Giving Back “Just Because”

_MG_3781-3This week, we’d like you to meet Rex. Rex turned five years old in March. He is starting t-ball this spring, loves inventing things, and when we talked to him prior to his birthday – he was hoping his birthday cake was going to be chocolate with vanilla frosting and a Star Wars theme.

While we don’t keep stats on this kind of thing, we have a hunch that Rex might be our youngest CIS donor ever. With support from his mom, Noelle, Rex decided to ask his birthday party guests to consider bringing donations to the CIS Kids’ Closet as his birthday gifts. Rex thought it would be good to help others and it seemed like a natural extension of the donation of food he made to Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes at Thanksgiving.

When we asked Rex why it was good to help others, he said, “just because.” We couldn’t agree more. There doesn’t need to be any specific reason to help others – it’s good to give back “just because.” Rex has a great role model in his mom. Noelle has shared her time through CIS as a volunteer at Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary.

We recently asked our staff, board, and volunteers what they have been reading lately, so we thought it would be fun to find out what Rex was reading. His latest reads: Rosie Revere the Engineer and Iggy Peck the Architect.

Thank you Rex for inspiring us to give back “just because!”

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RSVP: Your Invitation To Volunteer

RSVP Senior ServicesToday, we highlight the work of RSVP through Senior Services Southwest Michigan.  RSVP was recently honored at the seventh annual Champ celebration.  CIS Board Member Steve Powell, along with Emily Demorest, CIS Site Coordinator at Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts, presented the award. 

Communities In Schools has been fortunate to reap the skills and wisdom of the many senior volunteers that have come to us over the last eleven years, courtesy of RSVP Senior Services. RSVP, Your Invitation to Volunteer, is a national service program of the Senior Corps that recruits adults 55 and better into service throughout our community. The partnership between RSVP Senior Services and Communities In Schools began in 2003 and since then, we have learned we can count on the leadership of the twoTracys. Tracie Wheeler, Director for RSVP of Senior Services and Traci Furman, Special Projects Coordinator for RSVP work seamlessly to recruit RSVP volunteers which enables CIS to place these reliable individuals at elementary and secondary buildings, tutoring, mentoring and inspiring our young people.

Jayne BaumerHere are a few snapshots of some of the committed volunteers the two Tracys have brought us:

Retired from 31 years of teaching, Barb Gillespie can be found at Woods Lake helping after school with Kalamazoo Kids in Tune, a program done in partnership among the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, Kalamazoo Public Schools, and Communities In Schools. There she is learning violin alongside first graders. “I enjoy making my own music and it is important,” she says, “to always have a purpose in life.” She volunteers as part of the “Live To Give” lifestyle that she espouses. “Volunteering helps me feel complete at the end of the day,” she says.
Kevin Lavender Jr, CIS Site Coordinator at Hillside Middle School says this of RSVP volunteer, Charlie Anderson: “Mr. Charlie is part of the CIS and KPS family at Hillside. Mr. Charlie finds ways to relate to students and does a great job supporting CIS staff with student engagement in activities and group discussions. It’s really cool to see an elder in our community reach out to the youth and be intentional about building relationships with them and helping them explore the possibilities in life. I think every school should have a Mr. Charlie!”

IMG_9413In fact, thanks to RSVP most of our schools do have a Mr. Charlie although they may be known as Marti Terpstra, Dick Glass, Jeanne Church, and countless others who impart a passion for life long learning. In a sense, every RSVP volunteer is, for our children, a living, breathing lesson on how to live. In the last two years alone, RSVP has provided us with 29 volunteers and they have served in 11 CIS school sites as well as volunteering for office support, helping with Friday Food Packs, and special literacy events. That translates into 2,451 hours of service.

RSVP Senior Services, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life. 

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.

Bookends of Life

Today’s lovely post is written by Carly Wiggins, Director of Volunteer Services for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo.

A few weeks ago, I started my day at the senior honors ceremony at Kalamazoo Central High School, my own alma mater.  As I watched the graduating seniors arrive, zip into their gowns and try to balance their academic caps on their heads, I saw how much each has to offer, how far each has to go, and how very young they all are.  I felt grateful for their youth, their humor, their excitement and their confidence, because they have such important work to do with their lives.

I ended the same day saying goodbye to a dedicated and humble volunteer, William “Bill” Tomko. I knew Bill as a volunteer at King Westwood Elementary, serving in Mrs. Vader’s kindergarten class.  Earlier this year, Bill was nominated for a STAR Award in recognition of his commitment to students. Mrs. Vader reported that her students improved their reading abilities by practicing with “Grandpa Bill.”  At his memorial reception, I learned that Bill had also been a dedicated volunteer at the Air Zoo, directing visitors and sharing his knowledge of and passion for aviation.  Between the two organizations, Bill gave 356 hours of service in 2012.  In his 90s, Bill found a way to give nearly an hour of service every single day.

For me, that day was bracketed on both ends by possibility, like bookends holding up a library in between them.  I saw young people at Kalamazoo Central, full of energy and talent, who have so much to give.  I recognized that service can live on in newly literate children who will read to learn their entire lives.  I am grateful to Mr. Tomko for the opportunity to better understand the true meaning of life:

“The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”       – Nelson Henderson

Hands Touching