Thank you for being part of our community of support and tuning into our message from Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo Executive Director, James Devers.
Today, April 15th, we intended to come together to celebrate the 13th year of honoring those in our community of support that are champions for kids. We have a wonderful group of community members being honored this year.
Although we can’t celebrate with you today, please know we are grateful for each of you.
We look forward to celebrating together on October 6th.
Thank you to our sponsors of this year’s Champs Celebration for your kindness and understanding.
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 CIS volunteer Gary Heckman, who is also a 2019 Champ recipient. [If you didn’t get a chance to read about the great work Gary is doing with middle school students, click here for that post.]
Upon retiring three years ago as the plumber, electrician, and steam operator for Manchester University, this grandfather of four has plunged himself into a new campus of learning as a CIS volunteer at Milwood Magnet Middle School.
CIS Site Coordinator Missy Best has come to rely on him and says the students have, too. She says he is “an irreplaceable part of the team.” Gary modestly says, “I do a little bit here and there.” One of the biggest “little bits” he does is supporting students academically by serving as a push-in tutor for Ms. Alexandria Hopp’s strategic math class and Ms. Jamie Ottusch’s seventh grade science class.
Gary grew up in rural Indiana, twenty miles northeast of Fort Wayne, near the tri-Lakes. As he puts it, “Only preachers and teachers had degrees in my town that was not even really big enough to be a town.”
Alright, Gary: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
How did you become involved volunteering with CIS?
When I retired, I wanted to do something in the schools. I did research and found that CIS is the way to do it. [In “retirement,” Gary still works two days a week doing building inspection services for Oshtemo and Coopers Townships.]
What insights have you gained about kids from volunteering?
The other day with the students, we were sitting around the table having a conversation about tides and oceans and stuff. I learned a number of the kids here haven’t been to the Great Lakes, haven’t gone 40 miles from their home. They just haven’t done stuff like that. It’s bothersome how poverty creates a lack of opportunity for kids.
I’ve also noticed how some of the toughest kids are the ones whose moms have band-aids and candies in their purses. They keep their kids going. Their moms really support them…I know there are a lot of dads and grandpas out there and I’d love to see more of them volunteering in the school. These kids, particularly the boys, could benefit from greater male involvement.
Twenty Minutes in Manhattan. The author, Michael Sorkin, is an architect talking about his daily walk to work; it’s all very deep into city history and the architecture he encounters during this twenty minute walk.
Once every year or two, I’ll read some fiction, but nonfiction is what I enjoy reading most.
What is your favorite word right now?
That’s a new one! Nobody has ever told us that is their favorite word!
I’m doing a blower door test on a house tonight.
I have one foot in the building trades and one foot in academics. [He chuckles.] As a former plumber, electrician, and steam operator at a small college, I also have a degree in sociology, which is, as I say, the dismal science. It’s the study of social problems and yet, you don’t do anything about it.
But you are doing something about it.
[Nods head affirmatively.] I guess that’s right.
Where is one place in Kalamazoo you love hanging out?
The Air Zoo. I have a membership—the grandparent plus two—and love going there. I wish I could take all the kids there!
Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?
I have a couple of mentors, Tom and Jim. One taught innovation and entrepreneurship, and the other heads an award engineering firm. Also, growing up, I had two Kens who I’d consider mentors.
What characteristics would you say these mentors have in common?
They saw the real world, they had broader views, patience, and innovation. Every one of them could get things done. I should add that I have had some moms and ladies in there, too, who have been caring adults and influenced me. One of my teachers as well as the neighbor mom next door. She was elegant and even though she never went to college she was all about education.
Anything else should we know about you?
I was not a strong student in middle school. And yet, here I am! [CIS Site Coordinator] Missy makes this volunteer experience fun. She intentionally works hard at this, and supports us, knowing that volunteering can sometimes be frustrating.
It’s not necessarily easy work, is it?
That’s right. But I’m enjoying it. I like working with the kids. Missy and [CIS After School Coordinator] Shannon [Jones] are wonderful and the teachers and principal are all great to work with, too. Principal Mark Tobalski is terrific and really provides strong leadership for the school.
Thank you, Gary, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.
School is about to start and our kids need you. Consider becoming a volunteer today. To learn how you can help, go here.
As Senior Architectural Project Coordinator with TowerPinkster, Jennifer Swan’s work schedule makes it difficult for her to volunteer on a weekly, consistent basis. Yet, she wanted to help kids stay in school and succeed in life. She came up with a creative solution and developed the Swan Snack Emporium which supports CIS Kid’s Closet. True to her name, Swan is helping children connect with their inherent beauty and value by giving kids the basics they need to stay in school and learn with dignity. Swan Snack Emporium received a 2019 Champ award and earlier this summer we featured that here.
Today we bring you a conversation Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids had with this creative CIS volunteer (which originally ran back in 2017.)
Since 1953, TowerPinkster, a design firm, has been creating vibrant places for people to live, work and play. As you know, TowerPinkster has received a number of awards. TP was named one of the “101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work for in the Nation” (National Association of Business Resources). TP was also awarded “Best Firm to Work For in the Nation” (ZweigWhite). From your perspective, what makes TP the best and the brightest?
What I think makes us the best are the people. We are like a family. We have two offices, in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, and although it’s a little harder these days—we’ve added quite a few new people to both offices and I don’t get up to the Grand Rapids office as much as I used—we used to know everybody and know everything that everybody is doing.
TowerPinkster is a family culture and we have a lot of fun. It’s not just coming to work. It’s coming in to work with your friends, what seems like brothers and sisters, more often than not. It’s a great environment and we have a ton of fun here.
What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?
I learn something every single day with my job. There are always new things happening in the construction industry, whether it’s new process or new people you work with. There’s not just one thing that I can give you that is something that I’ve learned because I learn every day on my job. Every single day I learn from contractors and learn from the construction managers on the project site. I learn from project managers here, even our interns that come in who know the new tech stuff that I don’t know, so I’m always learning.
What are you currently reading?
While I don’t have time to sit down and read a full book right now, I get on the internet and I read a lot of blogs and news articles.
Besides Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids, what are your ‘go-to’ blogs?
The type of blogs I turn to are ones that I can learn new things related to my work and to learn how other people are doing things so I can make myself better and faster at my job.
What is your favorite word right now?
My favorite word right now is strength, not like muscle strength but strength as in being a woman in a male-dominated field. You have to have a lot of strength and tenacity to go on job sites and be with a lot of men that are very experienced in the construction industry. I don’t build stuff, but I know how stuff is supposed to go together. It’s being able to hold my own on job sites and here in the office. I mean, the guys here are great and they’re very, very easy to work with and nobody’s ever like, You’re a girl and you don’t know what you’re doing. But it’s important to always have an understanding of what you’re talking about.
What’s your story behind getting into this line of work?
I think I got into this line of work because of my mother. When she was growing up, she and many women of that time were taught that women could be a secretary or go into teaching. I think she always wanted to be an architect because she was always, always sketching house plans at home. My dad was in the construction industry and in the summer he sometimes would take me with him and I would get to go to a construction site. I was always very interested in the construction architectural field just being around that growing up. So when I was in high school I took some drafting classes and just fell in love with it all.
I didn’t go to be an architect because growing up my family we didn’t have a lot of money so I didn’t go to U of M or any of the big colleges for that. I chose a smaller school—Baker College—as they had an architectural technical program.
What is something you love about Kalamazoo?
There’s so much to do! I come from a really, really, small town called Langston. There’s a party store, a church, and an ice cream place. So to come to Kalamazoo and there are restaurants, bars, festivals, and so many things to do and just so much to pick from…it’s wonderful!
Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?
My mom is definitely 100% my caring adult. She supports me with everything I do. I grew up in a single family household. My dad left when I was 11 or 12 so my mom raised my brother and me. She had a really strong work ethic and would work late nights and weekends because she was the only income that we had. She worked really hard and I pride myself on being like my mom because, like her, I have a very strong work ethic. Her being a single mom and raising two kids by herself; it’s just always been an inspiration to me. If she can do that, then I can do anything.
Jennifer, thank you for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids!
School is about to start and our kids need you. Consider becoming a volunteer today. To learn how you can help, go here.
At the 12th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Gary Heckman was honored with a 2019 Champ Award which was sponsored by Humphrey. CIS Board Member Rex Bell presented the award and Milwood Magnet Middle School’s CIS Site Coordinator Missy Best and CIS After School Coordinator Shannon Jones were on hand to congratulate Gary.
Upon retiring three years ago as the plumber, electrician, and steam operator for Manchester University, this grandfather of four plunged himself into a new campus of learning as a CIS volunteer at Milwood Magnet Middle School.
Gary Heckman has rolled up his sleeves and gotten to work: helping students build positive relationships with adults, building their confidence, and developing their curiosity as to how things work. CIS Senior Site Coordinator Missy Best says Gary has quickly “become an irreplaceable part of the team, sharing his time, talents, and tools to help both students and staff.”
“I just do a little bit here and there,” Gary modestly says.
One of the biggest ‘little bits’ Gary does is serve as a push-in tutor for Ms. Alexandria Hopp’s strategic math class and Ms. Jamie Ottusch’s seventh grade science class. A champion of hands-on activities, Gary’s been known to dig into the tool box he’s carted into the school, extracting baking soda, vinegar and cups, magnets and paperclips, and popsicle sticks to reinforce the classroom learning.
Missy says his enthusiasm, positive attitude, and sense of humor has endeared him to students who look forward to his visits each week. One of those students, Areona, says “Mr. Gary has a way of helping me understand math. He’s patient and kind.”
So what are some of the ‘smaller bits’ he does at Milwood Magnet?
When CIS partner Family Health Center pulled up to the school in their dental van, Gary was there, assisting the site coordinator by escorting students to and from their scheduled dental appointments. Another day, CIS After School Coordinator Shannon Jones tapped Gary to help with an upcoming STEM project that involved soldering a drone.
Another ‘bit’ involved helping to hang a bat house in the school’s courtyard. He used a clamp system he devised to safeguard the building. And while he was at it, he built a post for the school’s bird house.
Here’s one final ‘bit.’ He’s in the hallway, noticing a student struggling in a “worn out, beaten up wheelchair that was too large for her.” Later, he connects with Lucinda Stinson, Executive Director of Lending Hands. Thanks to their joint efforts, the student now has a brand new wheelchair, complete with foot rests that Gary adapted to comfortably fit the student.
Construction is a team effort. Along with CIS staff, Principal Mark Tobolski and teachers like Ms. Hopp and Ms. Ottusch, Gary is sharing his expertise and empowering students to build their academic success.
Gary Heckman, thank you for helping kids stay in school and succeed in life.
At the 12th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Dedrenna and Isaiah Hoskins were honored with a 2019 Champ Award which was sponsored by Miller-Davis Company. CIS Board Member Terry Morrow and CIS Site Coordinators Carol Roose and Laura McCoy presented the award.
Terry: One of Isaiah Hoskin’s favorite writers, Dr. Seuss, wrote: Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.
Fortunately, for our kids at Washington Writers’ Academy, Isaiah and his mother, Dedrenna Hoskins care an awful lot. For almost a decade, this mother and son have been volunteering through CIS. For years, their work initially entailed distributing Friday Food Packs, made possible thanks to our partnership with Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes. Each pack the Hoskins delivered held enough food to cover breakfast and lunch for a child during the weekend when other food options can be scarce.
And when summer rolls around, the Hoskins do not slow down. Oh, the places they’ll go! Our kids can count on them to tow food packs to and fro during the CIS Think Summer Program.
When Washington Writers’ recently transitioned to the food pantry model and their Food Packs were discontinued, the Hoskins did not miss a beat.
Carol: That’s right! During the school year, Dedrenna, a Quality Operations Technical Associate for Pfizer, heads straight from work to tutor students, assisting them on classwork, homework, math, reading, spelling, you name it. She’ll seek guidance from us, to help meet both the emotional and academic needs of the students she serves.
Oh, and she also has expanded her impact to even more children by serving on the CIS Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council.
This year, Isaiah happily transitioned to making and bagging popcorn that is sold as a fundraiser to support the boys’ basketball team. And while his duties may have changed, what hasn’t changed is the way in which Isaiah takes up his work. He does so with absolute joy, practically skipping into the school each Friday.
Laura: A man of few words, Isaiah continues to speak to the students he serves through his actions. By showing up week after week, year after year, he is a powerful role model, sending a compelling message: this is what dedication, responsibility, and hard work look like. This is what caring and kindness looks like. And because he does his work with such joy, he’s showing our kids that good feeling you get when you choose to give back to your community. He’s also taught all of us that you don’t give up, even when things get difficult. A few years back, when his mother became seriously ill for a time, Isaiah made the trek to school alone to make sure students got their food packs.
We can tell you first hand that being a site coordinator isn’t easy. However, knowing that we can count on the Hoskins makes our job just a little less daunting.
Terry: We are all so grateful that this mother and son choose to team up each week for kids. Dedrenna & Isaiah Hoskins, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.
During the 2018/19 school year, volunteers from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Southwest Michigan visited the CIS After School program at Hillside Middle School. Over the course of the multi-week program, students learned about different building structures and were guided through the process of designing and building their own architectural structure. They drew up their designs and then, using Legos, created miniature versions of their designs.
Nadine Rios-Rivas, an architectural associate with Byce & Associates, Inc., organized and served as the Public Awareness Co-Chair for the AIA Southwest Michigan. The team of volunteers introduced and explored careers in architecture with the students. “The AIASWM has decided to focus its awareness efforts on the future of Kalamazoo,” Nadine said. “It was a privilege to mentor and engage local students we hope to plant seeds of interest in higher education.”
Students named and briefly described their work. Below are the statements made by the students whose final products were displayed in the Radisson lobby during the 2019 Champs Celebration.
Chaneayl (age 11) 6th Grader
I wanted to build a huge multi-level home. I wanted to make it BIG! I choose the black and red colors because they are my favorite colors.
During the project, I had fun learning about other buildings.
Ciara (age 12) 7th Grader
“Ciara’s Family Suite”
I choose to build a big hotel suite. I designed a pool with a water slide that goes in and out of the building. It also has a basketball court and Ping-Pong room.
During the project, I had fun using my imagination and being creative.
Malikai (age 14) 8th Grader
“Mausoleum of the Emperor”
I was inspired by my card game that I like to play. It sounds historic and I thought it was pretty cool.
During the project, I had fun using my hands to build things.
Kazaria (age 11) 6th Grader
I designed a big hotel that you can eat for free. It has a water slide, game room and gym that is open 24 hours a day.
During the project, I had fun learning to put things together along with playing with Legos for the first time.
Amira (age 12) 6th Grader
“The Fun Fantastic Hotel”
I incorporated some of my favorite stores; Red Lobster (red), donut shop (pink), and a water park.
During the project, I learned that you can build whatever you like.
Jade (age 12) 7th Grader
My design is my dream house. I would like to live in a mansion with a basketball court, go-cart track and pool.
During the project, I had fun sketching my ideas for my dream house.
At the 12th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec,the Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council (VLAC) was honored with the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award, a recognition established last year by the Husain family to honor Gulnar’s long-time contributions to Communities In Schools and the community.
Gulnar immigrated from Pakistan in 1981 and for more than 38 years, she dedicated herself to volunteer work throughout the community of Kalamazoo.
The award recognizes a CIS volunteer who emulates Gulnar’s desire to serve children with a consistent and unflinching passion. [To learn more about Gulnar, read this post, “A Good Life.”]
Arcadia Elementary School Principal Greg Socha and CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator Nicky Aiello presented the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award, sponsored by the Gulnar Husain Legacy Fund.
Principal Socha: I had the honor of working with Gulnar Husain for the last six of her 14 years with CIS. As the CIS Site Coordinator at Arcadia she worked persistently, quietly, often invisibly behind the scenes for children. So too does this team of 11 CIS volunteer leaders who make up the Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council.
Meeting monthly and working closely with the CIS Volunteer Services team advising CIS on such things as volunteer recruitment and retainment, this group of volunteers has helped transform the volunteer process. Because of their collective work, the on-boarding of new volunteers is smoother and new volunteers feel more supported throughout the entire process.
In addition to their advising role, the council members have taken on additional responsibilities such as mentoring new volunteers, assisting and leading volunteer orientations, shoring up recruitment efforts by representing CIS at various recruitment opportunities, and planning volunteer events.
Nicky: The 11 VLAC members are: Jeme Baker, Chartanay Bonner, Jashaun Bottoms, Pam Dalitz, Theresa Hazard, Moises Hernandez, Dedrenna Hoskins, Rollie Morse, Richard Phillips, Howard Tejchma, and Marti Terpstra.
They have taken up this advisory work while continuing to remain committed and passionate about their own volunteer work in various CIS sites throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools. Each of these individuals shares their gifts and time in a variety of ways. And each, in their role on the council is truly a leader. Among other things, these leaders are planters. As a collective, the Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council plants ideas and seeds of change. They help CIS serve children more effectively by helping to plant volunteers in the paths of our children. And then they help CIS figure out ways to nurture, grow, and sustain these volunteers.
Principal Socha: Gulnar Husain’s vision stretched beyond a lifetime. She was one of the best “people gardeners” I’ve known. Throughout the school day and often well into the evening she was busy planting seeds of hope, love, and justice. She would be delighted that you are receiving this special recognition.
Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council, thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.
Each volunteer received a flower pot handcrafted in Kalamazoo by Grayling Ceramics. Inscribed on the pot is a quote which reads: “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”
TowerPinkster, a design firm, creates vibrant places for people to live, work and play. So it’s not surprising that when Jennifer Swan, a Senior Architectural Project Coordinator with TowerPinkster, set her design on helping children, she would come up with an ingenious and creative plan.
Jennifer’s work schedule made it difficult to commit to volunteering in a school on a consistent basis. How else, she wondered, could she get involved in a way that impacted kids and worked with her schedule? She dug around, asked questions, and determined the CIS Kids’ Closet would be the perfect structure to incorporate into her design. Jennifer will tell you that if you come up with an idea, the first thing you should do is give it a good name. So in 2015, the Swan Snack Emporium was born.
The foundation for the Emporium was poured years earlier, when Jennifer was just a child. I grew up not having a lot, she says. There were times it was hard for my mom to buy my brother and me some of the basic necessities. Knowing what it felt like to be in school without the basics, she rolled up her sleeves and got to work. She sketched out a plan that would funnel new items like socks, underwear, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, and soap to CIS Kids’ Closet. As she puts it, I want kids to have what they need and know they are okay, that they aren’t alone.
Just like designing a building, the Swan Snack Emporium relies on the collective support of the team. This is how it works: Jen purchases snacks on sale and makes them available in the office. Her colleagues can visit the Emporium and grab a bite for breakfast or pick up a snack, all the while feeling good knowing proceeds from the dollar or two they are putting towards that granola bar, microwave popcorn, or bag of Sunchips go to purchasing items for the CIS Kids’ Closet.
I know the burning question on everyone’s mind right now is: What is the number one, most in-demand snack at Swan Snack Emporium? Hands down: it’s Pop Tarts!
But seriously, Jennifer and her colleagues provide students in 20 CIS-supported schools with the basics they need to attend school every day with confidence and dignity, ready to learn. Thanks to Swan Snack Emporium, over the past four years, over 6,500 items have been donated to CIS Kids’ Closet.
Swan Snack Emporium, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.