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.)

 

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