Walking Their Talk

CIS Board Member Rex Bell congratulating representatives of Stryker employees Megan Bland (center) and Heather Maurer on their Champs award.
CIS Board Member Rex Bell congratulating representatives of Stryker employees Megan Bland (center) and Heather Maurer on their Champs award.

Today we highlight Stryker®Employees. This CIS business partner was one of eight organizations and individuals honored  at the annual Champ Celebration.  CIS Board Member Steve Powell, along with Maureen Cartmill, CIS Site Coordinator at Woods Lake Elementary: A Magnet Center for the Arts, presented the award. 

The Employees at Stryker Instruments have been supporting local students in a number of ways over the past several years. As part of the Stryker “Amazing Race” event in the fall of 2013, Stryker employees raced around the City of Kalamazoo to collect school supplies, which were donated to CIS Kids’ Closet. Kids’ Closet provides items of new clothing, school supplies, and personal care items to students in CIS supported KPS buildings.

School-supplies-from-Stryker1-300x225We had the good fortune of meeting one Stryker employee in particular at the Amazing Race event, Quay Eady. Quay made a commitment to volunteer for the 2013-14 academic year at Milwood Elementary School. During that time she tutored and mentored several 4th grade girls in the CIS After School program every Tuesday and Thursday. On average, she gave 4-5 hours of her time each week. She also volunteered at several school events, serving dinner to families at the Family Movie Night, and supporting the end of school picnic for CIS after school students at Milham Park.

This past fall, the employees in the Stryker Instruments Service Call Center took on a challenge of collecting 500 school supplies for the CIS Kids’ Closet. They met and exceeded their goal. These supplies were then distributed by CIS site teams to students who needed them. Around this same time, CIS was approached by Service Operations Leader Greg McCormick with a very generous offer: a group of 8-10 Stryker employees committing to volunteer for an entire year with CIS. When asked how they wanted to volunteer their time, Greg replied, “we’ll do whatever you want us to do.” Greg has been leading “Champions for Change,” a group of twelve employees who want to have a positive impact on students in Kalamazoo.  They help students with their homework in the CIS after school programs at both Milwood  and El Sol Elementary Schools. Every Wednesday, volunteers from the group arrive ready and willing to help students with solving math problems, learning spelling words, or reading a book.

Stryker-employees-collecting-for-ClS-Kids-ClosetAnd if that wasn’t enough, twice a month nine CIS students fromKalamazoo Central High Schooltake a van to Strkyer as part of the Bigs in Business program done in partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

One of the five CIS basics is that every child needs and deserves a marketable skill to use upon graduation. “Stryker employees, through Bigs in Business, exposes students who would not otherwise have this opportunity,” points out Deborah Yarbrough, CIS Site Coordinator at Kalamazoo Central. “The students really look forward to this. These ninth graders are making connections beyond themselves by working one on one and in small groups with the employees. It’s motivating them. They are taking more initiative and responsibility—whether it’s getting homework turned in or chores done at home.”

Over the course of getting to know these men and women who are partnering with CIS in numerous ways, we couldn’t help but notice how Stryker employees, in their service to students, live out the very values that are core to their business: Integrity: We do what’s right. Accountability: We do what we say. People: We grow talent. Performance: We deliver. What a great message this sends to our young people.

Stryker® Employees, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Click here to watch Alisandra Rizzolo and Megan Bland on The Lori Moore Show. Both are Stryker employees and  part of the Champions for Change volunteer group at Milwood Elementary.

Water Wizard In The School

CIS Volunteer Patrick “Pat” Early with student
CIS Volunteer Patrick “Pat” Early with student

Since the fall of 2013, Patrick “Pat” Early has been volunteering with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo at King Westwood Elementary. Currently, Pat tutors and mentors four boys, two days a week for 2.5 hours, giving a total of 60 hours to CIS during 2014.

Pat is a retired Chemical Production Coordinator for Pfizer, which means that science is a large focus for him. When we asked him if he wanted to join us in piloting a new program called “Water Wizards”—a collaboration between the Kalamazoo County Drain Office, Kalamazoo River Cleanup Coalition, and CIS—he immediately hopped on board. The program involves using a portable model to demonstrate how the water cycles works and how man-made structures (like parking lots) disrupt or prevent this process from taking place. The model is about four feet by two feet and comes with a bog, houses, trees, a parking lot, and a river that runs the length of the model. When the parking lot is placed over the bog, the water floods the houses and landscape. The model not only teaches students about water conservation, absorption, and evaporation, but also demonstrates ways to manage the land and water in sustainable ways that prevent run off, flooding, and other damages.

All four boys value spending time with Pat. They consistently comment on how funny he is. Pat works to help them develop sustainable strategies for completing schoolwork or taking tests. For example, looking for the answers in the book helps with test taking but also forms a solid study habit.

Pat also attempts to impart life lessons in a subtle way. By asking how a student’s day is, and dealing with any problems together, Pat helps students take ownership of their lives and also become accountable to those around them. He works to engage them with other kids so they see themselves as leaders, rather than passive recipients to their own learning. He does this by being willing to negotiate with kids so they’re part of the process rather than just told what to do. His style of interaction invites students to join, to set their own goals, reach those goals, and celebrate with rewards upon completion.

By empowering students to participate in setting their own guidelines, he’s also teaching lessons on creating structure, time-management, and other qualities that pave the road for sustained self-esteem and self-growth.

CIS-Volunteer-Pat-Early-at-school-300x225One of the main ways Pat achieves these goals is by cultivating curiosity—specifically about science. He states that his objective isn’t to get into the nitty-gritty mechanics of any scientific experiments, but rather to generate a spirit of investigation. He uses very simple experiments—such as separating oil and water, showing the differences between a solid, liquid, and gas, or demonstrations with dry ice—to spark those questions that naturally emerge when we experience wonder. Those questions are the jumping off point either for classroom discussions now or those questions might resonate years from now when students encounter more of the nuts and bolts of science.

One obstacle that wasn’t anticipated was being prepared to help students. Pat told CIS Volunteer Services, “I needed to know what their needs are and how I can help them.” For Pat, this requires not having a pre-conceived idea of what kids need but being present and listening to what the problem is. Being genuine, engaged, and willing to help with whatever comes up.

Another obstacle Pat encountered was learning to set limits with his volunteer time. Finding balance and learning to say no to certain projects was necessary so he didn’t burn out and so the time he was able to give was quality time.

Pat is a patient communicator and always bends the conversation toward mutual understanding.Those who encounter Pat comment on his friendly and approachable nature. His enthusiasm and curiosity jump off him in even the simplest interactions. As Laura Keiser, CIS Site Coordinator at King-Westwood Elementary puts it, “Pat greets every tutoring experience with contagious positivity and energy that charms even the most reluctant students into learning. He connects readily with students, gently and calmly guiding them toward more effective self-monitoring. We are so thankful for Pat’s contribution to our community at King-Westwood!”

In addition to his volunteer work with CIS, Pat makes the time to rake roofs, shovel snow, and make homemade soup for two senior neighbors as well as volunteer at Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes events.

Pat Early was nominated within the “Adult Volunteer” category for the STAR awards. Special thanks to CIS Volunteer Services for their assistance with this and the recent post on Literacy Buddies, nominated within the “Youth Group Volunteer” category. The final STAR winners within each of the 14 volunteering categories can be found here.

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Partners on a Solid Footing

shoesToday’s post is written by Donna Carroll, Director of Health Initiatives. Heather Haigh, Executive Director of First Day Shoe Fund originally ran this piece in their Fall 2014 newsletter.

Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) and First Day Shoe Fund (FDSF) go back a long way. In early 2000 Valerie Denghel was a tutor at Edison Environmental Science Academy with CIS. Valerie noticed that many of the children she saw at the school didn’t have appropriate shoes for school. So Valerie began buying shoes for one child at a time. Valerie went from buying shoes for individual children to creating the First Day Shoe Fund. CIS has partnered with FDSF since its beginnings to help identify children in need of shoes and to create the infrastructure needed to get the shoes onto little feet.  In 2005 CIS and FDSF partnered to distribute 160 pairs of shoes. This Fall we worked together to distribute 1,654 pairs of new shoes to students.

Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo has been serving  students in Kalamazoo Public Schools since 2003.  Our mission is to surround students with a  community of support empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.  We are part of a nationwide network of passionate professionals  working in public schools to remove barriers that get in the way of student success, smoothing the path toward graduation.

We work to connect the right resources to the right students at the right time. CIS works closely with Kalamazoo Public Schools to reach those students most in need of services, many of whom live below the poverty level and face significant risk factors.

shoes2This year CIS will serve 20 Kalamazoo Public Schools, including 15 schools that will offer after school programming under 21st Century grants. We think of our site coordinators, who head up our site teams in the schools, as the bridge that connects community resources to students in the buildings. Site coordinators work to bring resources available to the whole student body (what we call Level One services) as well as having a caseload of between 50 and 75 students who receive more targeted services such as individual tutoring, mentoring or counseling, based on an assessment of the student’s needs. The site coordinator leads a team that might be made up of a VISTA, a social work intern or a health intern.

CIS values the partnership we have with First Day Shoe Fund. The FDSF focus – of providing new shoes to children in Kindergarten through third grade to ensure that children have both the physical comfort of correctly sized shoes and the sense of pride and belonging that comes with having appropriate footwear to start the new school year – meets a basic need. New shoes are one of the many pieces of the puzzle that fit together to help all of our children achieve the Promise.

Champs Among Us

(Left to Right) Ming Li, Dean of the College of Education and Human Development, Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, Mayor of Kalamazoo, Bobby Hopewell
(Left to Right) Ming Li, Dean of the College of Education and Human Development, Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, Mayor of Kalamazoo, Bobby Hopewell

Upon leaving our seventh annual Champ Celebration, held last week at Cityscape, one of our almost 200 guests said, “Everybody in town should experience Champs!”

We agree. Our CIS board and staff had a great time hosting the event and we want to share with everyone what these nine individuals and organizations are doing to help kids stay in school and achieve in life.

So, in the weeks and months to come we’ll introduce you to each of them. You’ll be able to read what our various presenters said about their efforts and thanks to CIS volunteer, Don Kingery, you’ll be able to see what guests saw (and missed!) through his photographic lens.

Dr. Michael F. Rice, Superintendent, Kalamazoo Public Schools
Dr. Michael F. Rice, Superintendent, Kalamazoo Public Schools

And, because we’ve had numerous requests to publish the speech given by our youngest Champ ever—fifth grader Kawyie Cooper—we’ll post her speech next Tuesday. According to Kathy Jennings, editor of Southwest Michigan’s Second Wave, Kawyie “stole the show with her words of what being named a Champ meant to her.” You can read the entire article here. And, if we can convince some of our other Champs to guest blog for us, we’ll publish their reflections here as well.

Today, though, we’ll leave you with a list of our award winners. And then, take a moment to click on the “Dear Kalamazoo” video below that first aired during the event. This video was created because throughout the 19 KPS schools that CIS is currently in, we have a number of grateful students (not to mention parents and teachers) who wanted to take the opportunity to say thanks and give shouts out to their own Champs.

Special thanks to all of our CIS Site Coordinators and CIS Site Team members (Assistant Site Coordinators, Youth Development Workers, VISTAs, and interns) who provide the infrastructure to support the hundreds of marvelous volunteers and community partners who work with Communities In Schools and the Kalamazoo Public Schools to help kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Our 2014 Champs:

Kawyie Cooper, 2014 Champ
Kawyie Cooper, 2014 Champ

Terri Aman, KPS Executive Supervisor for Transportation

RSVP through Senior Services Southwest Michigan, CIS Nonprofit Partner

Jay Gross, KPS Home School Community Liaison, Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts

Consumers Credit Union, CIS Nonprofit Business Partner

Rosalie Novara, CIS Volunteer Tutor, King-Westwood Elementary School

Radiant Church, CIS Emerging Faith-Based Partner

Kawyie Cooper, CIS Student, King-Westwood Elementary School

Carol Steiner, KPS Principal, Parkwood Upjohn Elementary School

And this year’s recipient of the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award:

Barbara Witzak, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Services for Kalamazoo Public Schools

So, please, keep up with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids to discover the Champ experience. We think you’ll agree it’s not just a one day event!

Carolyn H. Williams, President, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo Board
Carolyn H. Williams, President, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo Board

Pop Quiz: Hailiey From Spring Valley Center For Exploration


IMG_2192Today’s pop quiz features Hailiey Houser, a fifth grader at Spring Valley Center for Exploration. She has been involved with CIS for three years now and is featured within our latest CIS Connections newsletter which you can read 
here.  Alright, Hailiey, pencil out. Here we go!

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I’m in Read 180 and it’s really great. Right now, we’re learning about how to stop bullies and stand up for ourselves. Some school have formed anti-bulling clubs, the kids will make posters, hang them around the school. We’re talking about what we want to do in our school when it comes to bullying.

What are you currently reading?

Right now I’m reading Writing Freedom. It’s about a girl whose parents get in an accident and they pass away. She ends up finding a horse she loves. I think this story is interesting because it’s about animals and a mystery at the same time. I also love the Percy Jackson series. I’m on The Son of Neptune, the first book in the second series.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I have the Kalamazoo Promise® so I want to go to either Michigan State University or Western Michigan University. I plan to be a writer, doctor, a vet, a singer, and a teacher. I love little kids.

What is your favorite word right now?

Fantastic. 

You said that quickly, without blinking an eye.

Well, it’s been my favorite word for the past five years.

Will you share with us something that has been on your mind lately?

Seeing my dad for my birthday. Since he lives in Tennessee I don’t get to see him often. 

Behind every successful student is a caring adult.  Who is one of your caring adults?

My mom, my step-dad, and my dad…They have gotten me through really tough times. Also, my math teacher, Mr. Smith and my Read 180 teacher, Ms. Krzebietke, or “Ms. K” as us kids call her. They are both great. And Ms. Martha because she’s helped my family a lot, especially this year.  She  got me involved in College Club, Girls on the Run and the Writer’s Workshop where all the people—especially Ms. Molly, help me with writing. Ms. Molly has been with me all this year and she helped me write my first book, The Powerful Mouse which I dedicated to my family and friends! [Hailiey holds up her book.] Oh no! I just now noticed the mouse is missing a leg! [She laughs, then sets the book down.] I’m working on my second book now called The Connection. It’s about a girl who is a vet, finds a dog without a tag, and develops a relationship with him.

Thank you, Hailiey!

IMG_2196While you can read ”All the Write Moves” in the current CIS Connections newsletter, in which Hailiey and her CIS Site Coordinator reflect on the academic success Hailiey is experiencing at Spring Valley Center for Exploration, we’ll end today’s post with a portion of the interview that you’ll only find here at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids… 

Hailiey is keenly aware that she must work hard now to prepare herself not just forLinden Grove Middle School come fall, but for college. “Going to college is important,” she points out. “That way, you can have a good life and get a good job. Since Ms. Martha got me involved in the College Club I have written a letter to Michigan State. They wrote back and sent me a banner, a packet of things I need to know to prepare for college. Did you know that you have to stay in college for a certain amount of time, depending upon what type of job you are looking to do? I also learned that you also have to write well to do well in college. Every Wednesday at recess time I do the Writer’s Workshop. I work closely with Ms. Molly. I do the work but she has been there all this year to help me. I’m also doing Girls on the Run again. I first did it in 3rdgrade and I have a medal at home for running the 5K we do at the end of the program. Girls on the Run is about running but it’s also about meeting new people and making new friends. I did a good job with that, so I’m looking forward to it again. Ms. Martha also helped me get to Pretty Lake Camp last year and I’ll also be going there again this summer. Last year, a turtle peed on my shoes and luckily I made some good friends because one of them had an extra pair of tennis shoes I could wear. That was good because my shoes smelled something awful.”

Pop Quiz: Andrew From Spring Valley Center For Exploration

IMG_2188I recently sat down with Andrew Hedgpeth, a second grader in Mrs. McCurley’s class at Spring Valley Center for Exploration. He is also in his second year with the Writer’s Workshop, a program run by a group of CIS volunteers. As Andrew explains, “Every Wednesday during recess time about five of us meet in the library and work on our books. The first time that I started doing this, I knew [CIS Site Coordinator] Ms. Martha put me in the perfect place. I love to write and have been doing it for a long time now.” Andrew has authored three books so far and dedicates his latest, Twice the Basketball, “to my family and my cousin Ethen.” The book begins and ends with Andrew eating a hotdog. “I really like this ending,” Andrew says and then with a laugh, adds, “Hotdogs, too!”

Alright, Andrew: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

You can write about anything you want to write about when it comes to writing. I have written about basketball, a type of vegetable, and the first book I ever wrote was about monster trucks. I’m part of the writing workshops where we do a lot of things to make books and so I’ve written about a lot of things. I write books in my class also. Writing is one of my favorite things to do.

What are you currently reading?

Books about aliens and interesting things like that. In fact, I wrote a book called Alien Invasion. I wrote it all by myself with no helping.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I will go to the one my mom went to.

What college is that?

I can’t remember but I’ll definitely go there. See, I want to be a professional book writer. I will write about funny things and send them to my friends and family and they will send them on to their friends and families so a whole lot of people will read my books.

What is your favorite word right now?

Just one word?

IMG_2189
Illustration featured in Andrew’s book, Twice the Basketball

That’s kind of hard for a writer to think of just one word isn’t it?

Yes it is!

Well, then, what are a few of your favorites?

Aliens, monster trucks, basketball, lions, and horses.

Will you share with us something that has been on your mind lately?

Playing my last game of basketball. I am undefeatable.

Behind every successful student is a caring adult. Who is one of your caring adults?

My mom, my dad and some of my family. They help me spell words and do those kind of things to help me be a good student. My teacher, Mrs. McCurley, and my classmates all care too. And all the writing workshop people. Ms. Martha, too.

We Can’t Have a Strong America with Weak Kids

Hunger, by its very nature, takes bites out of academic success. When a child is hungry, it impacts that child’s ability to learn. It’s harder to pay attention to what the teacher is saying, it’s difficult to focus on reading, and to regulate behavior. A chronically hungry child is worried when and where their next meal will come from.

I had written the above words and then met Billy Shore, Founder and CEO of Share Our Strength. Actually, we didn’t really meet and Mr. Shore has no clue who I am. I was just one in the crowd when he stepped out to the podium the day after the Awards of Excellence celebration in Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s just that he was so engaging, funny, and thoughtful that I felt like we met. He said a lot of important things in his speech but what has stuck with me is this: “We can’t have a strong America with weak kids.”

In America, there are 11 million children in kindergarten through 12th grade who live in poverty. That is, as Mr. Shore pointed out, a lot of children coming to school in a state of distress, sitting at their desks “fundamentally compromised in their learning…plopping them in front of a great teacher” does not solve the problem. If anything, it is, in the eyes of Mr. Shore “setting children up to fail.”

Since 2003, here in Kalamazoo we have learned that if we can send kids home with food on Fridays, they return to school on Monday more focused and ready to learn.

Thanks to Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes, Friday Foodpacks have been one of the “tools” CIS Site Coordinators pull out of their tool box of resources to help. Just last school year, 750 elementary students received a weekly foodpack while food pantries served students in El Sol Elementary and all six secondary schools.

As third grade Kalamazoo Public School teacher P.J. Bucholtz puts it, “No amount of love in the world can fill an empty tummy.” Only food can do that. And it is only because of the efforts of Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes, Anne Lipsey, the entire KLF staff and their board that our Site Coordinators, with the support of many organizations and volunteers can get Friday Foodpacks into the hands–and tummies–of our hungriest of children. For students like Charles (not his real name), it can make all the difference.

Identified this year by his CIS Site Coordinator as someone who could benefit fromFriday Foodpacks, Charles was looking forward to receiving his pack. At the same time, it so happened his school, like many schools, was engaged in a food drive. So when Friday arrived and his Site Coordinator gave him his first ever foodpack, he informed her he was going to donate all of it to the food drive. After all, he knows what it feels like to be hungry. He is hungry a lot. Weekends especially.

She looked into eager eyes and in her wisdom said, “How about this time you pick one thing from your bag to donate? Just this one time, okay?”

He loved the idea. So, he parted with one item and then went home, with dignity and food still in his pack.

Upon hearing this story, CIS Executive Director Pam Kingery replied, “Loaves & Fishes is about feeding hungry people, but it is also about dignity.” How true. One of the hunger stories noted on the KLF website quotes someone as saying, “KLF volunteers always made me feel like somebody instead of nothing.” Our Site Coordinators and community volunteers are doing the same thing within the schools. Providing both access to food and embodying the KLF values: respect, diversity & inclusion, stewardship & accountability, integrity, collaboration, urgency, and service.

By working through us within the Kalamazoo Public Schools, Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes taps into the heart of one of our values or what we refer to as a “CIS basic”:  that all children deserve a healthy start in life. And, for one little boy, who, according to the Site Coordinator is now eating every last crumb in his pack, it spoke to another CIS basic, the opportunity to give back to peers and community.

We are thankful for the ongoing commitment of members of this community who make it possible for our children to arrive to school on Monday more focused and ready to learn. Milwood Christian Reformed Church (MRC helped pilot this program back in 2003) both carry out the foodpack distribution at Milwood Elementary and financially support this program. And when MCR volunteers Helen Anderson and Thelma Vantill go on vacation they find people from the church to step in while they’re gone. Mt. Zion financially supports the foodpacks at Northglade. Workers who are part of the MRC Industries sheltered workshop pack food into bags for Edison and Spring Valley each week. Out at other KPS schools, our kids rely on CIS volunteers like Allison Leonard (Parkwood Upjohn), Rose Blackwood (Prairie Ridge), and Cortney Afton (Lincoln) to make sure the packs get to kids in time for the weekend.

CIS Site Coordinator Leslie Poucher Pratt refers to these foodpack volunteers as “All Stars.” We couldn’t agree more.

Director of Volunteer Services, Abby Nappier, says we still need a number of volunteers to help deliver foodpacks to children within several schools. So, if you or someone you know may want to volunteer, click here.

There is, Mr. Shore reminds us, much work to be done when it comes to eradicating child hunger. Until then, we will only be as strong as our weakest child.

A version of Charles’ story first ran in Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes newsletter. You can find it here.

Pastor Gets Real With Young Men

_DSC0843Today we highlight the work of Pastor James Harris. He was honored this past spring at the sixth annual Champ Celebration.  (This is the six installment of a nine part series.)

These days, the road to becoming a man is fraught with peril. The statistics are frightening. Throughout our nation, boys are suspended at roughly twice the rate of girls. Two-thirds of the Ds and Fs given out in school go to boys. Boys are one-third more likely to drop out before finishing high school. African-American males are particularly vulnerable; one in five receives out-of-school suspension compared with one in ten white males.

So when Principal Lisa Van Loo and some of her Kalamazoo Central Staff were reviewing student data and noticed young men with patterns of missing school, skipping classes, academics slipping—clear warning signs that these students were at risk of dropping out—they knew they needed to do something. But what? Principal Van Loo turned to her CIS Site Coordinator Deb Yarbrough who suggested a Men’s group. Researchers have learned from dropouts themselves that one thing that might have kept them in school was if they had someone within their school they felt comfortable talking to and seeking guidance for problems they facedoutside of the classroom.

This men’s group needed the right person for the job, but who? And then Deb thought of Pastor James Harris. As the former CIS Site Coordinator at Edison Environmental Science Academy, Deb had seen first hand the way in which kids had been transformed under his volunteer work as a tutor. So she approached him, and his response? “Let me round up a few others.” He recruited Chris Pompey and Thomas Taylor, III and took them to the CIS Connections training for volunteers.

_DSC0210In the meantime, Deb started meeting with each student to connect them to the group. “It’s no use,” some of them told her. “I’ve messed up too badly. What’s the point? The Promise isn’t for kids like me.”

“Just come once,” she said. “Promise me that.” And they did. Again and again. James and his team are surrounding these young men with love, speaking to each, as Nelson Mandela says, “in his own language, that goes not to his head but his heart.” So Deb wasn’t surprised, when one Thursday, Pastor James dragged a bag of trash into the group. “What’s this?” he asked the young men. “Trash,” they said. “You sure?” he replied. The young men realized that they couldn’t be sure, not until they searched through it. Turns out, mixed in with all that trash was a 100 dollar bill Pastor James had tucked inside an envelope. The lesson learned that day? Despite missteps along the way, value resides inside each of them and they do not need to throw their life away. Pastor James says humbly of his team, “We’re just here to remind them we’ve had those moments too. And we still have those moments. These young men need to know they can make a difference in their lives and they will go on to make a difference in others’ lives.”

_DSC0254-EditOnce skipping school, some on the verge of dropping out, seeds of hope are taking hold in these young men. All eight have improved their attendance and are passing their classes. They are staying in school, setting goals for their future, attending job fairs, arranging and going on college visits, talking about leaving a legacy. When their Site Coordinator asks them how it is going, they now say things like, “I want to be a better role model for my little brother. I’m doing better. I’m on time for class.” “I’m learning what it means to be a man, a father.” “The Men’s group has inspired me to be a better person. They lead me to do the right things. They really inspire me to do my best.” “I’m getting better grades and have eliminated my bad habits.”

“The men’s group,” writes Dariyon, “has pushed me to explore my interest in public speaking.” Dariyon is about to embark on something he once thought impossible, an internship with a radio station.

“I’ve changed,” says Elijah. “I barely went to school. They have motivated me to come back. They inspire me…I’m thinking I might go to Western after I graduate.”

We too have been inspired by James Harris, his passion for young people, his support of students from elementary to high school, his wisdom in bringing other committed volunteers—men like Chris and Thomas to the table, and his willingness to stand up to the silent epidemic that threatens the bright futures of our young men right here in Kalamazoo.

Pastor James Harris, we thank you for helping students stay in school and achieve in life.