Happy Birthday, Blog!

One year ago we launched this blog: Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. There were over 181 million blogs when we began and there are probably more than that now. The blogosphere is bloated with lots of blogs (say this sentence 10 times). So thank you, dear readers, for choosing to read this blog. To celebrate our year together, I’ve made a delicious chocolate cheesecake (recipe can be found here) and if you want a slice, stop down to our office today. We’ll be offering them on a first come, first serve basis.) In addition, we’re whooping it up by sharing 17 blogtoids* about our one-year-old blog:

  1. In one year, we offered up 53 posts; that’s basically a fresh post every Tuesday.
  2.  Donna Carroll and I welcomed 11 guest bloggers, composed of CIS staff, board, and partners. Thank you Emily, Artrella, Bethany, Melissa, James, Dom, Sandy, Pam, Bonnie, Kaitlin, and Carly for contributing your voice to this blog. Thanks to all the kids, parents, school and community partners who shared their thoughts with us. We’re looking forward to hearing more from you as well as new voices this school year.
  3.  Over half of our 53 posts have highlighted individuals or entities in this community. If all our 12,000 plus kids are going to succeed in school and life, it’s going to take a lot of committed adults working together.
  4.  All 18 of the Kalamazoo Public School buildings that have CIS (we’re in 19 schools this new year, having most recently added Woodward School for Technology & Research) have been mentioned at least once in one or more posts. We love the Kalamazoo Public Schools!
  5. We named names. And we won’t stop. We’ll continue to tell you who is making a difference for kids through CIS.
  6.  You’re smarter because of this blog. You’ve read topics here ranging from literacy, mentoring, resiliency, and music. You’ve discovered what dental care and food have to do with academic success. You’ve read impressive phrases (thanks to guest blogger like CIS board member and partner Dom Pullo) such as “students mixed chemicals that created a chemiluminscent reaction…”
  7.  Three of our posts caught the attention of National CIS. Woo, hoo!
  8.  Most cried over blog post: Open Letter to A Father Who Will Never Read This.
  9.  Funniest post: Don’t Name Your Blog “The Blog.”
  10.  Post that received the most response from teachers and other school staff: Cast Your Vote for Kids.
  11.  Post that featured our hairiest school volunteers: Kaitlin Martin’s Paws for Stories.
  12.  Hardest post to write: Engineers of the Heart.
  13.  Funnest post to write: Six and a Half Things to Do While We’re Away.
  14.  Most fashionable post: Threads.
  15.  Post that featured one of our favorite student interviews: Pop Quiz: Lincoln International Studies Student.
  16.  Hardest thing about blogging? Coming up with a title for each post that is provocative without being too provocative. It needs to be something catchy that will make you want to read more than just the title.
  17. Most rewarding thing about blogging? Seeing and sharing CIS in action—with you, the partners, volunteers, donors, parents, staff, and learning about the wonderful students who are empowered because of your support.

We have only begun to introduce you to some of your 12,000 kids and the hundreds of caring adults who are helping to raise them. Stay with us this year and continue to get a behind the scenes glimpse of CIS in action. At Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids you will continue to meet the talented teachers, hard working principals, and dedicated community volunteers, partners, and CIS staff who are empowering our children to succeed. We look forward to turning two with you.

*A blogtoid is a term I made up just for this post. (I hope this makes you feel special!) A blogtoid is a fact or deeply held opinion about a blog.

Birthday Candles

Bookends of Life

Today’s lovely post is written by Carly Wiggins, Director of Volunteer Services for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo.

A few weeks ago, I started my day at the senior honors ceremony at Kalamazoo Central High School, my own alma mater.  As I watched the graduating seniors arrive, zip into their gowns and try to balance their academic caps on their heads, I saw how much each has to offer, how far each has to go, and how very young they all are.  I felt grateful for their youth, their humor, their excitement and their confidence, because they have such important work to do with their lives.

I ended the same day saying goodbye to a dedicated and humble volunteer, William “Bill” Tomko. I knew Bill as a volunteer at King Westwood Elementary, serving in Mrs. Vader’s kindergarten class.  Earlier this year, Bill was nominated for a STAR Award in recognition of his commitment to students. Mrs. Vader reported that her students improved their reading abilities by practicing with “Grandpa Bill.”  At his memorial reception, I learned that Bill had also been a dedicated volunteer at the Air Zoo, directing visitors and sharing his knowledge of and passion for aviation.  Between the two organizations, Bill gave 356 hours of service in 2012.  In his 90s, Bill found a way to give nearly an hour of service every single day.

For me, that day was bracketed on both ends by possibility, like bookends holding up a library in between them.  I saw young people at Kalamazoo Central, full of energy and talent, who have so much to give.  I recognized that service can live on in newly literate children who will read to learn their entire lives.  I am grateful to Mr. Tomko for the opportunity to better understand the true meaning of life:

“The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”       – Nelson Henderson

Hands Touching

Moore Than Ever

Lori Moore with Arcadia Elementary Principal, Greg Socha.
Lori Moore with Arcadia Elementary Principal, Greg Socha at Champs.

Today we feature Lori Moore, one of the 2013 award winners recently honored at the sixth annual Champ Celebration. CIS Board Member, Jeff Patton, who is also CEO of Kalamazoo Community Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services presented the Champ Awards. (Installment 2 of a 9 part series. You can read the first one here.)

What more can I do? This is the question Lori Moore posed to herself and CIS Executive Director, Pam Kingery, after being inspired by the work of others after attending last year’s Champs celebration. Pam pointed out that since 2005, she has been lending her celebrity status to elevate awareness of the important work the community is doing through CIS. Proceeds from the sale of her popular Potluck Pals holiday cookbook have benefited CIS, as well as many other great non-profit organizations that are CIS partners. She uses her Lori Moore Show as a platform to elevate the visibility of needs we have identified—particularly the need for volunteer tutors—as well as the important work the community is doing through Communities In Schools. She has warmly welcomed into her studio our CIS partners, volunteers, Site Coordinators, Directors, and Kalamazoo Public School students.

“Still, what more can I do?” she asked. And thus, in the fall of 2012, the Lori Moore Corps was born when she reached out through the air waves and recruited some of her faithful listeners. “So far, we have placed 23 of Lori’s fans as individual volunteers throughout the schools,” says Carly Wiggins, Director of Volunteer Services. “I couldn’t imagine doing my job without her!”

IMG_1115On Tuesdays, now, after her morning has started at 3:50a.m. and when her radio work is done and she has slipped out of range of WKZO listeners, you’ll find her in Arcadia Elementary School’s library surrounded by seven 4th graders. Over lunch, the children check out books and eagerly discuss what they have been reading. They weren’t surprised to hear that their “Miss Lori” was getting a Champ award. “Youshould give her an award,” says one, “because she lets us have fun with books and we are all reading way more than we used to.” Miss Lori, they will tell you, is funny, nice, great, goofy, understanding, smart, sarcastic, a grown up with a good sense of humor. High praise coming from a bunch of fourth graders. One student pointed out that reading more is making her want to write more. Another echoed similar thoughts. “I’m getting higher grades in my writing and my parents were real glad they came to conferences this year.”

Jayce sums it up well. “I’m just so grateful to be one of the kids in her bookclub. That she takes time out of her day to be with us is really special.”

Lori Moore, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Broncos Brake For Volunteers

Carly kicks off focus group as WMU students look on
Carly kicks off focus group as WMU students look on

Apparently, seven of our CIS volunteers didn’t get the memo that it was spring break! This past Saturday, seven of them showed up to our downtown office bright and early to be part of a focus group to provide their perspective on how CIS can best recruit and support volunteers. Carly Wiggins, Director of Volunteers Services moderated the session, asking questions that had been prepared by Western Michigan University students TJ Hogan, Denise Negren, Brenna Schafer, Gabrielle Hanson, and team leader, Rachel Duelo. The college students provided coffee and donuts for the volunteers and listened in on the discussion.

Rachel’s group is one of three teams of students who are part of Diana Berkshire Hearit’s Public Relations Capstone Class. Each is developing a marketing campaign that they will present later this month to CIS. We’ve asked them to focus their efforts on helping us deepen community awareness and support for Kids’ Closet/basic needs as well as volunteers.

This is the second time that CIS has partnered up with Diana Berkshire Hearit to serve as a “client” for her students. And just like two years ago, we are appreciative of the ground work Diana does in advance of our initial meeting with the entire class. As graduates of WMU, Carly and I are particularly proud of the way these young men and women have conducted themselves and the insightful questions they have asked of us throughout this process.

Rana Shammas, Steve Stapleton, Mary Lewis, Shirley Freeman, Doyle Crow, Jager Hartman, and Rosalie Novara, we are so grateful for the volunteer work you are doing with our kids throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools. Thank you for choosing to spend some of your Saturday morning with us. We will infuse what we learned from you into our work. We (not to mention some of our 12,000 kids) are already better for having you in our lives.

You Deserve A Kid Today

Today’s post is from our Director of Volunteer Services, Carly Wiggins. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that enthusiasm is the mother of effort. Here at CIS we say that Carly is the mother of enthusiasm. No matter what the weather, Carly blazes a trail of sunshine wherever she goes.

MLK Day of ServiceOn a snowy Monday morning in January, I arrived at El Sol Elementary to greet volunteers who signed up to read books to children on MLK Day. These community members were there because they heard Dr. King’s call to service:  “Everybody can be great because anybody can serve.”

Twenty five volunteers came to serve. Each volunteer was matched to a student, and they entered the library in pairs, one tall and one small, to choose a book and read together. At CIS, we believe that every child deserves a one on one relationship with a caring adult. I heard many requests to read “just one more book” from students enjoying this individual attention.

MLK Day of ServiceAt 11:00am, students went back to their classrooms and volunteers stayed for an additional hour to complete a variety of projects, from recording audiobooks to sorting books. As we wrapped up at noon with lunch provided by Voluntee
r Kalamazoo
, some of the volunteers let me know they’d like to be matched to an individual student as a regular weekly tutor. Watching volunteers leave the school to head to their regular Monday afternoon commitments, I realized that just as every child deserves a one on one relationship with a caring adult, every caring adult deserves to be important in the life of a child.

To see the photos captured that day by Freshwater Photography, check out our MLK Day of Service photo album on our Facebook page.