Gary Heckman: Building Confidence, Curiosity, & Bird Houses

Champ recipient Gary Heckman with CIS Staff Melissa Best (left) & Shannon Jones (right)

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.

Mother and Son Champs: Dedrenna & Isaiah Hoskins

Champ recipients Dedrenna & Isaiah Hoskins with CIS Board Member Terry Morrow and CIS Staff Carol Roose & Laura McCoy

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.

Students Engage, Design, and Build with an Architect

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.”

 

AIASWM Team Volunteers, Hayward Babineaux (Byce & Associates), Jennifer Swan (TowerPinkster), Justine Pritchard (TowerPinkster), Mike Galovan (TowerPinkster) and Nadine Rios-Rivas (Byce & Associates).

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

“My House”

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

“Radisson”

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

“The Brit”

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.

 

AIA Southwest Michigan and TowerPinkster, thank you for sponsoring this wonderfully creative exhibit.

Leaders As Planters

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.”]

Gulnar Husain and Principal Socha

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.

Presenting the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award to VLAC at 2019 Champs

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.”

Swan Snack Emporium Serves Up Dignity and Confidence

Jennifer Swan (center) congratulated by John Brandon (left) and Sara Williams (right) with Champ Award for Swan’s Snack Emporium.

At the 12th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Swan Snack Emporium was honored with a 2019 Champ Award which was sponsored by Chase. CIS Board Member Sara Williams and CIS Partner Services Coordinator John Brandon presented the award.

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 Swan, Senior Architectural Project Coordinator with TowerPinkster

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.

Coach Rod Raven Receives Champ Award

At the 12th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Rod Raven was honored with a 2019 Champ Award which was sponsored by Comerica. CIS Board Member Bob Miller, CIS Site Coordinator Joan Coopes, and CIS After School Coordinator Myah VanTil presented the award. 

Bob: “Ask not what your teammates can do for you. Ask what you can do for your teammates.” Magic Johnson may have said this, but this next Champ lives it. By day, Rod Raven is the lead activity helper at Arcadia Elementary School. After school, he serves as Arcadia’s basketball coach for both boys and girls. Regardless of what position he’s playing, Coach Raven works with CIS to assure students have what they need to succeed in school and life.

Myah (left) and Joan (right) listen with Rod as Bob Miller talks about teamwork.

Like basketball, teamwork is key when it comes to CIS. Each of us must do our part so kids succeed. Mr. Raven plays his positions exquisitely. And he has such a gift for getting kids to invest in each other.

One way he does this is by giving former students a chance to live out one of the five CIS basics that every child needs and deserves—and that’s an opportunity to give back to peers and their community. We love seeing young leaders like Linden Grove Middle School’s Devin Harris and Kalamazoo Central High School’s Keyten Thompson-Johnson and Le’Montae Daniels-Thompson, who, after a full day at school, come to Arcadia and give back by coaching, mentoring, and modelling positive behaviors for our students.

Myah: Like any good teammate, there are times Mr. Raven has turned to us for helping students, and times we’ve turned to him. I remember when I first started out as Arcadia’s CIS after school coordinator. One of my students was really struggling. I knew I could turn to Mr. Raven. Together, we came up with a behavior plan. His input—combined with the trusting relationship he had with the student—resulted in a complete turnaround: the student’s attitude dramatically improved, his assignments were completed and turned in on time, and behavior incidences went to zero.

Joan: Young men at Arcadia will come up to Myah and me and comment with great pride that Mr. Raven is teaching us how to be gentlemen. As the “Young Men of Arcadia,” they dress up in a shirt and tie on Fridays and practice the life skills Mr. Raven is teaching them from his open playbook, such as politeness, manners, listening, and making good choices.

Bob: Here’s what two of these gentlemen-in-training say about being part of Coach Raven’s team, in which academics always come first: Jazary says, “He’s brought our team far and helped us get better at basketball and school. He gives us lots of training. We’re even learning during recess!”

Mohammad appreciates that he’s always learning something new. “I’ve never played basketball before and he’s teaching me. It feels good to be part of the team.”

Both agree that if you want to be on Coach Raven’s team all you have to do is just work really, really hard.

Rod Raven, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Myah (above) and Joan (below) congratulating Rod on his Champ award.

Barry Ross and Jane Rooks Ross: Educating Through Music

This year’s Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award, sponsored by Bronson Healthcare, has been awarded to Barry Ross and Jane Rooks Ross. Last week, CIS board member Carolyn H. Williams presented the prestigious award to this most deserving couple during the 12th Annual Champs Celebration.

Plato said that music “is a more potent instrument than any other for education.” He was on to something. We now know that music affects the whole child. Emotionally and socially it serves as a vehicle for expression and connection. Physically it promotes coordination. Music education enhances children’s cognitive abilities and the resilience needed to overcome challenges and pursue excellence.

No duo has infused this vital gift of music into our children’s lives more than Barry Ross and Jane Rooks Ross. Together, they have brought joy through music to the children and youth of Kalamazoo. They have created experiences to hear music, experience music, learn music, and connect through music. Music permeates all areas of life, and through their vision, collaboration, and endless efforts, Barry and Jane have touched so many lives in our community. 

They have contributed new and creative ways to share their love of music to inspire human potential. Family Discovery Concerts, Marvelous Music, the Instrument Petting Zoo, Kalamazoo Junior Symphony and Kalamazoo Kids In Tune reflect just some of their endeavors.

It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, if you’re a child or a young adult—you are “in” with Barry and Jane. They have used their incredible musical talents to inspire and motivate children of all ages, starting with three to four year old’s in Marvelous Music all the way to the Junior Symphony and college-goers and beyond, inspiring the most gifted of young musicians. You could watch Jane with a four-year-old participant in Marvelous Music or Barry helping a third grader make his first violin out of cardboard for Kids In Tune, and see the same enthusiasm and passion as when they meet a KSO concert soloist.

They believe that every child should have the benefit of participating and enjoying all kinds of music—and they have devoted their professional lives to making that happen. They have used classical music to spearhead their efforts and believe that all children can understand and enjoy its complexity.

Two individuals, like musical chords, reflect both harmony and distinct differences. Diether Haenicke would be especially pleased that the Promise of Excellence Award, named for him, is given this year to Jane Rooks Ross and Barry Ross for their exceptional and varied contributions to the children and young people of Kalamazoo. 

Please join me in congratulating Barry Ross and Jane Rooks Ross, this year’s recipients of the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence.

Over the next few months we’ll be spotlighting more of those honored at this year’s Champs Celebration. So keep up with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

Champs Among Us

Wednesday, May 15th will mark the twelfth year of Champs, a celebration in which Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) recognizes those who are making a difference in kids’ lives. Kalsec, a local company with business around the world, is the presenting sponsor for a second year, demonstrating its continued interest in the educational success of Kalamazoo’s children.

So, who will be honored this year? Drum roll, please! This year’s Champs are:

Dedrenna Hoskins and Isaiah Hoskins, CIS Volunteers
Gary Heckman, CIS Volunteer
Rod Raven, Lead Activity Helper, KPS Arcadia Elementary School
Swan Snack Emporium, CIS Business Partner

The Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council (VLAC) will also be honored with the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award, a recognition established last year by Gulnar’s family to honor her long-time contributions to Communities In Schools and work as a CIS Site Coordinator at Arcadia Elementary School. This award recognizes CIS volunteers who emulate Gulnar’s belief that there is no greater calling than serving children. Last year, 828 individuals volunteered through CIS, contributing over 14,000 hours of service. Behind the scenes, the Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council—composed of CIS volunteers ranging from college students to seniors—works to strengthen and support these tremendous volunteer efforts. The VLAC members are Jeme Baker, Jashaun Bottoms, Chartanay Bonner, Pam Dalitz, Theresa Hazard, Moises Hernandez, Dedrenna Hoskins, Rollie Morse, Richard Phillips, Howard Tejchma and Marti Terpstra.

The CIS Board will also be honoring Barry Ross and Jane Rooks Ross with the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award. Established in 2010, this award is named for Western Michigan University President Emeritus Diether Haenicke. Barry Ross and Jane Rooks Ross together have brought joy through music to the children and youth of Kalamazoo. They have created experiences to hear music, experience music, learn music and connect through music. Through their vision, collaboration and endless work, Barry and Jane have touched many lives in the community. They have given time to find new and creative ways to use music to expand human potential. Family Discovery Concerts, Marvelous Music, the Instrument Petting Zoo, and Kalamazoo Kids In Tune reflect just some of their efforts.

We thank all of our event sponsors for sharing our vision and igniting in kids the hope and belief that they can succeed in school, graduate, and be prepared for life. Thank you to our presenting sponsor, Kalsec, AIA Southwest Michigan, Ascension Borgess, Bronson Healthcare, Chase, Comerica, Humphrey, Miller-Davis Company, PNC, TowerPinkster, and Warner Norcross + Judd.

Stay tuned to Ask Me About My 12,000+ Kids. Over the coming weeks we will spotlight each of these award recipients. You’ll learn what they are each doing to make a difference in kids’ lives.