Finding His Voice

LennyThis article about Lenny was featured in the latest issue of our newsletter, CIS Connections: Graduation Beginning with the End in Mind. You can read the full issue here.

Lenny Williams has always been soft spoken. “He’s wasn’t disruptive,” Gulnar Husain explains. “In fact, he was quite the opposite. Quiet and introverted, he had a habit of shutting down and being off-task. He didn’t listen or follow directions. His academics suffered because he just wasn’t applying himself. He is a very sweet boy but he just wasn’t living up to his potential.”

So when Lenny’s then kindergarten teacher, Michelle Hiller, referred him to CIS, one of the first things Gulnar Husain did was connect him with a tutor.

Lenny believes tutoring as well as a number of other supports have helped him move in a positive direction during his time at Arcadia Elementary School. “Ms. Gulnar gives me things that have helped me be better in school, things I need, like foodpacks, coats, shoes, boots, and gloves.” It’s these basic supports, along with tutoring, that have allowed Lenny to be ready to learn every day from the dedicated teachers he’s had throughout his elementary years.

Ask Lenny who his favorite teacher is and he can’t pick just one. He’ll tick them off one by one, from kindergarten to fifth grade, but try and nail him down to one or two and he can’t do it. “Arcadia just has really good teachers,” he explains.

Cindy, America Reads Tutor, with Gulnar Husain and Lenny.
Cindy, America Reads Tutor, with Gulnar Husain and Lenny.

A loving family and great teachers, along with community support funneled through CIS is helping Lenny realize his potential. “He’s really blossomed and he has confidence now,” says Cindy Kesterke, Lenny’s former America Reads tutor. “It’s great to see and I’m excited for his future.”

“You think I’m persistent?” Gulnar laughs. “Lenny is one of the most persistent people I know. That’s because he’s anxious to learn. Always polite with his requests, this persistence extends beyond himself. He’ll even stop by the CIS office and advocate for his younger brothers to also receive CIS support. Because of the tremendous support he’s received from the school and the community, Lenny came to the decision that he needed to turn things around. Once he decided he wanted to do better, things naturally began to fall into place.”

Lenny describes it this way: “I just thought I should get better grades, so I started behaving myself. I used to always get referrals for not listening. I decided for myself to work hard and get good grades.”

Lenny’s looking forward to attending middle school and building on what he learned at Arcadia. “I’m going to do good and them I’m going to college,” he says.

Read more in our in our newsletter, CIS Connections: Graduation, Beginning with the End in Mind.
Read more in our in our newsletter, CIS Connections: Graduation, Beginning with the End in Mind.

 

Volunteer Newsletter An Hour A Week: January 16

Pat Early, CIS Volunteer Photos were taken by Kaitlin Martin, CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator, and of Kaitlin LaMoine Photography
Pat Early, CIS Volunteer
Photo taken by Kaitlin Martin, CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator, and of Kaitlin LaMoine Photography.

Pat Early is in his third year volunteering with students at King-Westwood. I met with Pat at Water Street Coffee Joint for a brief interview.

Volunteer Services: Has volunteering always been a part of your life?

Pat: Yes. It starts with my parents. I helped my dad take supplies from the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) to Fort Custer as a kid. My mom was involved with church activities-I hooked up with the Red Cross at fourteen to send care boxes to soldiers in Vietnam. As an adult, I worked for Loaves & Fishes seven years, but there are many people I help just on my own, without an organization. Volunteering has always been a part of me in one way or another, and I try to instill [the love of it] in others-you’d be surprised what you get out of volunteering. What a reward, after retiring, to give back.

VS: What type of activities do you lead with students? What’s your interest in those activities?

Pat: The number one thing is to make sure students show up to school every day. I tell them how much I enjoy having them there, how important it is. Encourage kids to read read read. I run a monthly science club with 4th graders. They have 2-3 terms to learn and 1 principle to understand. Those are the takeaways. The goal is to make science fun and hands-on. Recently, we made lava lamps. The base in Alka-Seltzer tablets, reacting to water, and giving off carbon gas, was the principle. Density was one of the terms. Water Wizards, a prototype and curriculum purchased by Pat Crowley, the Kalamazoo Country Drain Commissioner, is another program I run. I just worked to bring in the Birds of Prey show and tell from the Nature Center (see above). The kid’s loved that!

Staff from the Kalamazoo Nature Center came to this 4th grade classroom at King-Westwood Elementary School to offer a Birds of Prey show & tell. Photos were taken by Kaitlin Martin, CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator, and of Kaitlin LaMoine Photography
Staff from the Kalamazoo Nature Center came to this 4th grade classroom at King-Westwood Elementary School to offer a Birds of Prey show & tell.
Photo taken by Kaitlin Martin, CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator, and of Kaitlin LaMoine Photography.

VS: What’s your interest in science?

Pat: I worked at Pfizer for 35 years, so there’s that. But I come from the philosophy that the Earth doesn’t belong to us, we belong to the Earth. I feel strongly about showing up and lending support-at the very least listening and being informed. It’s our job to actively take care of our environment. It probably came out of the hippie movement to care about the planet. That logic sunk into me! (laughs).

VS: What is a challenge you’ve faced?

Pat: I’ve grown and learned how to not do the work for the kids, but to help them do their own work and accept that we might get less work done but they’re learning. I’m getting better at encouraging them to take ownership over their own learning.

VS: What is the most rewarding aspect of volunteering for you?

Pat: The pay! The pay is the kid’s look forward to being with me, and I look forward to being with them. We care about each other. They share their concerns with me, and their joy. We have a relationship where there’s a give and take. I give credit to everyone involved-CIS and school staff, the cafeteria staff and playground helpers; they encourage the kids every day and encourage me just by witnessing it. Raising kids is a daunting task, but it pays off big time.

“Pat is truly committed to supporting students!  Not only does he tutor several hours a week, he is a rare tutor who can connect with all different kinds of students.  He doesn’t back away from any challenge, and trust me, some of these kids have tested him!  He genuinely enjoys and cares about each student, and that makes them look forward to learning with Pat each week.  Pat makes learning exciting for his students by bringing his own passions and interests to the table.  He hosts monthly science lessons, engaging students in fun and meaningful curriculum that really helps kids understand and connect with the world around them. We are thrilled to have Pat Early join our team for the 3rd year in a row!” –Laura Keiser, CIS Site Coordinator at King-Westwood Elementary

Thank you, Pat! For everything you do for students and everything you bring to Communities In Schools. We are so grateful to have you as one of our all-star volunteers.