Pop Quiz: Gary Heckman

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 Gary Heckman, who is also a 2019 Champ recipient. [If you didn’t get a chance to read about the great work Gary is doing with middle school students, click here for that post.]

Gary Heckman with CIS Staff Melissa Best (left) & Shannon Jones (right)

Upon retiring three years ago as the plumber, electrician, and steam operator for Manchester University, this grandfather of four has plunged himself into a new campus of learning as a CIS volunteer at Milwood Magnet Middle School.

CIS Site Coordinator Missy Best has come to rely on him and says the students have, too. She says he is “an irreplaceable part of the team.” Gary modestly says, “I do a little bit here and there.” One of the biggest “little bits” he does is supporting students academically by serving as a push-in tutor for Ms. Alexandria Hopp’s strategic math class and Ms. Jamie Ottusch’s seventh grade science class.

Gary grew up in rural Indiana, twenty miles northeast of Fort Wayne, near the tri-Lakes. As he puts it, “Only preachers and teachers had degrees in my town that was not even really big enough to be a town.”

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

Pop Quiz

How did you become involved volunteering with CIS?

When I retired, I wanted to do something in the schools. I did research and found that CIS is the way to do it. [In “retirement,” Gary still works two days a week doing building inspection services for Oshtemo and Coopers Townships.]

What insights have you gained about kids from volunteering?

The other day with the students, we were sitting around the table having a conversation about tides and oceans and stuff. I learned a number of the kids here haven’t been to the Great Lakes, haven’t gone 40 miles from their home. They just haven’t done stuff like that. It’s bothersome how poverty creates a lack of opportunity for kids.

I’ve also noticed how some of the toughest kids are the ones whose moms have band-aids and candies in their purses. They keep their kids going. Their moms really support them…I know there are a lot of dads and grandpas out there and I’d love to see more of them volunteering in the school. These kids, particularly the boys, could benefit from greater male involvement.

[Come on, dads and grandpas! Join Gary and sign up here today to become a CIS volunteer.]

What are you currently reading?

Twenty Minutes in Manhattan. The author, Michael Sorkin, is an architect talking about his daily walk to work; it’s all very deep into city history and the architecture he encounters during this twenty minute walk.

I just finished From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds by Daniel Dennett; he’s a philosopher and linguist. And before that, I read Enlightment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steve Pinker.

Once every year or two, I’ll read some fiction, but nonfiction is what I enjoy reading most.

What is your favorite word right now?

Blower door.

That’s a new one! Nobody has ever told us that is their favorite word!

I’m doing a blower door test on a house tonight.

I have one foot in the building trades and one foot in academics. [He chuckles.] As a former plumber, electrician, and steam operator at a small college, I also have a degree in sociology, which is, as I say, the dismal science. It’s the study of social problems and yet, you don’t do anything about it.

But you are doing something about it.

[Nods head affirmatively.] I guess that’s right.

Where is one place in Kalamazoo you love hanging out?

The Air Zoo. I have a membership—the grandparent plus two—and love going there. I wish I could take all the kids there!

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

I have a couple of mentors, Tom and Jim. One taught innovation and entrepreneurship, and the other heads an award engineering firm. Also, growing up, I had two Kens who I’d consider mentors.

What characteristics would you say these mentors have in common?

They saw the real world, they had broader views, patience, and innovation. Every one of them could get things done. I should add that I have had some moms and ladies in there, too, who have been caring adults and influenced me. One of my teachers as well as the neighbor mom next door. She was elegant and even though she never went to college she was all about education.

Anything else should we know about you?

I was not a strong student in middle school. And yet, here I am! [CIS Site Coordinator] Missy makes this volunteer experience fun. She intentionally works hard at this, and supports us, knowing that volunteering can sometimes be frustrating.

It’s not necessarily easy work, is it?

That’s right. But I’m enjoying it. I like working with the kids. Missy and [CIS After School Coordinator] Shannon [Jones] are wonderful and the teachers and principal are all great to work with, too. Principal Mark Tobalski is terrific and really provides strong leadership for the school.

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

Champ recipient Gary Heckman with CIS Staff Melissa Best & Shannon Jones

School is about to start and our kids need you. Consider becoming a volunteer today. To learn how you can help, go here.

No Time to Volunteer? You Still Can. Just Ask Jennifer Swan.

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

As Senior Architectural Project Coordinator with TowerPinkster, Jennifer 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. Swan Snack Emporium received a 2019 Champ award and earlier this summer we featured that here.

Today we bring you a conversation Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids had with this creative CIS volunteer (which originally ran back in 2017.)

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!

School is about to start and our kids need you. Consider becoming a volunteer today. To learn how you can help, go here.

Pam Dalitz: In School 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 Pam Dalitz, a CIS volunteer at Spring Valley Center for Exploration, or, as she refers to the school, her “second home.” Pam also serves on the CIS Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council (VLAC), advising CIS on such things as volunteer recruitment and retainment.

Pam, who is originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan, retired one and a half years ago “from a bunch of careers.” She started as a recreation therapist, went back to school and became an exercise physiologist working in the physical therapy department at Borgess. Eventually, she attended Kalamazoo Valley Community College’s nursing program. She worked 12 years as a registered nurse and then retired from the health field.

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

Pop Quiz

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

How to teach kids to read. I didn’t really know how to do that until taking this SLD reading class. The SLD way is so different than how I learned to read as a kid. I’ve tutored multiple students and I’m currently only working with one SLD-mentored student. [To learn more about SLDRead, go here.]

Any tips you can impart when it comes to helping kids read?

Take the SLD reading course! Be open-minded. It is amazing.

What are you currently reading?

I’m always reading a lots of kids’ books, particularly The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey and Henry and Mudge and the Sneaky Crackers by Cynthia Rylant. I’m also reading a John Muir biography but I’m not reading that one to the kids, though. And I just picked up The Hot Cripple by Hogan Gorman from the Parchment Community Library.

What is your favorite word right now?

‘You’ve got to be kidding.’ That’s my favorite phrase at the moment: ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’ and I’ve been saying it a lot. But a favorite word? ‘Unbelievable!’ For a while, I was into ‘macabre.’ I’m off of that one now. Oh, ‘Whoa’ is another favorite. I like words!

Tell us a bit about your volunteer work with CIS.

I’m the kind of person who bores easily, but the kids make it so interesting and the work is really inviting. [CIS Site Coordinator] Martha Serio is a great boss! Also, it’s nice that there isn’t tons of paperwork.

Do you help Martha with paperwork?

No, I just go in and work with the kids, tutoring them. I also help in Ms. [Chyna] Campbell’s second grade classroom. Sometimes I’ll help with classroom papers, but now paperwork is much more fun than when I was a nurse and charting to help the hospital get reimbursed for units of morphine. By the way, Ms. Campbell is an amazing teacher and I admire her so much. She has her stuff together, and at such a young age!

I also like working with Martha. She is energetic and I find her easy to get along with because she’s very direct. I don’t have to guess what she wants. I get anxious if I don’t know what is expected of me and she lets me know. Martha goes above and beyond. She really cares, making sure students’ needs are met, whether it’s for academic, or social and emotional support. She’s always getting hold of their parents so everybody is working together to attend to the needs of the kids.

How often do you volunteer at Spring Valley?

I help in the second grade classroom two days a week. I also tutor several children two days—sometimes three—a week. I have a warm spot for kids that struggle in school. I really like working with them.

Where does that warm spot come from?

As a kid, I was given the diagnosis of ADHD [attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder]. I struggled, too. It was hard for me to stay focused, stay quiet, and stay in my seat. I would try and work in my seat and then I’d find myself across the classroom. Oh, there I go again, I’d think. I knew what was expected of me, but I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to be seen as “the bad kid,” but I was…

Those that have struggled in school sometimes end up being the best support for kids. So tell us, what made you decide to choose CIS as a way to share your time and talents?

I got into volunteering with CIS thanks to my hair salon, Honoré! They really should get credit for it.

We love Honoré Salon! They are a great CIS partner. [Read here how Honoré Salon, a 2016 Champ recipient, supports kids through CIS.]

I go to Kristin Peterson who—every time—does a wonderful job. I recommend her and Honoré to everyone in our community. Shaun Moskalik, the owner, I love him! Anyways, Honoré collects coats each year for CIS. I started buying up a few coats and bringing them into the salon and donating them to the cause. Then, one time, while getting my bangs cut by Mindy [Meisner], she started telling me about her volunteer work with CIS. You should talk to CIS about volunteering, she said. Kristin, Shaun and Mindy, they all encouraged me to follow up with CIS.

Even though you’ve retired from nursing, you still carry that health background with you when you work with kids. Do you have any thoughts on the health of children these days?

Yes, I worry about our kids’ health. When kids don’t have set bedtime hours, they often come to school exhausted. I’ll ask kids what their bedtime is and some say 7:30 or 8 o’clock. But others, the tired ones, are staying up late and playing video games.

I also ask students what they like to do, and while some mention playing sports, many—far too many—identify sedentary activities, like video games and watching television. You don’t hear much more about kids gathering informally to play outdoor games. I’m a huge Red Rover fan and I probably still have ruptured organs from playing that game! But seriously, that sedentary lifestyle worries me. I wonder about the heart disease and diabetes we’ll see in the future.

I must say, though, I do love seeing the healthy snacks, like fruits and pretzels, available in the school. That’s a good thing.

As a former exercise physiologist, do you see a connection between learning and movement?

Definitely. Activity is huge for learning. It gives the brain a boost in oxygen, it reduces stress, and can help kids rest their eyes a bit. There is this Go Noodle program that Spring Valley uses and the kids love it.

Never heard of it. What is Go Noodle?

They are little videos, about two minutes each, that can easily be played during the school day. It lets kids take a small break, get up and Go Noodle to burn off some steam. I think they have videos geared to all grade levels, maybe even for grown-ups. Basically, kids “noodle” for relaxation and can then re-focus. The kids love it and so do I!

Where is someplace you like to frequent in the community?

Bow in the Clouds Preserve. It’s the 60 acres of land preserve behind Nazareth Campus. Also, the Kalamazoo Nature Center. I love to hang out there.

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

My dad was definitely one of my caring adults. He was a huge role model for me. He ran an industrial laundry. He worked 12-14 hour days but always had time to do fun, recreational activities.

Bertha Walker also comes to mind. She was a community mental health social worker and we worked together at Crisis Stabilization (which is part of Kalamazoo Community Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services but was affiliated with Borgess Hospital at that time). She was the senior staff. She was no nonsense and was all about our team getting the work done. We never doubted that she cared about us or the patients we served. She’s been gone now over eight years.

When you think back on 2018, what is one of your fondest memories that you carry with you into this new year?

My first year following retirement was last year, so I got out the bucket list. As part of a mission trip, I got to go into the gypsy camps of Romania last year and that amazed me. I also went dog sledding in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. That is something I wanted to do my whole life!

What are you most looking forward to this year?

My other volunteer is with the Sierra Club and I’m looking forward to some local and national trips with them. When I see a hint of spring, that means we’re getting closer. I can’t wait! I also love walking my dog. It’s a simple pleasure, just walking my little dog.

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

Chris Werme: Giving Back and Giving Grace

CIS volunteer Chris Werme

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 and 2018 Champ recipient, Chris Werme. (We popped this quiz on him at the end of the 2017/18 school year.) If you missed the post about his 2018 Champ award, you can find it here.

Chris grew up in Portage, Michigan and earned his degree in accounting and management from Nazareth College. An employee benefits advisor at Rose Street Advisors, Chris has been a CIS volunteer since 2016, when CIS senior site coordinator at Loy Norrix High School Montrell Baker connected him to two young men.

CIS senior site coordinator Montrell Baker, DeAndre, and Chris

Chris also serves on the CIS Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council (VLAC), advising CIS on such things as volunteer recruitment and retainment.  Most recently, Chris joined the CIS work group on Engaging Male Students. As part of this all male workgroup, Chris meets monthly with other CIS volunteers, partners, staff, and community members, to review data and develop initiatives and strategies for CIS to better engage our young men and support them in academics, behavior, and school attendance.

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

Pop Quiz

You are a busy guy. Yet, you carve time out of your schedule to work with students. Why? And why CIS?

Why do I do it? You could say I felt a calling. Why CIS? A CIS newsletter ended up in my mailbox for no particular reason—I think somebody threw the newsletter in my box, probably because they know I do stuff with my church—and I happened to see a picture of O’Neal Ollie on it. We used to play basketball together. It actually had a picture of Montrell [Baker], too. At the time, I had no idea I’d eventually be working with Montrell!

Well, the newsletter turned up in my mailbox at the same time I had been giving some thinking as to, What am I going to do next? I’d done the board thing. I wanted to be boots on the ground, and work with young men.

So, I called O’Neal up and we met for lunch. I wondered aloud about volunteering and O’Neal said I should do it. So, here I am!

In addition to working directly with young men, you also serve on the CIS work group, Engaging Male Students. When it comes to working with young men, do you have a philosophy?

I believe that young men need to hear from old men how to act in certain situations. Lacking hearing from experienced, more mature men on how to handle things, they will handle things how they see fit.

To be clear, I don’t tutor or teach the young men anything. I talk with them and make sure they are achieving the goals they’ve set for themselves. I try not to make them be my goals.

…I’ve raised four children, two of them boys. I didn’t always do things right. I found I talked to my dad way more later in life than when I was a younger man. I discovered older men have real wisdom—and that wisdom is important.

What are you currently reading?

Nothing at the moment. The book that I’m looking to purchase is Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves.

What are some of your favorite Kalamazoo places?

We live in Shelbyville—my wife works in Grand Rapids—and I commute to Kalamazoo for work, so I’d say that it would be the golf course. I’m looking forward to golf season.

Favorite word?

Grace.

That’s a big word.

I’m working on giving it every day.

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

My dad. He obviously taught me about growing up, and most importantly, how to deal with people.

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

Come fall, our kids will need many more volunteers like Chris. Go here to consider one of the several ways you can become a volunteer today to help the kids of tomorrow.