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.

 

 

 

CIS Think Summer is underway!

Boxes of materials and supplies sent to CIS Think Summer! students.

CIS Think Summer! is in full swing this year for elementary and secondary students thanks to continued support of federal dollars awarded through the Michigan Department of Education, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers. CIS Think Summer! is designed to reduce summer learning loss and increase academic and enrichment opportunities. Until this year, students’ CIS Think Summer experience has always been an in-person summer program with interactive field trips occurring at least once a week. “Due to COVID, our programming, including field trips, had to be cancelled and we had to shift CIS Think Summer to an online platform,” said Dr. Tamiko Garrett.

To fill the holes in the students’ enrichment schedule, Dr. Garrett reached out to a number of individuals and organizations to see if they would be willing to offer one-time presentations that align with the career themes (food, health, and entrepreneurial focus) promoted during CIS Think Summer!

CIS is grateful to all those who have already and will be sharing their knowledge and expertise with our students. “All have been willing to step up and present without hesitation,” says Dr. Garrett. “Their commitment has helped us ensure that, despite these challenging times, students still have interactive experiences. We can’t thank them enough!”

Next week, we’ll introduce you to Jessica Waller, Vice President of the Salty Snacks Division with the Kellogg Company. A proud graduate of Kalamazoo Public Schools, she helped us kick off CIS Think Summer! with a fun, informative, and interactive presentation for our secondary students.

In Schools, and Now Beyond

Today’s post is written by Felicia Lemons, Development & Marketing Project Manager. She originally sent this information out as an email to update CIS supporters as to how the CIS after school program has transitioned from in-school support to virtual support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to the Communities In Schools (CIS), core work of integrated student support, CIS of Kalamazoo supports students through after-school programming. At 15 KPS schools, students benefit from additional academic support and enrichment activities beyond the normal hours of the school day.

We are proud to share that we continue to provide this much needed support, however virtually. I am proud of how our CIS staff have stepped in to fulfill the needs of our students and their families. When in-person learning was first cancelled our after school coordinators started connecting with their students and families to first make sure their basic needs were being met and connecting families to resources.  Now we are offering 10+ hours of programming every week to keep our students engaged during this time.” – Nicole Wilkinson, CIS Associate Director of Site Services

 

Food and Supply Support

Many members of our team continue to volunteer to participate at the KPS food distribution sites along with practicing safe distance porch drop-offs for families who are unable to make it to a distribution site.

This month, we have packed and delivered over 300 boxes of school supplies to students. Supplies include paper, pencils, craft tools – all for students and families who may not have the necessary supplies to complete the remainder of this school year at home.

Academic Lessons and Tutoring

CIS after school coordinators host virtual office hours to help with homework and offer academic lessons for students in math and English Language Arts. Many coordinators continue to connect with students for one-on-one tutoring for additional support.

Enrichment Programs

Special student clubs led by after school coordinators and youth development coaches are available for students. Fitness Club, Comic Club, and Sign Language Club are just a few examples of clubs that have transitioned to virtual clubs for student enrichment. In addition to our staff lead clubs, we continue to work with enrichment providers like Prevention Works, Live Your Song, and Trinity Prep Center to provide special engagement opportunities for students.

Family Engagement Programs

CIS facilitates family engagement nights for both parent resources and family fun. Family engagement includes an instructor led family paint party and an interactive STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) night with the Air Zoo. Parent resources include programs with math and science resources through KPS, CIS-led information sessions about knowing your rights surrounding COVID-19, and so much more!

Field Trips

CIS team led virtual field trips for students include “visits” to the zoo, museums, and parks. Coordinators conduct Q&A sessions during the field trips for student engagement and interaction.

 

The after-school program is sustained and supported by the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) grants.

The CIS After School Program continues to be a vital resource for students who can benefit from additional academic assistance, develop their strengths and interests, and connect with their peers and coaches during the pandemic. Your support of CIS makes it possible to bring additional resources like the 21st CCLC grants to our community for students. Interested in supporting students in Kalamazoo? Donate by clicking here.

 

STUDENTS SHINE LIGHT ON IMPORTANCE OF KEEPING DOORS OPEN AFTER SCHOOL

Since 2011, students who participate in Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) After School Programs have been coming up with their own ways to shine the spotlight on quality after school support. This year is no different. In anticipation of National Lights On Afterschool Awareness Day, Thursday, October 24, 2019, Kalamazoo Public School students are once again reminding grownups about the importance of investing in and advocating for after school programs.

“Students have been busy researching and discussing the importance of after school programs,” says CIS Senior Director of Site Services Dr. Tamiko Garrett. “At the secondary level students are writing letters to public officials to raise awareness about the need for after school opportunities. Kids experience first-hand the benefits from an extended learning day and they want to remind adults that after school programming affords them a safe place to learn, to make positive connections with their peers and adults, have opportunities to work on and receive assistance with homework, create friendships, and more.”

Kids want their elected officials to know that a significant body of research demonstrates that students who regularly attend after school programs are more likely to improve their grades, tests scores, attendance, and overall academic behavior. To glean highlights from what students shared last year with public officials, you can click on this post: P.S. Please don’t get rid of after school programs.

“Our elementary students are also looking forward to participating in the Lights On rally,” says Dr. Garrett. The rally, organized by KYD Network, will be held on October 17th at the Arcadia Festival Site. “All CIS after school elementary sites will be represented,” says Dr. Garrett. “Washington Writers’ Academy and Woodward School for Technology and Research will be on a short break during this time [as part of the Kalamazoo Public Schools’ Balanced Calendar Pilot which provides a year-round school experience]. However,” Dr. Garrett points out, “the students have been busily making signs and posters for their peers to use during the rally.”

Students advocating for after school funding in 2016

Nationwide, 11.3 million children are alone and unsupervised from 3 to 6 p.m. After school programs offer not only a safe place to learn and grow, but can serve as a strategic way to address both academic achievement and opportunity gaps. The achievement gap between students from lower- and higher-income families has grown by 40% over the past 30 years. By the sixth grade, middle class students have spent 4,000+ more hours in after school and summer learning opportunities than their low-income peers. Consistent participation in high-quality after school programs can help close and eliminate these gaps.

In Kalamazoo, CIS relies heavily on local resources and partnerships for its core work during the school day to identify needs and connect students to the right resources to remove barriers to school success. The CIS After School Program is able to extend the learning day Monday through Thursday in 15 KPS schools thanks to the support of federal dollars awarded through the Michigan Department of Education (21st Century Community Learning Centers).

 

P.S. Please don’t get rid of after school programs.

The title of this post was inspired by the postscript Izaiah Markel noted in a letter he wrote to the President of the United States. He, along with his peers at Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts, wrote letters to their elected officials during the CIS After School Program at Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts.

CIS After School Coordinator Phillip Hegwood initiated the letter writing project as a way for students to let their voices be heard, advocating in a constructive manner for something they feel passionate about: the importance of extending their learning day through after school supports and experiential learning. As the letters from officials start trickling in, he’s expanding on the writing project by asking students to reflect on the experience of writing the letters as well as discussing the responses they receive.

Students proudly holding responses from several of their elected officials.

Associate Director of Site Services Michael Harrison points out that this project “is not only a creative approach to strengthening literacy skills but it boosts confidence. Learning to communicate with someone who can effect change builds confidence.” That, he says, is a “powerful lesson. It’s something our young people can carry into other aspects of their lives.”

Just what did Kayla, Izaiah, Zi’arra, Jesus, Whysper, Jazmin, Cruz, Renell, Tarqes, Grace, Lisandra, Taisia, Jasmine, Tiana, Navia, KaVon, Aniyah, Walter, Devin, Arielle, Akeelah, and Yousef want their elected officials to know about the importance of the CIS After School program? Here, in their own words pulled from their letters…

Students explain that after school provides a safe place to learn and grow.

“After school program is very important. That is because lots of kids don’t have a safe space to go after school, or a quiet workplace. After school provides that. It is from 2:20-5:30 p.m. here at Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts…”

“Do you know about the after school program? The after school program is a class where you can do your job, have great teachers and students, a class that you can share and help people, and the after school program expects you to be a good person and no one will forget an after school program.”

“After school program is a great way for students to work on homework, to achieve better grades in school so we can go on to 7th grade…”

“The after school program provides a nice environment for us to meet new friends. After school program is a nice way to teach us how to do productive things together, and it teaches leadership skills. It also teaches housekeeping, and everyday useful skills for students.”

“They care for us and they watch over us and they keep us safe.”

Students share the benefits to their own growth.

“It made me a better person because we have art and it shows my talents/artistic abilities. After school gives me a lot of confidence in school.”

“…after school program helped me get smarter and improve my grades and study.”

“…[it] helped me with my homework and any problems I had at school at home (really any problems I had).”

“It helps me improve my grade in ELA (English Language Arts). I had a C- and since they have a big homework system I got a B+.”

“In after school I can talk to someone when I am mad or sad.”

“…and helps us talk to students if we’re too shy to talk. It even makes us feel at home.”

“It helps me focus throughout school, that’s why I love after school. They taught me that it’s okay to get stuff wrong in class. So now when the teacher calls on me in class I answer it with confidence even if I just guess. After school gives me every possibility and every chance.”

Students express appreciation for the CIS staff, partners, and volunteers.

“The coaches help us so much with our homework.”

“…they even teach us other languages!”

“…I can talk to someone when I am mad or sad.”

Students state facts about the benefits of being involved in CIS after school programs.

“…it helps students stay out of the streets and gangs. Research shows more than 70% of kids drop out due to drugs or early pregnancies.”

Students care about the younger students who are coming after them.

“Also I think it will help other kids who want or are going to be in program someday.”

“Please don’t let it end so that the new sixth graders next year will have the same opportunities as us.”

Students express themselves in honest and straight forward ways.

“Honestly, if I never went to the after school program I would just be at home playing video games and watching TV all day. I probably would not like my mom as much because she does not understand how to help me with my homework and we would fight about it. The after school program gives me an opportunity to eat dinner because there are nights where we don’t have any food in our house. We get free transportation so I can also play sports. My mom gets some sleep so she can go to work at night, and that helps the economy.”

“I will be honest, I don’t know who you are but I know you are African American and it makes me happy that there is a black person in power to help make decisions, so please fund after school programs.”

Students urge their officials to continue funding after school programming.

“So I hope you think about this…”

“I hope you can see how important it is to have after school.”

“Students will be happy and we will all remember you did the right thing.”

“So can you try to help us?”

PS. Students pepper their letters with P.S.’s.

P.S. Please don’t get rid of after school programs.

[To Mayor Hopewell] “P.S. I saw you at the chili cook out.”

“P.S. We <3 After School!!!”

[Note: <3 = love]

CIS After School serves students in 15 after school sites—11 elementary and 4 middle school sites. CIS After School is available in the Kalamazoo Public Schools thanks to the support of federal dollars awarded through the Michigan Department of Education, 21st Century Community Learning Centers.

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.

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.

Jennifer Johnson: Ever Moving Towards the Possibilities

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 Jennifer Johnson, Executive Director of Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes.

A lifelong resident of Southwest Michigan, Jennifer grew up in northern Michigan. “People won’t like to know that I love snow,” she laughs. “But I grew up with snow! I love it!”

Jennifer attended Central Michigan University, double majored in psychology and English and then obtained her Masters in English, Language and Literature. “When people learn I have an English degree, they’ll often ask, What makes you qualified to do this? I tell them I’m annoying,” says Jennifer. “And I ask questions.”

We’d describe Jennifer not as annoying but rather, persistent, focused, and curious, always looking for possibilities and moving not just her and Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes towards them, but the whole Kalamazoo community.

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

Pop Quiz

When we talk about hunger these days, we often hear the term, ‘food insecure.’

That is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s measure of hunger.

What is your definition of food insecurity?

People need enough food to lead a healthy active life. They need food that counts nutritionally. A person may be eating food, but not the right food. They may be taking in calories, but not the right calories. The reality is that some people don’t have enough money to buy the right food, or perhaps they have enough money but they live in a food desert. Their only access to food is the local Family Dollar or corner store that doesn’t have fresh fruits and vegetables; the foods they need to grow health and strong.

Hunger presents itself in many different ways. Teachers see it in the form of concentration problems and behavioral issues. For kids themselves it is more of an out loud thing, literally. My stomach is growling! My daughter’s teacher, like a lot of teachers, has a snack drawer in her classroom. We see the holes and we’re all trying to fill them.

Speaking of filling a need, let’s talk Friday Food packs! We are so grateful to you and all those at Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes for your commitment to this program. As you know, since 2005, your food packs have been one of the critical “tools” CIS site coordinators pull out of their tool box of resources to help students.

In the early days with the program, Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes saw the food packs as merely a bridge, a bridge to more things. It was, and still is, helpful for us that CIS site coordinators, working with teachers and administrators, identify students who need that little extra help on weekends from Loaves & Fishes. Identifying the kids has been a way to help us reach the families. We want to feed the whole family as well as the child.

So the Friday Food Packs has helped bridge that end?

It has helped with that, yes… I’d add that we are limited by the number of packs we can provide. Around 6,000 kids are on free and reduced lunch. The number of food packs provided are small in proportion to the need. We know how tough it is for CIS site coordinators to prioritize what students will receive the packs.

You’ve been with KLF for eleven years, serving these last four years as executive director [and prior to that, as resource development and public relations director]. When it comes to feeding hungry people and engaging our community in the fight to end hunger, what is one of the biggest changes you’ve noticed over the years?

One of the most recent things I learned was from talking with Deb Yarbrough, the CIS site coordinator at Kalamazoo Central. She’s been there a long time and really knows the kids. So I asked her, “When it comes to hunger in the high school, what’s changed?” She said that it’s changed a lot. Kids, she said, are more responsible than they’ve ever had to be for their food, their sibling’s food, as well as accessing food for their household.

What a responsibility that puts on our children’s shoulders! Now, there are lots of reasons for this, one being that a parent may be working at night. Whatever the case, the level of responsibility that has been put on kids in the last few years has greatly increased…I grew up as a latch key kid, but it was different then. It’s not the same thing.

If you could feed us one statistic on hunger, what would it be?

In our community, there are 40,000 food insecure people. That means in Kalamazoo County there are people living right on the edge and there are also people living deeply in poverty. It’s the whole spectrum.

One of the thing people don’t realize is that just because you have a couple of jobs doesn’t mean you have all the bases covered. Imagine, you have two part time jobs, no benefits, and something happens where you have medical bills. Or maybe your car dies and you don’t have the dollars to fix it. You need groceries, but don’t have a vehicle. Life is complicated for many people. Holes and gaps hamper their success and their children’s success. At Loaves & Fishes, we live with that every day and work to create as many access points as possible to help kids and the surrounding community.

We know [from last year’s Valentine Post] that you “love the possibilities” as seen through your daughter, her friends, and this community. What possibilities have you been noticing recently?

It’s hard to see them sometimes. It’s easy to get bogged down by external things, like what’s going on in the environment, the media, the world. It’s hard to not be negative. I encourage everyone to push all these distractions out of the way to see the possibilities. They are there! We believe at Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes—we believe to our core—that we can create a hunger free community. That is an immense task, but it is possible! And CIS is an integral part of that task.

How so?

Your CIS people are incredible connectors. We couldn’t do this work without CIS. CIS site coordinators are on the ground and in the schools. They see and can help identify a child in need and that helps us know where our food needs to be. CIS is one of many agencies that are helping us do that throughout the community.

We love partnering with Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes in the Kalamazoo Public Schools! Your organization really has an open mind set. Back in 2003, when we came to you and sought out your expertise about kids coming to school hungry, especially on Monday mornings, KLF was quick to say, Let’s figure something out! Soon after, the Friday Food packs was born.

Sometimes, possibilities are stopped by a system. We adhere too strictly to boundaries or the way things have always been done. When we open ourselves up to looking at ways systems can be stretched, that’s when possibilities can happen and we can leverage things like breakfast, lunch and summer feeding programs to their fullest.

I’m not saying it’s easy. Systemic change is hard. Real change takes work! We’re all busy and it’s hard to stop, to take the time and figure out better and new ways to do something. But if we can stop and focus—together— and say, I know this isn’t easy work, but let’s take the time to figure this out, together, we can make things better.

Do you have a favorite condiment?

I’m anti-condiment. I don’t like condiments, and that includes salad dressing. I’m boring, I know. That will be the theme of this blog interview! I’m boring.

Far from it! So, what’s the best meal you’ve ever had? What one food item is a “must have” in your own home?

We love fruits and vegetables. Mostly fruits, if you ask my daughter.

My best meal? Probably the home-made pizza I made with my daughter. I love baking and cooking with my daughter. Growing up, I cooked with my mom and grandmother and I am trying to instill that love of cooking with my eight-year-old daughter. We recently made spaghetti and meatballs from scratch. Not the noodles, though. We don’t have a noodle maker. But my daughter helped with the meal. She squished and formed the meatballs with her hands…I know how much it meant to me to bake with my mom and knowing I can do that with my daughter, well it’s thrilling to have that experience with her. Cooking and baking together is an important part of our life.

Favorite word?

Possibilities. That’s been one of my favorite words for a very long time. I can trace my thinking on possibilities back to Zora Neale Hurston and her book, Their Eyes Were Watching God. That book taught me a lot about possibilities. It really made me think beyond my own life. When you think there is no other way to go, nowhere to turn, there is. You just need to stop, collaborate, and take a different road.

What are you currently reading?

I just finished Katharine Graham’s Personal History.

Loved that book, though it was a lot of pages.

God Bless America, that was a long book! But it was so good. I really enjoyed reading about Graham’s growth as a woman, her running the Washington Post, and working in a male-dominated industry. I found it inspirational and relatable for our times: don’t give up! Oh, and I’m just starting The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. To think about the contributions to the world both of these women made, and in completely different ways. It’s inspiring.

Did you know that the librarian [Jermaine Jackson] at the Alma Powell Branch Library is related to Henrietta Lacks?

Yes, there are several of her descendants living in our community. That is exciting.

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

I’ve had several. Both my parents have been my caring adults. I lost my dad four years ago. My mom is still here. My mom was my baker, teacher, and challenger. So was my dad. I’d go to Rotary with him, we’d collect for UNICEF together. I learned to give back at a very young age.

I’d also have to say my English teacher was very influential. I didn’t like school, didn’t find it very challenging. She changed my life by showing me books I should read. In college, I even ended up going into English Language and Literature.

Without a doubt, another caring adult in my life is Anne Lipsey. She became a friend but she is also my mentor, having been my boss for years. I’ve learned so much from her, how the voice of the people we serve must be heard and how we must stand up for them, particularly during these judgemental times. I’ve learned so much and continue to learn from her. She is just amazing.

We’re so grateful to the KLF staff and board for your on-going commitment to helping hungry kids in the schools and for all you do to end hunger throughout our community. We know there are many volunteers who work behind the scenes to make your work, such as food packs and school pantries, possible. What is the size of your volunteer force?

Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes would not exist without volunteer support. On a weekly basis, it takes 300 to 400 volunteers to do what we do. That’s a massive amount of people! From front desk people volunteering, helping us answer the phone, escorting people through the building, to drivers who pick up and deliver our food, and those volunteers who deliver those food packs to schools. [If you would like to learn how you can volunteer with Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes, go here.]

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