Gulnar Husain: A Good Life

When I think of Gulnar, I think of someone who hears a problem from a child or a teacher and immediately responds with, ‘Well, let’s see how we can fix this.’ Never a list of reasons why we can’t.”                                                     -Dr. Timothy Light, CIS Board member

 

On January 1, 2018, Kalamazoo lost a giant: Gulnar Husain. Pancreatic cancer may have taken her from us, but she has left a tremendous legacy.

Gulnar Husain worked tirelessly to unleash her fellow citizen’s own potential, encouraging others to share their gifts and talents to strengthen this community she loved. Gulnar immigrated from Pakistan in 1981 and for over 35 years, gave joyously of her time to numerous Kalamazoo entities, such as Kalamazoo Interfaith Coalition for Peace and Justice, Kalamazoo Islamic Center, Michigan Festival of Sacred Music, Western Michigan University, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS), AmeriCorps Volunteers In Service to America (VISTA), Kalamazoo Public Schools, Portage Public Schools, ISAAC, St. Augustine School, Kalamazoo Non-Violent Opponents of War, Kalamazoo County Summit on Racism, Michigan Interfaith Coalition for Peace, Kalamazoo Lend a Hand, and Fetzer Institute’s Gardens of Many Faiths. The list goes on.

For over 14 years, Gulnar worked with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS). She first served as an AmeriCorps worker and then as an AmeriCorps VISTA at both Arcadia Elementary School and King-Westwood Elementary. In the last decade of her career she was the CIS Site Coordinator at Arcadia. During that time she worked ceaselessly to surround a diverse population of students with whatever it takes so they could succeed in school, graduate and be prepared for life. For Gulnar, doing whatever it takes meant coordinating and supporting more than 30 volunteers in a given school year, as well as a host of community partners to provide in-class tutoring, mentoring, counseling, music therapy, food packs, “Literacy Buddies” (a twice a week after-school program funded through State Farm), dental clinic, vision assistance, CIS Kids’ Closet (distributing basics like clothing/hygiene items), First Day Shoe Fund, Warm Kids-Winter Gear, Friendship Circle, Lunch & Learn, Math Club, Higher Thinking Club, Girls on the Run, the Recycle Project, and more.

While it’s impossible to fully capture Gulnar’s contributions to our kids and our community we want to honor her memory by providing a few photos, quotes, and links to stories (with more photos) about her, here, in one place…

Here she is back in her AmeriCorps days (2002):

Alice Gordon, on left, with Gulnar.

Gulnar worked closely with her principal, Greg Socha, and cherished his wisdom and support. Despite the daily demands principals have, she knew she could count on him to help identify and prioritize school needs, share what types of partnerships were necessary to meet the needs. Here’s what Principal Socha has said about Gulnar:

Gulnar Husain has been described as the ‘heart’ of Arcadia. Through her years of CIS service to the students and staff at Arcadia, Gulnar provided clothing, food, counseling, mentoring, tutoring and lunch-and-learn programs for students. For the staff, Gulnar offered guidance, a quiet persistence of providing needed services to students, and education on the multi-cultural needs of our families. But her world did not end at Arcadia. Gulnar promoted the Literacy Buddies program at Arcadia and Kalamazoo Central High School, matching high school students with elementary students to enhance the reading and writing of both parties. When the KPS Immigrant Program needed tutors after school, Gulnar provided her expertise and time to help students improve their English and complete their homework. Through her work with CIS, Gulnar made Arcadia a national award- winning school.”

“Still, that was not enough for Gulnar. Despite an acknowledged frustration with technology, she often provided articles and websites for staff members that promoted literacy, learning, and tolerance. She completed scholarship information to help her students expand their experiences. Her community involvement with interfaith organizations often placed her on the podium to speak of inclusion, and caring, and providing services for others in our community. All of this was completed in her humble way – quiet, but persistent.”                                

Gulnar with Arcadia Recyling Team
Gulnar checking in with student during a “lunch and learn” poetry workshop.

Gulnar believed in the five CIS basics, especially that all students deserve a one-on-one relationship with a caring adult. She felt such joy seeing volunteers in action with students, offering encouragement, academic support, and hope. Pam Kingery, CIS Executive Director, once noted, “In her role as CIS Site Coordinator at Arcadia, Gulnar has accomplished so much because she understands and values the role volunteers play in student success. Wearing that hat of ‘volunteer’ herself over many years and in a variety of settings, she knows the power of volunteers. That’s why she’s invested countless hours into supporting numerous volunteers throughout the years–she understands the potential return on that investment.”

Here’s Gulnar with just a few of the many volunteers she worked with over the years.

With Dianne Roberts.
With Mohammed Mohammed.
With Cindy Kesterke and Lenny Williams.

You can find a photo of her with Howard Tejchma in the 2016 CIS newsletter themed “Why Boys?” on page 6. Just go here.

Gulnar loved seeing students succeed. Here’s a link to Lenny’s success story, “Finding His Voice.”  And here’s the link to Lacey’s story.

Gulnar with Lacey Weston.

Gulnar was part of the Kalamazoo delegation that went to Charlotte, North Carolina when Kalamazoo was one of four communities from across the country honored as a community of excellence in 2013. Gulnar also received national recognition for her work within Arcadia Elementary School and joined the ranks of only a handful throughout the country to receive an Honorable Mention for the prestigious Unsung Hero Award. We blogged about it here, “Gulnar Husain: No Longer Unsung”. And Julie Mack covered it in a Kalamazoo Gazette/MLive article here.

When Arcadia Elementary School was one of just four sites across America honored in the school category by the national Communities In Schools’ network at the 2015 Unsung Heroes Awards in New Orleans, LA, Gulnar was there. Here she is with the Kalamazoo contingent, along with Bill Milliken, Founder and Vice Chairman of Communities In Schools, Inc. (left) and Dan Cardinali, then President of Communities In Schools, Inc. (third from right at back):

Gulnar with (from left): Greg Socha, Pam Kingery, Carolyn A. Williams, and Dan Cardinali

We blogged about all this in the post, “Singing Loudly and Proudly of Unsung Heroes.”  National CIS also wrote about it in this article, “Overcoming Cultural and Language Barriers.”  Before Gulnar left New Orleans, she took in some of the sites.

Gulnar with (from left): Mary Oudsema, Jennifer Clark, Pam Kingery, Elyse Brey, and Dominique Edwards.

An interview with Gulnar, along with a copy of the City of Kalamazoo’s Welcoming Proclamation (she helped to craft it, along with a rabbi, a United Methodist minister, and Kalamazoo’s vice mayor) is included in the anthology, Immigration & Justice For Our Neighbors. Released in April 2017, her interview begins, “Hospitality can be a radical act, particularly when one steps out of her comfort zone to indiscriminately welcome, accept, and love others. Gulnar Husain marches through her own fears and discomforts to welcome and connect with people from cultures and religions beyond her own…” Gulnar also appears in the essay, “Blueberries,” by Nicholas Baxter. More about the anthology project and where to find it here.

Here’s Gulnar, after receiving The Good Neighbor Award at the 2017 STAR Awards. She was recognized for her efforts in uniting people in the community who share different religions and backgrounds.

Gulnar with CIS Executive Director Pam Kingery.
Gulnar (second from right), surrounded by family and friends.

Shortly after being awarded the 2017 Good Neighbor Award, Gulnar was interviewed by Public Media Network‘s Pillars of the Community. You can watch it here.

If you go here to the “About Us” page on the CIS website, scroll down and click on the arrow. You can watch a really cool, three minute video about Arcadia Elementary School. Gulnar is featured in it.

In their January 2018 newsletter, ISAAC (Interfaith Strategy for Advocacy & Action in the Community) wrote about Gulnar and included some photos. Here’s that link.

Upon learning of Gulnar’s passing, Dan Cardinali, CEO of Independent Sector and former national president of Communities In Schools wrote this: I had the honor of meeting Gulnar a number of times and visiting with her and the children with whom she worked for so many years. Her gift of love and vision for peace were contagious. Her life is a powerful example what a good life can and should be. For me she taught me that we’re all called to live courageous lives of mercy in the face of violence, tolerance in the face of intolerance, hope in the face of despair, and love in the face of hate…”

Gulnar enjoying a moment with Dan Cardinali during his visit to Arcadia.

To honor Gulnar, her commitment to kids, and her special appreciation for volunteers and their impact on students’ success, her family has established the Gulnar Husain Legacy Fund at Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo.  Those wishing to make a gift to the Fund may donate online.  Checks may also be sent to CIS with a note in the Memo line indicating that the gift is for the Fund.

Gulnar with Principal Socha.

TWO Shining Stars: Diamond and Dominique Mahone

This article was featured in our CIS Connections newsletter, The Double Issue. You can find the full publication here.

CIS is a wonderful program. My kids have been with it for years and they just love the one-on-one interaction that they receive. As a full-time working mother, CIS has been a godsend and had such tremendous impact on my kids. They have been taught major leadership skills, learned how to communicate with adults, and built relationships—all skills that they can take with them and help them thrive when they become young adults. Along with what they are being taught at home, I believe CIS keeps them grounded and on the right track—not leaving any room for an idle mind, which can lead to trouble. I just love this program. Go CIS!

—Andrea Mahone, mother of Diamond and Dominique

Earlier in the year, we had a chance to sit down with Diamond and Dominique Mahone, fifth graders at King-Westwood Elementary School. These twins, once struggling with attendance, have overcome barriers and transformed into the shining stars they are meant to be. Their grades have soared thanks to their own hard work and the combined efforts of great teachers, CIS and the array of coordinated supports they receive through the community, and their loving family.
“The Mahones really value their time together as a family,” says the twins’ CIS Site Coordinator Laura Keiser. “It takes parents working with us to help kids get the most out of opportunities we offer. Their mom does whatever it takes…whether it’s filling out the necessary paperwork or taking the whole family to enjoy time together at a K-Wings game [thanks to anonymous donors for providing tickets to CIS students and families]. She embraces all we offer because she knows these resources and experiences will help her children be successful in school.” As a result, the twins “attendance is awesome this year, their behavior is focused and they are learning like never before.”

The twins each find that different aspects of CIS have helped improve their academics, behavior, and attendance. For Diamond, it’s “school supplies and clothes and my tutor, Ms. Rosalie. I’ve been working with her since third grade. She helps me with my math and she motivates me to come to school.” Diamond is also looking forward to being matched with an in-school mentor as part of the Bigs in Schools program of Big Brothers Big Sisters, A Community of Caring. [At the time of this interview, she had just been matched with Cassandra and was looking forward to their time together.]

“At CIS, we’re the tools,” explains Laura. “Diamond is the handy person who uses the tools. Last year she came to me and said, ‘I need to work with Ms. Rosalie again.’ She knew what tool she needed. She took the necessary paperwork and returned it the next day, signed. Diamond gives up her lunch and recess two days a week to work on academics with her tutor. This kid is going places. She’s quiet but determined.”

Dominique is going places too, just in a more boisterous manner. “He’s quite gregarious,” says Laura. “He’s very social and outgoing. What I really appreciate about him is that, like his sister, he perseveres and goes after what he wants. I don’t want to say he nags me but he’s good at reminding. Just today he wanted to know about his Bigs in Schools mentor, ‘Is everything set up with my Big Sister Jasmine?’ he asked.

Of the tools that help Dominique, CIS Volunteer Mr. Early tops his list. “He helps me in lots of math stuff. He’s really helped me with angles. And point symmetry. That’s when you just turn a shape upside down and it looks the same. I learned that with Mr. Early.” Other resources he appreciates and says have helped him be “the smart and funny kid I am today” include shoes [in partnership with First Day Shoe Fund], Friday Food packs [in partnership with Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes], Literacy Buddies [supported by State Farm & the Greg Jennings Foundation], and the
CIS Think Summer! program.

When it comes to improving attendance, the twins agree: the attendance club has helped. Dominique explains. “You get a folder and you color in days that you’re in school and you can get prizes from the CIS office. Ms. Emily [WMU School of Social Work intern] helps us stay on track. She helps me and other students with our attendance and always asks if we need anything.”

The twins also agree that King-Westwood Elementary School is a great place to learn and grow. Because of the support they receive, Diamond and Dominique are empowered to be their true, shining selves.

Want to know who some of their dedicated teachers are or what colleges the twins plan to attend? Their favorite school subjects? To learn more, hop over to the CIS blog, Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids, and check out their answers to the pop quiz we gave them.

Diamond and Dominique Mahone

Gracias, Pat Early

Pat Early Champ Presentation 5-31-16s (15 of 29)
Larry Lueth, CEO of First National Bank of Michigan (right) presenting CIS volunteer Pat Early with his Champ Award. CIS Site Coordinator Laura Keiser (left) and several MLK students are all smiles.

Today we highlight Pat Early, one of seven school and community partners honored with a 2016 Champ Award. His award was sponsored by First National Bank of Michigan and CIS Board member Carol McGlinn announced his award at the Champ event. Since Pat was unable to attend the celebration as he was out of the country, upon his return he was presented with his Champ award at King-Westwood Elementary School.

MLK student congratulates Pat Early on his award as First National Bank of Michigan's CEO Larry Lueth and CIS Site Coordinator Laura Keiser look on.
MLK student congratulates Pat Early on his award as another MLK student, First National Bank of Michigan’s CEO Larry Lueth and CIS Site Coordinator Laura Keiser look on.

For the past three years, Pat Early has been volunteering with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo at King-Westwood Elementary. A retired Chemical Production Coordinator for Pfizer, he tutors several hours a week. “He’s such a valuable member of our team,” says CIS Site Coordinator Laura Keiser. “I can connect him with all different kinds of kids who have various academic needs. He doesn’t back away from a challenge, and trust me, some of the kids have tested him!”

Because the students know their tutor genuinely enjoys and cares about them, they look forward to learning with Pat each week. Pat also hosts a monthly science club with fourth graders. His goal is to make science fun and hands-on. Recently, the students made lava lamps using Alka-Seltzer tablets. His demonstrations spark questions that naturally emerge as the students experience wonder.

It should come, then, as no surprise that CIS Volunteer Coordinator Kaitlin Martin turned to Pat for help with piloting Water Wizards—a collaboration between the Kalamazoo County Drain Commissioner’s OfficeKalamazoo River Cleanup Coalition, and Communities In Schools. Pat immediately hopped on board. Using the portable model Drain Commissioner Patricia Crowley purchased, Pat teaches students about water cycles and conservation.

Most recently, Pat has worked to bring in the “Birds of Prey show and tell” from the Kalamazoo Nature Center. It’s no wonder Site Coordinator Laura Keiser and her King-Westwood team are thrilled to have Pat Early on their team!

Pat couldn’t attend the celebration so we’ll close with a letter he wrote:

Buenas Noches,

Missing the Champs celebration disappoints me. Celebrating the work done by volunteers, staff and teachers reminds us to strive for the ultimate reward:  successful students. Laura Keiser, CIS Site Coordinator at King-Westwood School, gives me strategies and support to be a more effective CIS volunteer. Thank you, Laura.

I look forward to working with the students so that they learn their lessons and grow as individuals.

I am in Buenos Aires, Argentina celebrating with my daughter. She is completing a five month study abroad program through Western Michigan University. She plans to continue on to medical school. Her journey started with a curiosity to learn. She has added hours of hard work to the curiosity to be successful.

I look forward to returning to King-Westwood next week to help other students on their journey.

Gracias por el reconocimiento, (thanks for the recognition).

Adios,

Pat

Pat Early, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Checking out Pat's Champ Award! The Champ statues are created by local artist, Jon Reeves.
Checking out Pat’s Champ Award! The Champ statues are created by local artist, Jon Reeves.