliments me on things she notices, I feel proud.

Kawyie Cooper, 2014 Champ
Kawyie Cooper, 2014 Champ

Each day I look forward to being a mentor to my 2nd grade friend, Nevaeh!   At the end of the day, I help Nevaeh get ready to go home.  Together, we gather her things and walk to the bus.  Working with Nevaeh has taught me to appreciate how hard my teachers, parents, and tutor work to help me!  It calms me down at the end of the day to know that I am helping Nevaeh end her day on a positive note.

[CIS Site Coordinator] Miss Laura and {VISTA] Miss Maggie have helped me improve my school year, too!  When I have problems with my friends I come talk to Miss Laura and she helps me learn to solve problems through positive communication.  Miss Maggie is the leader of our Fuel Up Play 60 group.  She helped me learn that kids have the power to come up with our own ideas and make them happen in our school!

Also, this is my first year participating in Girls On The Run.   It’s really exciting to practice for the 5k and learn how to motivate ourselves to keep going if we get tired during the race!

Today, I am so proud of myself and how hard I’ve worked to earn this Champs award and I am so thankful to everyone who has helped me soar in school!  Thank you so much.

Pop Quiz: Hailiey From Spring Valley Center For Exploration


IMG_2192Today’s pop quiz features Hailiey Houser, a fifth grader at Spring Valley Center for Exploration. She has been involved with CIS for three years now and is featured within our latest CIS Connections newsletter which you can read 
here.  Alright, Hailiey, pencil out. Here we go!

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I’m in Read 180 and it’s really great. Right now, we’re learning about how to stop bullies and stand up for ourselves. Some school have formed anti-bulling clubs, the kids will make posters, hang them around the school. We’re talking about what we want to do in our school when it comes to bullying.

What are you currently reading?

Right now I’m reading Writing Freedom. It’s about a girl whose parents get in an accident and they pass away. She ends up finding a horse she loves. I think this story is interesting because it’s about animals and a mystery at the same time. I also love the Percy Jackson series. I’m on The Son of Neptune, the first book in the second series.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I have the Kalamazoo Promise® so I want to go to either Michigan State University or Western Michigan University. I plan to be a writer, doctor, a vet, a singer, and a teacher. I love little kids.

What is your favorite word right now?

Fantastic. 

You said that quickly, without blinking an eye.

Well, it’s been my favorite word for the past five years.

Will you share with us something that has been on your mind lately?

Seeing my dad for my birthday. Since he lives in Tennessee I don’t get to see him often. 

Behind every successful student is a caring adult.  Who is one of your caring adults?

My mom, my step-dad, and my dad…They have gotten me through really tough times. Also, my math teacher, Mr. Smith and my Read 180 teacher, Ms. Krzebietke, or “Ms. K” as us kids call her. They are both great. And Ms. Martha because she’s helped my family a lot, especially this year.  She  got me involved in College Club, Girls on the Run and the Writer’s Workshop where all the people—especially Ms. Molly, help me with writing. Ms. Molly has been with me all this year and she helped me write my first book, The Powerful Mouse which I dedicated to my family and friends! [Hailiey holds up her book.] Oh no! I just now noticed the mouse is missing a leg! [She laughs, then sets the book down.] I’m working on my second book now called The Connection. It’s about a girl who is a vet, finds a dog without a tag, and develops a relationship with him.

Thank you, Hailiey!

IMG_2196While you can read ”All the Write Moves” in the current CIS Connections newsletter, in which Hailiey and her CIS Site Coordinator reflect on the academic success Hailiey is experiencing at Spring Valley Center for Exploration, we’ll end today’s post with a portion of the interview that you’ll only find here at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids… 

Hailiey is keenly aware that she must work hard now to prepare herself not just forLinden Grove Middle School come fall, but for college. “Going to college is important,” she points out. “That way, you can have a good life and get a good job. Since Ms. Martha got me involved in the College Club I have written a letter to Michigan State. They wrote back and sent me a banner, a packet of things I need to know to prepare for college. Did you know that you have to stay in college for a certain amount of time, depending upon what type of job you are looking to do? I also learned that you also have to write well to do well in college. Every Wednesday at recess time I do the Writer’s Workshop. I work closely with Ms. Molly. I do the work but she has been there all this year to help me. I’m also doing Girls on the Run again. I first did it in 3rdgrade and I have a medal at home for running the 5K we do at the end of the program. Girls on the Run is about running but it’s also about meeting new people and making new friends. I did a good job with that, so I’m looking forward to it again. Ms. Martha also helped me get to Pretty Lake Camp last year and I’ll also be going there again this summer. Last year, a turtle peed on my shoes and luckily I made some good friends because one of them had an extra pair of tennis shoes I could wear. That was good because my shoes smelled something awful.”

A Parent Reflects on Key to Daughter’s Success

20131017-_DSC3900As a parent of a Kalamazoo Public School student, Mr. Weston couldn’t be prouder of his ten year old daughter Lacey. “I am so proud of her accomplishments and good grades. She works hard for them.”

A fifth grader at Arcadia Elementary School, Lacey became involved with CIS when, as a first grader she was struggling in reading and math. Mr. Weston noticed that, when it came to doing homework, “she would struggle and just give up. There was a point she wouldn’t even do it. As a parent, it’s hard to see your child go through that.”

Lacey’s involvement with CIS changed all that. “The Literacy Buddies program benefited her,” says Mr. Weston. “It increased her academic abilities but she has confidence in herself now. She is perfectly content to be herself. CIS made her proud to be her. Lacey really enjoys being a part of the programming she has experienced through CIS. I would love for her to stay involved with it as she grows. Maybe should could even be a literacy buddy herself when she is older. Tutor and give back, you know?”

“My daughter still struggles,” points out Mr. Weston. “Even now, I can see the frustration in her face at times when she’s trying to work on homework, but she keeps plugging away. That’s a credit to my daughter and CIS and the programs she has been supported by at Arcadia. But what is different now is that she pushes herself. I don’t try and deter her from this. I want her to have that initiative and drive to better herself. I’m just really proud of her.”

Lacey is featured in our annual report that recently came out. She talks about how she has been inspired to succeed by people who have helped her through Western Michigan University, Literacy Buddies (funded through State Farm), and Girls on the Run.

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Kalamazoo Takes Stock in Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Community Voices

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

Wood TV 8

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

WWMT Channel 3

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

CW7

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

WMUK

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

Girls on the Run is Seriously Fun

From left to right: Carolyn H. Williams, Sandy Barry-Loken, Wendy Hutchison, Leslie McCullough, Donna Perry Keller, Beth Gregory-Wallis
From left to right: Carolyn H. Williams, Sandy Barry-Loken, Wendy Hutchison, Leslie McCullough, Donna Perry Keller, Beth Gregory-Wallis

Over the coming months we will be introducing you to our nine award winners honored at our sixth annual Champ Celebration last week. You won’t want to miss these special installments to our blog. We kick this series off with the winner of the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award. Retired Judge and CIS Board Member, Carolyn H. Williams presented the award. 

The Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award was established by the Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo Board in 2010 with the support of his wife, Carol Haenicke and the Haenicke family.  The Award was established to honor Diether’s extensive contributions to his adopted home of Kalamazoo and in particular, his service and genuine concern for the children and young people of our community.  While everyone knew of his love for higher education, and for Western Michigan University most especially, Diether Haenicke cherished teaching and learning at all levels and wanted all young people to have the gift of an excellent education and perhaps more importantly, the joy of life-long curiosity and learning.

GOTR Sandy Barry-Loken
GOTR Sandy Barry-Loken

The 2013 winner of this very special award is Greater Kalamazoo Girls on the Run. As a former coach of the Girls on the Run program at Edison School, I am most honored to make this presentation as I know from personal experience the impact that the program makes on individual girls and on each school or organization that hosts a team. The mission—to inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running—has grown from its first year serving 348 3rd, 4th and 5th grade girls to serving almost 2,500 girls in 2013. Still among the largest Girls on the Run Programs in the country, Kalamazoo’s program hosts a finale 5K event beginning in Western Michigan University’s Bronco Stadium that brings together not only the 2500 girls and their volunteer coaches, it attracts a wide range of community runners to run with them in support of their “girl power.” Likewise, there is something special in seeing a diverse community of parents, siblings, teachers and principals sitting next to one another in the stands of the stadium, all cheering for everyone’s daughters, nieces, sisters, cousins and neighbors.  It brings together parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and neighbors throughout the county and they unite behind every girl regardless of their income, job, race, religion, politics or school district.

0327The broader community supports this program by making sure that no girl is denied the opportunity to participate because her family cannot afford to pay the program fee which ensures that each girl has a pair of running shoes that fit, a water bottle, t-shirts and carefully trained coaches.  In addition, every year, hundreds of volunteers give of their time as coaches or event helpers.  Seeing thousands of 8, 9 and 10 year old girls in their Girls on the Run t-shirts with braids, ribbons and ponytails flying across the finish line to collect their medals is a sight to behold. Our entire community is positively impacted by Girls on the Run.

In his quest and urging of high standards and excellence, Diether was a prolific questioner, and those who worked with and for him knew both his genuine curiosity and their own angst when a good answer to his question escaped their brains or their tongues. The winner of this year’s Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award, Greater Kalamazoo Girls on the Run, through its Director, Sandy Barry-Loken, knew the experience of hearing one of Diether’s sincere questions, punctuated by a pronouncement—“why aren’t we doing Boys on the Run? Boys are more at risk, particularly in terms of education!”

KALAMAZOO -- Participants celebrate finishing "Girls on the Run" 5k together. Many parents ran with their children for support.
KALAMAZOO — Participants celebrate finishing “Girls on the Run” 5k together. Many parents ran with their children for support.

We are certain of two things. One, someone in this community—perhaps one of you who is here now—will answer Diether Haenicke’s challenge and start a special program for boys that has as great an impact as Girls on the Run. Two, we are certain he would agree with the message of the nominators of Girls on the Run: “THANK YOU for all that you do to support the positive development of girls in our community. The dedication of your staff, your Council and your volunteers is inspiring! Not only have you made tutus the fashion “must have,” the evidence of your hard work is alive on the faces of girls crossing the finish line. You are truly creating tomorrow’s powerful, joyful, confident and healthy women.

Congratulations Greater Kalamazoo Girls on the Run. 

 

Ping Pong Wisdom On Giving

Ping-Pong-WisdomToday’s post is by guest blogger, Sandy Barry-Loken (yes, the Sandy Barry-Loken who is Director of Greater Kalamazoo Girls on the Run). Sandy shares a family tradition that could easily become a tradition you may want to establish with your family.

It’s December 26th and Nana has gathered her six grandchildren around the ping pong table.  Ages 13, 11, 10, 9, 6, and 6, every kid gathers round and anticipation fills the air.  These kids know they are not about to play a single game of ping pong – they are about to help change the world.

Their Nana, Marilyn Loken, was taught early on by her father, a medical doctor, and her mother who assisted him, that giving back and serving others is not only necessary, but a responsibility.  This is a value that she is committed to passing on to her grandchildren.

Starting eight years ago, Loken had an idea to involve her grandchildren in her annual year-end giving.  So, every year, after the gifts are open and dinner has been served, another tradition ensues at the Loken household. These kids help give Nana and Poppa’s money away to causes they believe in – and this year, they believed inCommunities In Schools of Kalamazoo.

This is how it works. The kids gather and Nana rounds the table giving the four older kids $100 in play money in a variety of bills – twenties, tens, and fives. The two six-year olds each are given a total of $50. Then, Nana asks the all-important question, “What organizations do you want to help this year?” Suddenly, a kid-friendly brainstorming session begins.

Hands go up in the air. The youngest ones bounce in their places. With grandparents and parents who volunteer and include a nurse, a police officer and the director of non-profit organization, the six Loken kids have no trouble making a list of causes they want to get behind. While the kids call out organizations and explain why they want to help them, Nana writes down their suggestions on small slips of paper and begins to spread them around the table. This is fun, but every grandkid knows the best part is yet to come. They know it won’t be long before they get to walk around the perimeter of the table and place their dollar bills on the causes that mean the most to them. They can place all of their money on one, or spread it out amongst several.

It’s no surprise that the furry friends of the world have benefited greatly through the years – these are kids, after all.  Not only have Paws With a Cause, and Loken’s son’s  K-9 unit made the list, but Heifer International has been a favorite as well.  The little ones scurry around the edge and think of the milk that will serve a village when they give $10 to help buy a goat or a sheep for a community.

As the kids are getting older, they are paying attention to stories they hear about—the many people who do not have a roof over their head, or enough food for their table. So this year, organizations like Mecosta County Habitat for Humanity, where Marilyn Loken is a member of their board of directors, also benefited.

Choosing-where-to-give-150x150There was one other organization this year that tugged on the heart strings of all of the kids – Communities In Schools. Nicholas, 13, the oldest of the kids, made the nomination. He remembered his mom coming home from work one day and telling the story of two brothers at an elementary school who were sharing a single coat through the winter – until a CIS site coordinator learned of the need and presented each with his own. The Lokens had also heard about the students -who cannot wait for Friday.  While the Loken kids know that for them, Friday means a break from the busy school week, they were moved to learn there are other students in Kalamazoo Public Schools who anxiously await  Friday because that is when their CIS site coordinator presents them with a Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes backpack full of food to get them through their weekend.  It was sad for them to learn that kids in their communities don’t get enough to eat. But they now realize, thanks to Communities In Schools, more kids are getting the help they need when school is not in session to provide them with their basic meals.

And so, when Nana’s $500 was carefully distributed around the room among five different organizations, Communities In Schools was the recipient of $140 of these dollars, and the Loken grandkids knew they were making the world a better place.  And Nana knew, so was she.

 

Open Letter To A Father Who Will Never Read This

Dear Father of That Six-Year Old Girl Whose Name I Can’t Remember:

Eleven years ago our paths crossed for a few minutes. I’m sure you’ve long forgotten me. I, however, can’t shake you out of my head, especially around this time of year.

As my husband and I took our son to start his first day of second grade the image of you—walking up the sidewalk to Edison Environmental Science Academy—burned in my mind. I happened to be one of Kalamazoo Public Schools “Celebrity Greeters” back in 2001, one of many people sprinkled throughout the district to welcome students to their first day of school, help them line up, and find their way.

Remember taking your daughter to kindergarten? It was a warm day and you wore a flannel shirt and frayed, long pants two sizes too big for you. Your daughter’s hair was neatly combed and she was wearing a small but nervous smile. You were sweating. You looked uncomfortable, like you wanted to be anywhere else but at a school. Your little girl was tightly holding your hand. She looked scared but you looked even more scared.

Someone in the crowd of parents, students, and teachers must have directed you to the student list of names posted to wall outside the school. I lost track of you and then saw you again. I don’t know how long you were standing there but you were moving your finger up and down the list. The list fluttered to the ground. Without letting go of your daughter’s hand, you bent over and picked it up. With your fingers, you slowly pressed the four corners of the taped list to the wall. Again, you stood in front of the paper, then shrugged your shoulders, turned to your daughter and said, “You aren’t on the list.” Her face crumpled. You both turned away from the school. I approached you, glancing at the list. I realized then why you looked so scared.

You couldn’t read.

I removed the paper you had taped upside down. I crouched down and asked your daughter her name. Her name has left me but I remember her voice was like a soft wind, a whisper really. I had to ask her two more times before I could make it out. It turned out, she was on the list.

I’ve wondered over the years about your daughter. She should be in high school now. How is she doing? Is she on track for graduating soon? I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but before she had even set foot inside a school she already had a huge obstacle to overcome. Adult illiteracy.

I know you love her. It was obvious that day. You even loved your daughter enough to walk her into a world which you could not fully participate in. When did she stop trying to hand over that book she wanted you to read to her? (A girl can only take so much shoulder shrugging and being turned away.) When she entered third grade, could you read and sign that form that would have allowed her to be in Girls on the Run? You probably couldn’t help much with homework, filling out school forms, reading her school and classroom communications, all things important to your daughter’s ultimate success. You missed out on one of the greatest joys in life—reading with your child.

My heart ached for you and your daughter that day. It still does. I wonder, are you still one of the 31,000 adults (13%) in Kalamazoo County who can’t read? I hope you don’t mind me asking, but have you unknowingly passed down your illiteracy to your daughter? Illiteracy is like a disease. It spreads. Children whose parents are illiterate are twice as likely as their peers to be functionally illiterate. The good news is that it is treatable and there are organizations like The Kalamazoo Literacy Council that are working to combat adult illiteracy.

I’d like to think that you can read now because you eventually got connected with them. It takes a brave man to walk his child into a place of learning, bursting with words and books that he can not read. It takes an even braver parent to admit that he is illiterate and to do something about it.

If you happen to read this, will you write back and let me know how your daughter is doing?