As Senior Architectural Project Coordinator with TowerPinkster, Jennifer Swan’s work schedule makes it difficult for her to volunteer on a weekly, consistent basis. Yet, she wanted to help kids stay in school and succeed in life. She came up with a creative solution and developed the Swan Snack Emporium which supports CIS Kid’s Closet. True to her name, Swan is helping children connect with their inherent beauty and value by giving kids the basics they need to stay in school and learn with dignity. Swan Snack Emporium received a 2019 Champ award and earlier this summer we featured that here.
Today we bring you a conversation Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids had with this creative CIS volunteer (which originally ran back in 2017.)
Since 1953, TowerPinkster, a design firm, has been creating vibrant places for people to live, work and play. As you know, TowerPinkster has received a number of awards. TP was named one of the “101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work for in the Nation” (National Association of Business Resources). TP was also awarded “Best Firm to Work For in the Nation” (ZweigWhite). From your perspective, what makes TP the best and the brightest?
What I think makes us the best are the people. We are like a family. We have two offices, in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, and although it’s a little harder these days—we’ve added quite a few new people to both offices and I don’t get up to the Grand Rapids office as much as I used—we used to know everybody and know everything that everybody is doing.
TowerPinkster is a family culture and we have a lot of fun. It’s not just coming to work. It’s coming in to work with your friends, what seems like brothers and sisters, more often than not. It’s a great environment and we have a ton of fun here.
What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?
I learn something every single day with my job. There are always new things happening in the construction industry, whether it’s new process or new people you work with. There’s not just one thing that I can give you that is something that I’ve learned because I learn every day on my job. Every single day I learn from contractors and learn from the construction managers on the project site. I learn from project managers here, even our interns that come in who know the new tech stuff that I don’t know, so I’m always learning.
What are you currently reading?
While I don’t have time to sit down and read a full book right now, I get on the internet and I read a lot of blogs and news articles.
Besides Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids, what are your ‘go-to’ blogs?
The type of blogs I turn to are ones that I can learn new things related to my work and to learn how other people are doing things so I can make myself better and faster at my job.
What is your favorite word right now?
My favorite word right now is strength, not like muscle strength but strength as in being a woman in a male-dominated field. You have to have a lot of strength and tenacity to go on job sites and be with a lot of men that are very experienced in the construction industry. I don’t build stuff, but I know how stuff is supposed to go together. It’s being able to hold my own on job sites and here in the office. I mean, the guys here are great and they’re very, very easy to work with and nobody’s ever like, You’re a girl and you don’t know what you’re doing. But it’s important to always have an understanding of what you’re talking about.
What’s your story behind getting into this line of work?
I think I got into this line of work because of my mother. When she was growing up, she and many women of that time were taught that women could be a secretary or go into teaching. I think she always wanted to be an architect because she was always, always sketching house plans at home. My dad was in the construction industry and in the summer he sometimes would take me with him and I would get to go to a construction site. I was always very interested in the construction architectural field just being around that growing up. So when I was in high school I took some drafting classes and just fell in love with it all.
I didn’t go to be an architect because growing up my family we didn’t have a lot of money so I didn’t go to U of M or any of the big colleges for that. I chose a smaller school—Baker College—as they had an architectural technical program.
What is something you love about Kalamazoo?
There’s so much to do! I come from a really, really, small town called Langston. There’s a party store, a church, and an ice cream place. So to come to Kalamazoo and there are restaurants, bars, festivals, and so many things to do and just so much to pick from…it’s wonderful!
Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?
My mom is definitely 100% my caring adult. She supports me with everything I do. I grew up in a single family household. My dad left when I was 11 or 12 so my mom raised my brother and me. She had a really strong work ethic and would work late nights and weekends because she was the only income that we had. She worked really hard and I pride myself on being like my mom because, like her, I have a very strong work ethic. Her being a single mom and raising two kids by herself; it’s just always been an inspiration to me. If she can do that, then I can do anything.
Jennifer, thank you for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids!
School is about to start and our kids need you. Consider becoming a volunteer today. To learn how you can help, go here.
At the 12th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Gary Heckman was honored with a 2019 Champ Award which was sponsored by Humphrey. CIS Board Member Rex Bell presented the award and Milwood Magnet Middle School’s CIS Site Coordinator Missy Best and CIS After School Coordinator Shannon Jones were on hand to congratulate Gary.
Upon retiring three years ago as the plumber, electrician, and steam operator for Manchester University, this grandfather of four plunged himself into a new campus of learning as a CIS volunteer at Milwood Magnet Middle School.
Gary Heckman has rolled up his sleeves and gotten to work: helping students build positive relationships with adults, building their confidence, and developing their curiosity as to how things work. CIS Senior Site Coordinator Missy Best says Gary has quickly “become an irreplaceable part of the team, sharing his time, talents, and tools to help both students and staff.”
“I just do a little bit here and there,” Gary modestly says.
One of the biggest ‘little bits’ Gary does is serve as a push-in tutor for Ms. Alexandria Hopp’s strategic math class and Ms. Jamie Ottusch’s seventh grade science class. A champion of hands-on activities, Gary’s been known to dig into the tool box he’s carted into the school, extracting baking soda, vinegar and cups, magnets and paperclips, and popsicle sticks to reinforce the classroom learning.
Missy says his enthusiasm, positive attitude, and sense of humor has endeared him to students who look forward to his visits each week. One of those students, Areona, says “Mr. Gary has a way of helping me understand math. He’s patient and kind.”
So what are some of the ‘smaller bits’ he does at Milwood Magnet?
When CIS partner Family Health Center pulled up to the school in their dental van, Gary was there, assisting the site coordinator by escorting students to and from their scheduled dental appointments. Another day, CIS After School Coordinator Shannon Jones tapped Gary to help with an upcoming STEM project that involved soldering a drone.
Another ‘bit’ involved helping to hang a bat house in the school’s courtyard. He used a clamp system he devised to safeguard the building. And while he was at it, he built a post for the school’s bird house.
Here’s one final ‘bit.’ He’s in the hallway, noticing a student struggling in a “worn out, beaten up wheelchair that was too large for her.” Later, he connects with Lucinda Stinson, Executive Director of Lending Hands. Thanks to their joint efforts, the student now has a brand new wheelchair, complete with foot rests that Gary adapted to comfortably fit the student.
Construction is a team effort. Along with CIS staff, Principal Mark Tobolski and teachers like Ms. Hopp and Ms. Ottusch, Gary is sharing his expertise and empowering students to build their academic success.
Gary Heckman, thank you for helping kids stay in school and succeed in life.
At the 12th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Dedrenna and Isaiah Hoskins were honored with a 2019 Champ Award which was sponsored by Miller-Davis Company. CIS Board Member Terry Morrow and CIS Site Coordinators Carol Roose and Laura McCoy presented the award.
Terry: One of Isaiah Hoskin’s favorite writers, Dr. Seuss, wrote: Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.
Fortunately, for our kids at Washington Writers’ Academy, Isaiah and his mother, Dedrenna Hoskins care an awful lot. For almost a decade, this mother and son have been volunteering through CIS. For years, their work initially entailed distributing Friday Food Packs, made possible thanks to our partnership with Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes. Each pack the Hoskins delivered held enough food to cover breakfast and lunch for a child during the weekend when other food options can be scarce.
And when summer rolls around, the Hoskins do not slow down. Oh, the places they’ll go! Our kids can count on them to tow food packs to and fro during the CIS Think Summer Program.
When Washington Writers’ recently transitioned to the food pantry model and their Food Packs were discontinued, the Hoskins did not miss a beat.
Carol: That’s right! During the school year, Dedrenna, a Quality Operations Technical Associate for Pfizer, heads straight from work to tutor students, assisting them on classwork, homework, math, reading, spelling, you name it. She’ll seek guidance from us, to help meet both the emotional and academic needs of the students she serves.
Oh, and she also has expanded her impact to even more children by serving on the CIS Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council.
This year, Isaiah happily transitioned to making and bagging popcorn that is sold as a fundraiser to support the boys’ basketball team. And while his duties may have changed, what hasn’t changed is the way in which Isaiah takes up his work. He does so with absolute joy, practically skipping into the school each Friday.
Laura: A man of few words, Isaiah continues to speak to the students he serves through his actions. By showing up week after week, year after year, he is a powerful role model, sending a compelling message: this is what dedication, responsibility, and hard work look like. This is what caring and kindness looks like. And because he does his work with such joy, he’s showing our kids that good feeling you get when you choose to give back to your community. He’s also taught all of us that you don’t give up, even when things get difficult. A few years back, when his mother became seriously ill for a time, Isaiah made the trek to school alone to make sure students got their food packs.
We can tell you first hand that being a site coordinator isn’t easy. However, knowing that we can count on the Hoskins makes our job just a little less daunting.
Terry: We are all so grateful that this mother and son choose to team up each week for kids. Dedrenna & Isaiah Hoskins, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.
During the 2018/19 school year, volunteers from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Southwest Michigan visited the CIS After School program at Hillside Middle School. Over the course of the multi-week program, students learned about different building structures and were guided through the process of designing and building their own architectural structure. They drew up their designs and then, using Legos, created miniature versions of their designs.
Nadine Rios-Rivas, an architectural associate with Byce & Associates, Inc., organized and served as the Public Awareness Co-Chair for the AIA Southwest Michigan. The team of volunteers introduced and explored careers in architecture with the students. “The AIASWM has decided to focus its awareness efforts on the future of Kalamazoo,” Nadine said. “It was a privilege to mentor and engage local students we hope to plant seeds of interest in higher education.”
Students named and briefly described their work. Below are the statements made by the students whose final products were displayed in the Radisson lobby during the 2019 Champs Celebration.
Chaneayl (age 11) 6th Grader
I wanted to build a huge multi-level home. I wanted to make it BIG! I choose the black and red colors because they are my favorite colors.
During the project, I had fun learning about other buildings.
Ciara (age 12) 7th Grader
“Ciara’s Family Suite”
I choose to build a big hotel suite. I designed a pool with a water slide that goes in and out of the building. It also has a basketball court and Ping-Pong room.
During the project, I had fun using my imagination and being creative.
Malikai (age 14) 8th Grader
“Mausoleum of the Emperor”
I was inspired by my card game that I like to play. It sounds historic and I thought it was pretty cool.
During the project, I had fun using my hands to build things.
Kazaria (age 11) 6th Grader
I designed a big hotel that you can eat for free. It has a water slide, game room and gym that is open 24 hours a day.
During the project, I had fun learning to put things together along with playing with Legos for the first time.
Amira (age 12) 6th Grader
“The Fun Fantastic Hotel”
I incorporated some of my favorite stores; Red Lobster (red), donut shop (pink), and a water park.
During the project, I learned that you can build whatever you like.
Jade (age 12) 7th Grader
My design is my dream house. I would like to live in a mansion with a basketball court, go-cart track and pool.
During the project, I had fun sketching my ideas for my dream house.
At the 12th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec,the Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council (VLAC) was honored with the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award, a recognition established last year by the Husain family to honor Gulnar’s long-time contributions to Communities In Schools and the community.
Gulnar immigrated from Pakistan in 1981 and for more than 38 years, she dedicated herself to volunteer work throughout the community of Kalamazoo.
The award recognizes a CIS volunteer who emulates Gulnar’s desire to serve children with a consistent and unflinching passion. [To learn more about Gulnar, read this post, “A Good Life.”]
Arcadia Elementary School Principal Greg Socha and CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator Nicky Aiello presented the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award, sponsored by the Gulnar Husain Legacy Fund.
Principal Socha: I had the honor of working with Gulnar Husain for the last six of her 14 years with CIS. As the CIS Site Coordinator at Arcadia she worked persistently, quietly, often invisibly behind the scenes for children. So too does this team of 11 CIS volunteer leaders who make up the Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council.
Meeting monthly and working closely with the CIS Volunteer Services team advising CIS on such things as volunteer recruitment and retainment, this group of volunteers has helped transform the volunteer process. Because of their collective work, the on-boarding of new volunteers is smoother and new volunteers feel more supported throughout the entire process.
In addition to their advising role, the council members have taken on additional responsibilities such as mentoring new volunteers, assisting and leading volunteer orientations, shoring up recruitment efforts by representing CIS at various recruitment opportunities, and planning volunteer events.
Nicky: The 11 VLAC members are: Jeme Baker, Chartanay Bonner, Jashaun Bottoms, Pam Dalitz, Theresa Hazard, Moises Hernandez, Dedrenna Hoskins, Rollie Morse, Richard Phillips, Howard Tejchma, and Marti Terpstra.
They have taken up this advisory work while continuing to remain committed and passionate about their own volunteer work in various CIS sites throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools. Each of these individuals shares their gifts and time in a variety of ways. And each, in their role on the council is truly a leader. Among other things, these leaders are planters. As a collective, the Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council plants ideas and seeds of change. They help CIS serve children more effectively by helping to plant volunteers in the paths of our children. And then they help CIS figure out ways to nurture, grow, and sustain these volunteers.
Principal Socha: Gulnar Husain’s vision stretched beyond a lifetime. She was one of the best “people gardeners” I’ve known. Throughout the school day and often well into the evening she was busy planting seeds of hope, love, and justice. She would be delighted that you are receiving this special recognition.
Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council, thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.
Each volunteer received a flower pot handcrafted in Kalamazoo by Grayling Ceramics. Inscribed on the pot is a quote which reads: “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”
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 Ashley Serio, who serves as the CIS After School Coordinator for Northglade Montessori.
Ashley began her career with CIS almost six years ago, first as an AmeriCorps VISTA, then as Youth Development Worker (YDW), serving at both Northglade and Edison Environmental Science Academy. She has also worked in CIS Think Summer for five years.
Ashley grew up in Kalamazoo and attended
Spring Valley Center for Exploration and then went on to Milwood Magnet Middle
School. Upon graduating from Kalamazoo Central High School, Ashley used the Kalamazoo
Promise scholarship to attend Western Michigan University. She
graduated in 2016, earning a degree in university studies with a focus in
business, health, and family consumer science.
Back in February, we popped over to Northglade and popped this quiz on her. Alright, Ashley Serio: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
is one of the best parts about being a CIS after school coordinator?
Getting to know the kids and build
meaning relationships with them. I love helping them grow and seeing that
growth, well they inspire me and my staff in many ways. They help us grow, too.
It’s just awesome to watch.
have the kids helped you grow?
They make me want to be more patient,
more present, and more aware of everything. I’ve come to understand that
everyone’s experience impacts them differently and it’s important to be aware
of those experiences.
is one of the most challenging aspects of being an after school coordinator?
Not feeling like I can ever do
enough for the kids. I want to be there even more for them, provide them more, and
there is a limit to what I can do within the confines of this role.
a graduate of Kalamazoo Public Schools, who were some of your favorite teachers?
My favorite high school teacher was
Mr. [Christopher] Bullmer. He passed away last year. I did slam poetry and had
him for language arts.
had a positive impact on a lot of kids, didn’t he? I’m a little surprised,
though, that you took his slam poetry class.I’m trying to picture you doing slam
Until very recently, talking in front of people was one of
my weaknesses. I’d just get so nervous. But with my work at CIS, I was encouraged
both by Cara [Weiler] and Ms. Stacy [Jackson]
to do this very thing. They both pushed me beyond myself. I’m now doing
trainings and sharing information with others. I’m becoming comfortable with
doing this…The work that I do is
so ingrained in my life now, it comes naturally. We all struggle, no matter how
much we come to know and learn. But, as a CIS after school coordinator, I do
have confidence in what needs to be done and I enjoy sharing that passion with
back to your KPS teachers. In addition to Mr. Bullmer, any other favorite teachers
come to mind?
Oh, yes, definitely! At Spring Valley, it was Ms. Julie Jones, my second grade teacher, and Kairi Hokenmaier, my third grade teacher, and Michelle Larson, my fifth grade teacher. At Milwood Magnet Middle School, two of my favorite teachers were Mr. Atiba McKissack [now principal at Hillside, you can find his pop quiz here] and Ms. Dawn Kahler.
your favorite teachers have any overarching characteristics?
They were each dedicated to their
jobs. They built quality relationships with their students, while also showing us
that they were learning along the way, too.
I also think it says something about
them, the fact that, to this day, they are working with kids one way or another.
The way you just described your favorite teachers reminds me of you—the focus on building relationships and life-long learning.
Oh, my! I can only hope I can be as
good with kids as they have been. To think that I could teach kids as well as
they did…wow. I mean, I’m not a teacher like them, but I’m still helping
students, just in a different way.
[A CIS volunteer enters the CIS room. Ashley immediately rises to greet Ariel Slappy to see how everything is going. Ariel, a student at Western Michigan University, came to volunteer with CIS through her “Teaching as a Profession” class.]
colleague, Steve Brewer, gave us a glimpse of what his work as CIS site
coordinator looks like during the daytime [his interview here]
at Northglade. Can you give us a glimpse of what an average afternoon in the
life of a CIS after school coordinator is like?
Every day is different! I should also say that while Steve and I have different roles within the school, we work well together and we’ll each step out of our own role to step into each other’s role to get things done. For instance, you could see he was busy elsewhere in the building so I stepped in to assist our new volunteer. He does the same for me.
term “after school’ is in your title, so the assumption might be that you are
just in the school after the school day is over. But here you are, and it’s not
Yes, typically I’m checking in with students
during day, to see if they are okay and if they are able to get their work done.
I want to be fully present with the kids and after school staff so I use this time
for program preparation and doing data work, planning for field trips and
lessons and activities—all before program time begins. And then, it’s two and a
half hours of after school programming with the kids.
does that look like for you?
When the school day is over, our
students—we have about 50 in the program—come into cafeteria and the staff and
I greet them. I’m always with students during dinner time. I take attendance, the
students wash their hands and have dinner. For Black History Month, we decided
to try something new, so I’ve been reading a book aloud to the students for ten
minutes each day. We’re reading Gone
Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia.
After the students finish eating
they go to recess. I take that time to clean up, go back to the CIS office and
catch up on paperwork. Following recess, the students split up into three
groups and go into their classrooms for their Core Time. I float around, going
in and out of each of the rooms, and supporting however necessary. Sometimes, a
kid may need some time away from their group so I might bring them back to the
CIS space and they can do what they need to do to regulate themselves and then
get back to their room.
us more about what Core Time looks like for Northglade students.
On Mondays, our focus is on SEL [Social and Emotional Learning], Tuesdays it is STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math], and Wednesdays is ELA [English Language Arts], and then, on Thursdays, the students participate in clubs.
Each class is focusing on something
different. But across the board, we’re all focused on self-management and
relationship building. We’re exploring our personal emotions and what they look
and feel like, how we can interact kindly and help each other. This has become a
regular part of what we do on a weekly basis. We’ve found, through trial and
error, some great ways to engage students in ways they find meaningful.
you share an example?
Sure. Last week, in [Youth Development Worker] Ms. Paige’s group, the students did a bucket-filling activity. The idea behind this is that we feel good about ourselves when we are kind to others. We can build up others by filling them with kindness. When others’ buckets are filled up, that helps to fill up our own bucket. If we are mean to others, it not only spills out their bucket, but it spills out our own as well.
So, for the activity, the kids each
made their own buckets and randomly selected the names of three other students.
They then wrote something positive about each student and put the slip in their
bucket. This was all done anonymously.
That makes sense. The anonymous bucket activity encourages the kids to respond in a more intrinsic way, rather than being driven to “be kind” for some external reward. It’s not about “Oh, look, see what I wrote about you!” It’s more about, “I felt good writing something nice about you.”
Yes! And the kids love doing this
and reading what is in their bucket!
So after Core Time in which we are
doing various activities like what I just described, the kids move into Homework
Time. Again, I’m checking in here and there. I’m helping wherever necessary. Kids
have all different kinds of needs, so you need to meet those needs in different
ways. I might find I need to work one-on-one with a student or work with a
group of students who might be confused about something related to their
mentioned Thursdays are club days. What clubs do you currently have going on?
The kids get to select two options for their clubs. Right now we have “Around the World” which focuses on learning different places and cultures food, languages, customs, and traditions. We have “Olympic Club” where kids can learn about different winter Olympic sports and how to play them. We also have “Animal Club” where kids are learning about different animals. The Kalamazoo Nature Center is partnering with us on this and coming in to help us learn more about animals.
Principal Mogaji, whom we recently interviewed [interview can be found here if you missed it] said that she appreciates how you take the Montessori philosophy into account when running the CIS after school program, so that children receive a consistent message as their learning stretches into the after school hours. Can you share an example of how you do that?
I do work hard to extend what they
know in the school day into after school as much as possible. We avoid extrinsic
awards, for example. Also, the rules and norms we go by are aligned with the
school day. The Northglade students worked to develop these so we are essentially
going by what they chose to develop, such as being peaceful with our bodies,
respecting each other, the environment, and the school. We talk a lot about
What are you currently reading?
Becoming by Michelle Obama. I’m not very far in yet,
but it’s good. It’s interesting to hear about her life from her own perspective.
What are you becoming?
A better version of myself, although I don’t know what that means yet.
What is your favorite word right
What do you love?
The kids that I work with. Food. Sleep. My friends and family.
Where is one place in Kalamazoo you love hanging out?
In the summer and spring I like to be outdoors, so I enjoy visiting Asylum Lake. Also, I like to go any place that has good food. I like to be comfortable warm, and fed.
Behind every successful person is
a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?
My mom. She’s always been there for
me. Most of my life it’s just been her and me. She’s supported and encouraged
me. And obviously, I’m a lot more like her than I ever thought I’d be! We both
do the same job and love it! [Ashley’s mom, Martha Serio, is on her thirteenth
year as the CIS Site Coordinator at Spring Valley Center for Exploration. In
2015, she received National
CIS’s Unsung Hero Award.] I never thought I’d want to do the same
work as my mom. I grew up watching her be stressed out worrying about the kids.
But as soon as I started working the CIS summer program, I loved it. And
working for Ms. Stacy
[Jackson] during that time helped me definitely figure that out.
Anything else we should know about you?
I’m not usually very good talking about myself, I guess! I mostly work,
sleep and eat. I do like to travel. I want to go to Italy within the next year.
It’s beautiful from all the pictures I’ve seen. I’ve been to Paris,
London, and Berlin. I studied abroad in college and loved Europe in general.
So, Italy is next!
Thank you, Ashley, for hanging
out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 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 Pam Dalitz, a CIS volunteer at Spring Valley Center for Exploration, or, as she refers to the school, her “second home.” Pam also serves on the CIS Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council (VLAC), advising CIS on such things as volunteer recruitment and retainment.
Pam, who is originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan, retired one and a half years ago “from a bunch of careers.” She started as a recreation therapist, went back to school and became an exercise physiologist working in the physical therapy department at Borgess. Eventually, she attended Kalamazoo Valley Community College’s nursing program. She worked 12 years as a registered nurse and then retired from the health field.
Alright, Pam: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?
How to teach kids to read. I didn’t really know how to do that until taking this SLD reading class. The SLD way is so different than how I learned to read as a kid. I’ve tutored multiple students and I’m currently only working with one SLD-mentored student. [To learn more about SLDRead, go here.]
Any tips you can impart when it comes to helping kids read?
Take the SLD reading course! Be open-minded. It is amazing.
‘You’ve got to be kidding.’ That’s my favorite phrase at the moment: ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’ and I’ve been saying it a lot. But a favorite word? ‘Unbelievable!’ For a while, I was into ‘macabre.’ I’m off of that one now. Oh, ‘Whoa’ is another favorite. I like words!
Tell us a bit about your volunteer work with CIS.
I’m the kind of person who bores easily, but the kids make it so interesting and the work is really inviting. [CIS Site Coordinator] Martha Serio is a great boss! Also, it’s nice that there isn’t tons of paperwork.
Do you help Martha with paperwork?
No, I just go in and work with the kids, tutoring them. I also help in Ms. [Chyna] Campbell’s second grade classroom. Sometimes I’ll help with classroom papers, but now paperwork is much more fun than when I was a nurse and charting to help the hospital get reimbursed for units of morphine. By the way, Ms. Campbell is an amazing teacher and I admire her so much. She has her stuff together, and at such a young age!
I also like working with Martha. She is energetic and I find her easy to get along with because she’s very direct. I don’t have to guess what she wants. I get anxious if I don’t know what is expected of me and she lets me know. Martha goes above and beyond. She really cares, making sure students’ needs are met, whether it’s for academic, or social and emotional support. She’s always getting hold of their parents so everybody is working together to attend to the needs of the kids.
How often do you volunteer at Spring Valley?
I help in the second grade classroom two days a week. I also tutor several children two days—sometimes three—a week. I have a warm spot for kids that struggle in school. I really like working with them.
Where does that warm spot come from?
As a kid, I was given the diagnosis of ADHD [attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder]. I struggled, too. It was hard for me to stay focused, stay quiet, and stay in my seat. I would try and work in my seat and then I’d find myself across the classroom. Oh, there I go again, I’d think. I knew what was expected of me, but I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to be seen as “the bad kid,” but I was…
Those that have struggled in school sometimes end up being the best support for kids. So tell us, what made you decide to choose CIS as a way to share your time and talents?
I got into volunteering with CIS thanks to my hair salon, Honoré! They really should get credit for it.
I go to Kristin Peterson who—every time—does a wonderful job. I recommend her and Honoré to everyone in our community. Shaun Moskalik, the owner, I love him! Anyways, Honoré collects coats each year for CIS. I started buying up a few coats and bringing them into the salon and donating them to the cause. Then, one time, while getting my bangs cut by Mindy [Meisner], she started telling me about her volunteer work with CIS. You should talk to CIS about volunteering, she said. Kristin, Shaun and Mindy, they all encouraged me to follow up with CIS.
Even though you’ve retired from nursing, you still carry that health background with you when you work with kids. Do you have any thoughts on the health of children these days?
Yes, I worry about our kids’ health. When kids don’t have set bedtime hours, they often come to school exhausted. I’ll ask kids what their bedtime is and some say 7:30 or 8 o’clock. But others, the tired ones, are staying up late and playing video games.
I also ask students what they like to do, and while some mention playing sports, many—far too many—identify sedentary activities, like video games and watching television. You don’t hear much more about kids gathering informally to play outdoor games. I’m a huge Red Rover fan and I probably still have ruptured organs from playing that game! But seriously, that sedentary lifestyle worries me. I wonder about the heart disease and diabetes we’ll see in the future.
I must say, though, I do love seeing the healthy snacks, like fruits and pretzels, available in the school. That’s a good thing.
As a former exercise physiologist, do you see a connection between learning and movement?
Definitely. Activity is huge for learning. It gives the brain a boost in oxygen, it reduces stress, and can help kids rest their eyes a bit. There is this Go Noodle program that Spring Valley uses and the kids love it.
They are little videos, about two minutes each, that can easily be played during the school day. It lets kids take a small break, get up and Go Noodle to burn off some steam. I think they have videos geared to all grade levels, maybe even for grown-ups. Basically, kids “noodle” for relaxation and can then re-focus. The kids love it and so do I!
Where is someplace you like to frequent in the community?
Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been one of your caring adults?
My dad was definitely one of my caring adults. He was a huge role model for me. He ran an industrial laundry. He worked 12-14 hour days but always had time to do fun, recreational activities.
Bertha Walker also comes to mind. She was a community mental health social worker and we worked together at Crisis Stabilization (which is part of Kalamazoo Community Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services but was affiliated with Borgess Hospital at that time). She was the senior staff. She was no nonsense and was all about our team getting the work done. We never doubted that she cared about us or the patients we served. She’s been gone now over eight years.
When you think back on 2018, what is one of your fondest memories that you carry with you into this new year?
My first year following retirement was last year, so I got out the bucket list. As part of a mission trip, I got to go into the gypsy camps of Romania last year and that amazed me. I also went dog sledding in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. That is something I wanted to do my whole life!
What are you most looking forward to this year?
My other volunteer is with the Sierra Club and I’m looking forward to some local and national trips with them. When I see a hint of spring, that means we’re getting closer. I can’t wait! I also love walking my dog. It’s a simple pleasure, just walking my little dog.
Thank you, Pam, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.
“Volunteering,” someone once said, “is the ultimate exercise in democracy.”
Why? Because when you choose to volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.
You join with others to help creating a community of hope, one in which all children can fulfill their promise. By giving just one hour a week of your time you help students in Kalamazoo Public Schools:
Stay and succeed in school
Improve in math or reading
Gain self-esteem and confidence
Have food for the weekend
Be ready for college and a career
Fulfill his or her Promise
Did you know that you are one of 43,000 community volunteers throughout the CIS network who, in 2016-2017, donated your time to 1.56 million students served by 131 affiliated organizations in 25 states and D.C.?
Thank you for casting your support of our 12,000+ children.
Interested in joining forces with our fabulous volunteers? You can change the life of a young person right here in your community by signing uptoday!