TowerPinkster, a design firm, creates vibrant places for people to live, work and play. So it’s not surprising that when Jennifer Swan, a Senior Architectural Project Coordinator with TowerPinkster, set her design on helping children, she would come up with an ingenious and creative plan.
Jennifer’s work schedule made it difficult to commit to volunteering in a school on a consistent basis. How else, she wondered, could she get involved in a way that impacted kids and worked with her schedule? She dug around, asked questions, and determined the CIS Kids’ Closet would be the perfect structure to incorporate into her design. Jennifer will tell you that if you come up with an idea, the first thing you should do is give it a good name. So in 2015, the Swan Snack Emporium was born.
The foundation for the Emporium was poured years earlier, when Jennifer was just a child. I grew up not having a lot, she says. There were times it was hard for my mom to buy my brother and me some of the basic necessities. Knowing what it felt like to be in school without the basics, she rolled up her sleeves and got to work. She sketched out a plan that would funnel new items like socks, underwear, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, and soap to CIS Kids’ Closet. As she puts it, I want kids to have what they need and know they are okay, that they aren’t alone.
Just like designing a building, the Swan Snack Emporium relies on the collective support of the team. This is how it works: Jen purchases snacks on sale and makes them available in the office. Her colleagues can visit the Emporium and grab a bite for breakfast or pick up a snack, all the while feeling good knowing proceeds from the dollar or two they are putting towards that granola bar, microwave popcorn, or bag of Sunchips go to purchasing items for the CIS Kids’ Closet.
I know the burning question on everyone’s mind right now is: What is the number one, most in-demand snack at Swan Snack Emporium? Hands down: it’s Pop Tarts!
But seriously, Jennifer and her colleagues provide students in 20 CIS-supported schools with the basics they need to attend school every day with confidence and dignity, ready to learn. Thanks to Swan Snack Emporium, over the past four years, over 6,500 items have been donated to CIS Kids’ Closet.
Swan Snack Emporium, 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 CIS Site Coordinator Steve Brewer.
Born in Princeton, New Jersey, Steve Brewer was barely walking when he toddled off to Tubingen, Germany with his family. (His father had been awarded the John Wesley Scholarship to live in Germany.) After several years, the family returned to Lebanon, New Jersey. Eventually, the family settled in Spring Arbor, Michigan.
A graduate of Spring Arbor University, Steve majored in sociology and minored in philosophy. Steve served two years, beginning in 2015, as an AmeriCorps VISTA at Edison and Northeastern elementary schools. Last year, he began as the CIS Site Coordinator for Northglade Montessori Magnet School and was the assistant coordinator for Literacy Buddies. As a full time CIS Site Coordinator, Steve is currently supporting Northglade as well as providing daytime and after school support to Edison Environmental Science Academy. While every school has its own unique culture, Steve says both schools share a passion for helping students learn and grow.
We met up with Steve at Northglade where he was meeting and greeting students in the hallway. It was just before Thanksgiving when we popped this quiz on him.
Alright, Steve: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
What is one of the best parts about being a CIS site coordinator?
One of my favorite times of the day is lunchtime. That’s when I check in with the students to find out how they are doing. Sometimes, I’ll just sit with them, sometimes eat lunch with them, or we might have lunch together in the CIS space.
I really like that we are doing important work. It’s work that wouldn’t be done if we weren’t here in the schools. It’s also good to know we are making an impact. Sometimes, it may not always be noticeable because often it’s small steps being made along the way. You know the saying: progress is made in inches instead of miles. It’s important to look at the big picture and recognize the small victories.
Can you share a small victory?
One of my small victories is that a student is now bringing his back pack to school each day. He wouldn’t bring it last year.
What is one of the most challenging aspects of being a site coordinator?
We still don’t have enough resources to take care of everybody. Take Northglade, for example. We have 224 students. We are not one of the higher poverty schools in the district, yet at least 70 percent of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch. By that measure, we may not have the highest need, but 70 percent is still 70 percent and that translates to a lot of needs. The community works with us to meet them, but it is still a challenge. For instance, our kids need coats and boots. Warm Kids—a great, long-time CIS partner—is providing us 20 brand new coats and 17 boots. That is wonderful. Still, we have more Northglade students who could benefit from these types of basic needs.
[As if on cue, Don Keller, a Northglade parent, enters the CIS room to donate several “Wish List” items for CIS Kids’ Closet, including some much needed coats. “I know that some of my kids’ friend’s may be in need of these items,” he says, as CIS intern Jessica Teske-Harden steps in to assist with the donation. Even though the Keller’s own children may not be the direct beneficiary of resources provided, Keller points out that his kids benefit when their classmates have their needs met. “We appreciate that CIS is in the school and that my wife and I can play a part.”]
You were meeting and greeting students in the hallway first thing this morning. Plus, you have had parents stopping into the CIS office. Can you give us a glimpse of what else goes on in the day of the life of a site coordinator?
I find first thing in the morning is a great way to connect with kids and get a sense of how things may be going. That’s why I’ll also stop into the cafeteria as students are eating breakfast. It gives the students the opportunity to reach out about something that may be on their mind. For instance, today two students needed CIS help. One involved a boot situation and one student just needed to connect and talk a little. Which reminds me, I have several calls to make about coats and boots and other basic needs!
Let’s see, what else is going on? I just completed the community feast spreadsheet and turned it into Trella [Artrella Cohn, CIS Senior Director of Community Engagement & Student Investment] so that 45 of our school’s families can have a thanksgiving meal they might otherwise not have. [While CIS staff like Steve are identifying families and doing the necessary paperwork, Hands Up Foundation, a fabulous CIS partner, works hard year-round raising the funds to make sure KPS—as well as families with children in the surrounding area—have a Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings. This year, they provided over 1,000 Thanksgiving dinners to KPS families.]
Every day is different. Like right now, I have glasses on my mind. I’m in the process of reviewing a vision list. Every school year, throughout KPS, first, third, and fifth graders are screened for vision and tested to see if they need glasses. As a site coordinator, I’m looking at results and following up with parents whose children need further follow up. I’m calling them to see if they were able to get an appointment, if they need some kind of assistance with this, or we can help in any way. I’ve already set up an appointment for one family based on one of these calls.
I’m also working on student support plans for each of the students we serve. Jessie [Teske-Harden], our CIS intern through WMU School of Social Work, has been helping with these plans. She’s a great support for our kids.
I also have a little bit of work left to do for Girls on the Run. For our school’s team, I’ve identified two Girls on the Run coaches. One is a teacher and one person is with CIS After School. Both had expressed interest in doing this so that made it easy. I just gave them our partner’s website information they needed to register. Now I need to work on finding one or two more volunteers to serve as assistant coaches.
What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?
Decaf coffee isn’t caffeine-free, it just has less caffeine.
Here’s a list of five fun fall facts to enjoy while you sip your pumpkin spice latte or other favorite fall beverage.
This past September, the national organization of Communities In Schools welcomed NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal as the newest member of its national board of directors. “Every kid, no matter where they’re from or how much money their parents make, deserves the opportunity to get a good education,” said O’Neal. “My education was critical to my success on and off the court. Being in school gave me self-discipline and showed me the importance of hard work. I always knew that when my playing days were over, nobody could take my education away from me.” You can read more here.
Fall ushers in a number of opportunities for students to participate in sports. However, by middle school, 70 percent of students have dropped out of organized sports. The number one reason? It isn’t fun anymore. The good news is that there is a roadmap to fun. A study a few years back found that being a good sport, trying hardand positive coaching came in as the top three most important factors to having fun in youth sports. Winning ranks near the bottom (coming in at 48 out of 81 identified indicators of fun).
John Brandon, partner services coordinator for CIS of Kalamazoo shares this fact: “Fall is when most of our school supplies are donated, and what we receive during this time will be most of what we have to distribute throughout the school year.”
What does Michigan have in common with Alabama, New Mexico, Nevada, Idaho, Iowa, and Rhode Island? According to Candy Store.com, candy corn is our number one choice for Halloween candy. In Michigan, Starbursts ranks second, and Skittles third. To see the most popular Halloween candy state-by-state, check out their interactive U.S. map here. As long as we’re on this topic, did you know that candy corn hasn’t always been called candy corn? It was first called “Chicken Feed.” It came in a box with a rooster drawing and the tagline read: Something worth crowing for.
Here’s a fun fall fact worth crowing about: Communities In Schools is the nation’s largest provider of Integrated Student Supports. (To learn more about our unique model, go here.) That is a fun fact all year round!
Because of the exceptional generosity of Kalamazoo’s business community, we have benefited from donations of office space and equipment throughout our 15-year history. That has allowed us to allocate financial resources exclusively for the direct benefit of students. Our new space, ready in Summer 2020, will maintain that arrangement – the generous gifts you give to CIS will sustain resources and services to students and schools: CIS site coordinators, recruitment and support of volunteers, coordination of health and dental care, addressing basic needs, providing for vision exams and eyeglasses, and more.
We are honored to be part of a new space that enhances our vision of an engaged community where every child fulfills his or her promise. We look forward to a visible and central place for collaboration and community engagement to positively impact the lives of students we serve and their families. Bob Jorth, Executive Director of The Kalamazoo Promise, highlights the unique and important partnership between the Promise and CIS of Kalamazoo that will be enhanced by our co-location in a new space:
“The Kalamazoo Promise is dependent on the system of whole child supports that CIS uses to remove the many obstacles that can divert KPS students from being able to graduate, ready to use The Promise. The co-location of CIS and The Promise mutually enhances the missions and capacity of both organizations. We hope that the Kalamazoo community continues to increase its support for the work of CIS so that the potential of The Kalamazoo Promise is fully realized—for both individual students and for the community overall.”
We look forward to welcoming you to our new home. And, yes, there will be parking!
Frequently Asked Questions
Where will the building be located?
The building will be located at the southwest corner of Water and N. Edwards Streets, across from the Arcadia Creek Festival Site.
When will construction be completed?
Construction is scheduled to be complete in Summer 2020.
We are also excited to share that we will have dedicated space for the CIS Kids’ Closet! Both our staff who pick up donated items for students and our generous donors of clothing, school supplies, and personal care items will have good access. We thank Kalamazoo Public Schools for housing the CIS Kids’ Closet in the interim.
Will this impact what CIS does for kids?
Yes! Among the greatest challenges we have faced is our visibility. The opportunity to be present in this exceptional space will breathe new energy into our efforts to be visible and accessible to our students, their families, our partners and volunteers. Being a part of this unique place where education and economic development come together will foster the continued collaboration and community engagement that is crucial to helping every child in our community fulfill his or her promise. What will remain the same is the continued ability to direct financial resources to students, not to office space.
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 Sally Stevens, CIS volunteer and first recipient of the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award.
A native of Kalamazoo, Sally attended Western Michigan University’s Campus School and University High through 10th grade. (These schools were once located on WMU’s East Campus.) After graduating from Kalamazoo Central High School, she attended Kalamazoo College for three years, then finished up her liberal arts degree at Western Michigan University.
Not long after retiring from Borgess Hospital in 2013, Sally began volunteering with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS). She started out at Washington Writers’ Academy, distributing Friday Food Packs. Later, Sally, along with her superb organizational skills, moved to the downtown CIS office, helping the organization with volunteer efforts, large-scale mailings, and more. Then, in early 2016, she began applying her organizational skills to CIS Kids’ Closet. [You can read more about that, and her Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award, here.]
Like Gulnar Husain, the namesake whose award she receives, Sally makes her community better and stronger by giving her time to other great causes throughout Kalamazoo. In addition to CIS, Sally volunteers for the Oakwood Neighborhood Association, the Bronson Park Food Pantry, one of Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes food distribution sites, located at First United Methodist Church, and she serves on the board of Warm Kids. [Warm Kids is in it’s 32nd year of providing new coats, boots, hats and mittens to elementary school kids in Kalamazoo County and Plainwell.]
Alright, Sally Stevens: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
I don’t know…I wasn’t striving for any award. I wasn’t expecting to be noticed or awarded so it came as a complete surprise. I’m usually working behind the scenes and don’t get recognized, so I was surprised to learn I’d been selected for the award. It feels good, though, and I’m happy about it!
Given all you have done in your volunteer role with CIS Kids’ Closet, I know Gulnar would love that you have received this award, named after her. When she was the CIS site coordinator at Arcadia Elementary School she often turned to Kids’ Closet to meet student needs. How would you describe the volunteer work you do with CIS?
I support the CIS mission through Kids’ Closet. I generally volunteer four hours a week, sometimes more, depending on what’s going on. I inventory donations and see what additional needs we have that should be requested on the CIS website. I pull together items requested by CIS coordinators that John [Brandon, CIS partner services coordinator] then delivers to the schools. Or, when coordinators stop down to the closet, I assist them with gathering up what they need. I’m often cleaning up, folding clothes, sorting items, and basically doing anything John needs me to do!
I like volunteering with CIS, I like the people and the way it’s managed. It’s just a good organization, made up of people who really care about kids.
John Brandon says this of you: Sally can organize the heck out of anything! Can you share a tip about organizing?
It helps to be detailed-oriented; I am. It also makes it less overwhelming if you can break things in pieces and see how those pieces are a part of the big picture. I like how things look when they are organized and that I can easily find what is needed. When our site people come to Kids’ Closet, I want it to look neat and organized. It’s a good feeling when things look visually appealing and I can readily find things to fill an order. While CIS buys a few things most of it comes from donations, so it helps that I can easily spot when we’re low on a particular item and we can then ask the community for donations.
What item do you find the hardest to keep in stock?
There is so much that is hard to keep in stock! Clothing. And boots. We didn’t have enough winter boots this year. Boots can be expensive item to donate. Also, personal items like deodorant. Deodorant is flying off the shelves right now. We got a lot of school supplies this year thanks to the generosity of the community. And because of that, we were able to give out more school supplies than we ever have before.
What is your most favorite item you have in your closet?
Oh, gosh! I don’t know. I don’t know if I really like all that I have in my closet! There isn’t one favorite item that comes to mind. I have certain clothes and shoes that I like to wear, but not one thing that stands out.
What are you currently reading?
I just finished Grandma Gatewood’s Walk. Emma Gatewood was the first women to walk the entire Appalachian Trail alone. She did it back in the late 1950s when she was in her late 60s! She just took change of clothes, shower curtain (for rain), food, and a little money. The author, Ben Montgomery, is related to her. It’s because of her that the Appalachian Trail became popular. At the end of Emma’s walk, when she was asked about her experience, she was quite vocal about areas of the trail not being in good condition and poorly marked in places. Because of her comments, the trail and markings were vastly improved.
I’ve just started reading Elephant Company by Vicki Croke. It’s a true story about a man who went to work for a British teak company in Burma. During World War II, he used the elephants to help people get to safety in India. In reading the book, I am also learning about elephants. They are really something!
I also like to walk. I’ll take walks at Asylum Lake, Kellogg Forest, Yankee Springs, and Fort Custer. Right now, I’m favoring places with steep hills as I’m trying to get in shape for an upcoming hiking trip in Yosemite National Park.
Favorite word right now?
Spring. If it ever comes. [This interview took place on a gray day that felt like late November, though it was actually April.]
What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?
I took a class this morning on how the states were formed. It was through OLLI [Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at WMU] and Randy Shaw taught it. I learned that there was a lot of negotiations that went on when state lines were formed. When it started out, lines were determined by the king or queen of England. When states gained independence, it was Congress that determined the lines, but, at times, arbitration was needed. Sometimes, disputes would even reach the Supreme Court. That class was really interesting and now I want to get the book, How the States Got Their Shape.
Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?
I’ve had so many people in my life that have been influential. My folks, so many teachers, my husband…a lot of wonderful influences in my life, too many to name!
Thank you, Sally, 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!
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 Ms. Annie Brown. She has been a CIS volunteer for the past three years and is the proud grandparent of Reniyah Gillam, a second grade student at Woodward School for Technology & Research.
Originally from Tennessee, Ms. Brown came to Kalamazoo in 1968 and began working at the Shakespeare Company. Most locals know this art-deco building located in downtown Kalamazoo as Shakespeare’s Pub. However, when Ms. Brown came to town, the building housed a business that manufactured and supplied fishing equipment and other sporting goods. Ms. Brown worked for the company, helping them with cars and jeeps equipment. [If you are interested in learning more about the history of this former Kalamazoo company, go here.]
Alright, Ms. Annie Brown: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
What do you love about Kalamazoo?
Kalamazoo is a special place, because there are people who LOVE to help others. I love doing things for people. I have a prayer group, I love going to church and doing reach out ministry. I go to the Tabernacle Church of God in Christ. My Pastor is Dr. Charles G. Charles.
Praise Him! All the sickness I’ve been through and I’ve survived!
How did you come to be involved with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo?
I thought I came to help my granddaughter out but God was wanting me to do something else!…I guess you could say Reniyah was the seed and it just grew from there!…I was doing a little walk through of Woodward and to see how my granddaughter was doing. I saw the principal, Mr. Rocco, and said, Mr. Rocco, do you need me to do anything here? And he said, Yea! Come on down to the Communities In School’s room. So ever since, that what I’ve been doing! I’m an organizer and I love to organize things! I’ve been organizing clothes for CIS Kids’ Closet, sorting and folding. I organize items in the cabinets as part of the Loaves & Fishes food pantry we have here. I just do whatever [CIS Site Coordinator] Jen [DeWaele] needs me to do.
Your thoughts on the volunteer work you do with Communities In Schools?
This is right in the schools, and I tell people we are here for them, we are an organization that can help people. Sometimes, people don’t know we can help or maybe they don’t like to share about their situation. Even though they might need some help, they don’t like to admit it. But we can help them by providing them with information about what we have—right here at Woodward!—that they might need. We have a food pantry, a closet of clothes, backpacks, and a whole lot of other things we can help students and their families with, like help with tutoring. They don’t always know about it so I tuck a flyer, say about the Loaves & Fishes pantry, in their backpack.
So you have been serving in this role for the past three years now? Any other insights?
Yes, it has been three years…With the children, sometimes they don’t want you to pick them out as needing help. I just spread my love and the children don’t feel so bad about needing something. And they know me. Ms. Brown, she’s Reniyah’s grandma and she works with Ms. Jen, they say, so it’s okay. Everybody has gotten used to me here so it’s easier for them to accept the help. There comes Ms. Brown! they say, once they got used to me. So I come in on my good days and help out however I can, whether it’s organizing things or connecting with a student and doing one-on-one work with them.
What are you currently reading?
I love to read and pray. Right now I’m reading Romans in the Bible.
Is that your favorite book in the Bible?
I prefer James.
Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?
My mother. She raised five children. She was the backbone of us. She was a good mother and gave us structure and balance. She instilled in us that you can be whatever you want to be. She taught us to love and also to do whatever you can do—but don’t talk about it.
Well, both CIS and the Woodward family are so grateful for all you do for kids here at the school. We can’t help but talk about what you do. You really do a lot!
I’m like a tree and I have so many branches. Hey, that’s your closing right there! That’s what we’re all supposed to be about, trees and branches, nurturing each other.
That is a good closing! Thank you, Ms. Annie, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000+ Kids.
In the next issue of the CIS newsletter, “CIS Connections,” you can learn more about Ms. Annie and what Woodward’s Principal Frank Rocco and CIS Site Coordinator Jen DeWaele have to say about Ms. Brown!
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 Jennifer Swan. Senior Architectural Project Coordinator with TowerPinkster, 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. You can learn about this initiative in the latest CIS Connections “Back-to-School” newsletter.
Alright, Jennifer: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
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!