Singing Loudly And Proudly Of Unsung Heroes

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Kalamazoo at 2015 Unsung Heroes Awards in New Orleans, LA. Also pictured, Bill Milliken, Founder and Vice Chairman of Communities In Schools, Inc. (left) and Dan Cardinali, President of Communities In Schools, Inc. (third from right at back).

Question: What does Texas, Georgia, New Mexico, Kansas, and California have in common with Kalamazoo, Michigan?

Answer: They have CIS Site Coordinators and public schools who have just received the prestigious Unsung Heroes Awards.

The Unsung Heroes Awards annually honor CIS site coordinators, and schools and communities that partner with Communities In Schools to change the picture of education in America. CIS site coordinators work in more than 2,200 K-12 public schools serving 1.3 million young people and their families every year. Together, site coordinators, schools and communities keep kids in school, and this award recognizes those that are doing whatever it takes to eliminate barriers and never giving up, on anyone.

(From left) CIS Site Coordinator Martha Serio, CIS Director of Elementary Sites Elyse Brey, Spring Valley Center for Exploration Principal William Hawkins, KPS School Board President Patti Scholler-Barber.
(From left) CIS Site Coordinator Martha Serio, CIS Director of Elementary Sites Elyse Brey, Spring Valley Center for Exploration Principal William Hawkins, KPS School Board President Patti Scholler-Barber.

Last year, you may recall, Kalamazoo was one of four communities in the country given a “Community of Excellence” award by National CIS. This year, Kalamazoo won in two areas!

Martha Serio, CIS Site Coordinator at Spring Valley Center for Exploration for the past nine years, is one of five individuals to receive an Unsung Hero Award.

“I am truly honored, humbled and grateful to be receiving this award,” said Serio. “I love being a Site Coordinator for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. I am able to connect students with over 40 fabulous volunteers and community partners they need to succeed because of the support I receive from my Principal, Mr. William Hawkins and the Spring Valley teachers, staff, parents, and CIS staff. Here at Spring Valley, we are all a team.”Martha Serio, CIS Site Coordinator at Spring Valley Center for Exploration for the past nine years, is one of five individuals to receive an Unsung Hero Award.

Arcadia Elementary School, committed to the CIS model for more than 13 years, was one of four sites honored in the school category by the national Communities In Schools’ network. The award highlights successful implementation of the proven site coordinator model in a partner school.

(From left) CIS Site Coordinator Gulnar Husain, CIS Director of Elementary Sites Elyse Brey, Arcadia Principal Greg Socha, KPS School Board President Patti Scholler-Barber.
(From left) CIS Site Coordinator Gulnar Husain, CIS Director of Elementary Sites Elyse Brey, Arcadia Principal Greg Socha, KPS School Board President Patti Scholler-Barber.

“Arcadia Elementary School is a shining example of what can happen when we work together for kids. This award is shared by all of us—The Kalamazoo Public Schools, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, our volunteers, partners, and donors—all dedicated to meeting students’ needs,” said Pam Kingery executive director, CIS of Kalamazoo. “Along with the talented KPS teachers, staff, and administrators, we will continue working with the community to serve the students at Arcadia as well as students in the nineteen additional KPS schools that CIS is in.”  You can watch the Arcadia video by clicking here.

In addition, Dominique Edwards, a Kalamazoo Central High School graduate and former CIS Board member, attended the three-day CIS Leadership Town Hall and also made Kalamazoo proud—serving on the Mission Possible: Communities In Schools Alumni panel. Keep reading Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids and you’ll learn what she is up to. (We had a chance to pop our “pop quiz” on her as she waited in the New Orleans airport for her flight home.)

Checking In For Children At The Checkout Lane At Meijer

Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, has returned from Charlotte, North Carolina. She, along with a Kalamazoo delegation, joined the national CIS board for a reception to celebrate the 2013 Awards of Excellence recipients. Kalamazoo was one of four communities from across the country honored as a community of excellence. Pam wrote the below post a few days before she left. You can find out more about Kalamazoo’s award by clicking here to read Julie Mack’s Kalamazoo Gazette/MLive article.

Kalamazoo receives Communities of Excellence Award! (Pictured, from left) Founder & Vice Chairman of Communities In Schools Bill Milliken, Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell, Executive Director Emeritus at The Kalamazoo Promise® Dr. Janice M. Brown, CIS President Dan Cardinali, CIS of Kalamazoo Executive Director Pam Kingery, CIS of Kalamazoo Board President Carolyn H. Williams, and KPS Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice
Kalamazoo receives Communities of Excellence Award! (Pictured, from left) Founder & Vice Chairman of Communities In Schools Bill Milliken, Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell, Executive Director Emeritus at The Kalamazoo Promise® Dr. Janice M. Brown, CIS President Dan Cardinali, CIS of Kalamazoo Executive Director Pam Kingery, CIS of Kalamazoo Board President Carolyn H. Williams, and KPS Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice

On Sunday I did my usual run to Meijer for a few groceries and felt compelled to look at the children’s winter coats to see if they were marked down any more. The Communities In Schools Kids’ Closet still had need for some specific children’s sizes and as usual, we are trying to stretch our dollars as far as we possibly can. When I discovered that the coats and snow pants were marked down to between $11 and $15 per item, I couldn’t resist.

As I stood in the check-out line with a cart piled well over my head with my rainbow of boys and girls jackets and pants, a gentleman approached me with a rather mischievous grin, asking “Are those for all of your grandchildren?” I grinned back, explaining that probably if I had that many grandchildren, I’d be rather crazy. He got a bit more serious and said knowingly, “You are getting those for other kids who really need them, aren’t you?” I confessed that I couldn’t resist such bargains and also explained that I work for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, and that we provide all kinds of support for kids so that they can concentrate on doing well in school. I indicated that having a warm coat is one of the many ways we in the community can help.

He listened attentively for my entire explanation and with the kindest, most sincere look on his face, reached into his wallet and handed me $20 and said, “I want to help, too.”  Mr. Owens was his name. As he walked away, I could see a woman standing in line on the other side of me, looking my way with curiosity. She made almost the same inquiries as Mr. Owens, confirming that my piles of coats were going to be shared with children who really need them. Her name was Joan and she handed me $50 and she insisted, remarking that she has been fortunate herself, making it especially important to contribute.

image001And then there was Crystal, the Meijer’s check-out employee who helped me—with patience and kindness that seemed to border on joy. She too wanted to know about Communities In Schools and how CIS helps the community help kids. I think there may have been tears in her eyes as she handed me the next pile of coats she scanned to put in the extra cart she retrieved.  When I make these large purchases, the Crystals of the world can make things immensely easier. As I made my way to the door, keeping the two carts going in forward motion and making sure not to crash into the penny pony ride, the beeping started as I passed the security “gate.” Meijer’s greeter, Kathy, looked at the open piles of multi-colored puff on hangers rather quizzically. I reassured her with a smile that I was not trying to steal 43 children’s jackets as I dug in my purse for the receipt I had just neatly tucked away. She smiled back. We never did figure out why I continued to beep but Kathy, too, learned about Communities In Schools and added her sincere thanks and encouragement. When she added that she makes occasional donations at Spring Valley Center for Exploration, I sent those thanks right back at her.

Just another day in our Community of Excellence!

IMG_2103Do you, like Pam, have a moment where excellence—the generous, caring nature of this community—percolates through an ordinary, everyday activity? If so, we’d love to hear about it.

Gulnar Husain: No Longer Unsung

Gulnar Husain
Gulnar Husain

We are excited that CIS Site Coordinator Gulnar Husain has received national recognition for her work within Arcadia Elementary School. She joins the ranks of only a handful throughout this country to receive an Honorable Mention for the prestigious Unsung Hero Award. Today’s post features Gulnar and originally ran in Beyond the Classroom, the blog of national Communities In Schools.

Gulnar Husain could easily have the title of “Dispenser of Warmth and Kindness,” given the way she is described by her colleagues. She has been the site coordinator at Arcadia Elementary School in Kalamazoo, Mich., since 2007. Before taking on that role, she worked as an AmeriCorps volunteer, a VISTA volunteer and a paraprofessional at Arcadia and another school.

Arcadia Recyling Team with CIS Site Coordinator Gulnar Husain
Arcadia Recyling Team with CIS Site Coordinator Gulnar Husain

“Gulnar is one of those unique individuals who works tirelessly and patiently, connecting all the dots for each student—school, community, family—so that all an observer sees is the unbroken line, forming a perfect circle of support around the child,” said her supervisor Deb Faling, director of social and emotional health initiatives for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo.

Husain acknowledges that there are parts of the job she finds challenging, mostly the paperwork that can be complex at times. But all of that, she said, is nothing compared to “seeing the joy in a child’s eyes when he gets a new pair of boots or glasses or new clothes or a book, that is worth all of the effort and hours it took to be able to provide them.”

To see the children literally jumping for joy keeps this dedicated site coordinator in her office for as many hours as it takes to ensure that Arcadia’s students are attended to and nurtured. “I wear many hats but they all have to be piled on my head one on top of the other,” she laughed as she noted the importance of being a multi-tasker.

Gulnar and Principal Socha
Gulnar and Principal Socha

Arcadia’s principal, Greg Socha, observed, “Ms. Husain has a job to perform and a child to help. She quietly persists in her tasks.”

Having lived in the Kalamazoo community for 32 years, Husain uses her connections and friendships to support her students. Whether it’s something basic like donated clothing or bringing in volunteer mentors and tutors—or addressing larger needs like counseling or medical care, Husain finds a way to make it happen.

She is determined to provide a listening ear and open door throughout the day. “If a student shows up when I am in my office trying to meet a deadline, I set the deadline aside. If a teacher or administrator needs something, I take care of it. And when a parent comes to me, I do not put them off either.”

Gulnar Husain (left) with Lauren Knibbs, CIS intern through WMU School of Social Work
Gulnar Husain (left) with Lauren Knibbs, CIS intern through WMU School of Social Work

She enjoys watching her persistence and presence pay off as it did when a child needed counseling. She didn’t have a counselor on call, but she asked her director, who connected her to a counselor from Family & Children Services, who then sent someone to meet with the child and the mother in the school. “The child loved the counselor and so did the mom. At the end of the year, the mother came in with flowers and lunch for the counselor and asked me to take pictures of the three of them.”

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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A Shout Out To Secretaries

Secretaries make the world go ‘round. If you are a parent, volunteer, or partner with us you know that the secretary is often the first face you encounter upon entering a school building. The role of the secretary is key not only to the overall functioning of a school, but to the success of our community partnerships and volunteer efforts. Toall administrative professionals sprinkled throughout theKalamazoo Public Schools, thank you for all you do. You help us surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.

Given that Wednesday is Administrative Professionals Day in the United States, here are what a few of our Site Coordinators have to say about their schools’ secretaries:

A huge thank you to Clar Pillsbury and Cherie Buell, two women who work tirelessly for all of us at Lincoln International Studies School. Their job position and responsibilities are enormous. I appreciate all of their hard work and sacrifices they make for me and the rest of the staff here. Thanks so much for what you have done and continue to do for staff, students, and families!!!!

-Bonnie Terrentine, CIS Site Coordinator, Lincoln International Studies School

Julie Davis is kind, compassionate and her patience has no limits…when all the phone lines are ringing simultaneously, a deadline for a report has to be met, a sick child has to be taken care of, a dose of medicine, ice pack, or band aid has to be given to a student, visitors have to be greeted, or a teacher’s question has to be answered, Julie is there to take care of everyone’s needs. It would be understandable if she lost her cool, but she doesn’t! She remains calm and composed and has the uncanny ability to keep everything under control. She is an invaluable asset to Arcadia and my job as a Site Coordinator.

-Gulnar Husain, CIS Site Coordinator,  Arcadia Elementary School

Pam Storher knows everybody and everything. She is sweet, caring and loves the kids. She goes above and beyond. The same can be said for Joy VandePol, my   go-to-person for attendance. She and Pam are always busy but they never make me feel like I’m bothering them.

-Larry Manley, Jr. CIS Site Coordinator at Washington Writers’ Academy

At Edison Environmental Science Academy, Mrs. Carol Stoeffler is the glue that holds us all together! She works compassionately in serving not only the students at Edison but the staff also! She is AMAZING in dealing with parents and students! Mrs. Carol is an AWESOME representation of all the staff at Edison and I am grateful to have had an opportunity to know and work with her!

-Stacy Salters, CIS Site Coordinator ot Edison Environmental Science Academy

Yvonne Steffler is so wonderful and patient with the students at Milwood. She takes care of business and always has a smile for the kids! We want to thank Yvonne for all of her hard work!

-Abigail Nappier, CIS Site Coordinator, Milwood Elementary School

Sheri Ferrari and Ann Campbell not only keep this building running smoothly, but they greet our volunteers, partners, and children with a smile. I can depend on them to funnel new volunteers to me.  Their support of CIS helps make Parkwood a more caring community.

Jody Sikkema, CIS Site Coordinator, Parkwood Upjohn Elementary School