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.

2015-16 Gifts of Kindness Recognition

Thank you to the many individuals, groups, businesses, and other organizations who have provided in-kind support to CIS and the students we serve, including donations of items to the CIS Kids’ Closet! These are in addition to those who made financial gifts, which can be found in our annual report

Jennifer Alday

Karen Alston

Alta Resources

Jerrard Applewhite

Jememah A. Baker

David and Caroline Bartels

BASIC

Mary Baxter

Marielle Bellow

Scott and Wendy Bellow

Missy and John Best

Sandy Binkley

Gerald and Lou Bogner

Jay Bonsignore

Borgess Professional Nurse Council

Breakfast Optimist Club of Kalamazoo

Marilyn Breu

Erin Buckley

Ms. Nicole Butz

Megan Buwalda

Katie Call

Sandy Callen

Shawna Camburn

Donna Carroll and Fred McTaggart

Central City Parking

Shannon Chandler

Lynn Chio

Greg and Linda Clarkin

Bethany Conley

Warren and Eugenié Cook

James Corzine

CSM Group

Todd and Ruth DeNooyer

Craig and Sarah DeNooyer

Rachel and Jeff DeNooyer

Ryan and Katie DeNooyer

Carol Eaton

Claire and Steve Echtinaw

Ecojot

Linda Farrell

Fifth Third Bank- Westwood Branch

First Congregational Church

First Presbyterian Church

First United Methodist Church

Flynn, Thiel, Boutell, & Tanis, P.C.

Ms. Edna Fry

Shannon Fuller

Shirley Gashaw

Greater Kalamazoo Girls on the Run

Cynda and Jim Greenman

Sara Hensley

Hiemstra Optical Co

Honoré Salon

Nancy Husted

Carol Hustoles

David W. Jackson

Martha James

Junior League of Kalamazoo, Inc.

Kalamazoo College – Admissions Office

Kalamazoo County Association of Retired School Personnel

Kalamazoo Jeter’s Leaders Program

Kalamazoo Public Library

Kalamazoo Rotaract Club

Kalamazoo Valley Habitat for Humanity

Kalamazoo Wings

Kalsec, Inc.

Jeff and Wendy King

Sarah Kolber

Kushner & Company

Nancy L. Laugeman

Little Sprout Children’s Boutique

Erin Maxwell

Tony and Theresa McDonnell

Jeff and Jenni McGregor

Meijer – Westnedge Ave.

Suzanne Middleton

Kristen Miller

Diana Morton-Thompson

Mt. Zion Baptist Church

Marie Mustert and Lee Overbeck

Catherine Niessink

Samantha Norg

Northeastern Baptist Church

Jason and Keely Novotny

Robin Novotny

NPHC

Old National Bank

Harriet Oliver

OptiMed Specialty Pharmacy

Oshtemo Area Churches (OAC)

Donna Oudersluys

Ed and Jan Overbeck

Patty Pitts

Bev Pollard

Ms. Beth Polso

Portage Chapel Hill United Methodist Church

Ellen Portis

Raymond James

Jennifer A. Rice

Pat Rothi

Bob and Jerri Sabo

Lynn and Charlene Scholl

Mr. Barry Schroeder

Senior Services – Helping Hands

Jody L. Sikkema

Judy Sims

Martha Smith

Mary Smolka

SoccerZone

Hannah Solamonson

Paula Solomon

St. Joseph Catholic Church

Perry Stegall

Sally Stevens

Stuart Neighborhood Association

Jennifer M. Swan

Dr. Harold Swift

The Connable Office

Joshua and Logan Thomas

Noelle A. Todd

TowerPinkster

Les Tung

Dana Underwood

Rebecca Vanderbeek

Jean Walker

Westwood United Methodist Church

Elaine Willis

Zion Lutheran

Zoetis

This list recognizes those who gave between July 1, 2015 – June 30, 2016. We make every effort to recognize our donors accurately. If we have omitted you or made a mistake in listing you, we need to know! Please accept our apologies for any oversights and contact us via phone at 269.337.1601 or email Emily Kobza at ekobza@ciskalamazoo.org with the corrected information for future publications.

The Dolly That Mike Made

Anyone who sets foot in a school knows that the role of a custodian is vital to the health and climate of a school. At Milwood Elementary School, students, their parents, along with KPS and CIS staff, and every community partner and volunteer who serves Milwood Elementary, is better because of Mike McCurdie. CIS Project Manager Missy Best says, “As Milwood’s wonderful custodial staff person, Mike has also really gone above and beyond to do things for CIS.”

Milwood’s CIS Site Coordinator, Dalanna Hoskins, agrees. She tells us Mike embraces his work as a custodian, going above and beyond to assure that the learning environment is ready every day for children. “Every now and then I bring him coffee, or free coffee coupons to let him know much we appreciate his help,” she says. And today, as guest blogger, Dalanna Hoskins shines the spotlight on one of her favorite custodian and tells us how other schools will soon benefit from Mike’s ingenuity.

“Mr. Mike” is what I call him. Before I even set foot in Milwood, Mr. Mike was supporting CIS staff, volunteers, and partners. For more than a decade, Mike McCurdie has served as custodian at Milwood Elementary School. Since the time of Renita Ellis (Milwood’s first CIS After School Coordinator) to now, we know we can count on Mr. Mike. Whenever I need help or assistance with access to the school or unlocking rooms or bringing in boxes of supplies –whether it’s clothes, backpacks, or other basic need items from CIS Kids’ Closet or items from one of our partners, like shoes from First Day Shoe Fund—Mr. Mike is always there to help me with getting these much needed resources into the school for our kids.

Most of you are probably familiar with the Friday Food pack program that exists throughout many of our CIS sites and made possible thanks to our partnership with Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes. It was first piloted right here at Milwood Elementary, back in 2003. We credit our steadfast partner, Milwood Christian Reformed Church, with helping us get this program off the ground. Mr. Mike, too.

From the beginning, he has always there, helping with the food pack deliveries. As the program expanded and the number of food packs grew, Mr. Mike grew tired of always using the huge flat beds for the food packs. They were big, heavy, and cumbersome to wheel around. He knew there just had to be a better way. When, due to renovations, we temporarily moved to the school building on South Westnedge, Mr. Mike realized that the flat beds were not going to work at all. So, he came up with the idea of using wooden scooters instead.

The dolly that Mike made:

The dolly that Mike made

underside view of Dolly

And we have been using them ever since. In fact, it works so well that we are going to recreate his dolly for other CIS sites!

Thank you, Mr. Mike!Dolly made by Mike

A Few Things We’re Grateful For…

Gratefulness feels good. In fact, research on gratitude has found a connection between gratitude and a whole bunch of good stuff, like better health, improved relationships, and dealing with adversity. At CIS, we stumble over goodness every day. Whether it’s the caring adults and youth who volunteer in the schools or the individual who dropped off a new winter coat at our office, there is goodness happening everywhere!

Here’s a partial list of what we are grateful for:

Teachers. You help us learn and think. You teach us lessons about abc’s and place-values in math while challenging us, loving us, and helping us believe in ourselves and recognize that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. You help us find our place in the world.

Kalamazoo Public Schools, you open your doors to all of our children. As teachers, secretaries, custodians, principals, para-pros, administrators and bus drivers you tend to our most precious resources: children.

CIS Donors. You believe that CIS and the kids of Kalamazoo are a good and worthy investment.

Kids’ Closet Supporters. You give to the CIS Kids’ Closet and organize collection drives to make sure kids have the basic clothing, school supplies, and personal hygiene products that they need so they can attend school with confidence and dignity, ready to focus on learning.

Volunteers & Partners. You give your time, talents, and expertise to benefit Kalamazoo Public School students.  Thank you for being caring adults in our kids’ lives and meeting their academic and basic life needs.

You. As one of our Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids, we know you care about kids and their education. Thank you for keeping us company in 2015!

Our 12,000+ kids. We know many of you face barriers. But you show up to school, take advantage of the school and community supports you receive and you keep moving forward. You are our future and we love you.

We’re taking the next few weeks off from blogging and we’ll meet up with you again, here, in January. In the meantime, before the ball drops on 2016, take a few minutes and help CIS continue its work. If you think it’s important for every child to graduate from high school on time, prepared for post-secondary education and employment, please give us your support. After you’ve donated, encourage your neighbors, friends, and family members to donate as well. CIS and the kids of Kalamazoo need you.

For more information about how to make a donation to CIS, visit the website here.

 

 

Open Letter To Kids’ Closet Supporters

So many cool things can happen while waiting in the checkout lane of the grocery store. Here’s one thing you need to check out today: the below post. It is written by our own Emily Kobza, CIS Director of Development & Business Engagement.

100_6403Dear Kids’ Closet Supporter:

You donated items or made a monetary gift to our Kids’ Closet sometime in the past to help make sure that kids in our community have the basic clothing, school supplies, and personal hygiene products that they need so they can attend school comfortably and with dignity, ready to focus on learning.  You never had the opportunity to know who benefited from your donation or what need it met – you just did it and trusted us to make sure that the student who needed a winter coat, a backpack, or a pair of sweatpants would be able to get that item.  I want to share what this meant for one student.

A manager of a local business contacted me in early September to let me know that they wanted to donate a couple hundred travel-size personal care products to the Kids’ Closet.  We made arrangements for me to pick them up later that week.  As she was helping me load the donations into my car, the manager shared her shopping experience with me.  She was excited that she had been able to take advantage of both a sale on these items and a promotion so she could get 260 items for the price of 200.  As a fan of Extreme Couponing, I was impressed!

100_6412 - EditThe cashier at the store helping to ring up these items was interested in why she was purchasing such a large quantity of personal care products.  The manager explained that her business was donating these items to the Kids’ Closet of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo to make sure that students were in school every day and able to focus on learning without the distraction of being embarrassed about their personal appearance.  As she pushed her shopping cart away from the checkout lane, the cashier thanked her for making this donation.  The manager said something along the lines of “Thanks, but I really like doing this, and I know it makes a difference for kids.”  The cashier said, “No, I really want to thank you for what you’re doing because my child benefited from the Kids’ Closet.”  She went on to say that her child came home from school last year with a small bag of items.  She said she was a single mom and while she had a job, sometimes it was still hard to get everything her kids needed.  She really appreciated the help that the Kids’ Closet had provided to help meet the basics for her child.  Needless to say, the manager and I both got teary-eyed as she relayed this experience to me.  She said, “I knew that this made a difference, but to hear it directly from someone who it made a difference for was really amazing.”

Project Coordinator Sandy Dee (left) and Hiemstra’s Vice President Todd Totzke (center) dropping off donations from their “Stuff the Bus” collection. CIS Director of Health Initiatives Donna Carroll is on right. Thank you Hiemstra Optical!

We know you don’t get to see the smiles on kids’ faces or hear them or their families, say “thank you,” but I wanted you to know that your donations are making a difference.  On behalf of the thousands of kids who have accessed the Kids’ Closet, thank you for your generous support.

100_6439Last year, CIS distributed over 13,000 Kids’ Closet items!  Interested in removing barriers to learning by helping to fill Kids’ Closet with new clothing, personal hygiene products, and school supplies for K – 12 students? It’s a  great  opportunity for our local businesses and faith-based organizations to get involved in helping our students achieve in school and in life. Contact Emily at ekobza@ciskalamazoo.org for to find out how you, your business, or service-oriented group can help.

Count Thanks, Not Sheep

Kids SunsetWhen you find yourself having trouble falling asleep: count thanks. I tried it the other night and it worked. I drifted off somewhere around 124. It probably wasn’t a coincidence that I awakened the next morning feeling exceptionally refreshed and hopeful. In fact, researchers have found a connection between gratitude and a whole bunch of good stuff, like better health, improved relationships, and dealing with adversity. It helps to recognize that goodness is not just in us but all around us.

Two tips to keep in mind should you try this. One. When counting thanks, don’t critique your thoughts. There is no right or wrong, good or bad counting. When ordinary things like cinnamon flavored toothpicks, small brown stones, and dental floss come to mind, don’t shrink from their common-ness; just embrace it. Two. When you hit the 70 mark, don’t give up. This is when things will start to surprise you. People long forgotten may rise to the surface, like the crossing guard you haven’t seen since you were ten, but with a hello, a smile, and a stop sign, saw you safely across the intersection at Inkster and Westnedge.

Here, in no particular order, are just twelve of the things that I counted in my list of thanks:

1. For this moment.

2. For the Kalamazoo Public Schools that open their doors to all of our children. For the teachers, secretaries, janitors, principals, para-pros, administrators and bus drivers who tend our most precious resources: children.

3. Discovering “Starfish.” A poem by Eleanor Lerman, “Starfish” begins:

This is what life does. It lets you walk up to

the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a

stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have

your eggs, your coffee….

This poem not only spoke to my cruddy knees, it swept me away with the common voice of gratitude. You can read the whole thing here.

4. For that fourth grader who told me she was most thankful for having shelter.

5. For my cruddy knees that help me move through this world.

6. For the children among us who had no Thanksgiving meal.

7. For the big hearted among us, like TJ Duckett and his New World Flood and all the folks at Hands Up Project, who made lovely meals and memories possible for hundreds of children and their families this Thanksgiving.

8. For the mother who accepted the donated meal with sheer joy.

9. For the mother who accepted the donated meal with downcast eyes.

10. For students like Chris Boes whose steadfast pursuit of education brings to mind the quote, “Adversity does not build character. It reveals it.”

11. For partners like Western Michigan University who surround and celebrate students and make us proud to be a part of this community.

12. For efforts to reclaim this season and infuse it with true giving. #GivingTuesday(which is today!) does just that by generating conversations about ways to give more, give smarter, and put personal philanthropy back into the giving season.

Speaking of #GivingTuesday, Kalamazoo Fifth Third Bank branches celebrated by giving a generous donation of Thanksgiving food baskets, winter coats, clothing, and personal care items for our CIS Site Coordinators to distribute from Kids’ Closet.

Are you giving back in ways that matter to you? Have you taken a moment to support the Promise Me Campaign? Encouraged others to do so? What are you thankful for? Start counting

KZOO Spartans: Scoring Big For Students

_DSC0785College football season has started so it seems only fitting that we should wrap up our 2013 Champ series with the KZOO Spartans.  (Not that we have any favorite teams – we are fans of all colleges and universities!)  We should point out that the KZOO Spartans were at it again this summer – surpassing what they did last year and raising funds to provide 64 middle school students with a new backpack stuffed with school supplies.  And, just this morning,  we learned that, thanks to the continued efforts of KZOO Spartans, our CIS Site Coordinators will be able to deliver 60 additional new backpacks to students.  Talk about touchdowns! Thanks KZOO Spartans!

It all started with a golf tournament and the idea to ask golfers to make a donation so backpacks filled with school supplies could be given to middle school students in the fall.

IMG_0810Thanks to the members of the KZOO Spartans — a group of Michigan State University alumni & friends in Kalamazoo County– 50 middle school students started their school year with one of these well stocked backpacks. The power of new backpacks and school supplies can not be underestimated. Emily Demorest, CIS Site Coordinator at Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts recalls a new student who had recently started attending the CIS afterschool program (funded through 21st Century). During homework time, she came upon him sitting by himself, his head down, resting on a drawstring bag that had a long rip in the side. The student confided to her that he had bad grades. He shared his struggle to keep his things organized and how he often lost his assignments. She gave him one of the new backpacks filled with school supplies. Together, they sat down and carefully organized all the items. “I love to see him in the hallway,” she says, “carrying his black backpack stuffed with classroom materials. He loves coming to school where he now has a cool matching backpack just like all the other kids.” For him, a backpack thoughtfully filled with supplies has helped him stay on track.
2012 KZOO Spartans Softball TeamThe KZOO Spartans have continued to meet our students’ basic needs by supporting the CIS Kids’ Closet program – helping to ensure children have the clothing, school supplies, and personal care products they need to allow them to attend school in comfort and dignity.

Additionally, alumni members have helped to foster a college-going culture by participating in CIS events like Ready, Set, College! and College Night at Maple Street Magnet School.

It is not surprising that the Latin noun, alumnus, is derived from the verb “alere” which means to nourish. For that is just what this alumni group is doing. Nourishing the next generation of college going children by providing some of the basics all children need so that they can focus on succeeding in school. Go Green! Go White!

KZOO Spartans, we thank you for helping students stay in school and achieve in life.

 

Dishing Out Thanks

Here in the downtown CIS office we updated each other on our Thanksgiving weekends. Talk turned to how thankful we are for each of you. We get to hear about or see children succeeding in school every day because of you. Your efforts—as a school and community partner, volunteer, donor, or member of a CIS site team—are feeding our future. So, while the pumpkin pie is long gone and our serotonin levels are diminishing, our reasons to be thankful remain abundant. Here are just a few things of THANKS we shared with each other:

Teeth cleanings, sealants, fluoride treatment, exams, and fillings. Our partners, Kalamazoo County Health & Community Services Mobile Dental Unit and Family Health Center dental services at Edison School Based Health Center and Paterson Street brighten the smiles of our children on a daily basis.

Hats and coats. Mittens and boots. Underwear, too! And all the people and organizations who help to stock our Kids’ Closet. When these basic needs are met, children can better focus on learning.

Appetites and apples. Hundreds of students receive food from Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes through our Friday Foodpack program and school pantries. Thanks to our many faith based and community partners who help distribute the foodpacks.

Numbers and letters. And all the fabulous tutors who help children make sense of them.

Kids, with their energy and enthusiasm for learning. All 12,000+ of them.

Site Coordinators. These eighteen dedicated men and women are the “secret sauce” to helping us fulfill our mission, connecting a myriad of community resources to the children who need them.