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.

 

 

 

 

No Time to Volunteer? You Still Can. Just Ask Jennifer Swan.

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

As Senior Architectural Project Coordinator with TowerPinkster, Jennifer Swan’s work schedule makes it difficult for her to volunteer on a weekly, consistent basis. Yet, she wanted to help kids stay in school and succeed in life. She came up with a creative solution and developed the Swan Snack Emporium which supports CIS Kid’s Closet. True to her name, Swan is helping children connect with their inherent beauty and value by giving kids the basics they need to stay in school and learn with dignity. Swan Snack Emporium received a 2019 Champ award and earlier this summer we featured that here.

Today we bring you a conversation Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids had with this creative CIS volunteer (which originally ran back in 2017.)

Since 1953, TowerPinkster, a design firm, has been creating vibrant places for people to live, work and play. As you know, TowerPinkster has received a number of awards. TP was named one of the “101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work for in the Nation” (National Association of Business Resources). TP was also awarded “Best Firm to Work For in the Nation” (ZweigWhite). From your perspective, what makes TP the best and the brightest?  

What I think makes us the best are the people. We are like a family. We have two offices, in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, and although it’s a little harder these days—we’ve added quite a few new people to both offices and I don’t get up to the Grand Rapids office as much as I used—we used to know everybody and know everything that everybody is doing.

TowerPinkster is a family culture and we have a lot of fun. It’s not just coming to work. It’s coming in to work with your friends, what seems like brothers and sisters, more often than not. It’s a great environment and we have a ton of fun here.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I learn something every single day with my job. There are always new things happening in the construction industry, whether it’s new process or new people you work with. There’s not just one thing that I can give you that is something that I’ve learned because I learn every day on my job. Every single day I learn from contractors and learn from the construction managers on the project site. I learn from project managers here, even our interns that come in who know the new tech stuff that I don’t know, so I’m always learning.

What are you currently reading?

While I don’t have time to sit down and read a full book right now, I get on the internet and I read a lot of blogs and news articles.

Besides Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids, what are your ‘go-to’ blogs?

The type of blogs I turn to are ones that I can learn new things related to my work and to learn how other people are doing things so I can make myself better and faster at my job.

What is your favorite word right now?

My favorite word right now is strength, not like muscle strength but strength as in being a woman in a male-dominated field. You have to have a lot of strength and tenacity to go on job sites and be with a lot of men that are very experienced in the construction industry. I don’t build stuff, but I know how stuff is supposed to go together. It’s being able to hold my own on job sites and here in the office. I mean, the guys here are great and they’re very, very easy to work with and nobody’s ever like, You’re a girl and you don’t know what you’re doing. But it’s important to always have an understanding of what you’re talking about.

What’s your story behind getting into this line of work?

I think I got into this line of work because of my mother. When she was growing up, she and many women of that time were taught that women could be a secretary or go into teaching. I think she always wanted to be an architect because she was always, always sketching house plans at home. My dad was in the construction industry and in the summer he sometimes would take me with him and I would get to go to a construction site. I was always very interested in the construction architectural field just being around that growing up. So when I was in high school I took some drafting classes and just fell in love with it all.

I didn’t go to be an architect because growing up my family we didn’t have a lot of money so I didn’t go to U of M or any of the big colleges for that. I chose a smaller school—Baker College—as they had an architectural technical program.

What is something you love about Kalamazoo?

There’s so much to do! I come from a really, really, small town called Langston. There’s a party store, a church, and an ice cream place. So to come to Kalamazoo and there are restaurants, bars, festivals, and so many things to do and just so much to pick from…it’s wonderful!

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

My mom is definitely 100% my caring adult. She supports me with everything I do. I grew up in a single family household. My dad left when I was 11 or 12 so my mom raised my brother and me. She had a really strong work ethic and would work late nights and weekends because she was the only income that we had. She worked really hard and I pride myself on being like my mom because, like her, I have a very strong work ethic. Her being a single mom and raising two kids by herself; it’s just always been an inspiration to me. If she can do that, then I can do anything.

Jennifer, thank you for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids!

School is about to start and our kids need you. Consider becoming a volunteer today. To learn how you can help, go here.

Students Engage, Design, and Build with an Architect

During the 2018/19 school year, volunteers from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Southwest Michigan visited the CIS After School program at Hillside Middle School. Over the course of the multi-week program, students learned about different building structures and were guided through the process of designing and building their own architectural structure. They drew up their designs and then, using Legos, created miniature versions of their designs.

Nadine Rios-Rivas, an architectural associate with Byce & Associates, Inc., organized and served as the Public Awareness Co-Chair for the AIA Southwest Michigan. The team of volunteers introduced and explored careers in architecture with the students. “The AIASWM has decided to focus its awareness efforts on the future of Kalamazoo,” Nadine said. “It was a privilege to mentor and engage local students we hope to plant seeds of interest in higher education.”

 

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

Students named and briefly described their work. Below are the statements made by the students whose final products were displayed in the Radisson lobby during the 2019 Champs Celebration.

Chaneayl (age 11) 6th Grader

“My House”

I wanted to build a huge multi-level home. I wanted to make it BIG! I choose the black and red colors because they are my favorite colors.

During the project, I had fun learning about other buildings.

 

Ciara (age 12) 7th Grader

“Ciara’s Family Suite”

I choose to build a big hotel suite. I designed a pool with a water slide that goes in and out of the building. It also has a basketball court and Ping-Pong room.

During the project, I had fun using my imagination and being creative.

 

Malikai (age 14) 8th Grader

“Mausoleum of the Emperor”

I was inspired by my card game that I like to play. It sounds historic and I thought it was pretty cool.

During the project, I had fun using my hands to build things.

 

Kazaria (age 11) 6th Grader

“Radisson”

I designed a big hotel that you can eat for free. It has a water slide, game room and gym that is open 24 hours a day.

During the project, I had fun learning to put things together along with playing with Legos for the first time.

 

Amira (age 12) 6th Grader

“The Fun Fantastic Hotel”

I incorporated some of my favorite stores; Red Lobster (red), donut shop (pink), and a water park.

During the project, I learned that you can build whatever you like.

Jade (age 12) 7th Grader

“The Brit”

My design is my dream house. I would like to live in a mansion with a basketball court, go-cart track and pool.

During the project, I had fun sketching my ideas for my dream house.

 

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

Swan Snack Emporium Serves Up Dignity and Confidence

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

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

TowerPinkster, a design firm, creates vibrant places for people to live, work and play. So it’s not surprising that when Jennifer Swan, a Senior Architectural Project Coordinator with TowerPinkster, set her design on helping children, she would come up with an ingenious and creative plan.

Jennifer Swan, Senior Architectural Project Coordinator with TowerPinkster

Jennifer’s work schedule made it difficult to commit to volunteering in a school on a consistent basis. How else, she wondered, could she get involved in a way that impacted kids and worked with her schedule? She dug around, asked questions, and determined the CIS Kids’ Closet would be the perfect structure to incorporate into her design. Jennifer will tell you that if you come up with an idea, the first thing you should do is give it a good name. So in 2015, the Swan Snack Emporium was born.

The foundation for the Emporium was poured years earlier, when Jennifer was just a child. I grew up not having a lot, she says. There were times it was hard for my mom to buy my brother and me some of the basic necessities. Knowing what it felt like to be in school without the basics, she rolled up her sleeves and got to work. She sketched out a plan that would funnel new items like socks, underwear, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, and soap to CIS Kids’ Closet. As she puts it, I want kids to have what they need and know they are okay, that they aren’t alone.

Just like designing a building, the Swan Snack Emporium relies on the collective support of the team. This is how it works: Jen purchases snacks on sale and makes them available in the office. Her colleagues can visit the Emporium and grab a bite for breakfast or pick up a snack, all the while feeling good knowing proceeds from the dollar or two they are putting towards that granola bar, microwave popcorn, or bag of Sunchips go to purchasing items for the CIS Kids’ Closet.

I know the burning question on everyone’s mind right now is: What is the number one, most in-demand snack at Swan Snack Emporium? Hands down: it’s Pop Tarts!

But seriously, Jennifer and her colleagues provide students in 20 CIS-supported schools with the basics they need to attend school every day with confidence and dignity, ready to learn. Thanks to Swan Snack Emporium, over the past four years, over 6,500 items have been donated to CIS Kids’ Closet.

Swan Snack Emporium, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Teen Living Life With Courage and Hope

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 Annie Jett, a seventh grader at Hillside Middle School.

Prior to Hillside, Annie attended fifth grade at Lincoln and kindergarten through fourth grade at Northglade Montessori Magnet School. Annie is “loving my educational experience at Hillside.” With her positive attitude, this student who thinks deeply about many subject matters has a bright future ahead of her.

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

Pop Quiz

What is your favorite subject?

Life skills. It is helping me become a more advanced person. The class helps me not only now with how I can see and do things but, how in the future, what I’m learning will help me in the different environments I find myself in when I’m out in the world.

Any favorite teachers?

In elementary school it was Ms. [Carla] Waller. She’s retired now, but she was my teacher at Northglade Montessori Magnet School. Also, Ms. [Suezann] Bennett-Sheldon. She teaches life skills here at Hillside. She’s really helpful and teaches you different ways to approach things. She also is able to figure out different ways to help you learn.

How has CIS figured into your educational experience?

CIS has been there for me. The people care. When I was at Northglade, Mr. [Derek] Miller was my site coordinator. And when I got to Hillside, his wife, Ms. Precious [Miller] was my site coordinator.

You had the Miller team!

Yes, they were both very helpful, responsible, and respectful. They especially help me calm down my anger when I was mad. And when my father passed away in 2017, Ms. Precious was there for me. We had just finished doing a Prevention Works program when my granny came down to the school that day and told me my father had passed in a car crash on the highway… I went into a coma…I felt paralyzed. I felt that way for weeks, like I couldn’t move.

Ms. Precious was there. She even came to my classes when I was sad and down. She helped me get through it before she went to Western.

And now Ms. Jody Sikkema is your CIS Site Coordinator.

Yes, and I have found the same connection with her, just in a different way. Ms. Jody helps me find different ways to handle my emotions. She’s gotten me involved in Grief 101 with Ms. Cate. Ms. Cate has helped me a lot. The Grief 101 group [offered through Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan] has connected me with more people who have the same thing. At first, I was even scared to talk about it, was going to bust down……It helps to be surrounded by other people that have similar situations. I was stuck in my shell and Ms. Cate has helped me open up.

I know how to handle things, but I also know that some times are just going to be hard, like the 13th of every month…[the date of her father’s death]. All together, Ms. Precious, Ms. Jody, and Ms. Cate have really, really, really helped me a lot with this.

Your father’s death is such a huge thing to deal with. In talking with Ms. Cate recently for the upcoming CIS newsletter, she said that grief is something that never goes away. You learn to live with it.

That’s right. And that’s what I’m doing every day.

Annie with Ms. Mariah Adamy, WMU School of Social Work student interning with CIS. “Ms. Mariah is very open and it’s easy to talk to her,” says Annie.

What is something you’ve recently learned?

That I can make more connections with others and that is good to do for me. I might be afraid to talk to you because I don’t know you, but I still am talking to you.

You are putting yourself out there.

Yes. And I’m becoming more mature and more wise about my decisions. When my dad was here, he always knew how to put me in check. Now I’m learning how to do that.

What is your favorite word right now?

Courage. If it wasn’t for courage, I’d still be down and wouldn’t have others to lift me up. I think about courage every day. It comes up in different forms, you know? Like, I might call my granny and she helps me, lifts my spirits up.

I love my family and education, but at the end of the day I still have to deal with one of my parents gone. I’m moving along and finding new paths every day to take. That is the way of courage.

What are you currently reading?

The Hate U Give. It’s our all school read at Hillside.

What would you ask the author, Angie Thomas, if you got the chance?

I would ask Angie Thomas, “How were you able to do this so well? How were you able to compare real life to the life you have created in your book?” She really was able to capture real life—and the world of black and white—so real, like. How was she able to do that?

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

Every adult I know and see. Even if I don’t know you, I can see how you are caring. That’s one of my special abilities.

Also, my principal, Mr. McKissack. I think of him as my uncle because he knows me and has known my family a long time. He was a teacher when my mom was here at the school. And even though he’s not my real uncle, he cares like a real uncle. He’s helped me through things, too. He’s the kind of person I like to be around.

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

In our Spring 2019 CIS Connections, you can learn more about Annie, Ms. Cate, and the partnership between CIS and Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan.

Cate Jarvis: Built for Helping Kids in Schools

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 Cate Jarvis, School Grief Support Counselor.

Since 2006, CIS has been able to turn to Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan. From the beginning of this partnership, Cate Jarvis, one of Hospice’s School Grief Support Counselors, has been supporting grieving students. She runs eight-week sessions of “Grief 101” in seven to ten Kalamazoo Public School buildings each year. By the end of this school year, she will have held fall, winter, and spring sessions at Hillside Middle School, Kalamazoo Central High School, Loy Norrix High School, Lincoln International Studies School, Washington Writers’ Academy, Woods Lake Elementary, Parkwood Upjohn Elementary, Milwood Magnet Middle School, Woodward School for Technology and Research, and Prairie Ridge Elementary School.

Originally from Detroit, Cate was surprised to find she had made her way to Kalamazoo. “I grew up in the city of Detroit and everything was there,” she says. “I didn’t know that there was anything past Ann Arbor!” Cate holds degrees from Western Michigan University, a bachelor in Family Studies and Masters in WMU’s Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology. We met up with Cate at Walnut & Park Cafe in downtown Kalamazoo.

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

Pop Quiz

There are many definitions of grief out there. Author and undertaker Thomas Lynch says, “Grief is the price we pay for being close to one another. If we want to avoid our grief, we simply avoid each other.” How do you define grief?

Grief is a natural process that you go through when you have lost someone or something. Not just death of loss of a loved one, but it could be losing one’s sense of safety and losing a sense of how one functions in the world due to a variety of things: incarceration, foster care, recent changes in home or school. Who am I going to be without this person? Who is going to take care of me? In that process of grieving, you can feel many different emotions, such as anger confusion, sadness, and relief.

Then why is it, when grief is a natural process, does it seems we have a tendency in this society to rush past or avoid grief? Even the very terms we use when referring to grief, like “get over it,” suggest we want to quickly brush it aside. Is this an accurate perception? If so, what do we lose out on by not fully embracing loss?

I think that’s an accurate perception. It’s not a comfortable subject to discuss, so often, people just don’t. What do we lose out on not embracing hope? That’s a good question. Two of the big one’s we potentially lose out on is resilience and the ability to be connected to other things and people. …We go through grief because we are connected.

When it comes to grief, you never get over it. You live with it. You let it be. Sometimes grief is going to be more and sometimes it’s going to be less.

What does a grieving child look like? How does grief manifest itself differently in children than in adults?

In kids, usually you see behaviors like withdrawing, sadness, and anger. They may appear worried and a lot of times you see an underlying agitation—they can’t sit still and may get frustrated easily. Adults can have these same behaviors but they have more life experience and cognitive ability to keep that contained. You may see crying with both kids and adults, as well as depression, substance abuse, a sense of hopeless, anxiety and worry, and a stressed-out presence.

With adults, they may believe that their grief will be a burden to someone. I see this in the teen years but not with the younger children. That makes sense: as we get older, we take in societal messages about how we should or should not express our grief. We learn that often people don’t know how to respond. And so, in some instances, we may try and keep that burden to ourselves.

How should we respond to someone who is grieving?

Acknowledge the loss. Acknowledging is better than not acknowledging it. Saying something is better than not saying anything at all.

In talking recently with a mother whose adult child is dying, I was reminded that grieving is hard work. She was exhausted. She mentioned that she could easily be consumed by her grief. One way she was trying to keep this from happening was consciously trying to be more child-like in the way she was dealing with her grief. You know, how sometimes kids seem to be sad one moment and then minutes later they are laughing and enjoying something. Grownups, on the other hand, may feel guilty. How is it that I can feel joy or happiness in this time of sadness?

Yes, kids can compartmentalize their grief. With grief, kids dip their toe in the water a bit. You might be giving a long explanation to a question they’ve asked about the loss they are experiencing and then they are like, So what’s for dinner? They process information differently than adults. Adults process it all the time, whereas kids are processing it in chunks of time.

… I like that idea of being childlike with grief, that’s probably very healthy. Giving yourself space, time, love, and self-care, it’s important to do that. People who are grieving need a break from grief.

As you’ve been working with children over the years, any surprising insights about loss or grief?

It’s surprising the amount of grief and losses that a young child or teenager experiences…It also makes you realize that we are made for it.

You’re saying we’re built for grief.

Think about it. Think of the losses you’ve experienced throughout your life. If you took those out, what would be left? I realize that’s a philosophical way to look at it, but it is stunning to consider how much loss our kids endure. It is endurance; it’s a marathon.

Think of a child—elementary school age—who has witnessed her mom being arrested. So she goes to live with her granny, and then a few years later, when she’s in middle school, her granny dies. That right there is a lot of loss to deal with…

I’ve been doing this work for so long—and that is one of the great things about our partnership with CIS in the schools—is that I will see this student when they are in elementary school. CIS may again refer that student when they are in middle school or again in high school. Grief and loss is processed at developmental levels. So what a child may experience as a third grader, they may struggle with that loss again—in a different way—as a teen in junior high school, and then again in high school.

That loss keeps coming back up is a common and natural part of the grieving process. Say that student is now a senior. Senior year, everything changes. There are many milestones, they are getting ready to graduate, and the very people who are supposed to be there and help them navigate and celebrate these milestones aren’t there. They are missing their mom who isn’t there to guide them through the process. It can be overwhelming.

What are you currently reading?

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells and Mindfulness for Teens by Dzung Vo. I just finished reading The Warmth of Other Sons by Isabel Wilkerson. Put that on your to-do list if you haven’t read that yet. It’s about the great migration and told from three vantage points.

Any favorite places in our community?

Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy’s public preserves, like the Portman Nature Preserve. Also, Al Sabo Land Preserve.

Favorite word?

It’s more like a phrase: let it be.

We can learn to let grief be. Not everything is fixable and that’s okay. There is a big word that captures this idea somewhat, and that is acceptance. But I don’t like that word.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I’ve learned about Bondi Beach in Australia. It’s somewhere I want to go. It’s east of Sydney and there is a whole culture to it. Big surf, big waves. Looks like a good time.

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

I would say it has not been just one person, but rather a collective, usually always women and they are either my age or a little older than me. They give me perspective and offer somewhat of a mentoring relationship, but it’s not an official mentoring relationship. These women have a little bit more life experience than I do, and they walk me in off the edge. I respect their opinion and insight. I appreciate that they have faith in me.

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

Learn more about Cate and what she has to say about the Hospice partnership with CIS in our upcoming CIS Connections.

Steve Brewer: Celebrating the Small Victories of Student Success

Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we feature CIS Site Coordinator Steve Brewer.

Born in Princeton, New Jersey, Steve Brewer was barely walking when he toddled off to Tubingen, Germany with his family. (His father had been awarded the John Wesley Scholarship to live in Germany.) After several years, the family returned to Lebanon, New Jersey. Eventually, the family settled in Spring Arbor, Michigan.

A graduate of Spring Arbor University, Steve majored in sociology and minored in philosophy. Steve served two years, beginning in 2015, as an AmeriCorps VISTA at Edison and Northeastern elementary schools. Last year, he began as the CIS Site Coordinator for Northglade Montessori Magnet School and was the assistant coordinator for Literacy Buddies. As a full time CIS Site Coordinator, Steve is currently supporting Northglade as well as providing daytime and after school support to Edison Environmental Science Academy. While every school has its own unique culture, Steve says both schools share a passion for helping students learn and grow.

We met up with Steve at Northglade where he was meeting and greeting students in the hallway. It was just before Thanksgiving when we popped this quiz on him.

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

Pop Quiz

What is one of the best parts about being a CIS site coordinator?

One of my favorite times of the day is lunchtime. That’s when I check in with the students to find out how they are doing. Sometimes, I’ll just sit with them, sometimes eat lunch with them, or we might have lunch together in the CIS space.

I really like that we are doing important work. It’s work that wouldn’t be done if we weren’t here in the schools. It’s also good to know we are making an impact. Sometimes, it may not always be noticeable because often it’s small steps being made along the way. You know the saying: progress is made in inches instead of miles. It’s important to look at the big picture and recognize the small victories.

Can you share a small victory?

One of my small victories is that a student is now bringing his back pack to school each day. He wouldn’t bring it last year.

What is one of the most challenging aspects of being a site coordinator?

We still don’t have enough resources to take care of everybody. Take Northglade, for example. We have 224 students. We are not one of the higher poverty schools in the district, yet at least 70 percent of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch. By that measure, we may not have the highest need, but 70 percent is still 70 percent and that translates to a lot of needs. The community works with us to meet them, but it is still a challenge. For instance, our kids need coats and boots. Warm Kids—a great, long-time CIS partner—is providing us 20 brand new coats and 17 boots. That is wonderful. Still, we have more Northglade students who could benefit from these types of basic needs.

[As if on cue, Don Keller, a Northglade parent, enters the CIS room to donate several “Wish List” items for CIS Kids’ Closet, including some much needed coats. “I know that some of my kids’ friend’s may be in need of these items,” he says, as CIS intern Jessica Teske-Harden steps in to assist with the donation. Even though the Keller’s own children may not be the direct beneficiary of resources provided, Keller points out that his kids benefit when their classmates have their needs met. “We appreciate that CIS is in the school and that my wife and I can play a part.”]

The Kellers stopping by to support students through CIS Kids’ Closet.

You were meeting and greeting students in the hallway first thing this morning. Plus, you have had parents stopping into the CIS office. Can you give us a glimpse of what else goes on in the day of the life of a site coordinator?

I find first thing in the morning is a great way to connect with kids and get a sense of how things may be going. That’s why I’ll also stop into the cafeteria as students are eating breakfast. It gives the students the opportunity to reach out about something that may be on their mind. For instance, today two students needed CIS help. One involved a boot situation and one student just needed to connect and talk a little. Which reminds me, I have several calls to make about coats and boots and other basic needs!

Let’s see, what else is going on? I just completed the community feast spreadsheet and turned it into Trella [Artrella Cohn, CIS Senior Director of Community Engagement & Student Investment] so that 45 of our school’s families can have a thanksgiving meal they might otherwise not have. [While CIS staff like Steve are identifying families and doing the necessary paperwork, Hands Up Foundation, a fabulous CIS partner, works hard year-round raising the funds to make sure KPS—as well as families with children in the surrounding area—have a Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings. This year, they provided over 1,000 Thanksgiving dinners to KPS families.]

Every day is different. Like right now, I have glasses on my mind. I’m in the process of reviewing a vision list. Every school year, throughout KPS, first, third, and fifth graders are screened for vision and tested to see if they need glasses. As a site coordinator, I’m looking at results and following up with parents whose children need further follow up. I’m calling them to see if they were able to get an appointment, if they need some kind of assistance with this, or we can help in any way. I’ve already set up an appointment for one family based on one of these calls.

I’m also working on student support plans for each of the students we serve. Jessie [Teske-Harden], our CIS intern through WMU School of Social Work, has been helping with these plans. She’s a great support for our kids.

I also have a little bit of work left to do for Girls on the Run. For our school’s team, I’ve identified two Girls on the Run coaches. One is a teacher and one person is with CIS After School. Both had expressed interest in doing this so that made it easy. I just gave them our partner’s website information they needed to register. Now I need to work on finding one or two more volunteers to serve as assistant coaches.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

Decaf coffee isn’t caffeine-free, it just has less caffeine.

What are you currently reading?

Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion by Gareth Stedman Jones.

What is your favorite word right now?

Sleep. I can’t get enough.

Where is one place in Kalamazoo you love hanging out?

Shakespeare’s Pub. My band plays there a lot in their lower level, and also I like to watch comedy there.

What’s the name of your band?

I’m in two, actually. One is called Bike Tuff, and the other is Pack Sounds. I play drums in both. Both could be considered kind of punk/alternative bands.

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

My dad. He gave me the several pushes I needed to get through college when it got tough.

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