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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
Kanequewa Steward graduated from Kalamazoo Central High School this past spring, Last month, she reflected on her CIS experience at the 11thAnnual Champ Celebration. Kanequewa has graciously given permission for us to publish her remarks here, at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.
PNC was the Student Spotlight Sponsor and Steve Powell, on behalf of PNC, presented Kanequewa with an Apple iPad Pro as a gift to help her continue her education this fall as a Kalamazoo Promise scholar.
Good evening, everyone. When writing this speech, I didn’t know where I should start. I have so many memories and was conflicted on what I wanted to bring up first. Has anyone ever felt so alone it made you want to give up on everything? You just thought, “I can’t do anything right. No one loves me, so why am I here? Do I matter? Who would miss me? We all have been there once in our lives, right? Well, I know I’ve struggled with this multiple times that it’s not even funny. Now I know, everyone’s like, “Where is she going with this?” Well, I’ll tell you…
It all started in the 6th grade when I got connected to CIS and started attending the CIS after school program. My sister and I used to go after school all the time. Mr. [Kevin] Lavender—he was our CIS site coordinator—was the best. He always helped me when I needed it. Made sure I kept my grades up, and he was a person I could confide in at such a young age.
Yeah, I know you’re all like, “How could a middle-schooler know what was so good for her at the time?” Well, it goes like this. “I was struggling with letting my anger out on other people. I knew I had a big heart, but I was always afraid to show it. But being part of Communities In Schools gave me an outlet. I could come and have fun, get help on homework. I could even cry when I needed to.
Now, going into high school I thought my CIS years were over and that was the end, not yet knowing they had summer programs, and most importantly, Mrs. Yarbrough. Taking part in CIS Think Summer opened up many doors for me. I met so many people that cared about me, they were always making sure I was okay, and that I had what I needed. It’s something I wish I could continue to do now.
Okay, so do we all remember when I asked my question about feeling helpless and what not? Well, in 10th grade I went down a bumpy road. My heart was broken and I was starting to lose hope and faith. It was at the point to where I self-harmed at least twice a day. I knew why I felt this way, but then again, I didn’t. I was only 15. Why should I feel such pain? I always thought my past was my fault. So it ate me up inside. I didn’t want to live, saw was no reason for it, until I met Mrs. [Deborah] Yarbrough.
Now some of you may ask, “Who is that? What do she do?” And that’s why I’m going to tell you.
Mrs. Yarbrough is the CIS Site Coordinator at Kalamazoo Central High School. I went to her office one day and I cried. I cried so hard I couldn’t see—and she let me. She held me and she told me it was going to be okay. She isn’t someone who says stuff to make you feel better. She said it because she knows how it feels; when you just need a break from the world. And she allows you the time to get that. While I was dealing with so much, Mrs. Yarbrough went out of her way to provide me with services. And boy, did they help! From group therapy, to one-on-one therapy. She provided the best help there was. Not only did she help me then, but also when I lost some friends in a tragic incidence I knew exactly where to go to: her. She’s always known how to help me get by; and I thank her for that.
Communities In Schools has saved my life. CIS has provided me with hope, lifted me up when I was down, and gave me so many resources I couldn’t have gotten on my own. And, at this moment, being a part of CIS has helped me deal with the death of a friend who’s been a friend since third grade.
So, here I am. Without CIS support, I would be somewhere, not knowing what to do for myself or if I should even live. This program created many opportunities and I’m thankful to have had you with me through my journey.
I want to thank everyone that helped me and guided me. It wasn’t easy, but guess what? We did it! I’ve graduated from Kalamazoo Central and have been accepted into Adrian College! And it’s not the end, but the beginning to a new life, a happy and healthy life. Again, thank you for having the faith I didn’t have. I couldn’t have done it without you guys.
Today we highlight the Woods Lake Math Squad. At the 11th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, the Math Squad was honored with a 2018 Champ Award which was sponsored by Zoetis. CIS Board Member David Maurer presented the award.
The Math Squad is four retired gentlemen who tutor students at Woods Lake Elementary: A Magnet Center for the Arts. Each of the men is mainly focused on a different grade level and, depending on the needs, their supports vary. Some help with fundamental building blocks, while others provide tutoring that reinforces what is being taught in class. “Their support is incredibly valuable,” says CIS Site Coordinator Maureen Cartmill. “The skills, patience, and positive attitudes they bring with them each week support both students and teachers.”
The Math Squad’s combined years of life and work experience adds up to—well, since we haven’t had the benefit of their math support—we’ll say: “A Lot!” Stan Lepird, known as “Mr. Stan” was an engineer at Stryker. A volunteer with CIS since 2012, he himself is a former Champ recipient. James “Mike” Bratherton taught for 38 years in the Portage area. Bill Breyfogle, also a retired teacher, taught junior high school science and math for 36 years. Bill Becker, a self-described “full-blooded marine” has a background in business.
When asked what he would like to say to “Mr. Mike,” a student smiled, turned to Mike, and exclaimed, “Thank you for all of the math help! You make math much easier for us.”
The effect the Math Squad has on the students is palpable. When you walk by one of their tutoring sessions you see students engaged, their faces lighting up when they grasp a concept or solve a problem. As Stan Lepird’s student once put it, “Mr. Stan doesn’t give you the answers. He shows you how to figure out and get the answers yourself.”
In Bill Breyfogle’s mind, learning should be fun. “I want to teach these kids to succeed and know that they’re worth something. I don’t want them to be discouraged about the things they don’t know, but rather driven to learn more.”
Bill Becker says, “It is the best day of my week…and I am honored to work with these kids.”
Woods Lake Math Squad, we thank you for helping our kids stay in school and achieve in life.
empowering and uniting minority students on the campus of Western Michigan University. Because they value community service, they began partnering with CIS three years ago, initiating a female empowerment group, Young Women With A Purpose, at Kalamazoo Central High School. CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough says, “Their passion for serving our students runs deep. By creating a safe place, our students can open up; they feel more connected to themselves and others in the group, and, in turn, feel more connected with school.”
In a few short years, the Black Student Union has grown their volunteer force from one to 12, expanded their programming to meet needs, and reached into Linden Grove Middle School. Linden Grove’s CIS Site Coordinator Tamiko Garrett recounts Ms. Carney, who teaches strategic math, saying, “My student has gone from hating math and being disruptive in class to looking forward to math because he knows that on Tuesdays, Autumn is going to be there to help him.”
Kalamazoo Central’s Principal Valerie Boggan says, “We talk often about giving back and the students from the Black Student Union are examples of how to give back. KC students look forward to the exchange and appreciate having relationships with students who are able to relate to their life and school experience. The passion they bring to create change and to generate enthusiasm around reading, writing and verbal expressions is phenomenal! I look forward to the continued partnership.”
Parents, too, are noticing positive changes in attendance, behavior, or academics and will stop by CIS to make sure their child continues working with these Western students. The high school students themselves have been recruiting other students they think could benefit from this Champ’s support.
Mt. Zion’s director of youth ministries Reverend Morris “Mo” Brooks, comes out to Central each week to work with the KC Men of Change, and sees them in action. He says, “What the Black Student Union is doing is great! It’s encouraging to see them reaching out to youth. It takes a lot of energy to go to college and, in many cases, also work. This awesome group of young people is doing just that—going to school, working, and then choosing to spend time with youth. And they’re doing a phenomenal job with the students!”
Trying to capture a partnership that spans 18 years is impossible. But we’re going to try anyway. We’re going to let the words of Principal Frank Rocco of Woodward School for Technology and Research help us out here. He says, “It would be impossible to deliver the diverse and quality programming that K delivers in partnership with Communities In Schools without the diligent and detailed work of the Kalamazoo College Civic Engagement Scholars. “They are,” he says, “an integral part of the conversation between site coordinator, school, teacher, student and K volunteer, to ensure the work of supporting the student in the best way possible continues to thrive.”
And thrive the students do! At Woodward as well as El Sol Elementary School and Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts, the students can’t wait for K students to arrive. As one student puts it, “Mr. David is kind and thankful. He makes me feel excited and happy. He is the best tutor I have ever had. I wish I could have him work with me every day.”
It’s been said that schools are “the modern engines of social justice.” These Scholars fuel that engine. They impact student after student by recruiting and preparing their peers before they even step into the school. This year alone, they’ve supported 128 K students! And each year, the work looks a little different. That’s because kids and schools are not static; needs change. Fluid thinkers, the Scholars understand this. Their adaptability is just one of the reasons CIS staff loves working with them. In partnership with CIS, here’s a sampling:
To support a college-going culture, they’ve organized field trips to K’s campus. They’ve even collaborated across CIS sites, like the time El Sol and Maple Street students attended the Kalamazoo College play, “Into the Heights,” which celebrates the Latino culture.
At Maple Street, they recruited Spanish speaking K students to support bilingual and English Language Learners. Last year, when the need shifted for more Arabic speaking volunteers, Scholar Kalli Hale tapped K students taking an Arabic speaking class. Then, to meet the growing demand, she collaborated with Western students.
Working one-on-one, in small groups, they support students’ academics and positive behavior in various ways. At El Sol, CIS Site Coordinator Levi Soto says that the scholars tutor students in English during the Lunch Buddy Program. He says, “of the 23 El Sol students enrolled in the program last year, 21 saw improvements in their grades.”
At Woodward, they’ve initiated a newspaper club. CIS After School Coordinator Ebony Ragotzy says the project, spearheaded by Kevin McCarty and Sarafina Milianti is not only reinforcing writing skills but it’s helping students find their voice.
Woodward’s CIS Site Coordinator Jen DeWaele reminds us that every site coordinator needs a site coordinator. “Coordinating ever-changing schedules of college students, while matching the needs of classroom and students takes a lot of delicate work. Having the support of CESs at your side, like David Vanderkloot and Delaney Fordell, is imperative. At Woodward, it’s what allows us to implement multi-level programming in every classroom, the playground, and the lunchroom.”
Over the years, hundreds of Scholars have been able to work with and learn from the community because of the strong collaboration between CIS and the Center for Civic Engagement. Kalamazoo College says, “Our CESs do a great job—made possible because of the CIS site coordinators and teachers/staff at our partner schools who welcome, guide and support them when they arrive on the school’s doorstep.”
Building on the work of those who have come before them, this current group of scholars include Kalli Hale, Kevin McCarty, Sarafina Milianti, Delaney Fordell, David Vanderkloot, Valentina Cordero, and Marlyn Sanchez. We’re confident that as they pass the baton on to those who come after them, this partnership and the children they serve will continue to flourish.
This year’s Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award, sponsored by an anonymous friend of CIS, has been awarded to Dr. Marilyn J. Schlack. At the 11th Annual Champs Celebration, CIS board member and Kalamazoo City Manager Jim Ritsema presented this prestigious award to Dr. Schlack who has served as the president of Kalamazoo Valley Community College for more than three decades, becoming Michigan’s first female community college president in 1982.
When I found out that Marilyn Schlack started out as a middle school English teacher in Saginaw, it all made sense. She learned early in her career about growth spurts and rapid changes. She learned to tolerate awkward and clumsy and to understand that blemishes aren’t forever. She learned what all parents of young adolescents must learn—stay positive, keep the lines of communication open and set limits that are firm and fair. It sounds like a formula for a successful community leader. And that is what Marilyn Schlack is.
Marilyn is a builder. If you look at the number of college and community buildings that have been erected because of Marilyn’s initiative, your conclusion has to be that she is a successful builder of buildings, of places—doubling the Oshtemo campus, building the Arcadia campus, creating the culinary arts center. But the core interest in construction for Marilyn Schlack, is in helping to build lives, build talent, build futures. The scores of young people just starting their independence journey and the countless number of older workers who started over after down-sizing, right-sizing and outsourcing, can point to the career building opportunities born of Marilyn’s creativity, her commitment to evidence and her genuine interest in stronger families, stronger communities.
Some see a certain irony in giving the Diether Haenicke Award, named for the late President of Western Michigan University, to another higher education president in the same community. Both of these individuals share several traits, in addition to their commitment to excellence and their belief in education as a means to better lives. One person suggested that Marilyn Schlack is “no-nonsense”—if Marilyn is involved, there just won’t be any nonsense. You might think you have the most compelling idea around, but if you want Marilyn’s endorsement, you better be prepared with the evidence. Innovative—how many wind turbine education programs are there in the country that can boast 100% employment for their graduates? Excellence, no-nonsense, evidence, innovative—all words that Diether Haenicke would approve of.
Bob Jorth, Executive Director of the Kalamazoo Promise, sums it up best: “Marilyn desires to improve this community—no one exemplifies that more. She is smart and knows how to get things done. Compared to what she has accomplished, her ego is small. She is driven by her desire to improve things for students and for families.”
As a CIS Board member and as the City Manager for the City of Kalamazoo, which has benefitted greatly from your selfless and inspired leadership, it is my great honor to present you with the 2018 Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award.
Marilyn, this hand-sewn quilt was selected for you as an apt symbol of the many, many unique pieces you have stitched together over the years to make this a stronger community for those who live here, work here and go to school here. Thank you for your service and for your love of Kalamazoo.
Please join with me in congratulating Dr. Marilyn Schlack, this year’s recipients of the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence.