Then What Happened? A Conversation on Reading and Writing with Joe Novara

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 friend, Joe Novara.

Joe was born and raised in Detroit. He and his wife Rosalie settled in Kalamazoo in 1975. Their three daughters all went through the Kalamazoo Public Schools, graduating from Kalamazoo Central High School. One daughter went to University of Michigan and two went to Michigan State University. The Novaras are grandparents to seven, soon to be eight, grandchildren.

As a young man, Joe set out to become a priest, attending Gregorian University in Rome, Italy where he studied theology (in Latin). A retired corporate trainer and freelance writer, Joe has written many books for youth and adults. He has donated more than a dozen of his works to Story Shares, a non-profit organization devoted to inspiring reading practice and improving literacy skills.

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

Pop Quiz

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

Fish are unpredictable. Last year at this time, my son-in-laws and I were catching steelhead and salmon in the Kalamazoo River. They were jumping all around the boat. This year, fishing in the same location—downstream from the Allegan Dam—we didn’t see one and we didn’t catch any. Now, what’s interesting is that at the Allegan Dam this year, the fish are jumping like crazy, but not downstream. You can’t count on them!

What are you currently reading?

I like popular fiction. I appreciate an interesting story. I’m also getting fussy as I get older. If I’m reading a book I think isn’t good, I put it down. I like to find something to sink my teeth into, and then I’ll read the whole thing.

What’s the title of a book you’ve sunk your teeth into, lately?

The Trespasser by Tana French.

What is your favorite word right now?

Truth. There is so much deception involved these days, I’ve been thinking about truth and lies in terms of politics and the elections, wondering, “Who’s lying, here?” So, truth!

A favorite restaurant in Kalamazoo?

We like to go to Saffron, especially for their lunch.

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

A classmate of mine. We were in seminary school together and he connected with me and helped me through a time of transition in my life.

I planted some trees in our backyard and call them Charlie’s Grove. He passed away a while ago, but for some reason I’ve been thinking about him recently…Charlie was generous in sharing his insights and observations. “Read this book,” he’d say. “Here’s what I’m thinking.” “What are you thinking about?” “Think about this.” One of the books he suggested was quite influential in helping me decide where I was and where I was going.

On your website, you say that “Writing is about sharing.”

I don’t think of the writer as a mad scientist up in their tower writing all alone. As a writer, you need people to read and interact with your work. Life is about sharing and conversation and so is writing. Delayed conversation, you could say! Writing is what you could have said if you thought about it later. You can form your thoughts and share what you see happening around you. It’s a way to be mindful of what’s going on in your life…

Where have the years gone? people will say. I like to say, It’s gone into my writing. Writing is a way to digest and share what’s gone on in your life. Writing allows you to track life, digest it, and reshape it, if you want.

If writing is sharing, what would you say reading is about?

There are three parts to that. Writing is a craft. It’s as much fun to do it well as sewing or any other craft. When we are reading, we can appreciate someone’s craft, and learn from it.

The second part is that reading bring insights. Reading helps tune you into what others are seeing and learning.

Plus, there is also the fun of simply reading a good story, to experience the emotion, puzzle, and satisfaction of a good story well told.

As you know—you’re the one who told us about this resource!–Story Shares is a non-profit devoted to inspiring reading practice and improving literacy skills. They stock their library with what they term “Relevant Reads”—books that are both compelling and approachable for struggling teen and young adult readers. We counted, and they have 13 of your stories on their on-line shelves. Tell us how you got involved with Story Shares.

I never wrote my stories with reluctant readers in mind. I wrote those stories aiming at the young adult market…. My writing is pretty straightforward. For many of the stories I sent to Story Shares, they’ve assessed them at a third and fourth grade reading level. Story Shares does a nice job of identifying the work in terms of grade levels, readability, and relevance.

How do you think of or define the term, “reluctant reader?”

Reluctance comes from a number of things. It could be a kid who struggles in reading. I have to decode everything and I need to work hard to do this, so I’d rather watch a movie. Or, it’s hard to sit still and focus. I’d rather be walking around than sitting here and reading.

When it comes to reluctant readers, subject matter is especially important. If you don’t hit that right on the head, these kid are going to say, This story doesn’t say anything to me so why should I bother to keep reading? If this book was a television show, they’d change the channel. Relevance is key.

What advice do you have for parents of reluctant readers?

Read to them. Let them see you reading. It’s important to model it and get them used to the medium of reading with books.

One really important thing I did with our girls as they were growing up—I think this would work well with kids whether reluctant readers or not—is encourage them to create their own stories. When it was bedtime, I’d get our girls to tell their own stories. I’d encourage them along by asking, Then what happened? So then they are roasting marshmallows and then what? A squirrel stole the marshmallow! Wow! And then what happened? She went up a tree? And then what did the squirrel do? And then? And then?

Asking “What then?” can spur imagination and get kids thinking and looking for secondary meaning in things. It’s no longer just, Here’s what I see or Here’s what it is. It becomes, What else do I see?

When we can get kids to see second possibilities, that’s the basis of appreciating poetry, metaphor and images, film, literature, and art. One of the secrets to encouraging possibilities and stoking imagination is to tell children jokes. Often, jokes involve double meanings. Kids like learning that words can convey more than one meaning and, in the process, they learn that there is more than one way to get at something.

What you are talking about—helping kids go beyond and search for that second “right” answer reminds me of the book, A Whack on the Side of the Head, which speaks to the role imagination plays in problem solving. So…anything else we should know? Any project you’re working on?

I have a book coming out today, as a matter of fact. It’s an e-book published by Gypsy Shadow.
I’m Here is about silver romance between older people in a retirement home.

Doesn’t sound like it would meet the relevance factor for reluctant readers.

[Laughs.] You’re right about that!

One last question. How does it feel being married to a Champ? [Joe is married to CIS volunteer Rosalie Novara. She received a Champ award in 2014 and you can read more about Rosalie, here.]

Joe and Rosalie at the 2014 Champ Celebration.

[Laughs.] I love it! I think it’s marvelous to be married to her. Her mind is so sharp and her energy is so high. She’s always looking for ways to help out in the community, like tutoring through CIS. She’s also certified as an SLD Read tutor. Rosalie is marvelous, and I say, more power to her!

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

DR. KELVIN LEE: RELEASING POTENTIAL AND FINISHING EMPTY

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 Dr. Kelvin Lee, a former CIS board member and business person with a new book out, F.I.T (Finding Irreplaceable Talent) For Your Organization.

We met with Dr. Lee at the Getman Corporation, where he is the executive face of the Kalamazoo facility. Getman is a manufacturer of mining utility vehicles. A global company with humble roots, Getman’s success began with the 1954 creation of a motorized wheelbarrow. (Fun fact: This wheelbarrow was used to transport concrete for construction projects, including the Mackinac Bridge.) Today, with world-wide headquarters in Bangor, Michigan, Getman sells and supports their products on six continents.

Dr. Lee has humble roots, too. He grew up in Henning, Tennessee, a small town north of Memphis. (Henning is also the childhood hometown of writer, Alex Haley.) He holds a doctorate in management and organizational behavior and has been in management for over 30 years. For the past six years, he’s also been teaching business and leadership courses as an on-line adjunct professor for Ohio Christian University. “I find it rewarding,” he says. “I like helping people and working through this platform to help others find their purpose.”

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

Pop Quiz 

Where do you fit in? That is a question you pose within your new book, F.I.T., and it is an excellent question on many levels. Kids ask that question practically every day: Where do I fit in? Could you unpack that question for us, in regards to work and life. 

It’s both. When we talk about F.I.T., we’re talking about purpose in work and life. Let’s imagine we were to go outside right now and raise the hood of my car. You could see the battery, the sparkplug, the terminal lead, and carburetor. Each one of those components is a leader in its department. So the battery is a leader in the battery or electricity department. That is its only function and there is no other part that can do what a battery does.

Think about it. No other part can do what a battery does! So it’s important to understand your purpose so you’re not wasting time and energy trying to be a carburetor when you are meant to be a battery. But try to be a tailpipe when you are meant to be a battery and all you will do is blow smoke. Where you fit directly equates to your purpose in life.

It’s also important to understand not just what you do, but why you do it.

Let’s think about the car again. All of those things under the hood is the environment and each one of those parts is placed in its environment where each part has the most impact. If you put the battery where the carburetor is, it won’t do much good. You put them in the right place so they can make the most impact.

The purpose of any talent in life—whether it be organization or home—is not to die old, but to die empty. It is about going to the end of yourself and depositing your gifts into this life for your generation and those to come.

Not to die old, but to die empty?

Think about it. A battery is full of power and potential. A battery will deplete its power before it disintegrates. The spark plugs will go to the length of their life before they explode or meltdown. For us, we are full of potential. We want to release our potential and die empty, not go through life and just die old. So, I want to die empty of my gifts and not die old full of them!

…The graveyard is one of the richest places in the world, because it has books that have never been written, music that has never been composed, paintings that have never been painted. That is because some people did not die empty. They did not deposit their gifts into this life.

As leaders, it is our responsibility to ensure our people go through the organization releasing their potential and going to the end of themselves.

When it comes to finding talent, what is a common mistake employers and employees make?

As mentioned earlier: Everybody is trying to be a spark plug. When leaders won’t let employees release their potential, that’s a problem. A battery is designed to give power. The terminals only transfer power. The terminal is not there to generate power. They are simply there to transfer power so the other parts can do their job.

Spark plugs produce energy to push other parts into motion. Within organizations, some people’s only purpose is to transfer power but they end up trying to be a spark plug or battery. Because they try to be a spark plug when they are meant to be a carburetor, they cause fires that leads to firefighting. A spark plug can spark all it wants but if it’s in the wrong place, it’s not going to do any good.

Each individual is part of the greater whole. It’s important for everyone to understand their part. And if someone doesn’t see how they fit, they end up disengaged, stealing company time, not taking care of company property, and not taking care of each other. It creates hidden costs.

What are you? A battery? A spark plug?

An owner’s manual. I help people understand their purpose and potential. There is also a trouble shooting section within the manual and what happens if you don’t follow that potential. 

When did you discover you were an owner’s manual? 

I was in Japan, serving in the military. I was attending this speech given by a Japanese speaker. He was talking about purpose. I sat back and pondered what he was saying. That’s when I realized: I’m a manual! I’ve always been a magnet for people…Back then, I had a Toyota Corolla that I bought for 700 dollars and used for the two years I was over there. I started thinking about that car and the problems I’d encountered with it, as well as the creator of the car who was not there to help. But the car came with a manual. And that manual helped me. It dawned on me that I’m meant to pour into the lives of other people, to share basic concepts about life to help them perform how they need to perform: to their maximum potential. 

Your book, F.I.T., came out in June. Can you catch us up with what’s happened since its release? 

It’s been selling well, but it’s not about the sale. It’s about dying empty and making an impact.

You are a busy man. When did you work on this? 

I wrote it over a span of one and a half years. I keep a notepad everywhere I go and jot down notes here and there. I’d jot down notes at lunchtime, in the middle of the night, take a few moments in the car.  

What most surprised you about the writing process? 

As a teacher, I sometimes take the long way of explaining things. For the book, I found I had to shorten my explanations, and take them from a scholarly level and break it down to a basic level. The process would be different, of course, depending on the audience you are writing to…I wanted to write this book for people who don’t know where they are going.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned? 

I learn something every day. I’m a student of learning I read seven to ten books a month on various topics. Right now, I’m reading books on real estate, stocks, and animal life. I always read books to view new ways of looking at things.

Name of one of the books you currently reading. 

There’s a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem by Dr. Wayne Dyer. Everybody in life has a problem to solve. Based upon the problem, your value in life goes up when the problem is solved. People tend to run away from problems when the problem has been sent to give you value.

Are you always this deep in the morning?

We’re here to help each other see the deeper side of life. That’s why we’re here. 

What is your favorite word right now? 

Purpose. 

What is something you love about Kalamazoo? 

It’s good for family. For raising a family. My wife and I have an eleven-year-old and a four-year-old.

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

My mom, quite naturally. I also have many friends and relatives in my life I consider my board of directors. I consult with them and seek their advice on many different things. They offer sound advice and have good judgment, and they too, are striving for a greater purpose.

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

The most important marketable skill one can have is social intelligence, an ability to interact on an efficient level. You need that first…I’ve been a manager for more than 30 years. I’ve found that all people have gifts; the problem is that everybody doesn’t know how to take that gift and turn it into a skill. When a gift or talent becomes external, it becomes a skill. Once both gift and skill meet the problem, one of three things can happen. One: success. Two: wealth. Or three: greatness. 

All good things. 

Correct!

What advice do you have for the parents of our 12,000+ students? What can parents do to help prepare their child for today’s labor force? 

The one thing parents can do is respect the child for who they are; embrace their individualism! Every child is different and each has something different to deposit into this world.

Going to the end of ourselves is so important. By respecting their children for who they are as individuals, parents help their children make their deposits in this life. We don’t have to respect what they do, but it is important to respect them as a person who has potential.

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

Want to learn about the production process of building a Getman mining vehicle? Take this virtual tour offered on Getman’s website.

Pop Quiz: Danyelle Brown

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 Danyelle Brown, a youth development worker (YDW) with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo.

Danyelle got her start with CIS volunteering in the after school program at Northglade Montessori Magnet School. In January of 2018, Danielle was offered a position as a youth development worker. We were thrilled when she accepted!

Danyelle is from Detroit, Michigan and beginning her junior year at Western Michigan University, studying early childhood education.

“It’s amazing to get my feet wet with CIS and getting the opportunity to do what I’m going to be doing for the rest of my life!” Danyelle says.

[This interview took place during CIS Think Summer! You can find out more about Danyelle in the upcoming issue of CIS Connections.]

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

Pop Quiz

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned this summer?

I’ve learned patience. It’s definitely a process when it comes to behavior and meeting kids right where they are and working with them from that place that they are in.

Favorite word?

Reflection. I think that reflection is vital, especially working with children, it gives them an opportunity to acknowledge the things going on and, if necessary, can allow them to re-direct or correct themselves and move forward. With my kids, we do reflection every day, at the end of each day.

Reflection is an important skill to acquire, isn’t it?

Yes, it’s definitely a skill we need to teach. Sometimes, kids don’t even want to acknowledge the day that they’ve just had, but when they do, I find it modifies behavior, to say the least. Mistakes that they may have made are usually not made anymore.

What are you currently reading?

A really cool book! My kids and I just read Bigmama’s by Donald Crews. We all really enjoyed it. Just experiencing the joy they got out of reading that book got me excited in experiencing that with them!

What do you love about Kalamazoo?

Just one thing?

It can be more than one, if you’d like.

I love the environment of Kalamazoo and the people. It’s a very safe place. And a great place to raise a family, in my opinion. Though, I would prefer more shopping centers at the mall. That’s my only issue!

This city is not too big and not too small. It’s a good distance away from home. People here are so loving and friendly and I love that, since I’m a people-person. I’m accepted here, and appreciated.

What’s one of your favorite places in Kalamazoo?

My church, Mt. Zion Baptist Church. My pastor, Dr. Addis Moore, is so amazing. It’s a privilege to be able to sit under his great teaching. And everyone there is so loving.

Behind every successful student is a caring adult. Who is one of your caring adults?

I have so many loving people, and have been fortunate to have a great support system, so it’s hard to choose just one, but I’m going to say my mother, Kallee Brown. That woman is amazing! She’s showered me with so much love and wisdom. She is the reason that I’m the woman I am today. I don’t know where I’d be without her. She is my superwoman.

What makes her super?

She has so much love. And she’s a mother to everyone. To her nephews, to children that aren’t her children, and you experience that love with just one encounter with her. She is loving and kind to all.

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

Our kids need more Youth Development Workers, enthusiastic individuals like Danyelle, to step up and serve after school (Monday through Thursday). If you or someone you know might be right for the job, go to CISKalamazoo.org and apply today!

An interview with friends, Zamya and Areli

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 two students who will be attending fifth grade this coming school year.

Zamya (left) and Areli at CIS Think Summer

While both go to different Kalamazoo Public Schools—Zamya attends King-Westwood Elementary School and Areli attends Arcadia Elementary School—they have become friends through CIS Think Summer!, which is designed to reduce summer learning loss and increase academic and enrichment opportunities.

[Note: CIS Think Summer! as well as CIS After School is available thanks to the support of federal dollars that are awarded through the Michigan Department of Education, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers. The considerable advocacy here and across the country for after school programs was effective for the 2018 year and funding for 21st Century Community Learning Centers was included in the budget bill passed by Congress, despite the recommendation to eliminate all funding for that purpose.]

Alright, Zamya and Areli: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

Pop Quiz

What is something interesting you’ve learned this summer?

Zamya: That you can have fun even though you’re doing math in school and it’s the summer.

Areli: That I really like science!

 

Favorite word?

Zamya: Fun. I’m really having fun this summer.

Areli: Tía. It means “aunt” in Spanish. I love my aunts.

 

What are you currently reading? 

Zamya and Areli: Out of My Mind!

Areli: We’re supposed to finish it by the end of summer and bring back to school.

Zamya: It’s a really good book.

 

What is one of your favorite things about being a student in KPS?

Zamya: Kids Hope [through Westwood Christian Reformed Church] is at my school. At the end of the year we had a celebration and this year we got a Rice Krispies watermelon treat.

Areli: I like that we get to do art. I love art!

 

What are your favorite subjects?

Zamya: Art. I want to be an artist and a gymnast when I grow up. I’m going to go to a multi-practice college that teaches you everything you need to know. My brother goes there. And then I’ll go to WMU and focus all on art.

Areli: I like art and want to be an artist when I grow up. I especially like to trace things. I traced a cat with wings on it and people say it looks good. I’m going to go to college where my cousin goes but I don’t know exactly where that is.

 

Okay, here’s a question I don’t think we’ve ever popped on anyone. What is the purpose of life?

Zamya: I feel like the purpose of life is worth living.

Areli: I was thinking about that too. I agree.

Zamya: You need to be living it. On the other hand, it’s hard to be living it…sometimes, you know, life might not always be fair. I first learned that from my mom. She’s told me that.

Areli: Life isn’t fair at all.

Zamya: Yes, you’re right.

Areli: Sometimes, it’s not even fair for dogs. I don’t like dog pounds. There shouldn’t be dog pounds.

 

Behind every successful student is a caring adult. Who is one of your caring adults?

Zamya: I have three moms.

Areli: My mom and dad and all my aunts and uncles. And my older cousins. They all care about me and take care of me and protect me.

 

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

Stacy Jackson and Her Many Moms

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 Stacy Jackson.

A graduate of the Kalamazoo Public Schools (Loy Norrix, Class of 1991), Stacy went on to graduate from Davenport University with a degree in accounting. Stacy’s CIS career began in 2011 when she gave a year of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA, working at Loy Norrix and Kalamazoo Central High School. After that, she moved into the role of CIS after school site coordinator at Edison Environmental Science Academy. Since 2013, she has also served as the elementary site coordinator for CIS Think Summer.

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

Pop Quiz

Diane Lang taught you math during your middle school years and is clearly one of your favorite teachers. In your letter to her that we published several years back as part of our “Caring Adult” series, you wrote: You showed me that hard things (algebra) don’t always have to be hard. [Click here to read the entire letter.] Name another Kalamazoo Public Schools teacher who impacted you.

Mr. Bill Arney, my 9th grade Social Studies teacher at Loy Norrix High School helped me through the 9th grade career aptitude test. I took it and tested for social work. We talked about the potential outcome, and knowing my personality, said that I probably should go with my second pick, which was accounting. I’m sure he’d be pleasantly surprised that I figured out how I ended up doing both.

Favorite word?

That’s an interesting question. I say, I know, right? I say that phrase a lot. It’s a quick way to show empathy but since that’s not one word, I’ll say: smile. I like to walk past people and say, Smile! I do that with kids, too. It can give them an opportunity to tell me why they aren’t smiling. I think there is power in a smile.

Can you talk a little bit about being a CIS after school coordinator?

Stacy (left) at Edison with Principal Julie McDonald

Persistence comes to mind, because it is key. We must persist and we must help kids persist. It’s sometimes too easy for grownups to give up on kids if they have given up on themselves. I think of CIS as a vehicle through which we can help students, be there and show them we’re not giving up on them. When kids really feel that someone has their back, they stick with it and can push themselves to a place—both student and person-wise—farther than they can imagine. We just need to be there and not give up on them.

This makes me think of the time one of my after school kids was refusing to go to class. In talking with him, it quickly became clear that he wasn’t acting up just to be naughty. There’s always a reason behind behavior. Sure enough, he admitted he’d acted up the day before with a guest teacher. He knew he’d let his teacher down and that she was probably going to be disappointed with him. He didn’t want to face all that.

I told him, Ms. B is still going to love you, but you have to own your stuff. We discussed how, when you make mistakes, you need to own up to your behavior. People will still love you, Ms. B will still love you, but it’s important to own your stuff. Now get into class! And he did.
That’s another phrase I like to say. Own your stuff!

There are both good and negative consequences to behavior. If you are going to accept the good, you also have to accept the bad. In my role as after school coordinator, that is a part of what I’m always doing, with both students and CIS staff. I want to provide a safe space for kids to be after school and to have access to academic supports, and to be surrounded by people that care. I mother everyone. I’m the mother of everyone! [Stacy laughs.]

Sheldon Turner agrees! I remember last summer when we interviewed him for this blog [you can read his interview here] he described you as a mother figure.

I love Sheldon!

Any favorite places?

Studio Grill of course! I also love the greenery of Kalamazoo and all the many parks we have here. I like beach areas and really enjoy being by the water. Water is my favorite element.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I’m working on my spiritual growth. In Discerning the Voice of God, Priscilla Shirer talks about body, mind, and spirit; how God leads through our conscience to help us make decisions.

My pastor always says we have moral compass inside us, that the Holy Spirit dwells in us, yet, until recently, I’ve thought of my conscience and God as two distinct, different things. But I’m seeing that the Holy Spirit is guiding our conscience, helping us make more Christ-like decisions so we can be out there doing the work that is needed in this world.

What are you currently reading?

I just started the Second House from the Corner by Sadeqa Johnson. I joined my first book club this year and we’re reading some crazy books! Who thinks up this crazy stuff, these incredible story lines?

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

My mom. She is a strong woman and as a single mom raised me and my brother—we were 17 years apart. I also was fortunate to have a family and community of support. In addition to my mom, my Aunt and three of my mother’s best friends helped raise me and I give credit to each of them for the different pieces of me. One of my mother’s best friends, Ms. Willie Mae Lee, showed me how to be sassy.

You definitely know how to rock sassy!

[Stacy laughs.] Mrs. Barbara Loftin gave me humility and gentleness. My Aunt Iris Salters taught me the power of education. Ms. Bobbie Ryan worked in the unions most of her life and taught me to fight for injustice. And within all of that, my mom-mom encouraged me to be me, to not be anybody outside of who I am.

I owe a lot to all my moms, and the many others who have provided and continue to provide influence, but especially my mom-mom, Ms. Mabel Salters. She’s no nonsense, she’s a conqueror, and she’s everything I want to be.

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

Chris Werme: Giving Back and Giving Grace

CIS volunteer Chris Werme

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 volunteer and 2018 Champ recipient, Chris Werme. (We popped this quiz on him at the end of the 2017/18 school year.) If you missed the post about his 2018 Champ award, you can find it here.

Chris grew up in Portage, Michigan and earned his degree in accounting and management from Nazareth College. An employee benefits advisor at Rose Street Advisors, Chris has been a CIS volunteer since 2016, when CIS senior site coordinator at Loy Norrix High School Montrell Baker connected him to two young men.

CIS senior site coordinator Montrell Baker, DeAndre, and Chris

Chris also serves on the CIS Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council (VLAC), advising CIS on such things as volunteer recruitment and retainment.  Most recently, Chris joined the CIS work group on Engaging Male Students. As part of this all male workgroup, Chris meets monthly with other CIS volunteers, partners, staff, and community members, to review data and develop initiatives and strategies for CIS to better engage our young men and support them in academics, behavior, and school attendance.

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

Pop Quiz

You are a busy guy. Yet, you carve time out of your schedule to work with students. Why? And why CIS?

Why do I do it? You could say I felt a calling. Why CIS? A CIS newsletter ended up in my mailbox for no particular reason—I think somebody threw the newsletter in my box, probably because they know I do stuff with my church—and I happened to see a picture of O’Neal Ollie on it. We used to play basketball together. It actually had a picture of Montrell [Baker], too. At the time, I had no idea I’d eventually be working with Montrell!

Well, the newsletter turned up in my mailbox at the same time I had been giving some thinking as to, What am I going to do next? I’d done the board thing. I wanted to be boots on the ground, and work with young men.

So, I called O’Neal up and we met for lunch. I wondered aloud about volunteering and O’Neal said I should do it. So, here I am!

In addition to working directly with young men, you also serve on the CIS work group, Engaging Male Students. When it comes to working with young men, do you have a philosophy?

I believe that young men need to hear from old men how to act in certain situations. Lacking hearing from experienced, more mature men on how to handle things, they will handle things how they see fit.

To be clear, I don’t tutor or teach the young men anything. I talk with them and make sure they are achieving the goals they’ve set for themselves. I try not to make them be my goals.

…I’ve raised four children, two of them boys. I didn’t always do things right. I found I talked to my dad way more later in life than when I was a younger man. I discovered older men have real wisdom—and that wisdom is important.

What are you currently reading?

Nothing at the moment. The book that I’m looking to purchase is Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves.

What are some of your favorite Kalamazoo places?

We live in Shelbyville—my wife works in Grand Rapids—and I commute to Kalamazoo for work, so I’d say that it would be the golf course. I’m looking forward to golf season.

Favorite word?

Grace.

That’s a big word.

I’m working on giving it every day.

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

My dad. He obviously taught me about growing up, and most importantly, how to deal with people.

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

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

Reverend Morris “Mo” Brooks: In Schools 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 Reverend Morris “Mo” Brooks.

A Kalamazoo native and proud graduate of Kalamazoo Public Schools, Reverend Mo attended Northeastern Elementary School, Hillside Middle School, and “the great Kalamazoo Central High School.” He went on to graduate from Western Michigan University with a bachelor’s in social psychology. A number of summers ago, he also served as a youth development worker in CIS Think Summer!

Reverend Mo is the Director of Youth Ministries at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, a position he’s held for almost three years. He’s written a book, Unmasked: The Courage to Be You, and is working on another book, also geared to youth. And still, he makes volunteering with youth in the schools a priority. For the past two years, he’s volunteered with CIS at Kalamazoo Central High School, supporting young men in a group that meets on a weekly basis. The young men have named the group, KC Men of Change.

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

Pop Quiz

Thinking back on your years as a student in the Kalamazoo Public Schools, who was your favorite teacher?

I’d have to say my favorites were my English teacher, Mrs. [Sandra] Daam and Mr. [Topher] Barrett. He was a forensic coach and I was also in his drama class. Mr. Barrett was patient and challenged me to be a leader. Mrs. Daam was loving and hard. Oh, she was hard! But a loving hard. She helped me out a lot.

How would you describe the volunteer work you do with CIS?

For me, the work is really meaningful, especially because when I was their age, I wish that I could have been a part of something like this, to have someone help me make wise decisions, and challenge me.

Last year, I was able to meet with them twice a week and this year, we’re meeting once a week. I’m hoping that next year I’ll be able to go back to doing the group twice a week. When we meet, I’m able to ask the hard questions of them because of my experience growing up, and we have deep conversations. I like impacting them in a positive way.

I sense a great deal of respect for our youth, whether it is here at the church, in the schools, or in the community. Kalamazoo cares about its young men and women.

CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough said one of the most impactful sessions for the students was one that had to do with self-love.

Yes, Deb wanted to have a few sessions that combined both the males and females [Young Women with a Purpose], so we did. I had them list five or more people that they love. I then asked them to name the things they do for them because they love them. They identified things like I protect them, I’m loyal to them, I make sacrifices, and so on. I asked them to list five more people they love and then asked, Now how long does the list have to be until you’re on it? It was an eye-opener for them. Too often, our young people aren’t taking care of themselves because they’re busy worrying about others. We then talked about loving ourselves and how that involves things like trusting one’s self and protecting one’s self.

When it comes to engaging our youth, what do adults often forget?

I think they forget that they were once a youth and, along with that, they forget their mistakes.

I can remember my mistakes vividly. In 2015, I wrote a book, Unmasked: The Courage to Be You. In it, I share my own struggles of when I was in high school, my mistakes and regrets, as well as being somebody who I wasn’t. Students often struggle with that.

Sometimes, adults do too!

Yes, and while the book is geared to youth, I’ve had adults who have read it tell me: I’ve needed this!

When it comes to working with young people and connecting with them, what’s your secret?

One, recall your own youth and know your own mistakes. Also, know that their emotions and feelings are real. Too often we can cast them aside or don’t recognize them. Youth don’t always share their feelings but just because they aren’t communicating them to the world, doesn’t mean they aren’t experiencing the feelings. They may be bottling them up, so offering them a safe space to bring out and express their feelings can help. When I share my story, my path, and the wrong things I’ve done, that helps get the process going. They see this guy wearing a suit and tie, and think, well, he has baggage and pain and if he can open like that, maybe I can too. And they start sharing, because now we’ve got this trust thing going on and are connecting on a deeper level, having real conversations.

Speaking of suit and ties, Deborah Yarbrough also mentioned that you implemented a “Dress for Success” day and that that too, was a huge hit and brought the group closer together, identifying even more as a team.

Actually, it wasn’t me but the young men who came up with the idea! Each week, I come wearing a suit and tie to group. We had a tie session last year and taught the young men to tie ties. Last year, the group decided to have a dress up day and it went so well we thought, why not keep this going? And so, this year we had another tie session and then another dress up day!

What are you currently reading?

I’m always reading and listening to books. Right now, I’m listening to Meet Generation Z. It’s written by James Emery White. He takes a look at this next generation that follows the Millennials, or “Generation Z.” He explores the trends, how culture is shifting, how we can reach these young people, minister to them, and serve them.

What is one way, according to the book, that we can reach this next generation?

Answer their questions. With the age we are living in, young people have a lot of questions. We need to listen to those questions and have answers.

James Emery White points out that we are living in a post-Christian world, one in which the norm is that people are no longer connected to a religion. More often than not, as a minister I’ll hear, I don’t have any religion. I’m spiritual, but I don’t belong anywhere. This generation is asking, Is religion necessary? Is it relevant?

What are some of your favorite Kalamazoo places?

Home, here [church], and Sweetwater’s Donuts. That’s about it…I’m really a home body!

Favorite word?

Self-assessment.

I feel like a lot of people have the inability to self-assess. I want to know, how can I grow? What could I have done better? We live in a blame generation. So, when things go wrong, it’s easy to point the finger and blame anybody but ourselves. But if we stop and assess ourselves, recognize hey, I could do this or that better, well, when we do that, we can move forward. If everybody did that, we could really move forward. We need to self-assess.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

The importance of habits as well as practicing those habits. By training on whatever you’re working on, you can build upon good habits. While I’m always learning, that’s the big one right now: habits.

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

During my elementary years, I’d have to say it was Mr. Gary Vanstreain. He was our basketball coach at Northeastern Elementary School. He was so positive, caring, and challenging, and would give you the shirt off his back.

In middle school, there were quite a few. I’ll go with my coach at Hillside, Steve Dunning. He was a disciplinarian and made sure you were on track and what you needed to do to stay on track. Even outside of the court, outside of basketball season, he cared and was on me. He showed that tough love.

In high school, it was Pastor James Harris. I will never forget, I was in a low moment in my life and Pastor Harris came to my house, spoke with me and prayed with me. He set out on a notecard representing where I was and then set out another notecard showing me where I could be, my potential. I doubt he’d remember that, but that moment really impacted me.

Then, in my college years, it was my own pastor, Pastor Moore. He really poured into me, invested in me, mentored and disciplined me.

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