Volunteers In Service To America

Today is Mayor and County Recognition Day for National Service. Some of you might recall helping Mayor Bobby Hopewell kick off the first ever day of recognition back on April 9, 2013. That morning, as Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo staff and AmeriCorps VISTA gathered on the steps of City Hall, we were excited to partner with Mayor Hopewell, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), The Spirit of Kalamazoo, and New World Flood and its founder, Todd “TJ” Duckett. We celebrated college spirit and gathered college gear for students in Kalamazoo Public Schools. A friendly competition quickly ensued to see which Michigan public college or university could offer up the largest number of contributions during this one hour only event. As community members and downtown business folks like Jen Ward, owner of The Station, visited City Hall to drop off donations, the excitement grew.

We can’t recall which college or university won that day. It doesn’t matter as the real winner that day was our kids. And our 12,000+ kids continue to be the ultimate beneficiaries of VISTA support throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools.

As the nation’s mayors and county officials increasingly turn to national service as a cost-effective strategy to address local challenges, it’s worrying that the the President’s budget proposal calls for the elimination of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), which administers AmeriCorps. It’s distressing that this vital federal agency that helps millions of Americans improve the lives of their fellow citizens through service is on the chopping block. (In 2015, the Corporation for National and Community Service leveraged an additional $1.26 billion dollars in outside resources to increase their nationwide impact. That’s even more than the federal investment.)

(Some of our current and former VISTAs, from left to right) Pamela Tate, Brenda Morris, Nicholas Baxter, Katie Pearson, Abby Schulze, Terra Mosqueda, Donielle Hetrick, Stephen Brewer, Stacy Salters, Samantha Pennington, and David Hamilton.

Kalamazoo AmeriCorps VISTA members, past and present, we thank you for helping expand CIS’s capacity to meet student and school needs. Thank you for being part of the solution to help students stay in school and achieve in life!

Did you know that VISTAs commit to a full-time year of service and receive a stipend which is set just above the poverty level? In addition to the stipend, VISTAs are eligible to receive an educational award at the completion of their year of service. Each VISTA is assigned to work as part of a CIS site team in two schools. CIS is grateful to those past and present VISTAs who have chosen to serve their country through AmeriCorps. Currently, CIS has five citizens serving as Volunteers In Service To America (VISTAS) throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools. If you see them, take a minute and thank them for their service:

Pamela Tate, Brenda Morris, Samantha Pennington, Stephen Brewer, and David Hamilton.

Over the years, our VISTA’s have worked closely with their CIS Site teams in a variety of ways. Click on the links below to find out how VISTAS working with CIS make a difference in the Kalamazoo Public Schools.

Our VISTAS…

are silent giants in the school. Former VISTA Laura Longwell reflected on her service at El Sol Elementary School and Hillside Middle School. You can read it here.

work with CIS partner Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes to keep food pantries stocked and support Friday Food Backpacks.

help organize CIS Kids’ Closet to make sure kids have the basics like clothing, hygiene, and school supplies, so they can focus on learning.

promote a college-going culture throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools.

make memories, working through the summer months with CIS Think Summer to prevent summer slide and assure that students have a safe summer filled with fun and learning.

share talents and passions. Nicholas Baxter, who recently completed his AmeriCorps VISTA service, spent his Thursday lunchtime supporting Arcadia students interested in reading, writing, and learning about poetry.

get kids off to a great start. VISTAS helping CIS organize the pencils, notebooks, backpacks, and many supplies local businesses, faith-based groups, service organizations, and community members generously donate so kids start the school year with the basics they need to succeed.

…and more.

Thank you VISTAS (past and present) and thank you, Corporation for National and Community Service, for your support!

(And if you’d like to check out some fun photos and news coverage from Kalamazoo’s 2013 Recognition Day for National Service, click here.)

 

New World Flood Filling the World With Love

New World Flood founder Todd “TJ” Duckett surrounded by students at CIS Transformative Youth Summit
New World Flood founder Todd “TJ” Duckett surrounded by students at CIS Transformative Youth Summit

Over the next few months we will be introducing you to our award winners honored at our recent annual Champ Celebration. You won’t want to miss these special installments to our blog. Today, we officially kick this series off with New World Flood, one of eight organizations and individuals honored with a Champs award. Moses Walker, CIS Board Member and Lauren Longwell, Lead AmeriCorps VISTA (based at Washington Writers Academy) presented the award. 

Presence is a powerful change-agent. Presence combined with a downpour of passion is unstoppable. That gets to the heart of our next Champ, New World Flood. This partnership, which started four years ago began, as most floods do, with a single drop: supporting students in the CIS Think Summer Program. Loy Norrix graduate and New World Flood founder Todd “TJ” Duckett rained hope, kindness, and passion upon our kids during a family barbeque picnic.  He spent time connecting, listening, taking pictures with the kids, and talking about the importance of school and learning.

New World Flood has kept right on raining—through fall and winter, and summer after CIS Think Summer. Showering support by speaking to over hundreds of CIS Think summer students to conducting student focus groups, co-facilitating discussions for a young men’s empowerment group, to reflecting with young men on the value of service and giving back at the past two CIS Transformative Youth Leadership Summits.

Artrella Cohn and Todd Duckett at Champs
Artrella Cohn and Todd Duckett at Champs

Artrella Cohn, CIS Director of Secondary Sites says this about the founder of New World Flood. “TJ has always been the biggest man on campus, in personality and celebrity. Despite all the glory and attention he receives, he is just the same as he ever was—humble and approachable.” Artrella should know. When both were students at Loy Norrix, she literally cheered for him on the sidelines through four seasons of basketball and one season of football. Artrella, who then went on to U of M, admits she stopped cheering when Todd played for MSU, but she picked right back up again when he was later drafted by the NFL. “One of his greatest gifts,” says Artrella, “is that he has a way of making people feel important. He makes time for people, particularly our youth. Loy Norrix is our home and the students are always on his radar. He’s always asking, “What more can I do? How can I give back?”

Todd-at-Summitt-300x198For the past several years, New World Flood has promoted literacy alongside CIS as part of the First Saturdays at the Kalamazoo Public Library. One grandmother confided, “We only came to the library so the boys could meet Mr. Duckett.” And here, we thought it was our catchy flyers. “Do you think he’d let me take a picture of him with the boys?” she asked. Todd politely obliged to this common refrain and after the cameras went away, he was in deep conversation with the family. Soon, both boys were checking books out of the library.

When CIS AmeriCorps VISTAs, charged with promoting a college going culture, organized a Ready, Set, College! event for the first Mayor’s Day of Service, Todd’s organization flooded city hall with college gear from his alma mater, MSU. VISTAs and their site teams were then able to distribute these and
other college items to grateful graduating seniors, many who would be the first in their family to attend college.

Flood-KM-11-300x199And, on the day before Thanksgiving, you will find Todd Duckett championing the hungriest children in the very halls he once attended as a student: Parkwood UpJohn Elementary School. Along with Parkwood’s Principal Robin Greymountain, CIS Site Coordinator Jody Sikkema, and others he welcomes families to the High Five Turkey Drive and helps them gather up a turkey and a grocery bag full of all the fabulous fixings for a Thanksgiving dinner. This year, CIS Site Coordinators and their site teams were able to identify 200 families who, were it not for the generosity of New World Flood, would have little, if anything to eat. This distribution was just part of New World Flood’s larger effort to ripple beyond the boundaries of Kalamazoo and into Lansing, this year reaching over 800 families.

 

Champs-20151-300x213
CIS Board Member Moses Walker congratulating Todd Duckett on New World Flood’s Champs award.

“People,” Todd reminds us, “are in need all over and we have an opportunity to take care of a few of them, if just for one day.”

New World Flood, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

 

And if you missed Todd Duckett and Artrella Cohn on the Lori Moore Show (or if you saw it but just want to watch it again), click here, to watch.Todd-Duckett-and-Lori-Moore-300x225

 

That’s Me When I Used To Be A Grown Up

Volunteers (not all pictured) gathering to carry out First Saturday at the Kalamazoo Public Library. Every KPS secondary site in which CIS has a presence was represented by student volunteers and CIS staff who turned out for this February’s First Saturday @ KPL.
Volunteers (not all pictured) gathering to carry out First Saturday at the Kalamazoo Public Library. Every KPS secondary site in which CIS has a presence was represented by student volunteers and CIS staff who turned out for this February’s First Saturday @ KPL.

Volunteers (not all pictured) gathering to carry out First Saturday at the Kalamazoo Public Library. Every KPS secondary site in which CIS has a presence was represented by student volunteers and CIS staff who turned out for this February’s First Saturday @ KPL.

“That’s me when I used to be a grown up,” explained Donna Carroll’s grandson, 3 1/2 year old Malcolm, when he saw a picture of Malcolm X on the cover of a book his mom, Ursula, was reading.

How powerful when a child sees himself reflected in another, when we see ourselves in each other.

For many of our young people feeling like they’re part of a larger whole comes from a sense that they’re connected at the larger community level. But how can young people make this connection?

Volunteering is a great way to challenge ourselves and put ourselves on a path of meeting new people. For young people, it’s a chance to gain valuable experience, learn about themselves, interact with people they might not otherwise meet, and explore career interests.

Did you know that teens who volunteer are less likely to become pregnant or to use drugs, and are more likely to have positive academic, psychological, and occupational well-being?  According to Child Trends, other positive outcomes include development of greater respect for others, leadership skills, and an understanding of citizenship that can carry over into adulthood.

An opportunity for students to give back to peers and their communities is one of the five CIS basics.  Our young people are giving back every day. Here’s just one recent example.

Loy Norrix Senior Tiara Blair helps put event bracelet on one of the littlest partiicpants.
Loy Norrix Senior Tiara Blair helps put event bracelet on one of the littlest partiicpants.

In partnership with  the Kalamazoo Public Library, The Kalamazoo Promise® and New World Flood,  Communities In Schools hosted February’s First Saturday at the downtown Kalamazoo Public Library. Free and open to the public, the event welcomes families with their young children to enjoy stories, activities, guests, and door prizes. CIS partnered with the library last year to host one of their First Saturdays and it was a great experience for all involved. But Artrella Cohn, CIS Director of Secondary Sites (and lead for CIS  for organizing First Saturday events) felt something was missing: our older students. “This event,” she said, “is a perfect opportunity for students in our secondary schools to give back.” So, this year, the missing piece to the puzzle was complete. With support from CIS staff, AmeriCorps VISTAs,  wonderful KPL librarians, and New World Flood’s Todd “TJ” Duckett, thirteen middle and high school students volunteered. They ran five different literacy stations throughout the library: Read to Me, Scavenger Hunt, Spelling Bee, His & Her Story Station (writing their own stories), and Fantasy Station (which involved picking an item out of a basket to help build upon a collective story).

Artrella Cohn, CIS Secondary Site Director, reviews with volunteers how the literacy stations will work.
Artrella Cohn, CIS Secondary Site Director, reviews with volunteers how the literacy stations will work.

“Seeing the middle and high school students in action truly warmed my heart,” said Artrella Cohn, CIS Director of Secondary Sites and organizer of the First Saturday’s event. “The presence of the WMU Students added to the whole ‘reach back and give back’ message that I envisioned for this event. There were middle school students who were signing in, and with smiles on their faces asked, “There are 11th and 12th graders here to volunteer too?” I could visibly see our high school students—who are already mature young ladies—really jump into their role when they realized that there were older high school students and college students involved. Wearing WMU gear, Carmelita Foster and her team of college volunteers stood out in a real way for those of our students looking to successfully complete high school and obtain that Kalamazoo Promise®.”

“This event ran like a well-oiled machine because the youth volunteers knew where they fit. These young people took ownership of their stations,carried out fun learning activities and served as positive role models for the little ones.”

Todd Duckett, of New World Flood
Todd Duckett, of New World Flood

Colleen Marie Deswal, mother of one of those little ones wrote, “My son Teddy participated in his first story time! He volunteered and stated that the dog wiped his nose with the kleenex since that was his prop in the circle. I was shocked he understood what was going on and added to the story since he is only 2 1/2. Was an amazing moment in time. Glad you all are doing these types of events for the community. One reason I moved back to Kalamazoo is the wonderful community involvement.”

We may be stepping out of Black History Month into March, but many of our young people will continue to give back and make good choices, like choosing to give up their Saturday to volunteer. In giving back, they make history, and our future.

“I see myself in the future of these young people,” reflects Artrella. “It’s a beautiful cycle.”

Do you recognize yourself in our youth? If you do, despite what your mother told you, it’s okay* to point your finger. Point proudly at our young people and say, Yea, that’s me…when I used to be a grown up.

 

*sometimes

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

What’s In A Name

Don’t let April slip away without writing a poem. It’s poetry month after all. Not sure how to start? Be a part of building our group poem on facebook or try your hand at a “My Name Is” poem. Don’t think too hard, just fill in the blanks by writing the word or phrase that comes to mind:

Today my name is ________________________. Yesterday my name was ______________________. Tomorrow my name will be ___________________. In my dream my name was ____________________. My _______ thinks my name is ________________.

Below is Donielle Hetrick’s version of a My Name Is poem. Donielle is an AmeriCorps VISTA with CIS and has been working out at Linden Grove Middle School and Northglade Montessori Elementary School since October 2012. She completed the poem as part of a warm-up exercise we did as part of VISTA training last week. Stop down to City Hall today between noon and one and you can meet Donielle and our six other AmeriCorps VISTAs who will be with Mayor Bobby Hopewell and former NFL player and Loy Norrix graduate, TJ Duckett, for Ready, Set, College! For one hour these folks will all be sharing the same name: “one who is collecting college gear for students soon graduating from high school.”

My Name Is

Today my name is drank expired milk for breakfast.

Yesterday my name was lover of pj’s.

Tomorrow my name will be sunshine lady.

In my dream my name was henchman #3.

My grandma thinks my name is Katie, Pat, Deb, Donielle.

What’s your name? Who will you be tomorrow?