Women Making Kalamazoo Better For All

20150512-DSC_5253
Pam (right) receiving her YWCA Women of Achievement Award from Carrie Pickett Erway, President and CEO of The Kalamazoo Community Foundation.

Kalamazoo is bursting with strong, wonderful women.

Just last week, the 2015 award celebration for the YWCA Women of Achievement was held at the Radisson. Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo  was one of four women to receive the Women of Achievement Award.Kalamazoo Community Foundation sponsored her award and, as President and CEO, Carrie Picket Erway shared with the packed audience: In December 1999 Pam took on the challenge of developing a new organization from scratch, known as Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. Pam’s recipe to success was in using a national model to overcome the barriers that disrupted kids, giving them hope and the belief they can succeed in school, graduate and be prepared for life. Under her leadership and vision, the organization has steadily grown to over 140 employees, serving 20 schools, reaching 1,300 students, coordinating 175,000 hours of service, and over 9,700 students receiving service through community partnerships coordinated by Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo.

Several of you have asked that we run the speech that Pam gave  that evening. We think you’ll find it straightforward and sincere, just like Pam. But, before we share it, just a few words about some of the other award winners with connections to CIS….

The YWCA Lifetime Woman of Achievement Award was given to Carolyn Alford. A former CIS board member, who, among many other volunteer and professional accomplishments, also served 16 years on the Kalamazoo Public Schools Board of Trustees. She  reminded the packed audience that we can make an impact on our community “when we work together as one on behalf of others.” She definitely lives these words.

CIS and our kids have also benefited from the wisdom and expertise of former CIS board member and YWCA Woman of Achievement Sherry Thomas-Cloud. Currently, Sherry is the executive director of the Douglass Community Association.

(Right to left) Tiara Blair, Pam Kingery, Cynthia Cooper, and Artrella Cohn
(Right to left) Tiara Blair, Pam Kingery, Cynthia Cooper, and Artrella Cohn

The YWCA Young Women of Achievement Award was bestowed upon 19 young women from area high schools and organizations that show exemplary leadership through extracurricular activities, volunteer work, serving as role models, and academic achievements. Special kudos to our own Tiara Blair!

We are so proud of her and how she and all the Women of Achievement serve as role models for the next generation. In fact, later this week, Thursday, May 21st, our future women–over 2,000 3rd-5th grade girls–will pound through the streets as part of the Greater Kalamazoo Girls on the Run 5K. You go, girls!

Here now, is Pam’s speech:

I love this community!  I came here with my husband for his graduate school program, intending to stay one-two years. Now, 41 years later, I feel very blessed to be in this special place.  I have had the good fortune to have two careers here—one in mental health and one with Communities In Schools.  And in both, I have been extremely lucky to work with smart, talented colleagues who care about their work as much as I do—several have honored me with attending this evening.  A special thanks to Jennifer, Emily and Trella for nominating me for this award.  I want to thank my family—my husband, Don, my daughter Logan and my sons, Noah and JB; not only have they been very supportive of me, they embrace my work with Communities In Schools with their own time, talent and treasure. They conspired to surprise me with the special visit by Noah from Washington DC to attend this event. My very special friend, Tyreese and his mom, Renee, also enrich me every day by sharing their lives.  Thank you, Tyreese!

I so appreciate this award and the YWCA’s history of supporting and lifting up the women of Kalamazoo. To be a part of that group of women is inspiring to me.  To theKalamazoo Community Foundation for sponsoring my award, please accept my genuine gratitude. I really believe in “For good and forever”—it isn’t just a tag line—and so it is especially meaningful to have your support. Thank you.

Diane Eberts (center) and Lisa Rodriguez (right) congratulate Pam on her YWCA Women of Achievement award.
Diane Eberts (center) and Lisa Rodriguez (right) congratulate Pam on her YWCA Women of Achievement award.

I want every child in this community to benefit from its resources as much as I have, and as much as my children did—for the good of us all, forever for Kalamazoo and beyond.  And so my deep and profound appreciation includes in particular the Board members of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo and our generous donors.  Thank you for giving so much of yourselves and taking this journey of faith and determination that together we will surround our kids with love and a community that continues to say “we believe in your ability to succeed.”

Finally, I believe my mother’s spirit is here with me.  She is the person who instilled in me a love of education, in spite of having to give up her own. Thanks, Mom—I am forever your grateful daughter.

Failure is Never Fatal

Jenee McDaniel, CIS Site Coordinator and O’Neal Ollie, CIS Success Coach at Loy Norrix High School
Jenee McDaniel, CIS Site Coordinator and O’Neal Ollie, CIS Success Coach at Loy Norrix High School

Every 26 seconds, a child drops out of school.

This alarming statistic disturbs me more than any other national statistic out there. Why? I think it’s because it is entirely preventable. There is no such thing as a dropout gene. It’s not that a kid wakes up one morning and says, “Oh, well. I think today is the day I will drop out of school.”

Dropping out, as we say in CIS,  isn’t an event. It’s a process. Too often, it is the result of not having a need met. Day after day. What’s standing in the way of a child’s success is hunger, a pair of glasses, shoes, a warm coat, dealing with emotions in a healthy way, coming to school late or not at all. A sense of hyper-hopelessness sets in.

“Dropping out is cumulative,” says Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS).”It’s the piling on of stuff to where it feels so overwhelming that a child feels the only option is to drop out. The community resources that flow through CIS allow our Site Coordinators to keep things from piling on.”

Perhaps a student is struggling in math and reading, failing a core class, their attendance isn’t what it should be, or their grade point average is suffering. Sometimes, the difference between being college ready and not college ready isn’t so huge but, to a child, it feels insurmountable. Having that extra caring adult in their life can help them find the courage to address obstacles and continue on with their educational journey.

Now, more students who are in need of that little extra push are getting it thanks to a grant from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. Hired this fall, three Success Coaches are working within four KPS schools. Lisa Brown is at Kalamazoo Central High School, O’Neal Ollie is at Loy Norrix High School, and Missy Best is at Maple Street Magnet School and Hillside Middle School.

“We need a larger footprint at larger schools,” Pam Kingery says. “CIS Success Coaches are an extension—a more expansive one—of the case management model. It allows us to delve more deeply into a school, to meet student needs. For students who need a moderate degree of support, having that one-on-one coaching support can be the tipping point that gets them over the hump and on the road to graduation.”

“Success,” John Wooden once noted, “is never final, failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.” The CIS Success Coaches are supporting Kalamazoo Public School students in the courageous journey of becoming the best they can be. O’Neal, Missy and Lisa are working closely with the schools and CIS staff to determine what students will best benefit from this individualized support.

The students already involved in the program are working with their Success Coaches to build on their unique strengths, creating a success plan, which includes goals that support school success, graduation and readiness for college or other post-secondary training.

Sometimes, success is just around the corner. It just takes determination and often the support of others to get there.

If you are interesting in finding out more about Success Coaching, contact CIS Director of Social Emotional Learning, Deb Faling, LMSW @ 269.337-1601 x 203.

Out On A Limb

100_3410-edit“Stop singing!” my son has been begging me. But I can’t  stop singing the beautiful song (Out on a Limb) I heard last week out at the CIS Think Summer! program.

If CIS had a theme song, I thought to myself, it would be this song written by Jon Gailmor. “Let’s go out, out on a limb. Show ‘em the beauty of the world we’re in. Take a chance, grab a partner and dance–out here, out on a limb…” Jon himself performed the song (my son would have much preferred Jon’s pitch perfect, clear and soulful voice) which ends with these words: “Every child is a miracle–tall, strong, short or fragile. Being there to love ‘em’s the least we can do. Lift ‘em up where they can see the view.”

Jon Gailmor, according to his website, ”was born in New York State and failed to grow up in Philadelphia.”  Jon lives in Vermont now but last week, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo had the honor of hosting this most talented, funny and down-to-earth singer/songwriter at CIS Think Summer! out at Hillside Middle School. (The CIS Think Summer! program is made possible through the Michigan Department of Education, 21st CCLC Community Learning Centers.)

Jon was struck by “how much the kids are really enjoying themselves. It’s clear how much they love being here and how important CIS is to them in their lives.” He praised the CIS coaches, Site Coordinators, and CIS partners who are doing what it takes to make a difference for children. “Thank you for going out on a limb for these kids,” he said, addressing the crowd who had gathered last Thursday at Hillside’s cafeteria to hear the performance.

Just how did this artist-in-residence program play out? Each elementary grade level and Kids in Tune (a partnership with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo and Kalamazoo Public Schools) reflected with Jon on what they have been learning during the summer program. The students then worked to identify an area to focus in on and their topics ranged from The Kalamazoo Promise® to protecting drinking water and helping others. The children got busy developing lyrics, setting them to music, and recording their original compositions.

Jon GailmorTheir work with Jon culminated in a performance before peers and grownups of their new compositions. Jon pointed out that “each of the songs had something to do with Kalamazoo. They composed every lyric, every note. I just choose the key and play the melody to accompany them…I’m always in awe of what kids can do.”

The children titled their five performances as follows: Big Brains and Big Goals (1st & 2nd Graders), A Promise of Hope (3rd Graders), The Six Pillars of Rock (4th Graders), We Know What to Do (5th Graders), and Changing Our World (Kids in Tune). Each of the students will soon be receiving a cd of their songs (thanks to Absolute Video) and we will be featuring the lyrics and songs with you in future blog posts.

For Nicole Barrow, whose daughter Zaria attends Think Summer!, the performance was nothing short of amazing. But her expectations were high to begin with. “This is a place kids can learn and they are learning a lot. My daughter comes back home each day from the CIS program tired and excited. We love that! I have confidence and trust in the staff, knowing they are each looking out for my daughter and all of these kids.”

A special thanks to Casey Gershon, a former Vermont resident, who planted the seed and wrote the grant that introduced Kalamazoo and our kids to Jon Gailmor. Funding for this artist-in-residence program was made possible through the generosity of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. We are grateful to them for helping kids and grownups alike love where we live! Guitar Center, thank you for providing the equipment necessary to rock our kids’ worlds, which in turned, rocked us adults.

Jon GailmorJon Gailmor, we appreciate you reminding us that adulthood is often overrated. Even more importantly, as CIS Site Coordinator Stacy Salters put it, “Great things are living inside our children. Thank you, Jon, for tugging the greatness out of them.”

And a most special thanks to our awesome kids of Think Summer! You have created songs with powerful lyrics that dream boldly and challenge us grownups to live up to the Kalamazoo you sing of:  “there’s no better place in the nation.”

May we all go out on a limb for each and every one of you.