Susan Knox: Doing Her Part to Create a Community of Hope

Today we highlight Susan Knox, honored with a 2017 Champ Award. Her Champ award was sponsored by Greenleaf Trust. CIS Board member and Kalamazoo Promise Board Member Dr. Janice M. Brown presented the award.

A child’s success in school and life often hinges on the opportunity to have a one-on-one relationship with a caring adult. It’s one of the five CIS basics, something every child needs and deserves. This relationship can make the difference between a student staying in school or becoming one of the 1.2 million students who drop out of school each year. Since the Fall of 2010, Susan Knox has been that caring adult for many of our high school students, particularly those struggling academically.

When Susan, a chemical engineer, retired from Pfizer, she sold her house and car, and moved downtown. “I wanted to start volunteering,” she said, “to contribute to something I felt passionate about. I picked up a pamphlet about volunteering and circled the ones I thought I could do.” We’re forever thankful she circled Communities In Schools.

Susan, on right, with CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough.

She has been a CIS volunteer at Kalamazoo Central for seven years now. Regardless of the weather, she catches the city bus and week after week, year after year, shows up consistently for our kids. “Suzie’s passion to serve students goes far beyond what is expected of any volunteer,” says CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough. “She’s willing to adjust her schedule to accommodate the needs of both our students and staff.

Her flexibility has allowed CIS to connect her with the students who need her most. She provides academic support to student one-on-one and in small groups. She’s worked with students during study hall, after school, and during the lunch hour. While she primarily focuses on math, she’s willing to tutor in other subjects. “No French or Spanish,” she says, “but I’ll give everything else a try.”

Susan and Kalamazoo Cental student taking a break from tutoring to smile.

Smart, compassionate and humble, Susan credits her success with students to the support she’s received along the way. “CIS gave me the training I needed to be successful. I learned how to do things and just as importantly, what not to do.” She refers to CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough and CIS Success Coach Jenna Cooperrider as her “CIS bosses…They aren’t bossy, though,” she says. “Because they know the students so well, they give me insight into what the students need from me. They’re role models. I watch their interactions and it helps me figure out what I should do, what I should tolerate or not tolerate when it comes to behaviors. They coordinate with each other and give me the support I need so I can support the student.”

“Volunteering,” someone once said, “is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.” Through her rock solid and steady support, Susan is creating a community of hope, one in which all children can fulfill their promise.

Susan Knox, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

To My Dear CIS Family

Antasia Fareed (left) with her CIS Site Coordinator Elnora Talbert at Champs 2015
Antasia Fareed (left) with her CIS Site Coordinator Elnora Talbert at Champs 2015

To My Dear CIS Family,

One of the highlights at our recent Champs event: the closing remarks offered by Antasia Fareed. On behalf of students served by Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS), Antasia thanked everyone for their support. “Whether you know it or not,” she told the audience, “you are part of my CIS family.” She spoke from her heart, moving the crowd to tears and receiving a standing ovation. A number of you who were present requested we print her speech here at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. Antasia spoke without a written script but she agreed to try and capture the essence of what she shared with the audience.  Indeed, we all felt embraced by this daughter of CIS and hope you will too when you read what she has to say.

Dear CIS Family,

Hi. My name is Antasia Fareed. I am a Loy Norrix High School student. I am an 11thgrader, soon to be a senior. I have been working with CIS for about 11 years. What would I do without them?

When I needed clothes, they provided them. When I needed food, they gave that to me as well. I am so blessed to have this opportunity to have a second family. Like family, they provide for me. They give me a smile when I’m not confident in myself. I have been in this program since second grade and look what came out—a beautiful, confident woman.Antasia-at-podium-241x300

I never thought I could get this far but CIShas pushed me. When my grades slipped, they helped me bring them back up. That’s the main reason why I’m standing here before you with a 3.2 GPA. I never believed I could do it, but I did.

CIS means a lot to me. CIS grows children and I’m proof. To me, the “C” in CIS means carry, the “I” is improvement, and the “S” is society. As students, we want to carry ourselves with dignity. We should be prepared to help improve things when they are messed up, and I believe we will become equals as a society.

CIS has made me powerful and helped me become a leader. That’s why I will be an ambassador for Kalamazoo as I have been awarded a scholarship that will allow me to travel to our sister city in Japan for ten days this summer. That’s a great leadership opportunity. Mrs. Elnora, my CIS Site Coordinator, pushed me to get my stuff in as she believed that I could get the scholarship. And I did. I may have only known her for just one year, but it feels like forever. We always see eye to eye. I’m her helper and she’s mine. I always tell her to stop and breathe.

I’m just so glad that CIS was there for me and will continue to be there for me.

Thank you.

Antasia

Elnora-Antasia-JCO-300x200

Caring Adult: Olivia Gabor-pierce

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Nicholas Baxter, about to embark on his AmeriCorps VISTA journey with CIS, is seen here, taking his Oath of Service.

It’s time again to think back to when you were young and in school and recall that caring adult you felt especially connected to. Maybe it was in elementary school, or perhaps it was middle or high school. Who is that special person, who, even after all these years, you still carry within your hearts?

Members of the fabulous CIS team at Edison Environmental Science Academy have been taking up the challenge and sharing their caring adult. You’ve read about Principal Julie McDonald’s, CIS After School Coordinator Stacy Salters‘ caring adult. As I was preparing to run the post on AmeriCorps VISTANicholas Baxter’s caring adult, he informed me that he didn’t have a caring adult in his elementary or high school years and “so I chose the most attractive elementary teacher I had and although I do remember her being nice and, well, memorable she is not my most caring adult. I don’t recall anyone being a caring adult until college…”

NickSo, here now is Nick’s reflection about his real caring adult…

At Western Michigan University I had a German professor named Olivia Gabor-Pierce. She was the first person I ever met who spoke four languages and wrote books. She was incredibly intelligent and challenged our intellects inside and outside of class. We thought critically about the language we were learning; she loved that.

Throughout my entire college career she was always the professor who was able to ground me in a few words. No matter what was going on or how stressful things were, her caring, open, and loving demeanor instantly calmed life around us. She was the first person who ever truly pushed my abilities beyond what I thought possible, she saw things in me I never was able to see.

Nick leading students in a “Keep the Lights On After School” chant he wrote.
Nick leading students in a “Keep the Lights On After School” chant he wrote.

She told me I must go to Bonn.  “You must go to Bonn,” she said. It became a meta mantra that was engrained in my subconscious until I actually did go and realized a whole new perspective on life. Because of her heart always being open to her students, my eyes were opened to the world and for that I thank her and believe she deserves the spot of my caring adult.

Nicholas A. Baxter, AmeriCorps VISTA