Millie’s Mittens

There is always a good reason not to give. We don’t have enough time or money or time. We think somebody else will step up or do a better job than us. The list goes on.

Millie Ellis has more than her fair share of reasons not to extend herself, particularly to kids in Kalamazoo. That’s because Millie lives 2,000 miles away, in Dripping Springs, Texas.

There, she is busy caring for her husband who recently suffered a stroke. She is also dealing with her own health issues. Yet, despite distance and her current struggles, Kalamazoo kids are on her radar.

She learned from her friend, Shirley Street, that during the cold Michigan winters, some kids didn’t have mittens to keep their hands warm. Shirley told her of the need and that, for the third year in a row, she was doing something about this by knitting mittens. Her mittens would go to CIS Kids’ Closet and from there, CIS staff in 20 Kalamazoo Public Schools would be providing them to students who needed mittens.

Shirley knew about the need thanks to her daughter, Sue Warner, who lives in Kalamazoo. A long-time CIS friend, volunteer, and partner, Sue is Kalamazoo Public Library’s Head Librarian of Youth Services. Sue Warner is a knitter too, and has been knitting mittens and hats for Kalamazoo kids over the years.

Back to Texas. When Shirley shared with Millie how she was helping kids in Kalamazoo Public Schools, Millie was moved. She wanted to figure out a way to “help those kids in Michigan,” too. The next time the friends connected, Millie said, “I found some yarn. I’m going to knit some mittens, too.” And she did.

When a box from Texas (mailed by Millie) showed up at Sue’s door, Sue was stunned. “I thought she might have managed to knit a few pairs of mittens, but Millie had knit 52 pairs!”

Some of Millie’s mittens

Sue dropped off the load of mittens, made with love from Texas, and some of the CIS staff tried on a few.

CIS staff modeling Millie’s mittens. (From left): John Oliver, Director of Quality & Evaluation, John Brandon, Partner Services Coordinator, Alonzo Demand, Human Resources Coordinator, and Michael Harrison, Associate Director of Site Services

Knitters make something beautiful—in this case mittens—by interlocking loops of one or more yarns. To knit is “to join closely and firmly, as members or parts (often followed by together).” Despite her own hardships, Millie made it her mission to make the lives of kids a bit better and a bit warmer this winter. Millie joined with Shirley, who connected with Sue who connected with CIS, who now gets these mittens into the hands of children.

Thank you, Millie. And thank you Shirley, Sue, and all you knitters (and non-knitters, too!) who join together with CIS to create a caring, loving community for our children.

 

What do you love?

We know you love seeing kids succeed. We do too! What else do you love? We polled a few CIS partners, volunteers, and staff. Here is what they said:

 

 

 

I love the possibilities…as seen through my seven-year-old, her friends, and this community.

-Jennifer Johnson, Executive Director, Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes

 

The Great Lakes—all of them.

-John Brandon, CIS Partner Services Coordinator

 

What I love is lip gloss!

-Tamiko Garrett, CIS Site Coordinator at Linden Grove Middle School

 

I love seeing kids being happy.

-Amy Kuchta, Chief Executive Officer, Big Brothers Big Sisters, A Community of Caring

 

I love when students/staff/teachers tells me, “Thanks for all that you do!” Go CIS!

-Levi Soto, CIS Site Coordinator at El Sol Elementary School

 

If I had to choose one thing, it’d be the sound of children laughing and playing!

-Stacy S. Jackson, CIS After School Coordinator at Edison Environmental Science Academy

 

I love cooking. One of my favorite things to make is Zuni Café Chicken. You can find the recipe here.

-Amy Terzino, CIS Executive Assistant

 

I love Harry Potter audio books. There are two narrators and people get very heated about which one they prefer. I like listening to Jim Dale. He has a very calm voice which works better with narration. Stephen Fry does a good job with the character voices. But when I want to be calm and mindful, I just prefer Jim Dale’s soothing voice.

-Carly Denny, CIS Site Coordinator at Prairie Ridge Elementary School

 

I love my life.

-Tracie Hall, CIS Finance Coordinator

 

Walking in the woods on a fresh, fall day.

-Sally Stevens, CIS Volunteer

 

I love talking with former students about their progress in life.

-Von Washington Jr., Executive Director, Community Relations

 

I love my first cup of coffee on Saturday morning.

-Jenna Cooperrider, CIS Success Coach at Kalamazoo Central High School

 

I love seeing parents beam with pride while taking smartphone videos of their young musician at Kids In Tune.

-Liz Youker, Vice President, Education and Community Partnerships, Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra

 

Besides coffee, I love when children ask other children, “Are you alright?” It shows the building of empathy and caring.

-Aisha Coulson-Walters, CIS Site Coordinator at Parkwood Upjohn Elementary School

 

Lake Michigan and the bike trails that can get you there from Kalamazoo.

-John Curran, Executive Director, First Day Shoe Fund

 

Stand-up comedy!

-Deondra Ramsey, CIS After School Coordinator for Washington Writers Academy

 

Singing. I was a voice performance major in college.

-Nicky Aiello, CIS Volunteer and Development Coordinator

 

Thanks for sharing! We love hearing what you love. We especially love all the support you and our Ask Us About Our 12,000 Kids readers show Kalamazoo Public School students by sharing your time, talents, and financial gifts with Communities In Schools. Thank you for working with us to help students stay in school and achieve in life.

 

 

 

First Day Shoe Fund: A CIS Partner With Sole

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Pam Tate, AmeriCorps VISTA, fitting a student for a pair of shoes provided by First Day Shoe Fund.

Partnerships, like most things in life, begin by putting one foot in front of the other. The first steps for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) and First Day Shoe Fund (FDSF) go back to early 2000 when Valerie Denghel was a tutor at Edison Environmental Science Academy with CIS. Valerie noticed some children without appropriate shoes for school. So Valerie began buying shoes for one child at a time. Valerie went from buying shoes for individual children to taking a giant step and founding the First Day Shoe Fund.

First Day Shoe Fund, which believes that all children should start school on equal footing, is celebrating their ten year anniversary and we couldn’t be happier for this tremendous milestone.

“CIS is a crucial partner for what we do,” says John Curran, Executive Director of First Day Shoe Fund. “CIS staff go above and beyond to facilitate distribution of shoes to children in the schools. For ten years we’ve relied on this successful partnership to help us do what we do and we look forward to many more years of working together.”

CIS is proud to have partnered with FDSF since its beginnings to help identify children in need of shoes and to create the infrastructure needed to get the shoes onto little feet. Valerie Denghel recalls that first distribution “On that hot summer day in 2006,” when First Day Shoe Fund, with the support of Kalamazoo Public Schools, Communities In Schools, and Junior Women of Kalamazoo distributed 307 pairs of shoes to children who needed them. (You can read her full reflection by going here).

By the Fall of 2014, we were still in step as partners, distributing 1,654 pairs of new shoes to students. The nonprofit organization has gone on to create an even bigger footprint by expanding beyond Kalamazoo Public Elementary Schools and into Comstock Public Elementary Schools and Paramount Academy. John Curran notes that this past year, the organization provided 4,371 pair of shoes!

20151021-_dsc7121Over these past ten years, First Day Shoe Fund, their board, and volunteers have worked hard to help meet a basic need: shoes. CIS values the sustained commitment First Day Shoe Fund makes to children to ensure they have both the physical comfort of correctly sized shoes and the sense of pride and belonging that comes with having appropriate footwear to start the year on the right foot. New shoes are one of the important pieces of the puzzle that fit together to help all of our children achieve the Promise.

As John Brandon, Partner Services Coordinator for Communities In Schools puts it, “First Day Shoe Fund is an essential partner, working with us to address the needs of the whole child. Our CIS staff positioned within Kalamazoo Public Schools see children celebrating new shoes and showing up for school, not just the first day, but throughout the year thanks to First Day Shoe Fund.”

Shoes off to you, First Day Shoe Fund!