One Man’s Charitable Odyssey

100_4111-edit no tonyWe recently welcomed a most amazing and interesting person into our midst. Imagine making it your personal mission to seek out and perform a charitable act in every state throughout this country that you haven’t yet visited (37 to be exact). Sounds almost impossible but that is exactly what one man has set out to do. And here in Michigan, we were fortunate to have him touch down in Kalamazoo. He came bearing gifts and distributed much needed items out at Woods Lake Elementary School. But, we’ll let him tell you about his visit in his own words. The following post originally ran last week on his own blog site, 37people.

This week I continued my journey of giving, but it was just a short week with only two more states visited. Despite it being such a short week, I think that I am now starting to learn more about what this journey of giving really means to me and how it is changing the way I think about what I am doing. First I’ll tell you about MI (followed by IN), and you will see a common theme that was very evident this week (something I’m starting to hear more about lately, across various organizations). I will then talk about this common theme in a bit more depth (I’ll start explaining it in this MI post and finish it in my IN post) and what it has started me thinking about for the future.

On Monday I had the sincere pleasure of visiting the Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) in Kalamazoo, MI. I don’t think I could do a better job of explaining what CIS does than what they have on their site, so let me start with that:

Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) brings together the support of hundreds of volunteers and local organizations to meet student needs at school–before, during, or after class–so that outside problems interfere less with learning and plans to stay in school and graduate on time.

100_4096-edit (600x800)CIS works within the Kalamazoo Public Schools system, determining school and student needs and establishing relationships with local businesses, social service agencies, health care providers, and parent and volunteer organizations to provide needed resources to students.  Whether it’s tutoring in math, a pair of eyeglasses, a new pair of socks, a backpack full of food for the weekend, or a safe place to hang out after school, when these needs are met, students can concentrate on learning.

One of the after school programs CIS coordinates is called Kids in Tune (KIT), and I was able to visit their KKIT program being run at a local school.  KKIT is “a partnership between Kalamazoo Public Schools, Communities In Schools, and the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra” and I was able to provide some needed supplies for this program: five cello and five violin bows (these are one of the items that frequently need repair or replacement); 10 Suzuki cello and 10 Suzuki violin CDs (every student who learns to play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on their cello or violin has a special graduation ceremony and receives their own copy of the CD to take home and listen to); and 37 song flutes (used by the 1st grade students as they learn the musical basics prior to starting on the traditional orchestral instruments).

Let me briefly explain why I did not stop smiling during my entire visit.  I was first taken to one of their special graduation ceremonies where a 3rd grade girl, who only picked up a cello in June, was about to play an advanced version of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in order to graduate to the next level.  And to top it all off, she was playing in front of an audience with a guest from NJ (talk about added pressure!). Well she did a fantastic job and put on an amazing performance. At the end of her performance, when her instructor notified her that she had graduated, I was given the honor of presenting her with a Suzuki cello CD :-)

My next stop was to a class learning the violin, also made up of very young children. I arrived towards the end of their lesson where I was then treated to a very special performance. I cannot begin to explain how impressed I was at not only the way they played, but also how well they were being taught too. It was clearly evident on their little faces how much they were enjoying the experience.

100_4107I have actually jumped ahead a bit, so let me take a step back while at the same time summarizing my thoughts about this day.  Before going to the school, I spent some time talking to the amazing people who work at and run CIS at their office. What they do (as I quoted above), and the model that they have employed to do this is something that really resonated with me. It is such a simple but powerful concept – bring what the students need right to them by partnering with the right groups and people.  And it’s so much more than just music of course (but I’m super happy music is a part of it!). I asked CIS about some of the positive benefits they have seen as a result of this model. One thing they have found is that attendance at school is up with students being much more interested and engaged in school, which of course makes perfect sense. But let me talk about something else.  Earlier I mentioned a common theme for this week. I found the following talking about KIT:

It is a powerful change that overflows into the children’s home environment.  As one mother tells us, “My daughter may be learning music but she’s also learning so much more. Like how to express her feelings better. I’ve noticed that, because of Kids in Tune, we communicate better as a family.”

I think there are enough articles out there extolling the benefits of a strong family, and strong family participation in education, that has a direct correlation with student success and graduation rates. To me, this is the real strength of this truly wonderful program and the people who run it. Not only are they bringing positive change to the lives of these students, but they are also positively impacting their families. This is something I will come back to in my IN post.

But I do want to mention one last thing. I was told about The Kalamazoo Promise®, and once I explain it I think it will perfectly tie all of this together. In 2005 a group of anonymous donors pledged tens of millions of dollars to pay up to 100% of the tuition to a Michigan college or university for any Kalamazoo public high school graduate! And therein lies the challenge for Kalamazoo – getting their students to graduate and be accepted for post-secondary education. This is exactly why an organization like CIS is so valuable to the Kalamazoo community.

Check out his blog, 37people, to see where else his journey is taking him.