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

We Can’t Have a Strong America with Weak Kids

Hunger, by its very nature, takes bites out of academic success. When a child is hungry, it impacts that child’s ability to learn. It’s harder to pay attention to what the teacher is saying, it’s difficult to focus on reading, and to regulate behavior. A chronically hungry child is worried when and where their next meal will come from.

I had written the above words and then met Billy Shore, Founder and CEO of Share Our Strength. Actually, we didn’t really meet and Mr. Shore has no clue who I am. I was just one in the crowd when he stepped out to the podium the day after the Awards of Excellence celebration in Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s just that he was so engaging, funny, and thoughtful that I felt like we met. He said a lot of important things in his speech but what has stuck with me is this: “We can’t have a strong America with weak kids.”

In America, there are 11 million children in kindergarten through 12th grade who live in poverty. That is, as Mr. Shore pointed out, a lot of children coming to school in a state of distress, sitting at their desks “fundamentally compromised in their learning…plopping them in front of a great teacher” does not solve the problem. If anything, it is, in the eyes of Mr. Shore “setting children up to fail.”

Since 2003, here in Kalamazoo we have learned that if we can send kids home with food on Fridays, they return to school on Monday more focused and ready to learn.

Thanks to Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes, Friday Foodpacks have been one of the “tools” CIS Site Coordinators pull out of their tool box of resources to help. Just last school year, 750 elementary students received a weekly foodpack while food pantries served students in El Sol Elementary and all six secondary schools.

As third grade Kalamazoo Public School teacher P.J. Bucholtz puts it, “No amount of love in the world can fill an empty tummy.” Only food can do that. And it is only because of the efforts of Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes, Anne Lipsey, the entire KLF staff and their board that our Site Coordinators, with the support of many organizations and volunteers can get Friday Foodpacks into the hands–and tummies–of our hungriest of children. For students like Charles (not his real name), it can make all the difference.

Identified this year by his CIS Site Coordinator as someone who could benefit fromFriday Foodpacks, Charles was looking forward to receiving his pack. At the same time, it so happened his school, like many schools, was engaged in a food drive. So when Friday arrived and his Site Coordinator gave him his first ever foodpack, he informed her he was going to donate all of it to the food drive. After all, he knows what it feels like to be hungry. He is hungry a lot. Weekends especially.

She looked into eager eyes and in her wisdom said, “How about this time you pick one thing from your bag to donate? Just this one time, okay?”

He loved the idea. So, he parted with one item and then went home, with dignity and food still in his pack.

Upon hearing this story, CIS Executive Director Pam Kingery replied, “Loaves & Fishes is about feeding hungry people, but it is also about dignity.” How true. One of the hunger stories noted on the KLF website quotes someone as saying, “KLF volunteers always made me feel like somebody instead of nothing.” Our Site Coordinators and community volunteers are doing the same thing within the schools. Providing both access to food and embodying the KLF values: respect, diversity & inclusion, stewardship & accountability, integrity, collaboration, urgency, and service.

By working through us within the Kalamazoo Public Schools, Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes taps into the heart of one of our values or what we refer to as a “CIS basic”:  that all children deserve a healthy start in life. And, for one little boy, who, according to the Site Coordinator is now eating every last crumb in his pack, it spoke to another CIS basic, the opportunity to give back to peers and community.

We are thankful for the ongoing commitment of members of this community who make it possible for our children to arrive to school on Monday more focused and ready to learn. Milwood Christian Reformed Church (MRC helped pilot this program back in 2003) both carry out the foodpack distribution at Milwood Elementary and financially support this program. And when MCR volunteers Helen Anderson and Thelma Vantill go on vacation they find people from the church to step in while they’re gone. Mt. Zion financially supports the foodpacks at Northglade. Workers who are part of the MRC Industries sheltered workshop pack food into bags for Edison and Spring Valley each week. Out at other KPS schools, our kids rely on CIS volunteers like Allison Leonard (Parkwood Upjohn), Rose Blackwood (Prairie Ridge), and Cortney Afton (Lincoln) to make sure the packs get to kids in time for the weekend.

CIS Site Coordinator Leslie Poucher Pratt refers to these foodpack volunteers as “All Stars.” We couldn’t agree more.

Director of Volunteer Services, Abby Nappier, says we still need a number of volunteers to help deliver foodpacks to children within several schools. So, if you or someone you know may want to volunteer, click here.

There is, Mr. Shore reminds us, much work to be done when it comes to eradicating child hunger. Until then, we will only be as strong as our weakest child.

A version of Charles’ story first ran in Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes newsletter. You can find it here.

Committment To Hope: A Steadfast Partner Over The Years

IMG_1196Today we highlight the work of Milwood Christian Reformed Church. This faith-based partner was honored this past spring at the sixth annual Champ Celebration. (This is the eighth installment of a nine part series.)

“Giving of Ourselves and Resources in Service to Others.” That is part of the mission statement of Milwood Christian Reformed Church. For the past decade, both Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo and Kalamazoo Public Schools have seen them living that belief—in a variety of ways—with our children at Milwood Elementary School.

Most of you are probably aware of our Friday Food pack program that is made possible by our partnership with Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes and other organizations. What you may not realize is that Milwood Christian Reformed Church was instrumental in helping us develop this program back in 2003. Along with Loaves & Fishes, they worked closely with our CIS staff at the time—taking a few “field trips” to food banks and a trip to a school in Vicksburg, to learn more about a similar program already underway. What we learned from their efforts—of helping CIS deliver Friday packs to 50 Milwood Elementary students that first year—allowed us to work the kinks out. Their members  breathed life into this pilot program for our hungriest children that now, nine years later has expanded to 650 children receiving weekly food packs across 11 schools, with an additional 1,250 children served during CIS and KPS summer programming.

IMG_1183Over the years, despite leadership changes within the school from principals to site coordinators, Milwood Christian Reformed has remained a steadfast partner. Not only have they continued to support the Friday Back pack program at Milwood Elementary—both with volunteers and financially—but they have also recruited and funnelled to our Site Coordinators solid, committed volunteers who mentor and tutor children. In 2006, they went through the work and training necessary to become part of Kids Hope USA whose motto is: One Child, One Hour, One Church, One School at a time through one-on-one mentoring relationships.

CIS Site Coordinator Abby Nappier can’t say enough of the tremendous work of Jane VanTuinen, Milwood Church’s Volunteer Director of Kids Hope USA. “She works tirelessly to recruit and retain a strong core of committed individuals. Volunteers come filled with joy,” says Abby. “They show up for the same child year after year and often keep in touch with their student as they graduate to middle school.”

We could go on but we’ll leave you with the voices of children through letters they wrote to their mentors like Miss Helen, Miss Lesley, Miss Betty, Miss Sue, Miss Jody, Mr. Bob, Ms. Rose, and Grandma June. Their words are testament to the transformative power of a loving presence in a child’s life. They underscore the words of CIS founder Bill Milliken who said, “Programs don’t change kids. People do.”

Milwood Kids Hope“I really needed you this year because I needed help with math and reading. I have learned from you how to stop fighting, and I learned how to be good in class. I have learned from you how to be a good girl, good reader and I learned how to listen…You make me feel happy inside.”

“I have learned from you about math, reading, and I learned that I can be a doctor or teacher if I want…Thank you for giving me love!”

“I can tell that you care about me because you laugh with me, you talk to me, and we play games. My favorite part of Kids Hope USA was going to the farm and going on a tractor ride.”

“I will always remember you because you are part of me.”

“I really liked it when we got together and played games, and we made crafts. One time we went outside to find signs of Spring…I know you’ll always care about me…Thank you for mentoring me all these years. I love you.”

Milwood Christian Reformed Church, we thank you for helping students stay in school and achieve in life.