August 30, 2022
Category: ChampsVolunteers

Cathy Boris: Giving Back to Kids is a Way of Life

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 Cathy Boris, who was honored with the 2022 Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award.

[If you didn’t get a chance to catch the Champs event, you can watch it here to learn more about Cathy’s work. The Honorable Namita Sharma presents Cathy’s award at the 49-minute mark. To learn more about Gulnar, read this post, “A Good Life.”]

Born in Downers Grove, Illinois (outside of Chicago), Cathy moved to Kalamazoo with her family when she was around four years old. She grew up with five brothers and two sisters.

A former day care owner, Cathy retired in 2015 after twenty plus years of teaching early elementary. For the past six years, she has been volunteering with CIS at Northeastern Elementary School.

CIS Site Coordinator Dana Flynn says, “I adore Cathy! She started at Northeastern before me and played a big part in helping me acclimate to the school. She took the time to introduce me to teachers and students … She shows a tireless commitment to our students and is a vital part of our family here at Northeastern.”

Cathy has two grown children. Her daughter Kelly is a speech pathologist and her son Andy works at Ascension Borgess Hospital in the kitchen and is also an avid marathon runner.

We got a chance to meet up with Cathy over Zoom.

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

Pop Quiz

What made you decide to start volunteering with CIS?

When I stopped teaching early elementary about six years ago, it was the natural next step. So once I stopped teaching after twenty plus years, I started volunteering.

We learned from your Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award that besides all the volunteer work you do with CIS, you also volunteer regularly with The Kalamazoo Drop-In Child Care Center (KDCCC), Peace House, and once a month serve a meal at the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission. Where does your passion for volunteering come from?

I think it’s because I was raised that way. Somebody I know said, You don’t have to do this [volunteer work]. You’re retired now. But I know I work well with children, so it’s a comfort zone for me.

At Northeastern, I’m working with first and second graders this year. No fifth graders. I only work with people shorter than me.

You’re working one-on-on with eight students at Northeastern this year, right?

Yes. One at a time, basically every half hour. In previous years, I’ve gone in the classrooms to provide support, but with the pandemic, I’ve been working one-on-one and finding it so rewarding. I’m able to get the students focused so that has been a real plus for me. 

… So we read books, finish schoolwork, do math, play games, work with playdoh—we do it all!

Occasionally, if it works for both the school and me, I will come in on Thursdays to do a special project on graphing with the first-grade students that I started a few months ago.

What is it like working with CIS Site Coordinator Dana Flynn?

We have so much fun! We think the same. She’s positive and I try to be positive. I share my thoughts. She supports me … It’s not the easiest year, you know. So every Wednesday I bring something I’ve made and drop it off to her and to the teachers I work with, to Mrs Bartley the secretary, and to Mr. Randy the janitor. Because of the pandemic, I’ve had to individually wrap things.

Working in a school is normally a very hard job. I taught for years so I know this, but it’s even harder now and these people are working in a pandemic, coming back after doing this virtually, and expectations for teachers and students are that everyone simply starts where they left off.

That’s a lovely thing to do. Dana says you are one dedicated volunteer, walking to Northeastern most weeks whether its rain, snow, or shine. 

I live about a mile from the school. I had to stop driving seven years ago when I was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2015. So I walk a lot, ride the bus, or make arrangements to take the Kalamazoo Metro Share van.  … The epilepsy has never really been an issue, but I can’t drive, and sometimes my words come out wrong. The retrieval of words can be difficult. It’s little things, but it can be frustrating.

As if what you are doing in the way of volunteer work isn’t enough, it is even more impressive, in light of this, all you’ve been doing. You haven’t let your health issues stop you.

Whining and crying can’t do anything about it. This is who I am. I’m fortunate be able to do the things I do.

What are you currently reading?

I’ve read 26 books so far this year. I’m reading the Sanibel Island Mysteries series written by Jennifer Schiff. While I was teaching, I could only read a few Chicken Soup stories so I could get enough sleep for a busy day ahead.

What is a question you recently asked or perhaps have been asking a lot lately?

It’s a question I ask, just like everybody else. When can we start doing things how we used to do them? When can things get back to pre-pandemic “normal?”

What is your favorite word or phrase right now?

Recently, I was walking to the bus to volunteer and I fell in the snow and an expletive just popped out!

One of the phrases I try not to say is “good job” when I’m working with the kids. “Good job” means they are pleasing me and I don’t want to send that message. [See article, “Five Reasons to Stop Saying ‘Good Job!’”] … I’ve learned so much since I started volunteering, learning things I should have done or not done with children all those years. I’m learning this throughmostly observation, watching the preschool teacher at the Kalamazoo Drop-In Child Care Center where I also volunteer, and seeing how she comes up with her ideas, and then at Northeastern, watching the teachers, oh, I’ve just learned so many ways to help kids.

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

If you or someone you know is interested in volunteering with CIS at one of our 22 sites this school year, please visit the CIS website and click on “volunteer portal” located in the upper right corner.

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