CHILDREN SEEKING RELIEF FROM THE STORM

Imagine. You are one of the lucky ones.

You are in the direct path of a devastating hurricane and yet, even though you are frightened, cold, wet, and hungry you manage to reach a designated shelter. It’s sturdy and well stocked. There is room for you. Once inside, you aren’t sent back into the storm for blankets and pillows, food and water. Your needs for clean, dry clothes, toothpaste, and other hygiene products, can be met here.

Now imagine this. Someone says, Sorry you’re hungry, but if you want something to eat you’re going to have to leave the shelter and round something up yourself. Lost your shoes in the storm? Too bad. Yea, it’s a shame your pants are soaked but if you want something dry, you won’t find it here. No reliable transportation to the six locations you need to go to get what you need? Don’t know what to tell you. Despite the struggle it took to get here, with the hurricane barreling down, you abandon the shelter. Crazy, huh?

Yet, that’s exactly the position we put children and their families in when we don’t offer needed supports in the safe haven of schools. We shouldn’t expect teachers and other school staff to coordinate resources and supports. They already have one of the most important jobs in the world: educating our kids. We can’t necessarily expect parents, despite all the love they have for their children, to handle it alone, either. As one mother put it, “There is no worse feeling I’ve had as a parent than knowing my child has needs but I’m not in a position to help meet them all.”

We can’t expect students to thrive in school while enduring the often unpredictable storms of life, all the while attempting to navigate the adult-sized challenges blown into their path. They can’t turn on the Kid Channel, the one with someone standing in front of a fancy map and be expected to figure out how to seek refuge from Hurricane Poverty, Category 4 Homelessness, Tropical Storm Depression, or the rumbling shock waves felt for years from the Food Insecurity Earthquake.

Fortunately, for kids throughout 2,300 schools across the country—20 of those schools within the Kalamazoo Public School district—CIS is in the schools, standing with teachers, catching students in their time of need, and along with parents, a host of community partners and volunteers, lifting them up with a net of integrated student supports we’ve woven together (and continue to weave).

Just as planning and coordination is a vital part of any emergency response, so it is for CIS work. Thanks to Kalamazoo’s commitment to integrated student services, we work closely with Kalamazoo Public Schools and our community partners so that we can deliver the right resources, to the right kids, at the right times, right in the schools. It’s this collaborative preparedness that not only provides students and their families relief from the storm, but allows students to focus and learn from their teachers.

When our most vulnerable students succeed, we all do.

Four ways you can provide relief to Kalamazoo children today:

  1. Become a volunteer.
  2. Join the CIS team. We’re hiring for a number of positions!
  3. Donate to CIS of Kalamazoo.
  4. To those of you who have advocated for a restoration of full funding for 21st Century After School Programs, thank you! Your efforts have made a significant difference. A bi-partisan measure in the House restores a portion of the 2016-17 funding levels. Congress has until December 8, 2017 to adopt a compromise funding bill between the House and the Senate for 21st Century CLC’s. Your continued advocacy for the importance of federal funding to extend the learning day for our kids is needed until there is a final adopted budget. For more information and for information on public officials to contact, go here, to the first page of the 2017 Spring issue of CIS Connections.

If you missed our post a few weeks back on the recent storms our community and CIS family has been weathering, you can read it by going here.  

Signing On For Life

Today we celebrate the work of Rosalie Novara who was honored at the seventh annual Champ celebration. CIS Board Member Stephen Denenfeld along with Stacy Salters, CIS Site Coordinator at Edison Environmental Science Academy, presented the award.

Kawyie Cooper (left) and Rosalie Novara (Right)
Kawyie Cooper (left) and Rosalie Novara (Right)

Rosalie Novara began her extensive volunteer commitment by signing on to become a mentor with the KAAAP initiative—the Kalamazoo Area Academic Achievement Program—when it was still part of the Chamber of Commerce. When Rosalie signs on, Rosalie signs on!  Not only did she embrace her role as a KAAAP mentor for the girl to whom she was assigned, she also became a key support person for the sister. Rosalie took seriously the importance of staying with her mentee from the beginning of the relationship at 4th grade throughout high school to graduation and entry to college.

When we say that there is a role for everyone in the community in improving the lives of our children and helping the whole community thrive, Rosalie sings our song. She began her volunteer stint while she was still a busy CEO of a large non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with disabilities. She could have easily been given a “pass” on volunteering. She now has six grandchildren in Chicago and Denver, another reason to be given a “pass” on a regular volunteer stint. Rosalie’s KAAAP mentee and sister are now adults and have their own children. Rosalie even served as a labor and delivery coach for one.  She has more than fulfilled her KAAAP obligation—and qualified to retire.

20140506-DSC_7635Fortunately for CIS, Rosalie is definitely not in retirement mode. Like Star Trek, the Next Generation, Rosalie has begun her commitment to another generation of children by tutoring in a kindergarten classroom at King Westwood Elementary School and serving as a mentor/tutor for two students. According to CIS Site Coordinator, Laura Keiser, Rosalie advocates for them relentlessly, implementing behavior and academic interventions. Rosalie connects easily to a variety of students, finding out what motivates them and what they are passionate about.

Whether it’s tutoring, mentoring, attending student conferences, stopping by to touch base with the CIS Site Coordinator, Rosalie understands and embraces the critical role that volunteers play in students’ lives and in the quality of life of an entire community.  In addition to volunteering with Communities In Schools, Rosalie serves a key role in the Great Start Early Childhood Action Network.

Rosalie Novara, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

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Broncos Brake For Volunteers

Carly kicks off focus group as WMU students look on
Carly kicks off focus group as WMU students look on

Apparently, seven of our CIS volunteers didn’t get the memo that it was spring break! This past Saturday, seven of them showed up to our downtown office bright and early to be part of a focus group to provide their perspective on how CIS can best recruit and support volunteers. Carly Wiggins, Director of Volunteers Services moderated the session, asking questions that had been prepared by Western Michigan University students TJ Hogan, Denise Negren, Brenna Schafer, Gabrielle Hanson, and team leader, Rachel Duelo. The college students provided coffee and donuts for the volunteers and listened in on the discussion.

Rachel’s group is one of three teams of students who are part of Diana Berkshire Hearit’s Public Relations Capstone Class. Each is developing a marketing campaign that they will present later this month to CIS. We’ve asked them to focus their efforts on helping us deepen community awareness and support for Kids’ Closet/basic needs as well as volunteers.

This is the second time that CIS has partnered up with Diana Berkshire Hearit to serve as a “client” for her students. And just like two years ago, we are appreciative of the ground work Diana does in advance of our initial meeting with the entire class. As graduates of WMU, Carly and I are particularly proud of the way these young men and women have conducted themselves and the insightful questions they have asked of us throughout this process.

Rana Shammas, Steve Stapleton, Mary Lewis, Shirley Freeman, Doyle Crow, Jager Hartman, and Rosalie Novara, we are so grateful for the volunteer work you are doing with our kids throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools. Thank you for choosing to spend some of your Saturday morning with us. We will infuse what we learned from you into our work. We (not to mention some of our 12,000 kids) are already better for having you in our lives.