Ms. Annie Brown: A Tree with Many Branches

Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we feature Ms. Annie Brown. She has been a CIS volunteer for the past three years and is the proud grandparent of Reniyah Gillam, a second grade student at Woodward School for Technology & Research.

Originally from Tennessee, Ms. Brown came to Kalamazoo in 1968 and began working at the Shakespeare Company. Most locals know this art-deco building located in downtown Kalamazoo as Shakespeare’s Pub. However, when Ms. Brown came to town, the building housed a business that manufactured and supplied fishing equipment and other sporting goods. Ms. Brown worked for the company, helping them with cars and jeeps equipment. [If you are interested in learning more about the history of this former Kalamazoo company, go here.]

Alright, Ms. Annie Brown: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

Pop Quiz

What do you love about Kalamazoo?

Kalamazoo is a special place, because there are people who LOVE to help others. I love doing things for people. I have a prayer group, I love going to church and doing reach out ministry. I go to the Tabernacle Church of God in Christ. My Pastor is Dr. Charles G. Charles.

Favorite word?

Praise Him! All the sickness I’ve been through and I’ve survived!

How did you come to be involved with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo?

I thought I came to help my granddaughter out but God was wanting me to do something else!…I guess you could say Reniyah was the seed and it just grew from there!…I was doing a little walk through of Woodward and to see how my granddaughter was doing. I saw the principal, Mr. Rocco, and said, Mr. Rocco, do you need me to do anything here? And he said, Yea! Come on down to the Communities In School’s room. So ever since, that what I’ve been doing! I’m an organizer and I love to organize things! I’ve been organizing clothes for CIS Kids’ Closet, sorting and folding. I organize items in the cabinets as part of the Loaves & Fishes food pantry we have here. I just do whatever [CIS Site Coordinator] Jen [DeWaele] needs me to do.

Ms. Annie Brown with her granddaughter, Reniyah, who enjoys school, especially reading and working at math.

Your thoughts on the volunteer work you do with Communities In Schools?

This is right in the schools, and I tell people we are here for them, we are an organization that can help people. Sometimes, people don’t know we can help or maybe they don’t like to share about their situation. Even though they might need some help, they don’t like to admit it. But we can help them by providing them with information about what we have—right here at Woodward!—that they might need. We have a food pantry, a closet of clothes, backpacks, and a whole lot of other things we can help students and their families with, like help with tutoring. They don’t always know about it so I tuck a flyer, say about the Loaves & Fishes pantry, in their backpack.

So you have been serving in this role for the past three years now? Any other insights?

Yes, it has been three years…With the children, sometimes they don’t want you to pick them out as needing help. I just spread my love and the children don’t feel so bad about needing something. And they know me. Ms. Brown, she’s Reniyah’s grandma and she works with Ms. Jen, they say, so it’s okay. Everybody has gotten used to me here so it’s easier for them to accept the help. There comes Ms. Brown! they say, once they got used to me. So I come in on my good days and help out however I can, whether it’s organizing things or connecting with a student and doing one-on-one work with them.

What are you currently reading?

I love to read and pray. Right now I’m reading Romans in the Bible.

Is that your favorite book in the Bible?

I prefer James.

Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?

My mother. She raised five children. She was the backbone of us. She was a good mother and gave us structure and balance. She instilled in us that you can be whatever you want to be. She taught us to love and also to do whatever you can do—but don’t talk about it.

Well, both CIS and the Woodward family are so grateful for all you do for kids here at the school. We can’t help but talk about what you do. You really do a lot!

I’m like a tree and I have so many branches. Hey, that’s your closing right there! That’s what we’re all supposed to be about, trees and branches, nurturing each other.

That is a good closing! Thank you, Ms. Annie, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000+ Kids.

In the next issue of the CIS  newsletter, “CIS Connections,” you can learn more about Ms. Annie and what Woodward’s Principal Frank Rocco and CIS Site Coordinator Jen DeWaele have to say about Ms. Brown!

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.

A Letter to Mr. Sindoni

Shirley FreemanToday, we hear from CIS volunteer and Bookbug staff extraordinare, Shirley Freeman. As part of the Chapel Hill/Portage United Methodist Church initiative to help students attain the Kalamazoo Promise, Shirley began tutoring at Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary School. Ten years later, she’s still at it. Two years into her volunteer service, she received specialized training from SLD Read, a nonprofit community resource serving West Michigan. Through SLD Read’s training and on-going support, Shirley is able to provide individualized, one-to-one multisensory instruction in reading, writing and spelling for at-risk readers in first, second and third grades. 

Dear Mr. Sindoni,

I often tell the story of my 7th grade year. How I was kicked off every field trip that year – generally for being sassy and talking too much. I know part of it was that we had a new boy in school, Dave Tobey, and he was a bit older and more physically mature than most boys in my class. He was a bit of an instigator and I certainly didn’t resist going along. No one who knows me now can believe I was kicked off any field trip, let alone every one.

I always think of you when telling the story because at some point toward the end of 7th grade, you called me in and talked to me about my behavior. You said that I was “going off the deep end.” I’ll never forget it. And then, the best part – at the beginning of 8th grade, you asked Dawn and me to help with something. You trusted us with a position of responsibility. Thank you. I will always be grateful for your intervention and your trust.

Shirley Freeman

Shirley Freeman with studentimg_3245

Who is your Mr. Sindoni? If you are up to the challenge of reflecting on and writing a letter to your caring adult, email it to jclark@ciskalamazoo.org and we just might publish it!

What Are CIS Volunteers Reading?

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Photo taken by Kaitlin Martin, CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator and Kaitlin LaMoine Photography

National Reading Month has us wondering, what are Communities In Schools (CIS) volunteers reading? To appease our curiosity, Kaitlin Martin, CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator asked them. Here’s what 26 of these wonderful folks who share their time and talents to benefit students throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools had to say:

 

What a great idea! I’m an avid reader myself. I am currently reading Memories by Lang Leav. She is a talented poet my friend recommended to me and I adore her beautiful poetry.

-Danielle Favorite, Linden Grove Middle School

 

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

-Jim Laurain, Maple Street Middle School

 

I just finished The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy; good story. I don’t read a lot of books because I read a newspaper every day and subscribe to two magazines, and then there is all that mail, both snail and electronic.  Also, I read stories off the Internet.

-Karen Tinklenberg, Lincoln International Studies School

People’s Church

 

I am currently reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. It is a book we are considering for our Honors College common read for next year!

-Jane Baas, Milwood Street Magnet Middle School

Coordinator of Medallion Scholars

 

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Photo taken by Kaitlin Martin, CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator and Kaitlin LaMoine Photography

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah and Tillyweed by Mary Anne Kelly.

-Jennifer Grace, Milwood Elementary

 

I just finished reading The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, which I loved even more than the movie. I am now reading salt.by Nayyirah Waheed; a book of her poems. It’s pulling on the strings of my heart.

-Tanequa “Te” Hampton, Maple Street Magnet Middle School

Pretty Lake Camp Director

 

Currently, I’m reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Once I’m finished, I plan on starting Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.

-Kailee Smith, Northglade Montessori Magnet School & Prairie Ridge Elementary

 

I finished Orphan Train by Christine Baker-Kline a few weeks ago:  interesting and heartbreaking novel based on true events between 1854-1929 depicting the lives of abandoned children from East Coast cities put on so-called orphan trains carrying thousands of them to the farmlands of the Midwest where their fates would be determined by pure luck; intermixed with a storyline set in modern day foster care.

I am now well into Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a fascinating novel about immigration, American dreams, the power of first love, and the shifting meanings of skin color. A full immersion opportunity to think outside the American box.

-Mary Reaume, Prairie Ridge Elementary

 

Photo taken by Kaitlin Martin, CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator and Kaitlin LaMoine Photography
Photo taken by Kaitlin Martin, CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator and Kaitlin LaMoine Photography

I am always reading multiple books at a time. Currently, my books of choice are:

1) The Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest by Alvin Josephy

2) I Shall Not Hate by Izzeldin Abuelaish

3) The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay & James Madison

4) The End of Nature by Bill McKibben

-Richard Thompson, King-Westwood Elementary School

 

I just finished The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline.

-Roberta Sportel, Northglade Montessori Magnet School

 

No Easy Day by Mark Owen and Cell by Stephen King.

-Lisa Holmes, Prairie Ridge Elementary

 

Just this very moment, I am on Anna Maria Island looking at the Gulf and reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

-Rosalie Novara, King-Westwood Elementary & Maple Street Magnet School

 

The Outsider by Richard Wright after finishing Native Son by the same author.

-Nanette Keiser, King-Westwood Elementary School

 

Photo taken by Kaitlin Martin, CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator and Kaitlin LaMoine Photography
Photo taken by Kaitlin Martin, CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator and Kaitlin LaMoine Photography

I belong to the International Murder Mystery reader’s group at the Portage Public Library. Our selection for this month is Night Soldiers by Alan Furst.

-Judy Riccio, Woods Lake Elementary

 

I just finished the Orphan Train which was the community read by Kalamazoo Public Library.

-Stephen Ohs, Lincoln International Studies School

 

Yesterday, I finished reading Mitch Albom’s The First Phone Call From Heaven. I am about to start reading Encountering God, written by an old friend of mine, Mark A Johnson, with a major assist from his parents.

-Dewey Walker, Prairie Ridge Elementary

 

I am reading The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant.  It is a good read and starts back in the early 1900’s about a Jewish family and their relationships and how they cope with life and world events.

-Nancy Laugeman, Prairie Ridge Elementary 

 

I am currently reading the entire series of Dune. A great sci-fi series that has great insight into life and is also a great and easy read.

-Paul Ferguson, Washington Writers’ Academy

 

Photo taken by Kaitlin Martin, CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator and Kaitlin LaMoine Photography
Photo taken by Kaitlin Martin, CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator and Kaitlin LaMoine Photography

I am reading:  Newspapers – Kalamazoo Gazette, Detroit Free Press, New York Times;  Magazines- Time, National Geographic, Military History; Books – Budapest 1900/A Historical Portrait of a City and its Culture by John Lukacs, Ardennes 1944 by Antony Beevor, and One For the Money by Janet Evanovich.  With my Bible study group I am also reading Jeremiah, the 24th book of the Old Testament.

-James (Jim) W. Smith, Woods Lake Elementary

 

A series written by English author, Jacqueline Winspear. These books are set in England and France between WWI and WWII. They are historical mysteries. The main character is Maisie Dobbs, psychologist and investigator. The storyline contains delightful characters, many of whom continue from book to book. Besides the plots being well developed and interesting, Winspear’s use of the very rich vocabulary of the English is fun to explore. My Kindle allows me to find word meaning and usage on the spot! The historical settings are well researched.

-Diana Spradling, Woods Lake Elementary

 

I received your email and thought it was an interesting project to list what CIS folks are reading.  Right now, I am reading The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean by David Abulafia. It is a fascinating history of civilization as it developed on the Mediterranean from 22000 BC to the present. It will be interesting to see what others are reading.

-Bob Spradling, Woods Lake Elementary

 

Reading Love Will Steer Me True by Jane Knuth and Ellen Knuth; and Mothers, Tell Your Daughters by Bonnie Jo Campbell.

-Amy Morris, Northeastern Elementary School

 

Right now I’m reading John Adams by David McCullough.

-Diane Tultz, King-Westwood Elementary School

 

I am currently reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and The Dogs of Littlefield by Suzanne Berne.

-Susie Knox, Kalamazoo Central High School

 

Photo taken by Kaitlin Martin, CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator and Kaitlin LaMoine Photography
Photo taken by Kaitlin Martin, CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator and Kaitlin LaMoine Photography

Dead Wake by Erik Larson—about the sinking of the Lusitania. Strangers in the Bronx by Andrew O’Toole—about the transition from DiMaggio to Mantle in the Yankee dynasties. The Wright Brothers by David McCullough—about the development of the first successful airplane. A Man and His Ship by Steven Ujifusa—about the man who conceived and supervised the building of the ocean liner “United States.”

-Wayne Connor, Edison Environmental Science Academy

 

Our Unitarian Universalist Association suggests a “Common Read” each year and People’s Church accepted the recommendation of Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative. Recently, we held a group discussion of this book and related themes. My own book club is reading The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing and we also participate in the Kalamazoo Common Read, currently The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline.

-Kay Spade, Lincoln International Studies School
People’s Church

 

Thank you for sharing! And if you missed some of our CIS staff and board members are reading you can find them here and here.