SALLY STEVENS: FIRST RECIPIENT OF GULNAR HUSAIN VOLUNTEER AWARD

From left: Arcadia Teacher Debora Gant, CIS Volunteer Sally Stevens, and CIS Board Member Carolyn H. Williams

 

At the 11th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Sally Stevens was honored with the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award, a new recognition established by the Husain family to honor Gulnar’s long-time contributions to Communities In Schools and the community.

Gulnar immigrated from Pakistan in 1981 and for more than 38 years, she dedicated herself to volunteer work throughout the community of Kalamazoo. The award recognizes a CIS volunteer who emulates Gulnar’s desire to serve children with a consistent and unflinching passion. [To learn more about Gulnar and to reflect on her, read this post, “A Good Life.”]

CIS Board Member Carolyn H. Williams presented the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award, sponsored by the Gulnar Husain Legacy Fund.

 

Gulnar Husain, in her 14 years with CIS, first as an AmeriCorps worker and then as CIS site

Gulnar Husain

coordinator at Arcadia Elementary School was not motivated by status or money or awards. She worked persistently, quietly, often invisibly behind the scenes for children. So it is fitting that Sally Stevens is the first recipient of the Gulnar Husain Annual Volunteer Award. She shares these same traits.

Sally is the invisible behind the visible. Quietly, without fanfare, she shows up each week for kids. When she retired from Borgess Hospital in 2013, Sally’s plan was to find volunteer work where she could give back and make a difference. And she has.

Visit any one the 20 CIS sites throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools and you won’t find her. You won’t see her in a classroom or in the hallways. She’s not in the cafeteria or on the playground. And yet, every day, because of her volunteer efforts, she touches the lives of students in all 20 CIS school sites.

Children want to do their job: be the best student they can be. But they need their basics covered so they can focus on learning. Sally is helping them do that by literally lifting up the generosity of this community. As many of you know, your donations to CIS Kids’ Closet help kids attend school every day with confidence and dignity, ready to learn. When students or school staff connect with the CIS Site Team at their school to meet a basic need, it is most likely Sally who has already inventoried the items CIS gives out. She has folded the sweatpants with love, organized the underwear by size, sorted socks, folded tops, gathered up the pencils, markers and crayons, and backpacks and boots, preparing them for the schools.

“Sally can organize the heck out of anything,” says John Brandon, who, as CIS partner services coordinator, oversees Kids’ Closet. “Sally,” he says, is “an incredibly hard worker, extremely efficient, and jumps in every way she can to help.” Take, for example, November 2016. When the tiny closet in the basement of the CIS/Kalamazoo Promise office building was bursting with your donations, Kalamazoo Public Schools graciously accommodated our need for more space, providing a classroom-size, walk-in closet at their building on Westnedge. Sally—who also volunteers with the Oakwood Neighborhood Association, Warm Kids, and the Bronson Park Food Pantry—bumped up her four hours a week to over seven, to get Kids’ Closet settled and up for operation. At the start of school and over holidays—when larger quantities of donations come flooding in—Sally increases her hours to meet the demand.

With Sally’s help, we’ve been able to serve children better by expanding operations at Kids’ Closet, increasing both the donations coming in and items going out to the schools.

Gulnar Husain was a prolific user of Kids’ Closet, a fact her Arcadia Principal Greg Socha could attest to. We know Gulnar would be so thrilled that you, Sally, are the first to receive this special recognition.

Sally Stevens, thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Here’s the blessing bowl Sally received. The lip of it is rimmed with words Gulnar often said and believed: “Being able to serve others, especially children, is a blessing.”

Keep up with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. You can learn more about Sally in the weeks to come. We popped one of our quizzes on her!   

 

John Brandon Chats on Cats, Closets, & Cafes

Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we feature John Brandon.

We met up with John at Caffè Casa, in downtown Kalamazoo.

John grew up on the east side of Michigan, in Lexington, about 20 minutes north of Port Huron. John came to Kalamazoo to attend Western Michigan University and graduated with a degree in history. In 2014, he joined CIS as an AmeriCorps VISTA worker, supporting both Milwood Magnet Middle School and Kalamazoo Central High School. John now supports all 20 CIS sites in his role as partner services coordinator, a position he’s held for a little more than two years.

Alright, John Brandon: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

Pop Quiz

How would you describe your position as partner services coordinator?

I work as a representative of CIS with many of our partner organizations. I look over the day-to-day nuts and bolts of the partnerships, making sure services are running smoothly within the CIS model.

Part of your responsibilities also include overseeing Kids’ Closet. If you could use no more than five words to describe Kids’ Closet, what would say? Go!

Clothes. Hygiene items. School supplies.

But I have to say more because those five words don’t fully fit or complete the description of Kids’ Closet. CIS is able to distribute the basic needs items I mentioned and more to students thanks to the community. We collect and store items, we operate the distribution and delivery of these items to the schools, but it is the community that is 100% providing this resource to our kids.

We couldn’t operate Kids’ Closet without the support of community donations or the volunteers. Take Sally Stevens, for example. She volunteers five hours every week to helping with Kids’ Closet. Our kids really benefit from her organizational skills and dedication. Without her, we wouldn’t be able to accomplish one fifth of what we currently do when it comes to getting kids the basics they need. We’re able to do as much as we do because of volunteers like Sally.

What item do you find the hardest to keep in stock?

Adult sizes of [new] clothing items, like adult-sized sweatpants, especially in small and medium sizes.

What item(s) have been big in demand from school sites this year?

School supplies of all varieties. Notebooks, mechanical pencils, pocket folders, dry erase markers—all the elementary kids have a white board to do math on but they need replacement markers from time to time. That’s a new thing for us this year, the dry erase markers. We also have had many requests for sweatpants for all ages and underwear at the elementary level. This winter, boots, coats, and shoes have been in high demand, as have items like deodorant and feminine supplies. Basically, while the list of what we have in stock is long, the demand for these items is especially high. Fortunately, people in our community are good about donating them!

Also, what we need depends on the time of year. For instance, at the start of year we do great with school supplies, but towards the end of the school year, we’re in need of more of these supplies, like pocket folders, notebooks, and mechanical pencils, because the kids have already gone through them. [To see the most current list of needed items, check out the Kids’ Closet wish list here.]

What is your most favorite item you have in your closet?

Probably this sweater I’m wearing. See, it even has orange elbow pads.

You look like a history professor.

[John laughs.] I do pay attention to history. I read history books frequently and listen to a history podcast.

Podcasts are really a thing now, aren’t they? Any particular podcast you listen to?

Hardcore History. It is done by Dan Carlin and one of the more prominent history podcasts out there. Most podcasts last a half hour or so. This podcast comes in at six hours. You can’t listen to it all at once. He takes a topic in history and elaborates on it. You listen and think and then you listen some more.

What are you currently reading?

I’m reading three different books right now. One is a history book called The Age of Capital by Eric Hobsbawn. It’s about the blossoming of the capital system and the spread of industrialization as well as the political ideology of liberalism. I’m also reading A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin. It’s one of the books in the Game of Thrones series. And also, A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman. It’s a novel about a comedian that is not very funny. It’s tragic, really.

Favorite word?

Thank you. Thank you is two words, though, so you can’t use that. So, how about just thanks!!

We know [from last year’s Valentine Post] that you love “The Great Lakes—all of them.” What else do you love about living in Kalamazoo?

Kalamazoo has such a unique collection of people. I’m from a small town, so it feels like a big city to me, but without being too big. I love all the historical buildings. It’s also hip.

I live in the Vine neighborhood. Just this weekend, I was thinking how I’m so lucky I can walk to a record store or a fancy sandwich shop or a pub. I like the mingling of small businesses along with residential areas. Those are the biggest hits for me when it comes to what I love about Kalamazoo. Oh, and of course that Kalamazoo is not too far from the lake!

Any favorite places?

I am a big fan of Fourth Coast Cafe. Also, the Lillian Anderson Arboretum which is just outside of town and owned by Kalamazoo College. I enjoy the nature trails winding through the pine trees planted in rows, off to either side. It’s a good spot. There are so many good spots and that’s why the city of Kalamazoo is so great. I learned that we even have a cat cafe!

You can bring your cat?

No. It’s called Kzoo Cat Cafe and they work with Kalamazoo Animal Rescue. Debi Newsome [CIS Senior Director for Finance, Human Resources and Administration] told me about it. You pay twelve dollars and can hang out, play with cats, drink coffee and tea, and have some snacks. The cats are all adoptable through the rescue center.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I attended a conference on foster children. I got the opportunity to listen to and speak with people whose focus is entirely foster children. In being exposed to an area of advocacy I had no real prior knowledge on, it was eye-opening. I’m constantly learning how little I really know about people’s struggles in this world.

Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?

For me, that would be my parents. Both of them. They’ve been role models for me in being a good adult. They’ve always done a good job of balancing, encouraging me to be who I am but also having a realistic view of what is possible. I’ve turned into a well-rounded person thanks to them, though. I didn’t always appreciate how awesome they are until I got older.

Thank you, John, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000+ Kids.

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

20151021-_dsc7123
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!