High School Graduate: CIS Lifted Me Up

Kanequewa Steward graduated from Kalamazoo Central High School this past spring, Last month, she reflected on her CIS experience at the 11thAnnual Champ Celebration. Kanequewa has graciously given permission for us to publish her remarks here, at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

PNC was the Student Spotlight Sponsor and Steve Powell, on behalf of PNC, presented Kanequewa with an Apple iPad Pro as a gift to help her continue her education this fall as a Kalamazoo Promise scholar

 

Good evening, everyone. When writing this speech, I didn’t know where I should start. I have so many memories and was conflicted on what I wanted to bring up first. Has anyone ever felt so alone it made you want to give up on everything? You just thought, “I can’t do anything right. No one loves me, so why am I here? Do I matter? Who would miss me? We all have been there once in our lives, right? Well, I know I’ve struggled with this multiple times that it’s not even funny. Now I know, everyone’s like, “Where is she going with this?” Well, I’ll tell you…

It all started in the 6th grade when I got connected to CIS and started attending the CIS after school program. My sister and I used to go after school all the time. Mr. [Kevin] Lavender—he was our CIS site coordinator—was the best. He always helped me when I needed it. Made sure I kept my grades up, and he was a person I could confide in at such a young age.

Yeah, I know you’re all like, “How could a middle-schooler know what was so good for her at the time?” Well, it goes like this. “I was struggling with letting my anger out on other people. I knew I had a big heart, but I was always afraid to show it. But being part of Communities In Schools gave me an outlet. I could come and have fun, get help on homework. I could even cry when I needed to.

Now, going into high school I thought my CIS years were over and that was the end, not yet knowing they had summer programs, and most importantly, Mrs. Yarbrough. Taking part in CIS Think Summer opened up many doors for me. I met so many people that cared about me, they were always making sure I was okay, and that I had what I needed. It’s something I wish I could continue to do now.

Okay, so do we all remember when I asked my question about feeling helpless and what not? Well, in 10th grade I went down a bumpy road. My heart was broken and I was starting to lose hope and faith. It was at the point to where I self-harmed at least twice a day. I knew why I felt this way, but then again, I didn’t. I was only 15. Why should I feel such pain? I always thought my past was my fault. So it ate me up inside. I didn’t want to live, saw was no reason for it, until I met Mrs. [Deborah] Yarbrough.

Now some of you may ask, “Who is that? What do she do?” And that’s why I’m going to tell you.

Mrs. Yarbrough is the CIS Site Coordinator at Kalamazoo Central High School. I went to her office one day and I cried. I cried so hard I couldn’t see—and she let me. She held me and she told me it was going to be okay. She isn’t someone who says stuff to make you feel better. She said it because she knows how it feels; when you just need a break from the world. And she allows you the time to get that. While I was dealing with so much, Mrs. Yarbrough went out of her way to provide me with services. And boy, did they help! From group therapy, to one-on-one therapy. She provided the best help there was. Not only did she help me then, but also when I lost some friends in a tragic incidence I knew exactly where to go to: her. She’s always known how to help me get by; and I thank her for that.

Communities In Schools has saved my life. CIS has provided me with hope, lifted me up when I was down, and gave me so many resources I couldn’t have gotten on my own. And, at this moment, being a part of CIS has helped me deal with the death of a friend who’s been a friend since third grade.

So, here I am. Without CIS support, I would be somewhere, not knowing what to do for myself or if I should even live. This program created many opportunities and I’m thankful to have had you with me through my journey.

I want to thank everyone that helped me and guided me. It wasn’t easy, but guess what? We did it! I’ve graduated from Kalamazoo Central and have been accepted into Adrian College! And it’s not the end, but the beginning to a new life, a happy and healthy life. Again, thank you for having the faith I didn’t have. I couldn’t have done it without you guys.

 

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.