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 Maria Whitmore (Chalas), CIS After School Coordinator for Arcadia Elementary School. We caught up with her just as she had finished serving as Program Director for CIS Think Summer for the middle school students.
Born and raised in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, Maria says it was love that brought her from the Caribbean to Kalamazoo in 2014. “I met a wonderful man online in an unexpected way, and here I am with my two children.”
Maria graduated from Caribbean University, a private university system in the Dominican Republic and graduated in 2007 with a degree in Education and Modern Languages.
When Maria arrived in the United States, her first job was at a greenhouse. “However, God never leaves his children alone, and El Sol Elementary opened its doors for me.” In the fall of 2016, when Maria’s son was in 4th grade, she stepped into the role as a Title 1 Paraprofessional. Around this same time, another opportunity opened so Maria also began helping extend the learning day for El Sol students by serving as a youth development coach for CIS After School.
With the support of Ms. Heather Grisales [principal of El Sol at that time] Maria also started taking the necessary steps to pursue a teaching position. But, Maria states, “God had another plan for me and things turned out differently. I was called to a different scenario. Because God is so caring, he opened another door for me: CIS.”
Maria now serves as the CIS After School Coordinator for Arcadia Elementary School. She had also worked during 2019 CIS Think Summer as a youth development coach. And when the pandemic did not stop CIS from opening its virtual summer doors to students, Maria went through those doors too, and served as the CIS Think Summer program director for the middle schools.
“I love working for CIS,” Maria says. “CIS believes in growing people, both kids and grownups. They offer opportunities, and I’m an example of it. They trusted me, and because of that, I’m where I am at right now.”
Alright, Maria: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
What are you learning about yourself and/or the world during these challenging times?
Perseverance and optimism. I think those are the key for anything in life, especially during these challenging times. I remind myself to stay calm and stay positive.
What is one of the best parts about being a CIS After School Coordinator?
I can share my knowledge with others, and at the same time, I can learn from them. I feel like a real teacher, which I love. I just love seeing the impact we have on kids when we work together.
Given the challenges we face during this time—school buildings closed and all of us practicing social distancing—what does your CIS work look like now? How are you continuing to support students during this challenging time?
The hard part is keeping students engaged. We all know that a kid and a computer means video games; we have to fight that now.
I do like calling parents. That way we keep each other in the loop as to what is happening. It also gives us the opportunity to work closely together to support students and fully engage them in the learning process. And despite the challenges, kids are engaging. For example, I have three students who went back to their home country of Saudia Arabia. And yet, they continued to join their peers with their virtual learning throughout CIS Think Summer.
I don’t see the glass half empty. I see it as half full.
Anything else you want us to know?
I am always working, even when sleeping! What I mean by that is that my engagement with the work that I perform is so exciting that I’m always busy figuring new things out as to how best support the youth that we serve.
Also, I like to play a game that helps me to relax after a hard day. It’s called Parshisi Star and is an online game that I have on my phone. When I was a kid, I used to play it as a table game, but now it’s available through your Facebook account.
I also love to cook. I am the kind of cook who doesn’t follow the recipe instructions. I base my dishes off my own tastes and everybody that has tasted my food loves it!
Thank you, Maria, 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 Viridiana Carvajal, CIS After School Site Coordinator at El Sol Elementary. El Sol functions similarly to a magnet school, accepting students from throughout the Kalamazoo Public School district. Approximately half of El Sol’s students come from homes where Spanish is the primary spoken language and half from English-speaking homes.
Viri was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. When she was six, she and her family moved to Mexico, returning back to her California home when she was 12. Upon graduating from high school, she would make yet another journey, this time to Michigan for college.
A versatile and talented young woman, she has held various roles with CIS, supporting elementary, middle, and high school students across five different schools. Viri now lives in Kalamazoo with Moises, their four-year-old son Gael, her mother, and sisters.
Throughout the interview, Viri not only answered questions for Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids but periodically excused herself to field programmatic and kid questions from youth development coaches. She met briefly with a parent who stopped by, passed out a couple band-aids, rounded up an ice-pack, and helped a student who was struggling with staying focused in the classroom. Her leadership on display through her attitude and actions, Viri’s calm, positive, and open-minded approach washed over kids and grownups alike, setting just the right tone for the CIS Think Summer! program.
Alright, Viri: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
From California to Kalamazoo! Kalamazoo College brought you to Kalamazoo but how did you come to learn about Kalamazoo College?
I went to Camino Nuevo High School in L.A. and because a former principal from one of the Camino Nuevo Schools had graduated from Kalamazoo College, the counselors were also familiar with K, as well as Hope College. I applied to visit the college to see if it would be a good fit for me. Turns out it was! I came from a very small high school and wanted a small campus.
I went to Kalamazoo College with the goal of becoming a math major. During my junior year, because of my experience with CIS through the Center for Civic Engagement, I changed my major to psychology.
Can you share more about your experience of connecting with CIS? You’ve worn several hats with the organization, haven’t you?
Yes! I was first introduced to CIS during my first year of college through my involvement with the Mary Jane Stryker Center for Civic Engagement. As a college freshman, that first year I worked on campus, involved with a tutoring program focused on math and science. It was in my sophomore year that I learned about the CIS and Kalamazoo College partnership at El Sol Elementary and Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts. As one of Kalamazoo College’s Civic Engagement Scholars [more on the Scholars and their involvement with CIS here] I tutored students at Maple Street, and then later, as part of my psychology class, did some volunteer work with CIS at Woodward School for Technology and Research.
During my last year at Kalamazoo College, [Senior Director of Community Engagement & Student Investment] Artrella Cohn brought me on board to work in the math tutoring program at Kalamazoo Central High School. That summer, I applied with CIS to be a YDC [Youth Development Coach] and went to work at El Sol in the fall of 2015. In January, I went back to LA but when I returned in 2016, I stepped back into my role as a YDC and worked with Kids in Tune during CIS Think Summer! I continued to support students as a YDC both during the school year and throughout CIS Think Summer!
In the fall of 2017, I transitioned to yet another role, serving as the interim CIS After School Coordinator at El Sol. That position became permanent for me. And in the summer of 2018, I was also the CIS Site Coordinator for the Kids in Tune portion of summer programming. I feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to work with Stacy Jackson who had, for the elementary level, been the Director of CIS Think Summer!
And now you have are here at Arcadia Elementary School serving as the Director of CIS Think Summer! Is there a school or CIS position that you haven’t been connected with in some way?
What do you love about working at El Sol as CIS After School Coordinator?
The kids! I love the kids. I’ve known many of these kids since I came on with CIS as a YDC. When I arrived, they were in kindergarten. Now those same kids will be going into fourth grade this fall. It’s amazing to see them grow and change. Also, it’s been wonderful coming to know and be with their families. Because the parents are very involved and I’ve been a consistent presence, the families know me. We’ve built relationships and they trust me.
Trust plays a huge part in your work with families, doesn’t it?
Yes, through the relationships we have built, and working together to support their children, that trust has grown. In some cases, families may come to me for other things, such as helping to translate things for them. Knowing that the kids want to return to CIS and parents want their kids to return and be involved with CIS tells me they want their kids with us and are trusting me to keep them safe.
What is one of the most fulfilling aspects of being a CIS after school coordinator?
Hearing kids want to return to CIS. They are excited for tomorrow and what it will bring. Our coaches work hard preparing for them and having a schedule for them to follow. Just like during the day, there are expectations we have for students in the after school program. While the students may grumble about it, at end of the day, they really appreciate the structure we provide.
Also, if I’ve been gone for a day, I love hearing them say, “We missed you!”
What do you find most challenging about your work?
Recognizing that some things are out of my control things and learning to be okay with that—it has been hard. I’m a person that always wants to have answers and help however I can. So I am out of my comfort zone when I can’t do something about a given situation. It’s hard to be okay with that. So while I’ve had that challenge in my role at El Sol, I find I am having similar feelings in a different setting as I adjust to our summer program. We have different kids are coming from different schools, all with different experiences, and I don’t have control over that.
What are you currently reading?
George by Alex Gino. It was recommended by one of my coaches [also referred to as youth development coaches] and I just started it. It’s about a transgender student who is in fourth grade.
What is your favorite word right now?
Grateful. I feel grateful and am grateful. I’m serving in this summer position as director and that is new for me. It’s not easy and I am grateful to have the support I do in this position, both in my professional and in my personal life.
Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?
My mom, Elena. She’s been a single mom raising three girls. She worked so hard and sacrificed so much for us. She taught me a lot. She always has a lesson to teach me, even now. If I have a hard day at work she calms me and helps me look at things differently. I look up to her, my role model.
Thank you, Viri, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.
Do you or someone you know speak Spanish? Consider becoming a volunteer with CIS today. Our students at El Sol and at other CIS sites throughout Kalamazoo Public Schools can use your support. Start the process by going here today!
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 Marcell Jones. He is a fifth grader at Arcadia Elementary School.
In July, we met up with Marcell at Arcadia Elementary School while he was participating in the 2019 CIS Think Summer! program. [Marcell is featured in the fall 2019 CIS Connections, found here.]
Alright, Marcell: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
June. Because that means it’s summer and my birthday is in June and I get to do lots of stuff. This year, for my birthday I went roller skating and got to see my grandma, and she bought me a new bike. It is kind of too tall for me right now, but will be perfect when I’m a little bigger.
What are you currently reading?
One of the Beast Quest books [series written by a collection of writers using pen name, Adam Blade]. It’s two animals and two kids and they are on a quest.
I like reading adventure books about castle and nights. Superheroes, too. DC comics. Batman and Superman are my favorites.
What is one of your favorite things about being a student in KPS?
I get to pick my favorite books to read, but sometimes we have to get a book that doesn’t have pictures in it.
I am doing well in math. I also have some really good teachers during the school year. One of my goals is to be a better reader. I know how to read, of course, but I want to get better at reading concepts, like how to summarize a story. I learned a lot when I was in fourth grade. I’ve had really good teachers, like Ms. [Kelly] Dopheide and Ms. [Donna] Judd. Oh, and my science and handwriting has improved, too.
Would you rather be a dinosaur or a whale for one day?
A whale. Whales eat yummy stuff, but if I was a dinosaur, I’d be eating people, so I’d rather be a whale. I think they eat fish. And I like fish, especially shrimp from Popeyes because it’s crunchy.
Behind every successful student is a caring adult. Who is one of your caring adults?
My mom. She’ll remind me about doing be homework and she helps me with writing prompts. She’s intelligent and got good grades in schools, so she knows how to help me. Also, my mom’s friend, Darell. He’s a preacher and he tells me stuff that helps me grow, too.
Hey, these questions you’ve been asking me, this is kind of like an “About the Author” but it’s about me… Do you want to know who my favorite author is?
Andrew Clements is my favorite author. Also, Beverly Clearly and Mary Hope Osborn. Oh, and Jonathan Rand. I love his books!
Thank you, Marcell, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.
Be sure to read the latest issue of CIS Connections and find out more about Marcell, including what one thing he would change about the world, if he could.
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 Rod Raven, who is the lead Activity Helper at Arcadia Elementary School where he also serves after school as basketball coach for both boys and girls. In both these roles, Rod works with CIS to assure students have what they need to succeed in school and life. Rod is a 2019 Champ recipient and if you missed what was said about him at Champs, go here.
Born and raised in Gary, Indiana, Rod came to Kalamazoo in 1985 seeking better employment opportunities. Prior to working at Arcadia Elementary, he ran summer programs, including working six years at the Boys and Girls Club. Rod is also the proud father of three children. His son Demonte is a military police officer, daughter Taysha attends college at KVCC, and daughter Nakia is a therapy behavior technician here in Kalamazoo.
Alright, Rod Raven: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
Practice is the foundation of success in sports (and other things). It’s been said that whatever you do in practice, you’ll do that during the competition. Do you find that what kids do in practice, carries over from the court into the classroom?
Definitely. And that behavior carries over into the halls, onto the playground, and into the future. Take manners for example. That’s an important life skill and something we practice. A lot of the teachers will stop me and say how students are greeting them by saying “Good morning” and “Good afternoon,” and that this is a turn-around from the previous school year.
I love seeing our kids doing their work in school, reading, working on art, listening to teachers, and walking calmly down the hallway. They are echoing each other’s positive behaviors.
A commonly shared aspect of success on and off the court is being a consistent performer, to try hard in all conditions and never give up, responding positively to winning and losing, taking up both success and failure in a positive way. Is this a teachable trait? And if so, how do you teach it?
I do believe it’s a teachable trait. I encourage the boys at the beginning of practice and before games that no matter how the game turns out; we’re all winners here. I will give that message to both teams—there is no failure here. Participation is honorable in itself.
I stress teamwork, politeness, kindness, and respect. The way I coach is by structuring things a little differently during our time together. The first half hour is educational and students read and do homework. The second half of the hour is devoted to life skills. We talk and reflect on both the positive and negative behaviors that have occurred in school and home. We discuss and debate what choices could have made or made better, so that should they experience a similar situation later on in life, they will be aware of it, and make a positive choice in the future. After all that, we then have about 25 minutes of basketball practice. I realize that’s not a lot of time, but it sends the message that academics and behavior are more important. The students will be going on to middle and then high school and behavior is key to success in school and on the court.
I tell the kids that Michael Jordon and Lebron James may be the best known players, but a lot of other players out there were just as good but because they had behavior problems, they didn’t get to be on the platform and go to that next level. Getting a good education is important. To get to that next level—whatever area they see themselves in—behavior and academics need to be a focus.
CIS Site Coordinator Joan Coopes and CIS After School Coordinator Myah VanTil say you are not only invested in the students’ success, but you get them to invest in each other. Can you talk some about how you do that?
We work as one. We practice life skills together, talk as one, help each other with homework, whether its math or social studies we’re working together. And students help each other with choice-making. Say a player is making a bad choice on the playground. Other members will step in and remind that student that they are representing not only themselves, but the team. They remind them what they stand for.
Over the last four years, I haven’t had to break up any fights and that is because they have been learning to make better choices: to walk away, to talk it out, or resolve the situation with support from others.
Several of the boys have commented [about you] to both Joan and Myah that “he is teaching us how to be gentleman.” How do you go about imparting this?
The way you present yourselves tells others a lot about you. I never was one for slacks hanging down so every Friday, the boys dress up in a shirt and tie. As the “Young Men of Arcadia,” they demonstrate politeness and being a gentleman. At the end of the school year, I take them to a formal dinner so that they can experience that setting and practice their manners. They really improve from the beginning to the end of the year. All this helps them be role models to their friends and family now and later in life.
What are you currently reading?
I’m always reading lots of sports magazine. And I also love reading poetry.
Have you read Kwame Alexander’s work, like his book, The Crossover, that blends basketball and poetry? It combines two things you love!
One of my friends told me about his books. I need to read that one! I do enjoy reading poetry and writing it, too.
You write poetry?
I write poetry for friends, mostly. I’ll write poems for valentines and birthdays, illnesses, things like that.
What is your favorite word right now?
Where is one place in Kalamazoo you love hanging out?
School. I don’t do a lot of club stuff. I’m always busy with kids, at school and during the weekend in my community.
Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?
So many! Right now, I’d have to say Mr. Greg Socha. Over these last six years that I’ve been with Arcadia he has provided such encouragement. He shows a willingness to listen and take on challenges with me. When I’ve come up with an idea, he’s 100 percent behind it. We never look at an idea—or trying out an idea—as failure. I’m going to miss him. [Principal Greg Socha retired at the end of this school year.]
Thank you, Rod, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.
At the 12th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Rod Raven was honored with a 2019 Champ Award which was sponsored by Comerica. CIS Board Member Bob Miller, CIS Site Coordinator Joan Coopes, and CIS After School Coordinator Myah VanTil presented the award.
Bob: “Ask not what your teammates can do for you. Ask what you can do for your teammates.” Magic Johnson may have said this, but this next Champ lives it. By day, Rod Raven is the lead activity helper at Arcadia Elementary School. After school, he serves as Arcadia’s basketball coach for both boys and girls. Regardless of what position he’s playing, Coach Raven works with CIS to assure students have what they need to succeed in school and life.
Like basketball, teamwork is key when it comes to CIS. Each of us must do our part so kids succeed. Mr. Raven plays his positions exquisitely. And he has such a gift for getting kids to invest in each other.
One way he does this is by giving former students a chance to live out one of the five CIS basics that every child needs and deserves—and that’s an opportunity to give back to peers and their community. We love seeing young leaders like Linden Grove Middle School’s Devin Harris and Kalamazoo Central High School’s Keyten Thompson-Johnson and Le’Montae Daniels-Thompson, who, after a full day at school, come to Arcadia and give back by coaching, mentoring, and modelling positive behaviors for our students.
Myah: Like any good teammate, there are times Mr. Raven has turned to us for helping students, and times we’ve turned to him. I remember when I first started out as Arcadia’s CIS after school coordinator. One of my students was really struggling. I knew I could turn to Mr. Raven. Together, we came up with a behavior plan. His input—combined with the trusting relationship he had with the student—resulted in a complete turnaround: the student’s attitude dramatically improved, his assignments were completed and turned in on time, and behavior incidences went to zero.
Joan: Young men at Arcadia will come up to Myah and me and comment with great pride that Mr. Raven is teaching us how to be gentlemen. As the “Young Men of Arcadia,” they dress up in a shirt and tie on Fridays and practice the life skills Mr. Raven is teaching them from his open playbook, such as politeness, manners, listening, and making good choices.
Bob: Here’s what two of these gentlemen-in-training say about being part of Coach Raven’s team, in which academics always come first: Jazary says, “He’s brought our team far and helped us get better at basketball and school. He gives us lots of training. We’re even learning during recess!”
Mohammad appreciates that he’s always learning something new. “I’ve never played basketball before and he’s teaching me. It feels good to be part of the team.”
Both agree that if you want to be on Coach Raven’s team all you have to do is just work really, really hard.
Rod Raven, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in 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 Julie Davis. As we’re on the heels of Administrative
Professionals Day and on the cusp of our 12th Annual Champs event, we
thought it would be fun to meet up with this former KPS secretary and Champ (once a Champ, always a Champ as we say
at CIS) of ten years ago and see what she’s up to these days.
“The sound of men playing horseshoes was part of the soundtrack of my childhood,” Julie Davis says, recalling her “idyllic years” spent growing up in the farming community of East Lynn, Illinois. She smiles as she recounts formative years spent driving tractors and “helping” with baling hay. “And I was watching—without knowing I was watching—equipment break down and seeing someone use some random thing that had been laying on the ground to make it work.”
Without realizing it at the time, Julie was learning to make do with whatever
tools you have—or don’t have—in any given situation. Her knack for making
things work—no matter what life throws at her—has served her well, both in her
personal and professional life. As a single parent, she raised two beautiful
daughters, Jodie and Abby, and happily watched as they got degrees from University
of Michigan and Syracuse University, respectively. Throughout her 33-year career
as a school secretary for Kalamazoo Public Schools Julie made things work on a
daily basis; eight years at Loy Norrix High School and then 25 years at Arcadia
Julie retired in June of 2017. Three months later she was diagnosed with two
different kinds of cancer, one in each breast. She underwent two different
kinds of treatment and is doing fabulous now (as you’ll see, she did fabulous even
then). She enjoys traveling often to Washington, D.C. to play with her two
grandchildren, Sam, seven, and Norah, four.
We almost didn’t meet up with Julie at Anna’s
House. In fact, we walked right by her. While her trademark shoulder-length
blond hair has been replaced by short, white hair, her smile, joyous spirit,
and laughter haven’t changed a bit.
Alright, Julie Davis: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
It’s so different to see you sitting and
just relaxing. In your role as secretary at Arcadia Elementary School you were
I loved every second of every day! I have so many fond and funny memories of
working at Arcadia. And so many stories!
Will you tell us a story?
Sure. I’ve got thousands of
There was this first grader
who zipped his neck into his coat. Thankfully, it was a plastic zipper. I told
him, “I’m going to get this unstuck for you but it’s going to hurt. But I’ll do
it really fast.” He gave me the okay and I grabbed a bit of his neck and the
coat and we did it. And off he went. We were best friends after that. I still
remember his name. Eric.
And here’s another story. A
third grader wanted me to pull her tooth out. This was in the 90s. ‘It’s not
ready, honey,’ I told her, but she wanted that thing out. She was adamant and
wouldn’t go back to class until I pulled it. I know anticipation can drive kids
crazy. So I put on a rubber glove, pinched as hard as I could and out came the
tooth. It made that cracking sound when it came out, the kind of sound that
says it wasn’t quite ready to come out! The next day, I received a percentage
of what the tooth fairy brought her—a dime and three pennies.
And then there was a time….
Okay, bear with me. It’s going to
take a minute, but there is a question at the end of this.
You received a Champ award back in 2009. Gulnar [Husain, who served as CIS Site Coordinator at Arcadia at that time] rightly described you as kind and compassionate. She wrote: “Her patience has no limits…when all the phone lines are ringing simultaneously, a deadline for a report has to be met, a sick child has to be taken care of, a dose of medicine, ice pack, or band aid has to be given to a student, visitors have to be greeted, or a teacher’s question has to be answered, Julie is there to take care of everyone’s needs. It would be understandable if she lost her cool, but she doesn’t! She remains calm and composed and has the uncanny ability to keep everything under control.” So, what’s your secret?
I think it’s not really even a secret. I’m just thankful I was in a job that
I was designed to do. If only everybody could be in that position! That is a
wish of mine. That everyone could get up, brush their teeth, go out and behave
as themselves, and accomplish something for others at the same time. I was designed
for my job. I loved my job. I was just out there being myself and it seemed to
work for everybody. [She laughs.]
CIS partners would often comment how
you always made them feel at home. I won’t ask you what your secret is, but how
do you do that, make people feel at home?
I think, by nature, I’m relaxed most of the time. However, at a fairly young
age, about 14, I learned that if you act at ease, it puts others at ease. Having
learned to be relaxed in any situation has served me well throughout my life,
including my time at Arcadia, especially with regard to the daily interactions
I enjoyed with families whose language I could not speak.
As you know, Arcadia is a wonderfully diverse school. I’m so thankful I got
to be with people of diverse cultures because getting to know these families
changed my life. It changed me for the better. When you are relaxed, it opens
you up. Because I was relaxed I could embrace and feel those differences. I
loved how those differences moved within me—and moved me.
I grew up in a farming community where the only diversity was the age of the
farmer. To have the chance to meet people from other countries and cultures was
so enlightening. How I grew! That is something I miss, not having an opportunity
to be in regular contact with these enriching relationships.
From your perspective as a
former secretary, what was it like to have CIS in your building?
I can’t separate what CIS does from the people. People like Gulnar, of course, who was CIS. I think of Gulnar, and even before and after Gulnar—of the character you need to have to be really committed to the CIS mission. The CIS people worked with students who had needs. Their time and energy spilled over to everybody, not just those on a “list.”
Everyone I know whose been involved with CIS has fit. They’ve shown a
commitment and dedication to children and their families, and that stood out to
me. I’ve seen that commitment in those who didn’t have to be there, such as the
college students volunteering through CIS. When I was their age, I couldn’t
imagine being committed to something other than trying to get through my
classes. These young people could have been home and enjoyed spring break, but instead
they wanted to stay and work with kids. I loved seeing that kind of dedication
in the CIS staff and all the volunteers and partners. They were in school with us wanting to do this
because of their love for children and watching them succeed.
What have you found to be the most
surprising about retirement?
I’m really good at being lazy. I was so busy every day at Arcadia; who knew
that lazy would work for me so well! So lazy is what I’m doing at the moment.
Do you have a pet peeve?
Oh, yea! Tailgaters. And let me tell you, pet peeve isn’t the word for it.
Because I wouldn’t say to a pet what I would say to a tailgater.
What are you curious about?
[Starts laughing.] I’m curious about thousands of things, but a funny one,
just sprang to mind. I was working at Loy Norrix. This was before cell phones. I
had to be there at seven. And there was a girl at the payphone every morning. Back
then, Loy Norrix had a phonebooth inside the building, in the hall just down
from the office area where I worked. I was always curious about who she was
Maybe your curiosity can finally be
satisfied. Maybe there is someone reading this right now who knows something!
Wouldn’t that be something? Let’s see, it would have been between 1984 and 1992
that this happened, practically every day during the school year.
What is something interesting
you’ve recently learned?
[Laughing.] I’ve learned that after a certain age you can come across
something that is really interesting, something that you didn’t know, and a few
day later, somebody asks you, “What is something interesting you’ve recently
learned?” and you can’t recall what it is. I’ve learned lots of interesting
things since I’ve retired, but can’t recall one of them now!
Can we talk some about your
experience with cancer?
Sure. I’m open about it. You know, when I received the diagnosis, the first
thing out of mouth was, “Lord, I’m pretty sure you’re going to get some glory
out of this somehow.” I tell you, when you have peace and joy, life is good. It
doesn’t matter what comes your way. With faith, you can say, “Well, this is
unexpected” and you move forward.
I was going to ask, “How and in
what ways did the cancer diagnosis change your perspective?” But it sounds like
this experience hasn’t changed your outlook on life in any way.
My outlook has remained the same. It didn’t rock my faith foundation. I
thought, “Okay, so I have cancer. That’s what’s happening now.” I knew God was
going to walk me through it. The biggest challenge came with handling the side
effects of some chemicals and that gave me insight into other people’s experiences
and I’m thankful for that empathy.
What are you currently reading?
I’m reading my Bible in the book of Acts. I’ve read it a billion times, but
now, suddenly going through it this time, it’s like oh, my gosh! I’m relating
to what the first Christians experienced… We come at it knowing how it ended.
When you know the ending, you don’t get all anxious. But they didn’t know the
Although I’m reading the Bible
exclusively right now, I really enjoy reading a variety of genres. I think my
all-time favorite is Cider
with Rosie by Laurie Lee.
What is your favorite word right
Since you want just one word, it
would be content. If you wanted to know why I’m content, that would take lots
and lots of words.
Behind every successful person
is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?
My parents, George and Helen.
Here’s one story about them. Everybody that crossed their path was drawn
to them. They married in 1933 and lived in a little house in the country…Dad
had a job with A&P in their warehouse, He went to work one day and the owner
pulled him and the one other employee, Joe, aside and said, “I have to cut you
both back to half time.”
Dad came home that evening and told my mom, who was pregnant at the time,
that he lost his job. He had given his half to Joe so he could have full-time
work. How he explained it to her: “Joe has two kids. We have a cow, chickens,
and a garden so I feel we’ll be okay.”
That’s who they were. That story is as much about my mother. They just
both shook it off, said okay, and
Sounds a lot like you!
Thank you, Julie Davis, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.
At the 11th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Sally Stevens was honored with the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award, a new recognition established 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 and to reflect on her, read this post, “A Good Life.”]
CIS Board Member Carolyn H. Williams presented the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award, sponsored by the Gulnar Husain Legacy Fund.
Gulnar Husain, in her 14 years with CIS, first as an AmeriCorps worker and then as CIS site
coordinator at Arcadia Elementary School was not motivated by status or money or awards. She worked persistently, quietly, often invisibly behind the scenes for children. So it is fitting that Sally Stevens is the first recipient of the Gulnar Husain Annual Volunteer Award. She shares these same traits.
Sally is the invisible behind the visible. Quietly, without fanfare, she shows up each week for kids. When she retired from Borgess Hospital in 2013, Sally’s plan was to find volunteer work where she could give back and make a difference. And she has.
Visit any one the 20 CIS sites throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools and you won’t find her. You won’t see her in a classroom or in the hallways. She’s not in the cafeteria or on the playground. And yet, every day, because of her volunteer efforts, she touches the lives of students in all 20 CIS school sites.
Children want to do their job: be the best student they can be. But they need their basics covered so they can focus on learning. Sally is helping them do that by literally lifting up the generosity of this community. As many of you know, your donations to CIS Kids’ Closet help kids attend school every day with confidence and dignity, ready to learn. When students or school staff connect with the CIS Site Team at their school to meet a basic need, it is most likely Sally who has already inventoried the items CIS gives out. She has folded the sweatpants with love, organized the underwear by size, sorted socks, folded tops, gathered up the pencils, markers and crayons, and backpacks and boots, preparing them for the schools.
“Sally can organize the heck out of anything,” says John Brandon, who, as CIS partner services coordinator, oversees Kids’ Closet. “Sally,” he says, is “an incredibly hard worker, extremely efficient, and jumps in every way she can to help.” Take, for example, November 2016. When the tiny closet in the basement of the CIS/Kalamazoo Promise office building was bursting with your donations, Kalamazoo Public Schools graciously accommodated our need for more space, providing a classroom-size, walk-in closet at their building on Westnedge. Sally—who also volunteers with the Oakwood Neighborhood Association, Warm Kids, and the Bronson Park Food Pantry—bumped up her four hours a week to over seven, to get Kids’ Closet settled and up for operation. At the start of school and over holidays—when larger quantities of donations come flooding in—Sally increases her hours to meet the demand.
With Sally’s help, we’ve been able to serve children better by expanding operations at Kids’ Closet, increasing both the donations coming in and items going out to the schools.
Gulnar Husain was a prolific user of Kids’ Closet, a fact her Arcadia Principal Greg Socha could attest to. We know Gulnar would be so thrilled that you, Sally, are the first to receive this special recognition.
Sally Stevens, thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.
Keep up with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. You can learn more about Sally in the weeks to come. We popped one of our quizzes on her!
“When I think of Gulnar, I think of someone who hears a problem from a child or a teacher and immediately responds with, ‘Well, let’s see how we can fix this.’ Never a list of reasons why we can’t.” -Dr. Timothy Light, CIS Board member
On January 1, 2018, Kalamazoo lost a giant: Gulnar Husain. Pancreatic cancer may have taken her from us, but she has left a tremendous legacy.
Gulnar Husain worked tirelessly to unleash her fellow citizen’s own potential, encouraging others to share their gifts and talents to strengthen this community she loved. Gulnar immigrated from Pakistan in 1981 and for over 35 years, gave joyously of her time to numerous Kalamazoo entities, such as Kalamazoo Interfaith Coalition for Peace and Justice, Kalamazoo Islamic Center, Michigan Festival of Sacred Music, Western Michigan University, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS), AmeriCorps Volunteers In Service to America (VISTA), Kalamazoo Public Schools, Portage Public Schools, ISAAC, St. Augustine School, Kalamazoo Non-Violent Opponents of War, Kalamazoo County Summit on Racism, Michigan Interfaith Coalition for Peace, Kalamazoo Lend a Hand, and Fetzer Institute’s Gardens of Many Faiths. The list goes on.
For over 14 years, Gulnar worked with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS). She first served as an AmeriCorps worker and then as an AmeriCorps VISTA at both Arcadia Elementary School and King-Westwood Elementary. In the last decade of her career she was the CIS Site Coordinator at Arcadia. During that time she worked ceaselessly to surround a diverse population of students with whatever it takes so they could succeed in school, graduate and be prepared for life. For Gulnar, doing whatever it takes meant coordinating and supporting more than 30 volunteers in a given school year, as well as a host of community partners to provide in-class tutoring, mentoring, counseling, music therapy, food packs, “Literacy Buddies” (a twice a week after-school program funded through State Farm), dental clinic, vision assistance, CIS Kids’ Closet (distributing basics like clothing/hygiene items), First Day Shoe Fund, Warm Kids-Winter Gear, Friendship Circle, Lunch & Learn, Math Club, Higher Thinking Club, Girls on the Run, the Recycle Project, and more.
While it’s impossible to fully capture Gulnar’s contributions to our kids and our community we want to honor her memory by providing a few photos, quotes, and links to stories (with more photos) about her, here, in one place…
Here she is back in her AmeriCorps days (2002):
Gulnar worked closely with her principal, Greg Socha, and cherished his wisdom and support. Despite the daily demands principals have, she knew she could count on him to help identify and prioritize school needs, share what types of partnerships were necessary to meet the needs. Here’s what Principal Socha has said about Gulnar:
“Gulnar Husain has been described as the ‘heart’ of Arcadia. Through her years of CIS service to the students and staff at Arcadia, Gulnar provided clothing, food, counseling, mentoring, tutoring and lunch-and-learn programs for students. For the staff, Gulnar offered guidance, a quiet persistence of providing needed services to students, and education on the multi-cultural needs of our families. But her world did not end at Arcadia. Gulnar promoted the Literacy Buddies program at Arcadia and Kalamazoo Central High School, matching high school students with elementary students to enhance the reading and writing of both parties. When the KPS Immigrant Program needed tutors after school, Gulnar provided her expertise and time to help students improve their English and complete their homework. Through her work with CIS, Gulnar made Arcadia a national award- winning school.”
“Still, that was not enough for Gulnar. Despite an acknowledged frustration with technology, she often provided articles and websites for staff members that promoted literacy, learning, and tolerance. She completed scholarship information to help her students expand their experiences. Her community involvement with interfaith organizations often placed her on the podium to speak of inclusion, and caring, and providing services for others in our community. All of this was completed in her humble way – quiet, but persistent.”
Gulnar believed in the five CIS basics, especially that all students deserve a one-on-one relationship with a caring adult. She felt such joy seeing volunteers in action with students, offering encouragement, academic support, and hope. Pam Kingery, CIS Executive Director, once noted,“In her role as CIS Site Coordinator at Arcadia, Gulnar has accomplished so much because she understands and values the role volunteers play in student success. Wearing that hat of ‘volunteer’ herself over many years and in a variety of settings, she knows the power of volunteers. That’s why she’s invested countless hours into supporting numerous volunteers throughout the years–she understands the potential return on that investment.”
Here’s Gulnar with just a few of the many volunteers she worked with over the years.
Gulnar was part of the Kalamazoo delegation that went to Charlotte, North Carolina when Kalamazoo was one of four communities from across the country honored as a community of excellence in 2013. Gulnar also received national recognition for her work within Arcadia Elementary School and joined the ranks of only a handful throughout the country to receive an Honorable Mention for the prestigious Unsung Hero Award. We blogged about it here, “Gulnar Husain: No Longer Unsung”. And Julie Mack covered it in a Kalamazoo Gazette/MLive article here.
When Arcadia Elementary School was one of just four sites across America honored in the school category by the national Communities In Schools’ network at the 2015 Unsung Heroes Awards in New Orleans, LA, Gulnar was there. Here she is with the Kalamazoo contingent, along with Bill Milliken, Founder and Vice Chairman of Communities In Schools, Inc. (left) and Dan Cardinali, then President of Communities In Schools, Inc. (third from right at back):
An interview with Gulnar, along with a copy of the City of Kalamazoo’s Welcoming Proclamation (she helped to craft it, along with a rabbi, a United Methodist minister, and Kalamazoo’s vice mayor) is included in the anthology, Immigration & Justice For Our Neighbors. Released in April 2017, her interview begins, “Hospitality can be a radical act, particularly when one steps out of her comfort zone to indiscriminately welcome, accept, and love others. Gulnar Husain marches through her own fears and discomforts to welcome and connect with people from cultures and religions beyond her own…” Gulnar also appears in the essay, “Blueberries,” by Nicholas Baxter. More about the anthology project and where to find ithere.
Here’s Gulnar, after receiving The Good Neighbor Award at the 2017 STAR Awards. She was recognized for her efforts in uniting people in the community who share different religions and backgrounds.
Shortly after being awarded the 2017 Good Neighbor Award, Gulnar was interviewed by Public Media Network‘s Pillars of the Community. You can watch it here.
In their January 2018 newsletter, ISAAC (Interfaith Strategy for Advocacy & Action in the Community) wrote about Gulnar and included some photos. Here’s that link.
Upon learning of Gulnar’s passing, Dan Cardinali, CEO of Independent Sector and former national president of Communities In Schools wrote this: “I had the honor of meeting Gulnar a number of times and visiting with her and the children with whom she worked for so many years. Her gift of love and vision for peace were contagious. Her life is a powerful example what a good life can and should be. For me she taught me that we’re all called to live courageous lives of mercy in the face of violence, tolerance in the face of intolerance, hope in the face of despair, and love in the face of hate…”
To honor Gulnar, her commitment to kids, and her special appreciation for volunteers and their impact on students’ success, her family has established the Gulnar Husain Legacy Fund at Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. Those wishing to make a gift to the Fund may donate online. Checks may also be sent to CIS with a note in the Memo line indicating that the gift is for the Fund.