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. 

Paws For Stories

Want to feel warm and fuzzy? Read today’s post, written by Kaitlin Martin, our Volunteer Coordinator. We’re fortunate that she also has her own business,Freshwater Photography and took the accompanying photos for us.

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of seeing some unique volunteers in action at Edison Environmental Science Academy. These CIS volunteers were quite small and furry. One was black with tight curls and the other was rust colored with wavy hair. These wonderful creatures are Darby and Brandy, two of several therapy dogs that make weekly trips to Edison to read with students.

IMG_9371I watched the children’s faces light up as the dogs appeared in the doorway, tails wagging. “Can I read first?” one student asked the teacher. One by one, each child walks the dog down the hallway (leash in hand) to the library, selects a book, sits comfortably on a beanbag with the dog, and reads a short story to the canine listener. The library is well-lit, with murals on the walls and ample books to select from. It is a quiet escape from the daily routine.

The (human) volunteers, Anita Lawson and Jeanne Church, both through RSVP Senior Services, listen in and assist with tricky words, if needed, but by and large the dogs are the stars of this exchange. Some of the more timid children come out of their shells when they have a non-judgmental listener. The dogs seem to enjoy being read to, as well as petted. After reading, each kid gets a bookmark with their dog on it and a hand stamp. They even receive an individual photo of them reading with the dog.

IMG_9413Third grade teacher, Sarah Powell, commented that, “Overall, the dogs coming is a hugely positive experience…The kids look forward to it very much.” She noted that one interesting outcome of the program is that students who were previously scared or nervous around dogs are learning “that there are many different kinds of dogs and that they can be a great source of comfort and companionship.” In addition to building reading skills, these kids are making new friends and diverse connections with the world around them.

See more of these precious volunteers by checking out our Paws For Stories picture album on facebook.  And while you’re at it, “LIKE” us to.