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.

Conversation with Julie Davis

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 Julie Davis. As we’re on the heels of Administrative Professionals Day and on the cusp of our 12th Annual Champs event, we thought it would be fun to meet up with this former KPS secretary and Champ (once a Champ, always a Champ as we say at CIS) of ten years ago and see what she’s up to these days.

“The sound of men playing horseshoes was part of the soundtrack of my childhood,” Julie Davis says, recalling her “idyllic years” spent growing up in the farming community of East Lynn, Illinois. She smiles as she recounts formative years spent driving tractors and “helping” with baling hay. “And I was watching—without knowing I was watching—equipment break down and seeing someone use some random thing that had been laying on the ground to make it work.”

Without realizing it at the time, Julie was learning to make do with whatever tools you have—or don’t have—in any given situation. Her knack for making things work—no matter what life throws at her—has served her well, both in her personal and professional life. As a single parent, she raised two beautiful daughters, Jodie and Abby, and happily watched as they got degrees from University of Michigan and Syracuse University, respectively. Throughout her 33-year career as a school secretary for Kalamazoo Public Schools Julie made things work on a daily basis; eight years at Loy Norrix High School and then 25 years at Arcadia Elementary School.

Julie retired in June of 2017. Three months later she was diagnosed with two different kinds of cancer, one in each breast. She underwent two different kinds of treatment and is doing fabulous now (as you’ll see, she did fabulous even then). She enjoys traveling often to Washington, D.C. to play with her two grandchildren, Sam, seven, and Norah, four.

We almost didn’t meet up with Julie at Anna’s House. In fact, we walked right by her. While her trademark shoulder-length blond hair has been replaced by short, white hair, her smile, joyous spirit, and laughter haven’t changed a bit.

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

Pop Quiz

It’s so different to see you sitting and just relaxing. In your role as secretary at Arcadia Elementary School you were always non-stop.

I loved every second of every day! I have so many fond and funny memories of working at Arcadia. And so many stories!

Will you tell us a story?

Sure. I’ve got thousands of them!

There was this first grader who zipped his neck into his coat. Thankfully, it was a plastic zipper. I told him, “I’m going to get this unstuck for you but it’s going to hurt. But I’ll do it really fast.” He gave me the okay and I grabbed a bit of his neck and the coat and we did it. And off he went. We were best friends after that. I still remember his name. Eric.

And here’s another story. A third grader wanted me to pull her tooth out. This was in the 90s. ‘It’s not ready, honey,’ I told her, but she wanted that thing out. She was adamant and wouldn’t go back to class until I pulled it. I know anticipation can drive kids crazy. So I put on a rubber glove, pinched as hard as I could and out came the tooth. It made that cracking sound when it came out, the kind of sound that says it wasn’t quite ready to come out! The next day, I received a percentage of what the tooth fairy brought her—a dime and three pennies.

And then there was a time….

Here’s a 2002 award Julie received from appreciative parents for “going beyond the call of doody.” Let’s just say it involved helping with a search effort per doctor’s orders. Julie found the quarter.

Okay, bear with me. It’s going to take a minute, but there is a question at the end of this.

Okay.

You received a Champ award back in 2009. Gulnar [Husain, who served as CIS Site Coordinator at Arcadia at that time] rightly described you as kind and compassionate. She wrote: “Her patience has no limits…when all the phone lines are ringing simultaneously, a deadline for a report has to be met, a sick child has to be taken care of, a dose of medicine, ice pack, or band aid has to be given to a student, visitors have to be greeted, or a teacher’s question has to be answered, Julie is there to take care of everyone’s needs. It would be understandable if she lost her cool, but she doesn’t! She remains calm and composed and has the uncanny ability to keep everything under control.” So, what’s your secret?

I think it’s not really even a secret. I’m just thankful I was in a job that I was designed to do. If only everybody could be in that position! That is a wish of mine. That everyone could get up, brush their teeth, go out and behave as themselves, and accomplish something for others at the same time. I was designed for my job. I loved my job. I was just out there being myself and it seemed to work for everybody. [She laughs.]

CIS partners would often comment how you always made them feel at home. I won’t ask you what your secret is, but how do you do that, make people feel at home?

I think, by nature, I’m relaxed most of the time. However, at a fairly young age, about 14, I learned that if you act at ease, it puts others at ease. Having learned to be relaxed in any situation has served me well throughout my life, including my time at Arcadia, especially with regard to the daily interactions I enjoyed with families whose language I could not speak.

As you know, Arcadia is a wonderfully diverse school. I’m so thankful I got to be with people of diverse cultures because getting to know these families changed my life. It changed me for the better. When you are relaxed, it opens you up. Because I was relaxed I could embrace and feel those differences. I loved how those differences moved within me—and moved me.

I grew up in a farming community where the only diversity was the age of the farmer. To have the chance to meet people from other countries and cultures was so enlightening. How I grew! That is something I miss, not having an opportunity to be in regular contact with these enriching relationships.

From your perspective as a former secretary, what was it like to have CIS in your building?

I can’t separate what CIS does from the people. People like Gulnar, of course, who was CIS. I think of Gulnar, and even before and after Gulnar—of the character you need to have to be really committed to the CIS mission. The CIS people worked with students who had needs. Their time and energy spilled over to everybody, not just those on a “list.”

Everyone I know whose been involved with CIS has fit. They’ve shown a commitment and dedication to children and their families, and that stood out to me. I’ve seen that commitment in those who didn’t have to be there, such as the college students volunteering through CIS. When I was their age, I couldn’t imagine being committed to something other than trying to get through my classes. These young people could have been home and enjoyed spring break, but instead they wanted to stay and work with kids. I loved seeing that kind of dedication in the CIS staff and all the volunteers and partners. They were in school with us wanting to do this because of their love for children and watching them succeed.

What have you found to be the most surprising about retirement?

I’m really good at being lazy. I was so busy every day at Arcadia; who knew that lazy would work for me so well! So lazy is what I’m doing at the moment.

Do you have a pet peeve?

Oh, yea! Tailgaters. And let me tell you, pet peeve isn’t the word for it. Because I wouldn’t say to a pet what I would say to a tailgater.

What are you curious about?

[Starts laughing.] I’m curious about thousands of things, but a funny one, just sprang to mind. I was working at Loy Norrix. This was before cell phones. I had to be there at seven. And there was a girl at the payphone every morning. Back then, Loy Norrix had a phonebooth inside the building, in the hall just down from the office area where I worked. I was always curious about who she was calling.

Maybe your curiosity can finally be satisfied. Maybe there is someone reading this right now who knows something!

Wouldn’t that be something? Let’s see, it would have been between 1984 and 1992 that this happened, practically every day during the school year.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

[Laughing.] I’ve learned that after a certain age you can come across something that is really interesting, something that you didn’t know, and a few day later, somebody asks you, “What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?” and you can’t recall what it is. I’ve learned lots of interesting things since I’ve retired, but can’t recall one of them now!

Can we talk some about your experience with cancer?

Sure. I’m open about it. You know, when I received the diagnosis, the first thing out of mouth was, “Lord, I’m pretty sure you’re going to get some glory out of this somehow.” I tell you, when you have peace and joy, life is good. It doesn’t matter what comes your way. With faith, you can say, “Well, this is unexpected” and you move forward.

I was going to ask, “How and in what ways did the cancer diagnosis change your perspective?” But it sounds like this experience hasn’t changed your outlook on life in any way.

My outlook has remained the same. It didn’t rock my faith foundation. I thought, “Okay, so I have cancer. That’s what’s happening now.” I knew God was going to walk me through it. The biggest challenge came with handling the side effects of some chemicals and that gave me insight into other people’s experiences and I’m thankful for that empathy.

What are you currently reading?

I’m reading my Bible in the book of Acts. I’ve read it a billion times, but now, suddenly going through it this time, it’s like oh, my gosh! I’m relating to what the first Christians experienced… We come at it knowing how it ended. When you know the ending, you don’t get all anxious. But they didn’t know the ending.

Although I’m reading the Bible exclusively right now, I really enjoy reading a variety of genres. I think my all-time favorite is Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee.

What is your favorite word right now?

Since you want just one word, it would be content. If you wanted to know why I’m content, that would take lots and lots of words.

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

My parents, George and Helen.

Here’s one story about them. Everybody that crossed their path was drawn to them. They married in 1933 and lived in a little house in the country…Dad had a job with A&P in their warehouse, He went to work one day and the owner pulled him and the one other employee, Joe, aside and said, “I have to cut you both back to half time.”

Dad came home that evening and told my mom, who was pregnant at the time, that he lost his job. He had given his half to Joe so he could have full-time work. How he explained it to her: “Joe has two kids. We have a cow, chickens, and a garden so I feel we’ll be okay.”

That’s who they were. That story is as much about my mother. They just both shook it off, said okay, and went on.

Sounds a lot like you!

[Julie laughs.]

Thank you, Julie Davis, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

.

Diane Fuller: Lifting up Kids and Teachers

At the 11th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Diane Fuller was honored with a 2018 Champ Award which was sponsored by BASIC. CIS Board President Tony McDonnell presented the award.

Diane standing with CIS Board President Tony McDonnell (left) and Chris Stys, Vice President of Human Resources for BASIC (right).

It was Stacy Jackson’s second day on the job as CIS after school coordinator, when Diane Fuller welcomed her to Edison Environmental Science Academy and introduced herself. “I come every Wednesday at 4:45 for homework help,” Diane cheerfully said.

Six years later and kids in the CIS after school program still can’t wait to seek out Diane for tutoring help. “This CIS volunteer is in high demand, says Stacy, “and that’s because she’s flexible, consistent, and understands the needs of our kids.”

It’s these very qualities that, three years ago, led CIS to seek Diane’s thoughts on modifying Miller-Davis Company’s Secret Santa program. Diane works at Miller-Davis as bookkeeper, and also coordinated the program. Would Miller-Davis employees, instead of providing gifts to 20 to 25 students each year, consider gifting to each teacher in the building? As Stacy puts it, “Gift one teacher and you impact 30 kids.”

Diane immediately saw the benefit to shifting to this “adopt a teacher model” and worked closely with CIS to map out a plan. Diane then presented it to her colleagues and they got right on board. So, Diane the homework helper, who recognizes and responds to students’ academic needs, also started listening and writing down teachers’ wishes—who, after all, knows better than teachers what teachers need to create learning environments most responsive to student needs?

Each year, Diane is making the list and checking it twice, trying to find out if it’s Mrs. Powell who wishes for the magazine subscription, Mrs. Smith who would love arts and crafts supplies and a gift card, and that it’s Mrs. Zarei King who could really use some flashcards or a set of books.

While students couldn’t begin to shower these gifts upon their teachers, they are a part of the experience. It is a wonderful gift to give a child: letting them see their teacher who cares for them, being cared for, too.

In her quiet yet mighty way, Diane is making a big impact at Edison, and helping her colleagues do the same.

Diane Fuller, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Come fall, our kids will need many more volunteers like Diane. Go here to consider one of the several ways you can become a volunteer today to help the kids of tomorrow. 

What is it about Werme?

From left: CIS Board Member Steve Denenfeld, CIS Volunteer Chris Werme, Humphrey Products Chairman & CEO Bob Humphrey, and Humphrey Products President Dave Maurer.

At the 11th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Chris Werme was honored with a 2018 Champ Award which was sponsored by Humphrey. CIS Board Member Steven Denenfeld presented the award.

 

Loy Norrix’s Senior CIS Site Coordinator, Montrell Baker says of this Champ: “Our young men need more men like Chris Werme who’ll step up and be there for them. He’s one of my most consistent, reliable volunteers, always here each week unless a business trip requires him to be away.”

Chris is a health benefits advisor at Rose Street Advisors. Back in 2016, when Montrell connected him to two male students, he was pleasantly surprised. “Usually,” Montrell says, “when you connect kids with a resource or support person there is a grace period. ‘I don’t know about this, Mr. Baker,’ they’ll say, shaking their heads. “In my role as site coordinator, I’m encouraging students to stick with it, to give it time. This didn’t happen with Chris. The students connected with him right away.”

So, what is it about Werme? “It’s about trust,” explains DeAndre, who has been mentored by Werme for the last year and a half. “I can talk to him about anything. He shows me I can trust him…he’s only steered me to make the right decisions.” One example of how Werme’s guidance has kept him on track? “My grades were slipping and he encouraged me to go and meet with each of my teachers after school. It never occurred to me to do something like that. I did it, and I passed my classes!”

“I put a lot of trust in Werme,” he says. “When something comes up that bothers me, I can set those concerns aside and focus on school” because he knows later in the week he can count on Werme to listen and offer sound advice. As DeAndre puts it, “Werme’s kind of old. He’s got a lot of experience built up in his bones.”

Chris Werme imparts that built-up wisdom not only with the young men he mentors, but impacts dozens more by serving on the CIS Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council, advising CIS on such things as volunteer recruitment and retainment.

Most recently, Chris joined the CIS workgroup on Engaging Male Students. As part of this all male workgroup, Chris meets monthly with other CIS volunteers, partners, staff, and community members, to review data and develop initiatives and strategies for CIS to better engage our young men and support them in academics, behavior, and school attendance.

Chris Werme, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Al Heilman congratulating Chris Werme on his Champ Award.

Nkenge Bergan: Keeping the Focus on Kids

At the 11th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Nkenge Bergan was honored with a 2018 Champ Award which was sponsored by Chase. CIS Board Member Pam Enslen presented the award.  

Positive. Hard working. Forward thinking. These are just three of a host of wonderful qualities that only just begin to describe Nkenge Bergan. As Director of Student Services for Kalamazoo Public Schools, Nkenge refuses, for convenience-sake, to lump students into categories based on a single need to make it easier for grownups to render a ‘one size fits all’ approach. For Nkenge, it’s about helping students succeed academically while also being prepared to respond effectively to the needs of the whole child.

As many of you know, Kalamazoo Public Schools incorporates CIS within 20 schools to increase our collective impact on children. Artrella Cohn, Communities In Schools’ Sr. Director of Community Engagement and Student Investment, says, “Nkenge lives out this partnership. She goes above and beyond to ensure that CIS is able to perform effectively in the schools. She carves time out of her busy schedule to meet with me on a regular basis with an eye on how we can both assure that students can be served to our fullest capacity.”

Spend just a few minutes with Nkenge and you’ll quickly learn that she seeks to understand where students and families are coming from and actively encourages the adults around the table to do the same. As she often says, “But what do our kids need? That’s what I care about!” Her mantra is much like the traditional greeting among the African tribe of the Masai who place high value on their children’s well-being. “Kasserian Ingera,” they say to one another. It means: “And how are the children?”

Living to the beat of this kid-focused mantra, Nkenge works with CIS to problem-solve, modify program designs, and identify needs as well as gaps in service delivery. This is the kind of input that helps our system of integrated student services work, so CIS, KPS and our partners are positioned to move students forward in areas of attendance, behavior, and academics.

Barriers and challenges naturally arise when working together. Moving forward doesn’t just happen. It takes hard work, a lot of behind the scenes planning and coordinating—and not giving up.

Oprah Winfrey once said, “Doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment.”

Nkenge always gives her personal best. It’s that stick-to-it-ness and mindset of ‘let’s figure this out together’ that Nkenge brings to the partnership table, always with an eye for doing her part—and helping others—to seize each moment and keep moving forward for kids’ sake.

Nkenge Bergan, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

From left: Pam Enslen, CIS Board Member Nkenge Bergen, Director of Student Services for Kalamazoo Public Schools, Darren Timmeney, Market Manager and Community President of Chase Bank in Southwest Michigan, and Kevin Bing, Vice President, Commercial Banking, Chase.

High School Graduate: CIS Helped Me Find My Voice

Dreon Smith recently graduated from Loy Norrix High School. In May, he reflected on his CIS experience at the 11thAnnual Champ Celebration. Dreon has given permission for us to publish his remarks here, at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

PNC was the Student Spotlight Sponsor and Steve Powell, on behalf of PNC, presented Dreon with an Apple iPad Pro as a gift to help him continue his education this fall as a Kalamazoo Promise scholar

I still remember that day. I was a fourth grader in Ms. Clawson’s class at Washington Writer’s Academy. I was nervous and scared as I made my way to the CIS office. I got there and saw my cousin, Dalanna. She is the CIS site coordinator at Milwood but back then she was at Washington. Well, Ms. Hoskins—that’s what Dalanna told me to call her at school—she introduced me to this tall dude. Turns out he was Mr. Larry Manley, the CIS after school coordinator.

Thinking back on that moment, it was like I was a young branch that became planted in CIS. I became a part of something that was bigger than me. I also became part of the first group of students who got to be part of the CIS after school program at Washington.

Not only did my grades begin to improve, but I grew in ways I didn’t know I could. Sports has always been important to me. So it really helped that Mr. Manley liked basketball just as much as me. He used basketball to help us kids grow. It was a way for us to talk and learn and dream. He taught me how to be a young man and how to be a gentleman. You know, like at lunchtime, let the ladies go first.

With CIS, there’s always been people there to catch me. Like Ms. Melissa [Holman], who worked with CIS Think Summer. It was a time when, as a branch, I had to learn to grow a different way. See, I’d had some surgery and my dream of a sports career over. There I was, a middle school student with a pin stuck in his hip, in a wheelchair. I’d wanted so badly to be part of CIS in the summer but now I didn’t even know how I could make that work. It was Ms. Melissa [Holman] who caught me then. She helped me to get there. Literally. If I didn’t have that ride, I would never have been able to go.

CIS helped me find my voice by giving me opportunities I might not have had otherwise. I’ve been able to explore my passion for poetry and music. My grandma loves music and can sing and I wanted to get into that too. I believe putting poetry and music together really gets your voice out there. One CIS partner that especially helped me with that: Bangtown Productions. We wrote and performed songs and to this day, you can find some of them on YouTube, songs like “Rise Above It”—we performed that one at Bronson Park.

CIS helped me find my voice by helping me speak up about things that are important to me, like funding after school programs. Back in 2013, when I was in 7th grade, I was one of the student representatives who went to City Hall. We wanted the Kalamazoo City Commission to help us: keep the lights on! Thanks to our voices—and those of you who advocate for after school funding to remain a priority, the lights have stayed on. At least for another year.

 

Back in 2013, Dreon (far right) advocating for after school funding before the Kalamazoo City Commission.  (Ms. Melissa is at the podium.)

When you find your voice, you can do things you never thought possible. Just this year, I wrote a poem called “We have something to say” and it was a finalist for the MLK Courage to Create Poetry contest. I read it on the campus of Western Michigan University. That was really special, to think that people came to hear my voice…

Now back to when I left eighth grade. There wasn’t an after school program at Loy Norrix; it kind of hurt. It had really helped having the structure, the homework help, and all the enrichment activities. Monday through Thursday it had been a big part of my life. So, in 9th grade, I found myself going home after school and struggling to get homework done. And even though my mom and dad were on me, I didn’t always make the best choices, like choosing to sleep over doing homework.
In 10th grade, things started to look up. Ms. Trella [Artrella Cohn], who I knew through CIS Think Summer caught me and connected me with Mr. [Montrell] Baker, who has been my CIS Site Coordinator ever since.

One thing I’ve learned along the way is that I like helping people. A lot of freshman look up to me. Being tall helps! They literally look up to me. So, by connecting me to a lot of opportunities, Mr. Baker has helped me with being able to give back to my peers and other, younger students. Because I’m really good at math, I’ve been able to tutor students that need help with math. I volunteer with the food pantry we have at my school, thanks to CIS partner Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes. I do a lot of the heavy lifting and sorting, and stacking the food items. I’m working Tuesdays and Thursdays at Parkwood Upjohn Elementary School. Through Literacy Buddies, I support students in their reading.

Most recently, I have become involved with the Men’s group which is led by Dr. [John] Oliver. Young men meeting with older men. We talk about our futures, current events—important things that need to be talked about for us to grow. Some of my good friends are a part of the group and for some of them, I never knew their stories until we had that group. It’s meant everything to me, to hear from those higher branches. I’m going to be that higher branch some day. And I’ll be passing that wisdom they poured into me, down to the next branch.

I’m grateful to CIS for catching hold of me, nourishing me, and feeding my desire to help others. Thanks to CIS, I am the young man I am today. And I’ve made great friends along the way. We have all came together as one through Communities In Schools.

As for my future plans? I have a few ideas. I’m thinking about going into business or communications, or maybe I’ll pursue teaching and coaching in a sports area. What I know for sure is that thanks to all those of you who have nourished me, I am using the Kalamazoo Promise to go to college because I’ve been accepted to KVCC!

I’d like to close with a poem I wrote for this occasion. But first, thank you all for doing your part. Know that when you work and volunteer and partner and donate to CIS—you’re making sure the kids that come after me will have the “Mr. Manley’s,” the “Ms. Melissas,” the “Ms. Trellas,” and the “Mr. Bakers” they need to grow strong, so they can be there for the next group of branches that have yet to even bud.

Thank you.

Dreon Smith with Dr. John Oliver

SALLY STEVENS: FIRST RECIPIENT OF GULNAR HUSAIN VOLUNTEER AWARD

From left: Arcadia Teacher Debora Gant, CIS Volunteer Sally Stevens, and CIS Board Member Carolyn H. Williams

 

At the 11th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Sally Stevens was honored with the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award, a new recognition established 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 and to reflect on her, read this post, “A Good Life.”]

CIS Board Member Carolyn H. Williams presented the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award, sponsored by the Gulnar Husain Legacy Fund.

 

Gulnar Husain, in her 14 years with CIS, first as an AmeriCorps worker and then as CIS site

Gulnar Husain

coordinator at Arcadia Elementary School was not motivated by status or money or awards. She worked persistently, quietly, often invisibly behind the scenes for children. So it is fitting that Sally Stevens is the first recipient of the Gulnar Husain Annual Volunteer Award. She shares these same traits.

Sally is the invisible behind the visible. Quietly, without fanfare, she shows up each week for kids. When she retired from Borgess Hospital in 2013, Sally’s plan was to find volunteer work where she could give back and make a difference. And she has.

Visit any one the 20 CIS sites throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools and you won’t find her. You won’t see her in a classroom or in the hallways. She’s not in the cafeteria or on the playground. And yet, every day, because of her volunteer efforts, she touches the lives of students in all 20 CIS school sites.

Children want to do their job: be the best student they can be. But they need their basics covered so they can focus on learning. Sally is helping them do that by literally lifting up the generosity of this community. As many of you know, your donations to CIS Kids’ Closet help kids attend school every day with confidence and dignity, ready to learn. When students or school staff connect with the CIS Site Team at their school to meet a basic need, it is most likely Sally who has already inventoried the items CIS gives out. She has folded the sweatpants with love, organized the underwear by size, sorted socks, folded tops, gathered up the pencils, markers and crayons, and backpacks and boots, preparing them for the schools.

“Sally can organize the heck out of anything,” says John Brandon, who, as CIS partner services coordinator, oversees Kids’ Closet. “Sally,” he says, is “an incredibly hard worker, extremely efficient, and jumps in every way she can to help.” Take, for example, November 2016. When the tiny closet in the basement of the CIS/Kalamazoo Promise office building was bursting with your donations, Kalamazoo Public Schools graciously accommodated our need for more space, providing a classroom-size, walk-in closet at their building on Westnedge. Sally—who also volunteers with the Oakwood Neighborhood Association, Warm Kids, and the Bronson Park Food Pantry—bumped up her four hours a week to over seven, to get Kids’ Closet settled and up for operation. At the start of school and over holidays—when larger quantities of donations come flooding in—Sally increases her hours to meet the demand.

With Sally’s help, we’ve been able to serve children better by expanding operations at Kids’ Closet, increasing both the donations coming in and items going out to the schools.

Gulnar Husain was a prolific user of Kids’ Closet, a fact her Arcadia Principal Greg Socha could attest to. We know Gulnar would be so thrilled that you, Sally, are the first to receive this special recognition.

Sally Stevens, thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Here’s the blessing bowl Sally received. The lip of it is rimmed with words Gulnar often said and believed: “Being able to serve others, especially children, is a blessing.”

Keep up with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. You can learn more about Sally in the weeks to come. We popped one of our quizzes on her!