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.

Boo!

Did we scare you? No? Well then, here are a few facts about kids in America that are plenty scary.

61,423 children are incarcerated throughout the United States. It is estimated that 10,000 of those children are housed in adult jails and prisons on any given day. A number of these incarcerated kids don’t have a system of support. Jamal says that if it weren’t for his CIS Site Coordinator, he’d “be dead or in jail or in prison somewhere.” Listen to his story here.

Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for American teens. Today in the United States, 11 teens will die as a result of texting while driving. (Text while driving and you are 23 times more likely to crash.) We’re proud that two of our CIS partners—AT&T and State Farm®—have both been leaders and are at the forefront in helping combat this growing epidemic. We wrote about their effort’s in this post, It’s Never Okay.

More than 13% of children reported being physically bullied, while more than 1 in 3 said they had been emotionally bullied. Researchers have found that providing social and emotional learning programs in schools not only decreases negative behaviors like bullying, but it increases positive attitudes toward school, positive social behavior, and academic performance. At CIS, our school and community partners know this. That’s why Twelve Days of Kindness and other creative approaches to enhancing social and emotional learning often get woven into CIS after school programs throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools.

Every day, children suffer loss that can include the death of a loved one, divorce, incarceration of a caregiver, or other separation issue. One out of every 20 children aged ­fifteen and younger will suffer the loss of one or both parents. This statistic doesn’t include children who lose a “parental ­figure,” such as a grandparent that provides care. (Owens, D. “Recognizing the Needs of Bereaved Children in Palliative Care” Journal of Hospice & Palliative Nursing. 2008; 10:1) Fortunately, for over a decade now, CIS has been able to turn to Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan. In Times of Grief and Loss, Hospice is There.

More than two million kids have been diagnosed with learning disabilities. Fortunately, there are wonderful organizations like SLD Read. Our Site Coordinators love supporting this terrific partner and their exceptionally trained tutors who, through a multisensory program, help students with dyslexia, learning differences, and other reading challenges to develop lifelong language skills.

This list could go on. Our kids face challenges every day. The good news is that you can make a difference. Thank you for getting involved, whether it’s donating, partnering, or volunteering. Our 12,000+ kids need you.

It’s Never Okay

When it comes to distracted driving, young people are texting and talking behind the wheel like never before. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, fatalities involving young drivers between the ages of 15-20 increased 10% in 2015. Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for American teens. Today in the United States, 11 teens will die as a result of texting while driving.

We’re proud that two of our CIS partners—AT&T and State Farm®—have both been leaders and are at the forefront in helping combat this growing epidemic.

To keep young people safe, AT&T launched their “It Can Wait” campaign back in 2010. AT&T’s message is simple: Don’t text while you drive. They created an online virtual simulator to show how just a glance or quick response can prove deadly. To date, over 12 million people have taken the pledge to never drive distracted. You and your teen can also take the pledge by going here.

State Farm® has a Teen Driver Safety Website filled with free tools, tips, and resources designed to help teens and their parents throughout the learning-to-drive process. They also conducted a recent survey this past July. They found that over 80 percent of teen drivers (ages 16-19) have chosen to be distracted by their phones when they’re driving. Teens who have their own car were significantly more likely to participate in distracting behaviors while driving than were those who share the family car. To read State Farm’s full report, go here.

Steer your kids and young drivers in the right direction by educating them to never drive distracted. One fun way you can do this (while having free cider and donuts) is to stop down this Saturday, November 19th from 10am-12pm at Mayor’s Riverfront Park near downtown Kalamazoo. Bronson Trauma Services and the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety (KDPS) are hosting a distracted driving mock trauma simulation. West Michigan Air Care will be landing their helicopter (weather permitting), and LIFE EMS will provide a rescue simulation.

KDPS will be hosting a fire prevention event alongside the mock trauma simulation. Several exciting displays and simulations will be on site for education about fire prevention and safety, including an interactive smoke house, fire sprinkler demonstrations, a bomb squad truck, fire engines and ambulances.

Angelita Aguilar: The Champ You Want at Your Side

Angelita Aguilar (center) with Principal Valerie Boggan (right) and CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough (left).
Angelita Aguilar (center) with Principal Valerie Boggan (right) and CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough (left).

Today we highlight Angelita Aguilar, one of seven school and community partners honored with a 2016 Champ Award. Her award was sponsored by State Farm and CIS Board member Namita Sharma presented the award.

If you found yourself on a tiny boat in the middle of the ocean, no land in sight, encircled by hungry sharks—did I mention your boat is leaking?—this Champ is who you want at your side.20160517-_DSC8174

As Dean of Students for Kalamazoo Central High School, Angelita Aguilar is a calm, rock solid person others turn to for support and guidance. Approach her office and you just might encounter this common scenario: the phone ringing, several staff seeking her input, a parent waiting to ask a question, a student approaching, looking for guidance. Angelita is at the center of it all. You’ll recognize her by her attitude, always one of “How can I help? What more can I do?” You’ll also recognize her by her ears. They are the ones turned up full-volume to listen.

Angelita, her very name means messenger, angel. She lives up to her name.  She’s a down-to-earth, no-nonsense kind of person who has shrugged off her wings and hangs with students succeeding and students struggling.

She advocates tirelessly for what works for kids. Because she understands the CIS mission, she empowers students to take full advantage of the community supports and resources CIS offers at Kalamazoo Central High School.

Too often, in this noisy world, messages aren’t always received, but when Angelita speaks, kids and grownups alike listen to what she has to say.

At a parent advisory meeting, Angelita stood up and talked about the Communities In Schools’ approach and how she couldn’t imagine a Kalamazoo Central without CIS. A parent at that meeting was so inspired that, after that, she called Kalamazoo Central’s CIS Site Coordinator, Deborah Yarbrough. “I thought I knew about CIS,” said the parent. “But, Ms. Aguilar, she really knows and connected the dots for us. She explained all the supports you bring into the school. Now I want to be part of CIS. What can I do to help?”

Deborah says, “Angelita’s office is always available to assist students I’m working with. I’ll walk into her office with a student that has given up—and when we leave, these students have an academic plan and a sense of hope. I can’t imagine Kalamazoo Public Schools or Communities In Schools without her.”

We can’t either.

Angelita Aguilar, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life. 

 

Angelita Aguilar (center) with Namita Sharma and State Farm.
Kalamazoo Central High School Dean of Students Angelita Aguilar (center) with CIS Board Member Namita Sharma and State Farm Insurance Agent Ryan Smeader.