Back to School Supplies – How You Can Support!

During these unprecedented times, we are faced with so many unknowns. This fall, will students be meeting in-person? Will classes be conducted partially in-person and virtual? Or will students have virtual classes only?

Among all the unknowns, we do know for certain that school supply distribution is still needed for the upcoming year!

As school supplies are hitting the middle aisle in your local store, many in our community are starting to think about collection drives. Like many of you, our top priority is the health and safety of the families we serve, our generous supporters, KPS staff, and CIS staff. As such, we have set up a virtual collection drive this year! This is new territory for us, so thank you for your flexibility and understanding.

Are you interested in supporting our back to school drive? It is simple…

  1. Visit our donation page: https://www.roonga.com/ciskalamazoo2020backtoschoolsupplydrive
  2. Select from the available items that have the biggest impact
  3. Follow through with the purchase of the items via the donation page

All items purchased through the donation page will be directly delivered to the CIS Kids’ Closet for distribution to students connected with the 20 CIS supported Kalamazoo Public Schools.

The drive is only open until August 28th!

As a friendly reminder, you are always welcome to support the CIS Kids’ Closet with a financial donation through our website and selecting the CIS Kids’ Closet on the donation page. Don’t forget, distribution of supplies requires “people,” support from our community through our general donations help to provide this service. We THANK YOU, our community of support for helping us meet the need of so many students!

Photo taken from 2019 donation made by Rose Street Advisors in Kalamazoo, Michigan

Jessica Waller: From KPS to Kellogg (and back)

CIS Think Summer! is underway and Jessica Waller helped Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) kick off programming—virtual this summer, due to COVID-19—by offering a fun, informative, and interactive presentation for our secondary students. CIS Think Summer! is organized by various career themes, the first of which is focused on food and food-related careers. As you’ll quickly discover, Mrs. Waller was the perfect person for the job.

Ms. Waller connecting with students through computer.

 

Jessica (Savage) Waller is a proud Kalamazoo native and graduate of Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS); Mrs. Waller attended Northeastern Elementary, South Junior High School (currently known as Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts), and Kalamazoo Central High School. Mrs. Waller’s parents always stressed the importance of getting an education and served as examples for her through their professions. Her father was employed at the state of Michigan at the Michigan Commission for the Blind Training Center as a Mobility and Orientation Instructor and as an adjunct instructor at Western Michigan University in the Department of Blindness and Low Vision Studies and her mother owned a day care.

Upon graduating high school, Mrs. Waller earned a full scholarship to Western Michigan University. At first, she was not sure what she should major in and her mother suggested Business. Later, Mrs. Waller discovered the Food Marketing major. This would allow her to work in the food industry which is a plus because she loves all kinds of food!

Mrs. Waller has been employed with the Kellogg Company for 21 years. She started as an intern and has held several positions within the company along the way to being promoted to her current position of Vice President of the Salty Snacks Division. Mrs. Waller is proud to work for an organization that values Diversity and Inclusion. These two core company values can be traced back to the founder, W.K. Kellogg. For example, the company added love notes in braille to one of their signature products, Rice Krispie Treats; Mrs. Waller was instrumental in this project. Mrs. Waller stated “Inclusion is in our DNA. Everyone is important, and we want each child to be able to feel loved, supported and acknowledged.”

When Mrs. Waller is not busy developing exciting selling stories for customers, she is spending time with her family which includes seven children ranging from the ages of 24 to two years old.

Agenda Ms. Waller shared with students

Mrs. Waller also recently spent time with Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. Her interview follows.

As part of your presentation—which, by the way, was extremely well received by the youth (and grownups) in attendance—you discussed product innovation. It seems that innovation has a natural relationship with diversity and inclusion. Love notes in braille on Kellogg’s Rice Krispy Treats is an excellent example of this. Innovation, like diversity and inclusion, just doesn’t magically happen. Kellogg’s obviously puts work into living out the values of diversity and inclusion. That effort involves creative thinking, listening, and strategizing. Can you speak more about this relationship of diversity, inclusion, and innovation?

Diversity and Inclusion (or D&I) is in the DNA of the Kellogg Company. It started with our founder, WK Kellogg, who was really the Father of the Cereal Category. His persistence resulted in a tremendous amount of innovation, products we now enjoy daily around the breakfast table. Despite many challenges along the way, WK did not give up, and that persistence clearly paid off after many decades of hard work and commitment. At the heart of his work, he solidly believed in changing the world for the better. As part of that, he believed in investing in others, often quoting, “I’ll invest my money in people.” And that he did.

Today, thousands of employees globally still live by the core value set forward by WK. Diversity and Inclusion efforts are at the heart of everything that we do. We have eight different Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) at Kellogg that represent different areas of focus, and these groups work to ensure that every employee can bring their best self to work every day. I served for the last five years as a Co-Chair for one such ERG, Kapable, which focuses on those employees that might be disabled (or differently-abled as we like to say) or might have family members who are. One of the initiatives we helped lead within Kapable was an inclusivity effort within the Rice Krispies Treats Love Notes campaign, which resulted in the release of Rice Krispies Treats Love Notes stickers for both blind and autistic children. These stickers can be placed on the top of Rice Krispies Treats and share a special message of love and recognition for children as they return to school. Because love and inclusivity are the most important school supplies, aren’t they?

Kelloggs Rice Krispies treats braille stickers (Kelloggs)

Yes, you are correct, innovation doesn’t just happen, and neither does diversity and inclusion. They all take hard work, persistence, and a determination to never give up. When paired together, they can change the world, just as WK aspired to do. Hope is not a strategy—we all have to get involved—and I am personally committed to pushing for a better tomorrow.

What are you learning about yourself and/or the world during these challenging times?

I am learning that I haven’t done enough. I was raised by socially progressive parents who always believed in community involvement, engaging in the service of others, and equality for all, and so all three of us kids have carried that forth as a way of living and representation within our own communities and families. I thought that I was doing my part by not being closed-minded and by engaging in work that encourages inclusion and diversity. As I have done some reflection over the past several months, I have recognized that simply isn’t enough. It’s a start, but in order to truly make the world a better place, it’s going to take aggressive action, activism, loud voices, persistence, teaching of our children, and most importantly…listening.

I’ve also learned that every challenge brings forth an opportunity for unity. COVID-19 presented an immediate challenge globally, one that quickly divided us all into our own separate homes and lives and significantly changed our former lifestyles as we knew them. Yet we saw the best of humanity rise up as people helped one another get access to food supplies, deliver groceries, tend to our children, visit the lonely, and countless other ways of uniting for good. Then we have the rising unemployment rate, which can quickly divide the Have’s and Have-Not’s. Again, another place where I have seen the best of people, rising up to help one another with the necessities for their families, extend arms of employment, sharing of resources, etc.

I would also point to the civil unrest this country has seen come to the forefront as of late with the horrific slayings of several black fellow Americans. While this is yet another example of terrible divide, we see the unity coming to life with people of all walks of life and ethnicities taking to the streets and demanding equality. It’s a pivotal point of change that is long, long overdue, and I will stand with my family to take a part in every one of those opportunities for unity. My prayer is that we all engage in unification opportunities within our own communities and drive to deliver a better world for us and for our children.

Do you have a sense that American’s snacking habits have changed as a result of the pandemic?

Absolutely—people are eating more and eating differently. We are constantly engaging consumers to understand this evolution. COVID-19 created this vertical upheaval in the American way of life that has greatly impacted how, when and why people are eating. We know that 89% of shopper buying habits have changed since the start of COVID. More people are buying online, perhaps having groceries delivered, perhaps shopping in another Channel (type of store) versus where they have traditionally shopped. They certainly stocked up more, at least for a period of time, than what they had in the past, and as a result, they are eating more. I know that’s true for me! Being home 24/7 with a house full of kids that would otherwise be so actively engaged in school and community activities has left us eating more food at home instead! We find that to be true broadly across the US.

What will be most interesting is watching what consumers do after this pandemic settles a bit…will they go back to their former ways or be forever changed? We will be anxious to see!

What is one of your favorite snacks?

Cheez-It Extra Toasty, hands down! I love them.

Thinking back to your days as a KPS student, can you tell us about a teacher(s) who influenced and inspired you?

There were so many that I would honestly feel bad if I called out any one in particular. I rattled off nearly a dozen in my mind as the question was asked. There are many excellent teachers in KPS, and everywhere for that matter. We don’t value them enough in this country, and that has to change. Without teachers, where would any of us be?

What are you currently reading?  

I just finished a book called Top Down Day about a family that lost a loved one and how they processed and coped. I lost my Dad nearly five years ago now to brain cancer, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of him and struggle with that tremendous loss. That book really helped me recognize that many of the personal and painful things I have felt with the loss of my Dad are ‘normal’ feelings. One never knows what to expect in the face of tragedy I suppose, but I’m learning everyday how to cope. I miss him terribly, we all do. But at least I can hold onto the wonderful example and teachings he instilled in me of being kind to others always. As long as I uphold that, he lives on.

What is your favorite word or phrase right now?  

“Just do it.” A former leader in my church said that often, as does Nike, of course. We all need to get up off our couches and out from behind our computer and phone screens and get involved. Don’t overthink the ‘buts’ and ‘whats’…just do it. Do what you know is right.

Anything else you want us to know?

I’m so grateful for this opportunity to engage tomorrow’s leaders. So thank you for that.  If I can ever help in any way, count me in!

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

 

 

 

Celebrating Sue Warner: All In For Kids & Reading

Since 1992, Sue Warner has served as the Head of Youth Services. A Kalamazoo native, Sue holds a bachelors degree in English Literature from Indiana University and her MA in Library Science from the University of Michigan. Sue first worked at Kalamazoo Public Library (KPL) as a Student Assistant from 1976-1977. She returned as a Children’s Librarian in 1988, stepping into Head of Youth Services four years later.

Sue Warner is a quiet leader in a world that too often confuses loudness with leadership. A listener, a doer, and a thinker, Sue exhibits a quiet and steady leadership. Over the years, she has brought these qualities (and more) along with her impressive grasp of children’s literature and understanding of child development to her work with the Kalamazoo Public Library. Our partnership with KPL and the children we serve throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools have benefited from her wisdom and leadership. We will miss her when she retires at the end of this month.

We met up (virtually) with Sue during this pandemic to get her thoughts on books (of course!), retirement, and more.

First off, how are you holding up during this pandemic? 

As an introvert, home is my favorite place, so I’m doing okay.

What are you learning about yourself and/or the world in all this? 

I’m reminded that the people who are helpers are still stepping up and taking care of others without looking for attention or recognition; while those who are always seeking the spotlight are using this as a chance to try to be the loudest voices. We always need to look for the helpers and support them.

When it comes to supporting our young people and their families, you and KPL are such an extraordinary partner. We can always count on you to help us keep kids in school and succeed in both school and life. Any thoughts you want to share regarding this longstanding partnership? 

I love partnering with CIS! You guys are the best because you put kids first every day, look to community partners to help, and welcome volunteers to make the one-on-one connections kids that are so critical. Personally, I loved my four years as a tutor with three kids at Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary. The staff at KPL always works together in the fall to collect school supplies to donate the CIS Kids’ Closet. Also, I enjoyed helping my friend Millie, who lives in Texas, when she decided to knit mittens to send to Michigan kids and CIS was willing to distribute them to kids in our community. [Millie’s Mittens post can be found here.] When organizations have a partnership such as ours, the most important part, though, is the personal relationships that staff have . . . we have to know and trust each other in order for the work to be successful.

Sue (far right) back in 2013 when Kalamazoo Public Library hosted Walter Dean Myers during his “Reading is Not Optional” tour. Also pictured (from left): Dr. Michael F. Rice, Walter Dean Myers, and Dr. Zaheerah Shakir Khan. This photo originally ran in the 2013 CIS post, “Finding Words in Your Pockets.”

You and KPL do such wonderful and innovative programming. One of those which is close to your heart is The Late Show, in which you have volunteers read aloud books over the PA system during bedtime to young people residing at the Kalamazoo County Juvenile Home. Can you share with us a bit more about that program? and the power of reading aloud to young people

Now in its 27th year, the Late Show is a bedtime reading program on 2 or 3 nights a week at the Kalamazoo County Juvenile Home. The purpose of the program is to bring a send of calm and comfort to residents at bedtime by reading aloud to them, and to expose students to well-written literature. My first experience with the program was as a volunteer reader, recruited by my friend Ruth Heinig, from WMU. Later, Ruth recruited me to take over from her as the selector of the readings. Now, KPL is the institutional home for the program and we do it all . . . recruit new readers, schedule the readers, select and send out the readings for the week, etc.  We also work with the Juvenile Home to bring visiting teen authors there for author visits, and support other community volunteers who run weekly Book Club discussion groups at the Juvenile Home. Our mission is to support books and reading for these teens who are not currently able to visit the library.

Over the years, you have probably seen changes in the way the way children and families experience the library. Can you speak a little bit about those changes or trends that you’ve noticed?

When I was first starting out as a Children’s Librarian, it was mostly mothers bringing children to the library to check out books and come to storytime. Now we have so many dads, grandparents, and nannies as well as moms. We also offer so many more programs for kids of all ages. We are also seen as a community play space with age-appropriate toys, computers for kids with not only internet access but also educational games and other resources. We have parenting books and magazines in the Children’s Room, community resources about early education and care. The library is now a destination for families to visit and spend time together, not just dash in and leave; families are staying for a long time!

What tips would you give parents who are trying to find just the right book(s) for their young children? 

Let your child choose some of their own books; it’s never too early to learn about making choices; and ask the librarian for help finding things. We have a lot of good ideas!

What children’s book that has been around for quite a while, in your opinion, has stood the test of time?

I never tire of Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown.

What children’s book (or children’s author) has flown under the radar and deserves a wider audience? 

Elisha Cooper’s books are wonderful. His Beaver is Lost and A Good Night Walk are favorites at my house right now.

Is there a children’s book that is over-rated, one that has been touted and received inexplicably positive press? 

Love You Forever by Robert N. Munsch.

When you were a child, what was your favorite book? 

According to my mom, The Cat in the Hat. She had to periodically “lose” it. She despised it, but I’m still rather fond of it. Mom read to us so much; it paid off as my brothers and I are all readers today.

What are you currently reading? 

Kindest Regards by Ted Kooser and Tiny Love: The Complete Stories by Larry Brown.

What is your favorite word or phrase right now?

It will be fine; have a cookie.

When we re-emerge from this pandemic, where is one of the first places you will go? 

Bookbug for me and Oval Beach in Saugatuck for my husband.

What do you think you will miss most about your job once you retire? 

Working with kids and their families every day; it’s so meaningful to help someone find a book they will love, or to encourage a new parent to read with a newborn, or to help a teacher find books to enhance their lessons. Sitting on the floor to read and sing with kids can make the administrative work tolerable some days.

Fred Rogers said, “Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.” As someone on the cusp of retirement, what will you be stepping into and beginning during this next phase of your life? 

Most immediately, providing care for my youngest grandkids this summer; after that, probably looking for a volunteer opportunity in the community where I can work with kids.

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

Note: The Kalamazoo Public Library has missed you! The library will be opening on June 22 with limited hours and service. Face covers will be required for entry. Find out what you can expect when you visit by learning details here.

#GivingTuesdayNow – Together we…

…show up for kids

…are all in for kids (in school and beyond!)

…give thanks

…are grateful

…appreciate our community

…happy to give on #GivingTuesdayNow

Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo is delighted to participate in #GivingTuesdayNow, which is a global day of giving and unity that was organized as an emergency response to the unprecedented need caused by COVID-19. Generosity in any form empowers us to make positive changes in the lives of others, and is a value that everyone can act on.

The tagline for #GivingTuesdayNow: “Together We…” is a perfect sentiment – CIS has elected to participate by giving thanks to our community for the kindness, generosity and collaboration which enable us to remain fully staffed and supporting students each and every day.

For this global day of unity and giving, members of our team each have reflected on an individual or group to recognize in some way. Whether it be volunteers who have gone above and beyond, graduating seniors who deserve some love, or any number of others in our community, CIS team members are eager to recognize some very special people. Here are just a few of the ways that CIS team members have elected to participate in #GivingTuesdayNow:

  • Recognizing seniors that the high school site teams have worked with by preparing celebratory yard signs and banners to post in yards and windows of graduating seniors
  • Sending hand-written thank you cards to community partners who are working on the front lines in our community
  • Sharing gratitude with corporate partners who have offered advice and support for navigating the complexities of running an organization during COVID-19
  • Encouraging neighbors to get involved by delivering sidewalk chalk for writing messages of gratitude and kindness for all to see
  • Writing a poem to share with a specific volunteer who has supported a student
  • Sending a “plantable” card to two special volunteers to thank them for planting seeds of kindness at a school
  • Sending e-cards to corporate sponsors who have extended kindness and understanding after we had to change our annual event
  • Preparing and sending virtual greetings to volunteers, partners and supporters

And much more! We are fortunate to be a part of this community that provides constant reasons to give thanks, and we’re delighted to take part in this global day of unity.

Together We thank you for being part of our community.

Sara Williams: Rolling Up Her Sleeves for Kids

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 Sara Williams, Vice President/Financial Center Manager III with Fifth Third Bank. She’s also stepping into her third year of service as a CIS Board Member, although, as you’ll soon learn, she has been involved with CIS since 2011.

Sara grew up in Otsego and for the past 26 years has called Kalamazoo home. She lives with her husband Kevin, their 12-year-old daughter, one cat, and a dog. Her 24-year-old daughter recently graduated from Western Michigan University and is working as a rehabilitation specialist. Sara is also a proud grandmother to 2 ½ year old Oakli.

With a degree in finance from Davenport University, Sara’s career has always revolved around banking. She started out as a licensed personal banker at Bank One (now Chase) and for the past 20 years has been in management.

She is passionate about CIS and helping kids succeed in school. “I know community support can make all the difference,” she says. In fact, it’s this very philosophy of building stronger communities that drew her to Fifth Third Bank, which partners with CIS in several ways. Most recently, Fifth Third supported the annual Bundle Up project by serving as a host site at seven of their locations, making it convenient for the community to drop off a needed item or two. [More about Kalamazoo Rotaract’s Bundle Up project and how it helps our 12,000+ kids, here.]

On the home page of Fifth Third Bank’s website, it states, We love rolling up our sleeves and helping out our neighbors. Sara Williams, as you’ll soon learn, embodies this philosophy.

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

Pop Quiz

You were involved with CIS before you became a board member, right?

Yes, I first got connected with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo back in 2011. I was working at our Burdick branch at that time. We wanted to do a school supply drive. I’ve got to say, that’s one of the things I love about working with Fifth Third… Anyways, I called one of the schools in the area and they said, “We should connect you with CIS.” So, shortly thereafter, CIS scheduled an appointment to come out and talk with us. It was Emily Kobza who came. When she said, “We don’t need paper and pencils right now. We are in need of deodorant,” well, that blew me out of the water. They need deodorant? We assumed we knew what the needs were but, at that time, deodorant was the bigger need. Deodorant!

So we rallied up as a team at Fifth Third and collected money for hygiene products. That was what, eight years ago? I’ve since learned more about CIS Kids’ Closet and how the community can work through CIS to meet students’ basic needs. There is so much more that CIS does and I still have a lot to learn. But what I do know is that I can’t solve it myself. What I can do is let people know about CIS and some of the needs we help meet.

That reminds me. Want to hear a story?

We’re always up for a story! Do tell.

This is a few years back. I’m at the grocery store. I do extreme couponing and with my coupons and the sale going on, I had figured out that I could get 260 hygiene items for the price of 200 items.

The cashier was helping me ring up these items and was taking quite an interest in why I was purchasing such a large quantity of personal care products. So I started talking about CIS and explained that we were donating these travel-size personal care products to CIS Kids’ Closet to make sure students were in school every day and able to focus on learning without the distraction of being embarrassed about their personal appearance. At the end, the cashier thanked me for making this donation. I told her that no thanks was needed as we love doing this for the kids.

“No,” she said. “I really want to thank you for what you are doing. You see, I’m one of those parents whose child has benefited from Kids’ Closet.” She went on to say that her child came home from school last year with a small pack of items, including some clothing. She said she was a single mom and while she works, it was still hard to get everything her child needed. I don’t know what I’d do without you!” she said.

I knew we were making a difference through CIS, but to hear it directly from a mother who said it made a difference for her and her son, well that was really amazing.

That is a fabulous story. And you might never have learned her story if you hadn’t shared how Fifth Third was supporting kids through CIS.

Educating our employees and the community about the work of CIS is important. People don’t necessarily connect hygiene products with success in school. It’s being able to see that relationship—of how not having a needed hygiene products can prevent students from learning or learning as well as they can. Lacking the necessary items of soap, deodorant, a feminine hygiene product affects self-esteem, attendance, and grades. Children want to do their job: be the best student they can be. In some situations, they need help with having the basics covered so they can focus on learning.

That mother got it. But many people don’t. And at CIS, we do so much more beyond even providing these necessary basics.

Speaking of doing more, Fifth Third Bank also partnered a couple years ago with CIS to bring greater awareness to the importance of school attendance and supported students by donating 500 alarm clocks. [We blogged about it in this post, “Every Minute Counts.”]

That’s right. Ron Foor, Community President for Fifth Third Bank was involved with that.

Yes, he pointed out that school attendance should matter to all of us, not just those with school-age children. When our schools graduate more students on time, our communities and our economy are stronger. We have more people who are prepared for the workplace and more engaged in our community’s civic life. Students who attend school regularly are more likely to be employees who attend work regularly.

We have such great, caring people at Fifth Third, like Ron and others like Pat Lonergan, our Senior Vice President/Community Development and Economic Development Manager II. They are not only personally involved in supporting our communities, but they encourage our employees to do the same.

Education is also incredibly important to us at Fifth Third. That’s one of the reasons we want to partner with our schools. And it’s why we offer our employees the opportunity to take eight hours a year to volunteer in the community, in particular, through Communities In Schools.

As a community, we have a responsibility to our 12,000 plus kids, One of them could be our future caregiver, our grandchild’s teacher, the fire fighter or police officer serving our community. I often ask myself, What I am I doing or not doing to help get them there?

In this community, we have something as great as the Kalamazoo Promise. However, we can’t win with the Kalamazoo Promise if we can’t get our kids in a position to use it. We need to all be about the business of helping students cross that finish line and graduate from high school. We can do this if we set judgements aside, and through CIS, link arms together, and get behind our kids. We must learn and educate each other and welcome people be a part of this movement.

There are many great organizations within our community. What is it about CIS that attracted you to give of your time and talent to this particular board?

I was a young, single mom. I know what it’s like to worry about some of those same things our moms worry about—Am I going to be able to meet all the needs of my kids? How am I  ever going to juggle my job and school and make it all work for my children?

And even though I had a huge village of support from my family, friends, and even my employers, at times—even with that help—it was still incredibly difficult. When you don’t have that support, what do you do? Where would some of the families CIS serves be without our community behind them, being that village of support?

You really are passionate about CIS.

I am. Our kids have so much to deal with today. The last think they should have to worry about is what to do now that they have spilled milk on their only pair of pants or have broken the button off of their pants.

Here’s another story. As a new board member, I went into my CIS site visit thinking that I already knew everything. During the visit, an adorable little boy came into the room. He was holding up his pants with his hands and asked the site coordinator, Can I get a zip tie? He was so happy to get it and then headed back to class, hands free. I didn’t even know about zip ties. Why did he need that? I asked. The site coordinator said he’d lost his pant button. That’s all it took, something as simple as a zip tie to keep his one pair of pants up so he could stay in school. We had barely started, and I thought, I’m not going to make it through this tour.

What are you currently reading?

The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy by Thomas  Stanley and William Danko. It’s educational and gives insight into the mindset of the average millionaire. In my line of work, I’ve learned that you don’t judge a book by its cover. You quickly learn that millionaires are not necessarily detectable. You would be surprised who is and who isn’t a millionaire. It’s not necessarily the person wearing the fancy clothes or driving the nice car.

What is one of your favorite “go to” places in Kalamazoo?

I don’t drink coffee but I do love going to Starbucks. Something about the atmosphere. Plus, I love the smell of coffee. I just can’t drink it!

As you know, at Communities In Schools we believe that every child needs a marketable skill to use upon graduation. It’s one of our five CIS basics. As an employer, what marketable skills are you looking for right now?

A positive attitude and friendly personality. That’s number one in my book.

Those soft skills are so important, aren’t they?

Yes, they are the foundation for which you can build upon, acquire more skills, and grow.

Speaking of skills, what are your thoughts when it comes to financial literacy skills in America? Research has shown that we’re lagging behind other countries. [Here’s a 2017 study that found 1 in 5 teens lack basic financial literacy skills.]

I think that is more a reflection of what goes on in our society. We think: this is the way we have to live. Our kids—grownups too—think I have to have “x” or “y” to fit in. Barriers, including our mentality around money can get in the way that prevent people from being successful financially.

We live in a world today of instant gratification and this can drive people to make poor financial decisions.

I recall listening to an NPR piece about how living in poverty with limited resources influences our brains. When just trying to get through the day or week, we are likely to make short-term financial decisions that make things worse-off for us in the long run. When we have less, our brains adopt a scarcity mindset.”  

Add to that the spoken and unspoken messages kids receive regarding how they should dress, what they should wear. These impact our decisions. As women, we might think, Oh my nails look horrible, so we go out and have them done. We feel better, but our bank account is not feeling so well. Our culture makes it easy for us to consume and make impulse buys even when we can’t afford to do so. We now live in a time of Black Fridays deals, and pre-black Friday sales now. It’s genius from a retail marketing standpoint. Not so much for the consumer.

What’s your favorite word right now?

It’s more of a phrase: needs versus wants. I say that all the time. Do you need it? Or do you want it?

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

It would be a tie between my mom and my dad. While my parents may not be rich in money, they are rich in other ways. They are givers and both are the type that give the shirts off their back to someone in need. While waiting in line at the grocery store, if someone is short on paying their groceries, they have picked up their tab. They give and give. They are examples of selfless living. I learned early on from them that the rewards you get from giving are not physical or tangible. They may not necessarily be something you can look at and hold. The reward is more a feeling. You put that good out into the world and to others, and good things come back.

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

 

 

One Beautifully Ugly Party

There was a whole lot of ugly going on in the backroom of Bell’s this past Thursday. Gaudy. Over the top. Tacky. Blinky. Jingly. These are just a few of the words that described the sweaters party guests donned on Thursday, December 5th. All the ugly was for a good cause: supporting CIS Kids’ Closet which provides basic need items of clothing, school supplies, and personal care products to help ensure all kids can attend school every day with confidence and dignity, ready to learn.

The Ugly Sweater Party, kindly sponsored by Janet and Scott Nykaza, was the culmination of Kalamazoo Rotaract Club’s Kalamazoo Bundle Up project, an annual drive for winter wear and personal items that helps to stock CIS Kids’ Closet. [More about Kalamazoo Rotaract and their Bundle Up project can be found at this post.]

Guests poured into Bell’s, bringing with them new items from the “wish list” or $15. All these donations will directly support the CIS Kids’ Closet which distributes these items to 20 CIS supported KPS schools. Students and school staff can then connect with the CIS Site Team at their school to request needed items. This year, we welcomed over 140 guests who donated over $3,000 and 65 new items!

As the band, Rock Rx, played, guests chatted and munched on appetizers. Throughout the evening, guests cast their votes for the ugliest sweater.

Here are the top three winners:

(Left to right: Dave Morgan, CEO of YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo, Lynne Melvin, Senior Administrative Assistant at Chase, and Dr. John Oliver, CIS Director of Quality and Evaluation.)

A hearty thanks to Janet and Scott Nykaza, the Kalamazoo Rotaract for another successful year of Kalamazoo Bundle Up, to all the businesses that served as Bundle Up locations, and party guests that showed up Thursday—all to benefit our kids.

Keep following us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. We’ll soon be featuring CIS Board Member and Vice President, Financial Center Manager III of Fifth Third Bank Sara Williams. Seven Fifth Third Bank sites served as Bundle Up locations, making it convenient for the community to drop off a needed item or two.

 

Bundle Up, Kalamazoo!

Kalamazoo Rotaract members Evan Anderson and Liz VandenHeede

You’ll learn a bundle today as this post is packed with fun information on Bundle Up, a project of Kalamazoo Rotaract Club. You’ll also meet two of the club members working behind the scenes as members of this community service and social club composed of young professionals & students in the Kalamazoo area.

On the heels of Rotaract’s annual wrapping party, Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids caught up with club members Evan Anderson and Liz VandenHeede at Walnut & Park Cafe. Serving as President of Kalamazoo Rotaract Club, Evan Anderson grew up in Kalamazoo and went to the University of Michigan. He returned to his home town four years ago and is a mechanical engineer at Parker Hannifin. Member and former President of Kalamazoo Rotaract Club Liz VandenHeede hails from Niles, Michigan. She graduated from WMU in public relations and works in communications and marketing with Miller-Davis.

The week before, Evan and Liz had gathered with a dozen other Rotaract Club members at Wax Wings Brewing to decorate the donation boxes used for their annual Bundle Up winter clothing drive. One of those festive boxes was nestled just inside the front door of the café where we chatted over hot chocolate and a chai tea latte.

Tell us about Bundle Up. What is the history behind this project? How long has this partnership between the Kalamazoo Rotaract Club and Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo been going on?

Evan: The Kalamazoo Rotaract Club started here in 2009.

Liz: And our club is always looking for ways we can participate in different community service projects.  We do a lot of one-time events, such as park cleanups, and we also really wanted to do a signature project, something that we could have all hands on deck, and make a bigger impact in the community. We tossed around lots of ideas and arrived at winter weather gear drive.

We started doing Bundle Up with CIS in 2015. So we’re on our fifth year with this project. And it keeps evolving. Those first few years we were collecting for both adults and kids. As our partnership with CIS was strong, we really felt the need to focus in exclusively with CIS and put our energies towards the kids.

Evan: Bundle Up is a clothing drive for new and like-new winter wear and personal items that help stock CIS Kids’ Closet. We kick it off in October with our wrapping party and it runs throughout November. By the first of November we’ve placed boxes throughout the community at Kalamazoo business locations where people have volunteered to host a box. We list the needed items on the side of the box—and people can drop off the donated items at any of the Bundle Up locations. [Locations listed at end of this post.]

From the start, the community has been really supportive, dropping off these much needed items that our club members will eventually gather up to stock the CIS Kids’ Closet.

The project culminates in the Ugly Sweater Party. This year’s event—open to all—will be held on Thursday, December 5th from 5:30 – 8:00 p.m. at Bell’s. People are asked to bring an item or make a donation of $15.

Liz: The first couple years Rotaract was doing the Bundle up project and CIS was also doing its Ugly Sweater Party. We talked with each other and said, hey, let’s weave these together and make it one project, with the Ugly Sweater Party culminating in the final celebration of our Bundle Up project.

Evan: It’s been a wonderful partnership. Each year, we adjust our list based on our conversation with CIS as to what items kids need most. For instance, this year, cloth headbands have been added to the list.

Liz: It’s been a terrific partnership all around. The Rotary Club of Kalamazoo is our sponsoring club and we have a great partnership with them as well. They have been such supporters of both us and our Bundle Up Project.

How many items do you generally collect during the drive?

Evan: Our fourth annual Bundle Up Kalamazoo drive in 2018 provided kids with nearly 2,000 items of winter wear, such as coats, boots, hats, snow pants, and gloves.

Liz: In addition to last year’s donated items, we also raised nearly $600 to purchase additional needed items for our kids.

Definitely a success! How did the name Bundle Up come about? It’s such a great name.

Evan: It is a great name, isn’t it? Liz has been with the project from the start. She knows that history.

Liz: Yes, we came up with the name when we were meeting at Bell’s. We were brainstorming on what would be a good name for gathering up winter gear. We came up with Bundle Up. We want to keep Kalamazoo warm!

If some young professional wanted to become a member of the Kalamazoo Rotaract Club, what should they do?

Evan: If you are a student or young professional between 20 to 35 years of age, we encourage you to contact us. You can find out more on our website, our Facebook page, or just show up to one of our meetings. While we publicize meetings on both our website and Facebook page, we typically meet somewhere in the community two times a month, on the second Tuesday and fourth Wednesday of the month.

Okay, now we’d like to know a little more about each of you. What are you currently reading?

Evan: Atomic Awakening by James Mahaffey. It’s about nuclear power.

You’re reading that just for fun?

Evan:  Yes.

Liz: Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. I usually boycott reading books about running. I spend so much time running I don’t need to spend time reading about it when I’m not running.

Evan: You should download the audiobook so you can listen to it while you run.

Liz: [Laughing.] I should!

What is your favorite word right now?

Liz: Bundle up!

Evan: CIS!

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

Evan: I’d have to say my caring adults are my parents. Both have been very supportive throughout my life, education, and career. They have always been about giving back to others and value community involvement.

Liz: Maybe that’s how you ended up becoming involved in Rotaract.

Evan: You’re probably right.

Liz: Mine is my former teacher, Miss [Marilyn] Klimek. She was my journalism teacher at Niles High School. She took me under her wing and opened me up to opportunities I wouldn’t have known or done otherwise. “You should do this. You should try this.” She was always saying that and encouraged me to attend journalism camp and get involved in the school newspaper, where I ended up being editor-in-chief.

Anything else we should know?

Liz: We’re excited that Interact—the high school version of our service club—is in its first year at Loy Norrix High School. The students just had their own wrapping party to support the Bundle Up project. We provided them with boxes and paper and they decorated the boxes and even found their own locations! Deborah Harris is the person from the Rotary Club of Kalamazoo helping to support this initiative by local youth.

Thank you, Evan and Liz, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. And thanks to all Kalamazoo Rotaract Club members for bundling up our kids and keeping them warm this winter. 

 

Are you a young person interested in serving the community, meeting new people, developing lasting friendships, and growing professionally? Consider becoming a member of Kalamazoo Rotaract Club today.

Interested in donating a much needed item (noted above) for kids this winter? Throughout  November, drop off your donation at any of these locations:

Bundle Up Locations

Cityscape Event Center (125 S Kalamazoo Mall)

Crossfit Torrent (5033 West Main St., Kalamazoo 49009)

Discover Kalamazoo (240 W Michigan Ave, Kalamazoo, MI 49007)

Fifth Third Bank (Oshtemo, 6040 Stadium Drive, Kalamazoo, MI 49008)

Fifth Third Bank (Kalamazoo Downtown,136 East Michigan Ave, Kalamazoo, MI 49007)

Fifth Third Bank (Burdick and Crosstown, 101 East Crosstown Parkway, Kalamazoo, MI 49001)

Fifth Third Bank (Milwood, 4109 Portage Road, Kalamazoo, MI 49001)

Fifth Third Bank (Crossroads, 6488 S Westnedge Ave, Portage, MI 49002)

Fifth Third Bank (Westwood, 4705 West Main St., Kalamazoo, MI 49006)

Fifth Third Bank (Gull Road  5653 Gull Road, Kalamazoo, MI 49048)

Humphrey Products (5070 East N Ave, Kalamazoo, MI 49048)

KPS Administration Office (1220 Howard St, Kalamazoo, MI 49008)

Old National Bank (5003 Century Ave, Kalamazoo, MI 49006)

Old National Bank (3201 Portage St., Kalamazoo 49001)

Pet Supplies Plus (5230 S Westnedge Ave, Portage, MI 49002)

Read and Write Kalamazoo  (802 S Westnedge Ave, Kalamazoo, MI 49008)

Regus  (251 N Rose St, Suite 200, Kalamazoo, MI 49007)

Sweetwater’s Donut Mill (2138 S Sprinkle Rd, Kalamazoo, MI 49001)

Visiting Angels (120 South Main St, Plainwell, MI 49080)

Walnut & Park Cafe (322 W Walnut St., Kalamazoo, MI 49007)

And remember, you’re invited join Kalamazoo Rotaract and CIS on Thursday, December 5th from 5:30-8:00 p.m. to celebrate this year’s conclusion of Bundle Up Kalamazoo with drinks, food, and an Ugly Sweater Contest. 

One Generous Community, 14,000 Back-to-school Supplies

Once again, our generous partners have made a difference for kids. Many community organizations and local businesses hosted supply drives and helped ensure that the basic need for school supplies was provided for students at the start of the school year. Our CIS site coordinators were able to collect and distribute supplies to students in 20 Kalamazoo Public Schools buildings. We wish to say “Thank You” to all of our wonderful community members who hosted school supply drives this year!

Airway Fun Center

AT&T Michigan

Breakfast Optimist Club of Kalamazoo

Edward Jones

Edwards Garment

FLYNN THIEL

IBEW Local 131

Jaqua Realtors

Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes

Kalamazoo Public Library

Kalamazoo County Association of Retired School Personnel

Kushner & Company

Menards on West Main

Miller Johnson

NALS of Greater Kalamazoo

Old National Bank

Outerwears

Parkview Hills / Willow Lake Clubhouse

Rose Street Advisors

Salvation Army

West Michigan American Payroll Association

WMU Black Student Union

WMU Lee Honors College

 

Over 14,000 school supply items were donated! With your support, students have access to resources like school supplies every day.

Interested in participating? For an updated list of current, urgent needs, please click here.