Sara Williams: Rolling Up Her Sleeves for 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 Sara Williams, Vice President/Financial Center Manager III with Fifth Third Bank. She’s also stepping into her third year of service as a CIS Board Member, although, as you’ll soon learn, she has been involved with CIS since 2011.

Sara grew up in Otsego and for the past 26 years has called Kalamazoo home. She lives with her husband Kevin, their 12-year-old daughter, one cat, and a dog. Her 24-year-old daughter recently graduated from Western Michigan University and is working as a rehabilitation specialist. Sara is also a proud grandmother to 2 ½ year old Oakli.

With a degree in finance from Davenport University, Sara’s career has always revolved around banking. She started out as a licensed personal banker at Bank One (now Chase) and for the past 20 years has been in management.

She is passionate about CIS and helping kids succeed in school. “I know community support can make all the difference,” she says. In fact, it’s this very philosophy of building stronger communities that drew her to Fifth Third Bank, which partners with CIS in several ways. Most recently, Fifth Third supported the annual Bundle Up project by serving as a host site at seven of their locations, making it convenient for the community to drop off a needed item or two. [More about Kalamazoo Rotaract’s Bundle Up project and how it helps our 12,000+ kids, here.]

On the home page of Fifth Third Bank’s website, it states, We love rolling up our sleeves and helping out our neighbors. Sara Williams, as you’ll soon learn, embodies this philosophy.

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

Pop Quiz

You were involved with CIS before you became a board member, right?

Yes, I first got connected with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo back in 2011. I was working at our Burdick branch at that time. We wanted to do a school supply drive. I’ve got to say, that’s one of the things I love about working with Fifth Third… Anyways, I called one of the schools in the area and they said, “We should connect you with CIS.” So, shortly thereafter, CIS scheduled an appointment to come out and talk with us. It was Emily Kobza who came. When she said, “We don’t need paper and pencils right now. We are in need of deodorant,” well, that blew me out of the water. They need deodorant? We assumed we knew what the needs were but, at that time, deodorant was the bigger need. Deodorant!

So we rallied up as a team at Fifth Third and collected money for hygiene products. That was what, eight years ago? I’ve since learned more about CIS Kids’ Closet and how the community can work through CIS to meet students’ basic needs. There is so much more that CIS does and I still have a lot to learn. But what I do know is that I can’t solve it myself. What I can do is let people know about CIS and some of the needs we help meet.

That reminds me. Want to hear a story?

We’re always up for a story! Do tell.

This is a few years back. I’m at the grocery store. I do extreme couponing and with my coupons and the sale going on, I had figured out that I could get 260 hygiene items for the price of 200 items.

The cashier was helping me ring up these items and was taking quite an interest in why I was purchasing such a large quantity of personal care products. So I started talking about CIS and explained that we were donating these travel-size personal care products to CIS Kids’ Closet to make sure students were in school every day and able to focus on learning without the distraction of being embarrassed about their personal appearance. At the end, the cashier thanked me for making this donation. I told her that no thanks was needed as we love doing this for the kids.

“No,” she said. “I really want to thank you for what you are doing. You see, I’m one of those parents whose child has benefited from Kids’ Closet.” She went on to say that her child came home from school last year with a small pack of items, including some clothing. She said she was a single mom and while she works, it was still hard to get everything her child needed. I don’t know what I’d do without you!” she said.

I knew we were making a difference through CIS, but to hear it directly from a mother who said it made a difference for her and her son, well that was really amazing.

That is a fabulous story. And you might never have learned her story if you hadn’t shared how Fifth Third was supporting kids through CIS.

Educating our employees and the community about the work of CIS is important. People don’t necessarily connect hygiene products with success in school. It’s being able to see that relationship—of how not having a needed hygiene products can prevent students from learning or learning as well as they can. Lacking the necessary items of soap, deodorant, a feminine hygiene product affects self-esteem, attendance, and grades. Children want to do their job: be the best student they can be. In some situations, they need help with having the basics covered so they can focus on learning.

That mother got it. But many people don’t. And at CIS, we do so much more beyond even providing these necessary basics.

Speaking of doing more, Fifth Third Bank also partnered a couple years ago with CIS to bring greater awareness to the importance of school attendance and supported students by donating 500 alarm clocks. [We blogged about it in this post, “Every Minute Counts.”]

That’s right. Ron Foor, Community President for Fifth Third Bank was involved with that.

Yes, he pointed out that school attendance should matter to all of us, not just those with school-age children. When our schools graduate more students on time, our communities and our economy are stronger. We have more people who are prepared for the workplace and more engaged in our community’s civic life. Students who attend school regularly are more likely to be employees who attend work regularly.

We have such great, caring people at Fifth Third, like Ron and others like Pat Lonergan, our Senior Vice President/Community Development and Economic Development Manager II. They are not only personally involved in supporting our communities, but they encourage our employees to do the same.

Education is also incredibly important to us at Fifth Third. That’s one of the reasons we want to partner with our schools. And it’s why we offer our employees the opportunity to take eight hours a year to volunteer in the community, in particular, through Communities In Schools.

As a community, we have a responsibility to our 12,000 plus kids, One of them could be our future caregiver, our grandchild’s teacher, the fire fighter or police officer serving our community. I often ask myself, What I am I doing or not doing to help get them there?

In this community, we have something as great as the Kalamazoo Promise. However, we can’t win with the Kalamazoo Promise if we can’t get our kids in a position to use it. We need to all be about the business of helping students cross that finish line and graduate from high school. We can do this if we set judgements aside, and through CIS, link arms together, and get behind our kids. We must learn and educate each other and welcome people be a part of this movement.

There are many great organizations within our community. What is it about CIS that attracted you to give of your time and talent to this particular board?

I was a young, single mom. I know what it’s like to worry about some of those same things our moms worry about—Am I going to be able to meet all the needs of my kids? How am I  ever going to juggle my job and school and make it all work for my children?

And even though I had a huge village of support from my family, friends, and even my employers, at times—even with that help—it was still incredibly difficult. When you don’t have that support, what do you do? Where would some of the families CIS serves be without our community behind them, being that village of support?

You really are passionate about CIS.

I am. Our kids have so much to deal with today. The last think they should have to worry about is what to do now that they have spilled milk on their only pair of pants or have broken the button off of their pants.

Here’s another story. As a new board member, I went into my CIS site visit thinking that I already knew everything. During the visit, an adorable little boy came into the room. He was holding up his pants with his hands and asked the site coordinator, Can I get a zip tie? He was so happy to get it and then headed back to class, hands free. I didn’t even know about zip ties. Why did he need that? I asked. The site coordinator said he’d lost his pant button. That’s all it took, something as simple as a zip tie to keep his one pair of pants up so he could stay in school. We had barely started, and I thought, I’m not going to make it through this tour.

What are you currently reading?

The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy by Thomas  Stanley and William Danko. It’s educational and gives insight into the mindset of the average millionaire. In my line of work, I’ve learned that you don’t judge a book by its cover. You quickly learn that millionaires are not necessarily detectable. You would be surprised who is and who isn’t a millionaire. It’s not necessarily the person wearing the fancy clothes or driving the nice car.

What is one of your favorite “go to” places in Kalamazoo?

I don’t drink coffee but I do love going to Starbucks. Something about the atmosphere. Plus, I love the smell of coffee. I just can’t drink it!

As you know, at Communities In Schools we believe that every child needs a marketable skill to use upon graduation. It’s one of our five CIS basics. As an employer, what marketable skills are you looking for right now?

A positive attitude and friendly personality. That’s number one in my book.

Those soft skills are so important, aren’t they?

Yes, they are the foundation for which you can build upon, acquire more skills, and grow.

Speaking of skills, what are your thoughts when it comes to financial literacy skills in America? Research has shown that we’re lagging behind other countries. [Here’s a 2017 study that found 1 in 5 teens lack basic financial literacy skills.]

I think that is more a reflection of what goes on in our society. We think: this is the way we have to live. Our kids—grownups too—think I have to have “x” or “y” to fit in. Barriers, including our mentality around money can get in the way that prevent people from being successful financially.

We live in a world today of instant gratification and this can drive people to make poor financial decisions.

I recall listening to an NPR piece about how living in poverty with limited resources influences our brains. When just trying to get through the day or week, we are likely to make short-term financial decisions that make things worse-off for us in the long run. When we have less, our brains adopt a scarcity mindset.”  

Add to that the spoken and unspoken messages kids receive regarding how they should dress, what they should wear. These impact our decisions. As women, we might think, Oh my nails look horrible, so we go out and have them done. We feel better, but our bank account is not feeling so well. Our culture makes it easy for us to consume and make impulse buys even when we can’t afford to do so. We now live in a time of Black Fridays deals, and pre-black Friday sales now. It’s genius from a retail marketing standpoint. Not so much for the consumer.

What’s your favorite word right now?

It’s more of a phrase: needs versus wants. I say that all the time. Do you need it? Or do you want it?

Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?

It would be a tie between my mom and my dad. While my parents may not be rich in money, they are rich in other ways. They are givers and both are the type that give the shirts off their back to someone in need. While waiting in line at the grocery store, if someone is short on paying their groceries, they have picked up their tab. They give and give. They are examples of selfless living. I learned early on from them that the rewards you get from giving are not physical or tangible. They may not necessarily be something you can look at and hold. The reward is more a feeling. You put that good out into the world and to others, and good things come back.

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

 

 

One Beautifully Ugly Party

There was a whole lot of ugly going on in the backroom of Bell’s this past Thursday. Gaudy. Over the top. Tacky. Blinky. Jingly. These are just a few of the words that described the sweaters party guests donned on Thursday, December 5th. All the ugly was for a good cause: supporting CIS Kids’ Closet which provides basic need items of clothing, school supplies, and personal care products to help ensure all kids can attend school every day with confidence and dignity, ready to learn.

The Ugly Sweater Party, kindly sponsored by Janet and Scott Nykaza, was the culmination of Kalamazoo Rotaract Club’s Kalamazoo Bundle Up project, an annual drive for winter wear and personal items that helps to stock CIS Kids’ Closet. [More about Kalamazoo Rotaract and their Bundle Up project can be found at this post.]

Guests poured into Bell’s, bringing with them new items from the “wish list” or $15. All these donations will directly support the CIS Kids’ Closet which distributes these items to 20 CIS supported KPS schools. Students and school staff can then connect with the CIS Site Team at their school to request needed items. This year, we welcomed over 140 guests who donated over $3,000 and 65 new items!

As the band, Rock Rx, played, guests chatted and munched on appetizers. Throughout the evening, guests cast their votes for the ugliest sweater.

Here are the top three winners:

(Left to right: Dave Morgan, CEO of YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo, Lynne Melvin, Senior Administrative Assistant at Chase, and Dr. John Oliver, CIS Director of Quality and Evaluation.)

A hearty thanks to Janet and Scott Nykaza, the Kalamazoo Rotaract for another successful year of Kalamazoo Bundle Up, to all the businesses that served as Bundle Up locations, and party guests that showed up Thursday—all to benefit our kids.

Keep following us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. We’ll soon be featuring CIS Board Member and Vice President, Financial Center Manager III of Fifth Third Bank Sara Williams. Seven Fifth Third Bank sites served as Bundle Up locations, making it convenient for the community to drop off a needed item or two.

 

Bundle Up, Kalamazoo!

Kalamazoo Rotaract members Evan Anderson and Liz VandenHeede

You’ll learn a bundle today as this post is packed with fun information on Bundle Up, a project of Kalamazoo Rotaract Club. You’ll also meet two of the club members working behind the scenes as members of this community service and social club composed of young professionals & students in the Kalamazoo area.

On the heels of Rotaract’s annual wrapping party, Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids caught up with club members Evan Anderson and Liz VandenHeede at Walnut & Park Cafe. Serving as President of Kalamazoo Rotaract Club, Evan Anderson grew up in Kalamazoo and went to the University of Michigan. He returned to his home town four years ago and is a mechanical engineer at Parker Hannifin. Member and former President of Kalamazoo Rotaract Club Liz VandenHeede hails from Niles, Michigan. She graduated from WMU in public relations and works in communications and marketing with Miller-Davis.

The week before, Evan and Liz had gathered with a dozen other Rotaract Club members at Wax Wings Brewing to decorate the donation boxes used for their annual Bundle Up winter clothing drive. One of those festive boxes was nestled just inside the front door of the café where we chatted over hot chocolate and a chai tea latte.

Tell us about Bundle Up. What is the history behind this project? How long has this partnership between the Kalamazoo Rotaract Club and Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo been going on?

Evan: The Kalamazoo Rotaract Club started here in 2009.

Liz: And our club is always looking for ways we can participate in different community service projects.  We do a lot of one-time events, such as park cleanups, and we also really wanted to do a signature project, something that we could have all hands on deck, and make a bigger impact in the community. We tossed around lots of ideas and arrived at winter weather gear drive.

We started doing Bundle Up with CIS in 2015. So we’re on our fifth year with this project. And it keeps evolving. Those first few years we were collecting for both adults and kids. As our partnership with CIS was strong, we really felt the need to focus in exclusively with CIS and put our energies towards the kids.

Evan: Bundle Up is a clothing drive for new and like-new winter wear and personal items that help stock CIS Kids’ Closet. We kick it off in October with our wrapping party and it runs throughout November. By the first of November we’ve placed boxes throughout the community at Kalamazoo business locations where people have volunteered to host a box. We list the needed items on the side of the box—and people can drop off the donated items at any of the Bundle Up locations. [Locations listed at end of this post.]

From the start, the community has been really supportive, dropping off these much needed items that our club members will eventually gather up to stock the CIS Kids’ Closet.

The project culminates in the Ugly Sweater Party. This year’s event—open to all—will be held on Thursday, December 5th from 5:30 – 8:00 p.m. at Bell’s. People are asked to bring an item or make a donation of $15.

Liz: The first couple years Rotaract was doing the Bundle up project and CIS was also doing its Ugly Sweater Party. We talked with each other and said, hey, let’s weave these together and make it one project, with the Ugly Sweater Party culminating in the final celebration of our Bundle Up project.

Evan: It’s been a wonderful partnership. Each year, we adjust our list based on our conversation with CIS as to what items kids need most. For instance, this year, cloth headbands have been added to the list.

Liz: It’s been a terrific partnership all around. The Rotary Club of Kalamazoo is our sponsoring club and we have a great partnership with them as well. They have been such supporters of both us and our Bundle Up Project.

How many items do you generally collect during the drive?

Evan: Our fourth annual Bundle Up Kalamazoo drive in 2018 provided kids with nearly 2,000 items of winter wear, such as coats, boots, hats, snow pants, and gloves.

Liz: In addition to last year’s donated items, we also raised nearly $600 to purchase additional needed items for our kids.

Definitely a success! How did the name Bundle Up come about? It’s such a great name.

Evan: It is a great name, isn’t it? Liz has been with the project from the start. She knows that history.

Liz: Yes, we came up with the name when we were meeting at Bell’s. We were brainstorming on what would be a good name for gathering up winter gear. We came up with Bundle Up. We want to keep Kalamazoo warm!

If some young professional wanted to become a member of the Kalamazoo Rotaract Club, what should they do?

Evan: If you are a student or young professional between 20 to 35 years of age, we encourage you to contact us. You can find out more on our website, our Facebook page, or just show up to one of our meetings. While we publicize meetings on both our website and Facebook page, we typically meet somewhere in the community two times a month, on the second Tuesday and fourth Wednesday of the month.

Okay, now we’d like to know a little more about each of you. What are you currently reading?

Evan: Atomic Awakening by James Mahaffey. It’s about nuclear power.

You’re reading that just for fun?

Evan:  Yes.

Liz: Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. I usually boycott reading books about running. I spend so much time running I don’t need to spend time reading about it when I’m not running.

Evan: You should download the audiobook so you can listen to it while you run.

Liz: [Laughing.] I should!

What is your favorite word right now?

Liz: Bundle up!

Evan: CIS!

Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?

Evan: I’d have to say my caring adults are my parents. Both have been very supportive throughout my life, education, and career. They have always been about giving back to others and value community involvement.

Liz: Maybe that’s how you ended up becoming involved in Rotaract.

Evan: You’re probably right.

Liz: Mine is my former teacher, Miss [Marilyn] Klimek. She was my journalism teacher at Niles High School. She took me under her wing and opened me up to opportunities I wouldn’t have known or done otherwise. “You should do this. You should try this.” She was always saying that and encouraged me to attend journalism camp and get involved in the school newspaper, where I ended up being editor-in-chief.

Anything else we should know?

Liz: We’re excited that Interact—the high school version of our service club—is in its first year at Loy Norrix High School. The students just had their own wrapping party to support the Bundle Up project. We provided them with boxes and paper and they decorated the boxes and even found their own locations! Deborah Harris is the person from the Rotary Club of Kalamazoo helping to support this initiative by local youth.

Thank you, Evan and Liz, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. And thanks to all Kalamazoo Rotaract Club members for bundling up our kids and keeping them warm this winter. 

 

Are you a young person interested in serving the community, meeting new people, developing lasting friendships, and growing professionally? Consider becoming a member of Kalamazoo Rotaract Club today.

Interested in donating a much needed item (noted above) for kids this winter? Throughout  November, drop off your donation at any of these locations:

Bundle Up Locations

Cityscape Event Center (125 S Kalamazoo Mall)

Crossfit Torrent (5033 West Main St., Kalamazoo 49009)

Discover Kalamazoo (240 W Michigan Ave, Kalamazoo, MI 49007)

Fifth Third Bank (Oshtemo, 6040 Stadium Drive, Kalamazoo, MI 49008)

Fifth Third Bank (Kalamazoo Downtown,136 East Michigan Ave, Kalamazoo, MI 49007)

Fifth Third Bank (Burdick and Crosstown, 101 East Crosstown Parkway, Kalamazoo, MI 49001)

Fifth Third Bank (Milwood, 4109 Portage Road, Kalamazoo, MI 49001)

Fifth Third Bank (Crossroads, 6488 S Westnedge Ave, Portage, MI 49002)

Fifth Third Bank (Westwood, 4705 West Main St., Kalamazoo, MI 49006)

Fifth Third Bank (Gull Road  5653 Gull Road, Kalamazoo, MI 49048)

Humphrey Products (5070 East N Ave, Kalamazoo, MI 49048)

KPS Administration Office (1220 Howard St, Kalamazoo, MI 49008)

Old National Bank (5003 Century Ave, Kalamazoo, MI 49006)

Old National Bank (3201 Portage St., Kalamazoo 49001)

Pet Supplies Plus (5230 S Westnedge Ave, Portage, MI 49002)

Read and Write Kalamazoo  (802 S Westnedge Ave, Kalamazoo, MI 49008)

Regus  (251 N Rose St, Suite 200, Kalamazoo, MI 49007)

Sweetwater’s Donut Mill (2138 S Sprinkle Rd, Kalamazoo, MI 49001)

Visiting Angels (120 South Main St, Plainwell, MI 49080)

Walnut & Park Cafe (322 W Walnut St., Kalamazoo, MI 49007)

And remember, you’re invited join Kalamazoo Rotaract and CIS on Thursday, December 5th from 5:30-8:00 p.m. to celebrate this year’s conclusion of Bundle Up Kalamazoo with drinks, food, and an Ugly Sweater Contest. 

Sweating the Small Stuff

CIS Site Coordinators sweat the big and small stuff to make sure kids are connected to the resources and people they need to stay in school and succeed. Last week, we heard from many of our elementary CIS Site Coordinators—they were tapped out of smaller-sized sweatpants. The requests for sweatpants were exceeding supplies.

Students and school staff connect with CIS site teams at their school to request basic items of clothing such as sweatpants as well as school supplies and personal care products that are needed. It can be hard to focus on learning for students if they are uncomfortable or embarrassed, and it’s hard to do classwork and homework without the right supplies. Thanks to many of you, CIS Kids’ Closet is an invaluable resource that makes it possible for kids to attend school every day, all day with confidence and dignity, ready to learn.

Some years back, one of our former CIS Site Coordinators, Laura Keiser, pulled together a “Top Seven” list of why sweatpants never go out of season. Here’s what she wrote:

Whether it’s wet pants (spilled milk, fell in a puddle, had a potty accident), smelly pants (limited or no access to laundry facilities), or no pants (refused to wear anything but shorts to school in March and realized the error of their ways at recess) – sweatpants do matter. Sweatpants get a bad rap. This unassuming staple of clothing worn by all those exercising, lounging, or otherwise needing a comfortable pair of pants doesn’t usually make the “must have” list in the fashion & style magazines. But did you know that sweatpants are one of the most important items donated to the CIS Kids’ Closet? As a CIS Site Coordinator, I give out sweatpants every day to the kids in my school and I see the difference they make in helping our kids attend school every day, all day, with comfort and dignity.

Here’s seven reasons why we think sweatpants should make the “must have” list!

7. Sweatpants are inexpensive.
6. Sweatpants are durable.
5. The elastic ankles keep the bugs out. (Just kidding! We wanted to make sure you were still reading.)
4. They can be pulled over other clothes to be used as an extra layer in the winter.
3. There are no pockets so you can’t sneak stuff to school – like your pet hamster.
2. They are “user-friendly” for younger students – no buttons, snaps, or zippers!
1. And the #1 reason – sweatpants fit a variety of shapes and sizes and both boys and girls.

Consider being a supporter of sweatpants and donate a new pair or two to CIS Kids’ Closet today! To learn more of what is on the “wish list,” go here. Please note that based on our limited staff and facilities capacity, we do ask that all in-kind donations are new. We encourage you to donate gently used items to other organizations in our community who depend on these donations to support their work.

Swan Snack Emporium Serves Up Dignity and Confidence

Jennifer Swan (center) congratulated by John Brandon (left) and Sara Williams (right) with Champ Award for Swan’s Snack Emporium.

At the 12th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Swan Snack Emporium was honored with a 2019 Champ Award which was sponsored by Chase. CIS Board Member Sara Williams and CIS Partner Services Coordinator John Brandon presented the award.

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 Swan, Senior Architectural Project Coordinator with TowerPinkster

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.

Steve Brewer: Celebrating the Small Victories of Student Success

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.

Pop Quiz

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.”]

The Kellers stopping by to support students through CIS Kids’ Closet.

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.

What are you currently reading?

Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion by Gareth Stedman Jones.

What is your favorite word right now?

Sleep. I can’t get enough.

Where is one place in Kalamazoo you love hanging out?

Shakespeare’s Pub. My band plays there a lot in their lower level, and also I like to watch comedy there.

What’s the name of your band?

I’m in two, actually. One is called Bike Tuff, and the other is Pack Sounds. I play drums in both. Both could be considered kind of punk/alternative bands.

Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?

My dad. He gave me the several pushes I needed to get through college when it got tough.

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

Five Fun Fall Facts

Here’s a list of five fun fall facts to enjoy while you sip your pumpkin spice latte or other favorite fall beverage.

One.

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.

Two.

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).

 

Three.

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.”

Four.

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.

Five.

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!

 

Breaking Ground on Future Home

Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo

Today’s post is brought to you by Pamela Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo.

In early August, ground was broken for a new development in downtown Kalamazoo. It will be the new home for The Kalamazoo Promise, Southwest Michigan First, and Warner Norcross and Judd, LLP, as well as the new home for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo!

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!

Courtesy of TowerPinkster

 

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.

What else is in the building?

In addition to offices, there are two floors planned for residential housing that will be available at rates amenable to tenants with a broad mix of incomes. In addition to CIS, other office tenants currently include The Kalamazoo Promise, Southwest Michigan First, and Warner Norcross and Judd, LLP. There will also be a multi-level parking garage with 300+ spots.

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.

At the groundbreaking ceremony