What Do I See?

This is the third installment of our Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) blog series in which we cover topics and resources that we hope  provides support to students and families during these challenging times. The two previous posts are: Staying Fit While Socially Distancing and 3 Easy Science Projects Students Can Do at Home. 

These days, most of us aren’t traveling many places and taking in new sights. What Do I See? is a fun way to get some culture and practice writing at the same time.

Right now, The Kalamazoo Valley Museum has a wonderful virtual tour called Filling in the Gaps: The Art of Murphy Darden. Mr. Darden is an artist who lives in Kalamazoo and for many years has used his artistic talents and love of history to shine a light on people, places, and events that we all need to know about to help fill the gaps in both our Kalamazoo and nation’s history.

Here’s how to play What Do I See?

  • Round up some family members, some paper, and pencils or pens.
  • Go on a virtual tour of this exhibit by visiting it here. You will find that the museum has organized the exhibit into three areas: “A Broader History of Kalamazoo,” “Civil Right’s Heroes,” and “American’s Forgotten Black Cowboys.”
  • After having a chance to explore some of Mr. Darden’s works, each person participating in What Do I See? selects one piece of Mr. Murphy’s artwork or one of the artifacts he has collected. Do not yet let each other know what you have picked.
  • Study the piece. Wonder about it. Ask yourself questions. (What do you find most interesting about it? What colors do you see? What type of feelings live in this piece? Use your imagination to wonder what happened moments before. What is going to happen?)
  • Now, using paper and pencil (or pen), write down some words and phrases to describe what you see. You can write your description as a poem or a story. You may decide you want to pretend to be something within the piece (like a horse, a tree, or a cowboy hat) and write from the perspective of that thing.
  • There is no right or wrong way to do this! All you have to do is use some words to tell the story in your own way.
  • Take turns reading aloud what you have written.
  • See if others can guess what piece of art or artifact you selected. See if you can guess what they described.

This same process can be done with other exhibits that are available. While there are many exhibits out there, here are three more local places you may want to consider:

  • The Black Arts & Cultural Center is hosting a virtual gallery of local artist Linda Manguiat-Herzog. Throughout March you can go here to tour her work.
  • The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts has several interesting exhibits going on now. Their current exhibit information can be found here. While several pieces can be found on their website, if you plan to go in person, first check here for their temporary hours and visitor guidelines.
  • The Ninth Wave Studio’s virtual gallery features a variety of artists and can be visited by going here.

Or, if you and your kids want a break from screen time, you can even stroll about your house, identify a picture, a photo, a painting, or an interesting knick-knack to write about.

Have fun learning, writing, and sharing! If you are in kindergarten through twelfth grade and end up writing a poem you think needs to travel beyond your family, consider submitting this month to Poems That Ate Our Ears. It could end up on a bus or in a book (story about that in Encore here). You’ll find contest rules here at Friends of Poetry. If you are any age and feel quite satisfied with whatever you wrote and want to share further, Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids would love to see it! You can send your piece to us at jclark@ciskalamazoo.org. Who knows. We might, with your permission, publish it on our blog.

Note: The photograph used at the top of this post comes from photographer Janine Kai Robinson who posted this on Unsplash. You can also play What Do I See? by visiting her virtual gallery of photographs she maintains here.

Family Health Center: Changing the Landscape of Healthcare Delivery

At the 13th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, The Family Health Center was honored with a 2020 Champ Award which was sponsored by Abraxas and Chase. CIS Partner Services Coordinator John Brandon introduced us to this CIS partner who is a true champion for children.

A healthy start in life. That’s one of Communities In Schools’ “five basics,” an essential ingredient to a child’s success. Healthier children make better students. If their tooth aches or they aren’t feeling well, it’s difficult to focus on school. Learning becomes fundamentally compromised.

Accepting the Champ Award on behalf of Family Health Center, Jeffrey Jousma, Mobile Unit Manager

This year’s Champ, the Family Health Center, has always made it their mission to bring quality health care to all members in our community, particularly those underserved. As a long-term, highly committed partner, the Family Health Center has worked with CIS and its many community partners and changed the landscape of the way healthcare is delivered to our children.

As part of their mission, they operate a Mobile Health and Dental Clinic. When their Mobile Health Clinic, a 40-foot-long clinic on wheels, rolls up to our schools, our site coordinators connect students to caring health professionals inside. They provide physicals, immunizations, well-child visits, and more to our students and their family members in the Kalamazoo Public Schools district. In taking on the operation of the Mobile Dental Clinic [that was previously run by Kalamazoo County Health & Community Services], they provide basic check-ups and dental care right on school grounds. And healthy kids, more ready to learn, experience improvements in academics and attendance and problem behaviors decrease.

Starting with CEO Denise Crawford and with the leadership of COO Ken LePage and Mobile Unit Manager Jeff Jousma, the Family Health Center, works effectively within the CIS model of integrated student services to break down barriers to learning by filling the healthcare gap in innovative ways. The result? Thousands of Kalamazoo Public School students receive outstanding preventative healthcare services each year.

Family Health Center, thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Howard Tejchma: Inviting Others to Join in the Work

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 Howard Tejchma, who was recently honored with the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award.  [If you didn’t get a chance to read about the great work Howard is doing with elementary school students, click here for that post. To learn more about Gulnar, read this post, “A Good Life.”]

Since 2010, Howard has been volunteering at Arcadia Elementary School. He works closely with fifth grade teacher Holly Bishop, supporting about four of her students each year in a small group setting over the lunchtime. Over the years, CIS has noticed that as Howard engages the students in fun activities, he also takes the opportunity to weave in life lessons.

We got a chance to meet up with Howard at Arcadia Elementary School after one of his “lunch bunch” sessions. We popped this quiz on him just days before the pandemic hit and schools were closed.

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

Pop Quiz

From volunteering more than a decade with CIS, what have you learned?

We all have the child that goes through us within life. The kids reawaken that child in me and get me out of my box…I have to think more like a kid to understand them and that’s healthy.

What are you currently reading?

I just read In the Shelter by Pádraig Ó Tuama. A philosopher, poet, and theologian, Ó Tuama talks about living in the shelter of one another. I’ve been running a bookclub on it at my church. It’s a beautiful book about community. It’s about listening, interacting, and creating relationships and the author tells it through his own story.

Currently, I’m reading a book on butterflies. It’s The Last Butterflies by Nick Haddad. The underpinnings of this book help with understanding why we exist in the world. Habitat, for instance, has a direct relationship with the type of habitat we foster for kids to survive and thrive in the world. And what we see on the surface isn’t necessarily what matters. Just like the work we’re doing at CIS, it’s long term work making a world that we are proud for our kids to grow up in, and to feel proud that we had a role in that.

Where is one place in Kalamazoo you love hanging out?

Sarkosky’s. Especially having breakfast there on Saturday morning.

What is your favorite word right now?

Hope.

What question have you asked recently?

Interesting you’d ask that. Pádraig Ó Tuama goes into the quality of questions we ask ourselves and others. I’ve been thinking about the quality of questions. High quality questions can’t be answered with a simple yes or no response. Sometimes, it’s both yes and no… I think it’s worth wondering: what are those questions we are not thinking about? What questions aren’t we asking ourselves? What are the questions I’m avoiding in my life? Whatever question or questions I’m running away from, those are the ones I need to ask.

Why am I not considering tutoring? What are my barriers to getting involved? Why might I be afraid of it? What are our barriers to inviting others to join us in the work?

Speaking of barriers, Gulnar had no barriers when it came to inviting others to join in the work.

That’s right. Gulnar was magnificent with reaching out and asking others to join her in this work. When I think about Gulnar, she was on a mission and as the CIS site coordinator at Arcadia, she first engaged me in this work. Her mission was not only to make the world a better place—creating greater harmony and peace—but to also get other people to do that as well, to be an agent of change.

It’s amazing to think about the effect she had on my life. What she got me to believe in.

And what did she get you to believe in?

That I can make a difference. I can make a difference by working in schools and helping kids. I’m needed. We need you was her message. And I can say that, too. We need you. We need you for tutoring and mentoring. Join us.

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

Oh, so many. My partner Steve of 25 plus years. My church family. I can’t imagine life without them. My high school English teacher Christine Bettese. She was also in the theater arts program and got me involved with that. I was really reserved in high school. I was planning to go to Michigan Tech and she said I should apply to Kalamazoo College. I visited the campus and then decided to go to K. So if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here in Kalamazoo.

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

Howard accepting his award at 2020 Champs

 

In the Shelter of Each Other

At the 13th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec,  Joan Coopes, former Communities In Schools Site Coordinator at Arcadia Elementary School, presented the 2020 Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award to Howard Tejchma. As both volunteer and CIS Site Coordinator, Gulnar Husain relentless pursued a more just and welcoming world for all. For more than 38 years, she relished volunteering throughout our community. The Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award recognizes a CIS volunteer who emulates Gulnar’s desire to serve children with a consistent and unflinching passion.

There’s an old Irish proverb: “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” You could say this year’s recipient of the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award is a shelter of sorts. Howard Tejchma, or, Mr. Howard, as the students call him, has been volunteering at Arcadia Elementary School for the past decade. Working closely with Kalamazoo Public School teacher Holly Bishop, he supports several of her fifth grade students in a “lunch bunch” setting. The students look forward to his weekly visits, readily giving up recess to be in the shelter of his kindness.

With a degree in physics from Kalamazoo College, and a fierce curiosity for how the world works, Howard weaves in game playing, life lessons, and math and science support, all while nurturing a safe space which awakens students’ curiosities. Howard takes moments that arise—like the time one student had difficulty losing at a card game—to discuss how to be a good sport, a good listener, to take turns, to share. Gathered under the roof of his patience, children dream, wonder, and question. They discover their place in the world.

“Mr. Howard has been a blessing to me and my students,” says Ms. Bishop. “He has unique conversations with them and tries to connect on a personal level with each and every one. He is teaching them to be good humans. I truly hope that he wants to do this for as long as I am teaching, because he is always welcome in my classroom.”

As Howard is a tenor singer and has performed solo in the Kalamazoo Bach Festival, we thought he might appreciate the legendary Quincy Jones’ musical take on CIS. Thinking of it as an orchestra, Jones says, “CIS is the conductor who makes sure all the individual musicians are playing from the same score and coming in when they’re needed.”

Since 2010, our kids have counted on him coming into their lives at just the right times.

Howard, you play your part beautifully and inspire children—and us!—to do the same. May this musical metal sculpture serve as a symbol of your outstanding service.

Howard accepting his award.

Howard Techjma, thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Stay tuned. Next week we’ll run Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids’ last face-to-face interview we did before the pandemic hit. It is with Howard and you won’t want to miss it!

Leslie Lami-Reed: Keeping Kids Warm for over Three Decades

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 Leslie Lami-Reed. A retired Kalamazoo Public Schools teacher, Leslie is the warm heart behind the Warm Kids Project, a non-profit dedicated to providing new winter outerwear to children in need within our community. We wanted to bring you more about Leslie and a behind the scenes glimpse of how this organization has been beating strong for 34 years. [More information about Warm Kids can be found on their website, here.]

Leslie was born and raised in a once thriving steel town near Pittsburgh, PA. She holds a Bachelor of Arts/Art Education degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She also received a Masters in Education from Marygrove College. We popped this quiz on Leslie a few months back, just as she and Warm Kids were gearing up to provide over a 1,000 new coats and 1,000 new boots to kids throughout Kalamazoo County.

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

Pop Quiz

What brought you to Kalamazoo?

What brought me to Michigan 47 years ago, was my interest in alternative schools and cooperative education, which was a concept evolving in the 60’s and 70’s. I got my first job out of college at a co-operative summer camp, named Circle Pines Center in Delton, Michigan where I was the Arts Director. That led to my first KPS job as a teacher in the preschool and high school at CEYW (Continuing Education for Young Women) at Old Central High School on Westnedge. This was an alternative high school for pregnant teenagers, which supported pregnant teens who wanted to finish high school instead of dropping out. There they would learn parenting skills, nutrition, receive pre-natal care and continue their schooling while preparing to become a parent. I moved on to become an art teacher at Northeastern Junior High, then taught in many KPS elementary schools, usually traveling between two schools each week. Oh, the changes I’ve seen! Kalamazoo Public Schools is always innovating. I taught at Washington when it became a magnet Writers’ Academy, experienced “open classrooms,” and team teaching. I saw computers work their way into every classroom, and then, the Kalamazoo Promise!

It was during your years as a teacher that inspired you to start Warm Kids Project. Can you tell us more about that?

Every public school in every town has children who come to school without warm clothing in winter. They wear layers of sweaters and go out in the snow at recess wearing sneakers. I was teaching at Greenwood Elementary in 1984, when a friend and I decided to “adopt” a Greenwood family and purchase winter clothing for the children at Christmas time. The next year, we asked ten friends to give $100 to purchase clothing and the Project was born. I credit Nancy Mackenzie for having the initiative to start the Project and do the work of incorporating Warm Kids Project into a 501.c3 in 1986. I have been the person continuing Warm Kids Project with a small team for 34 years. I could not do this work for so long without the strong support of my working Board and my husband Bill. We are all dedicated volunteers.

What are you learning about yourself and/or the world during these challenging times?

Many people support Warm Kids Project because they know they are helping LOCAL children in need. I keep a close eye on the poverty rates for each of the 50 schools we serve in the eight school districts of Kalamazoo County and the amount of clothing each school receives is based on that number. In our county, 49% of school-age children qualify for free or reduced lunch! If we can help out a family that is having a rough time by providing a warm coat and boots for their kids, it is a blessing for everyone. I think of it as a big warm hug! I’m proud of the fact that schools can rely on Warm Kids Project to be there year after year, offering warm clothing. I can’t imagine a time when the Project would not be needed. Can you?

No! And we are so grateful for your commitment to kids. And to all those who support your mission to ensure that every child is warmly dressed and prepared to meet the bus or walk to school. [Even though many students in our area are learning virtually from home due to the pandemic, schools in our area, having quality outerwear has never been more important. If kids are dressed warmly, this winter they can take a break from their screens and spend some time outdoors, getting some sunshine and exercise.] Warm Kids is one of the critical “tools” CIS site coordinators pull out of their tool box of resources to help students meet their basic needs. [Two students, Charlotte (top) and Omar (bottom), happily trying on their new coats and boots from Warm Kids Project.]

What is your perspective of CIS working with Warm Kids over the years in the KPS elementary and middle schools?

There are only eight people (our Board) involved in the total operation of Warm Kids Project. The only way Warm Kids Project can provide 1200 coats and 1200 boots to county schools is because of the volunteers, such as CIS workers, at each site. Each site determines who will receive clothing, measures kids, contacts parents, gets the order forms in on time, distributes the clothing, exchanges the clothing. Your participation is the vital link we need to accomplish this important work. We are so glad that you, CIS, have taken that responsibility to heart. Our donors don’t get to see the look of happiness on a child’s face when they get their new coat, hat and boots, but you do. Thank you for being the important link between Warm Kids and the children you serve.

You’ve been engaged in this project for over 30 years now. When it comes to keeping kids warmly dressed, what have you noticed to be the biggest challenge? Or perhaps the most surprising?

I’ve been retired from teaching for ten years and it seems as though running Warm Kids Project is a part-time job. It is a lot of work during the fall. My challenge is pondering how the Project will continue if I can no longer do the work. Surprisingly, good people have always shown up when the need was expressed and currently, things are going smoothly. So, you can expect Warm Kids Project will be back in 2021. Right now, in November 2020, I am already deep into purchasing warm clothing for next year … Black Friday prices, you know!

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

Leslie and Bill

I’m so fortunate to have the support of family and friends. My husband, Bill, is on the Board and has helped so much in so many ways. My mother, who is 92 years old is very proud of my involvement in Warm Kids Project. She talks about it to all her pals at Friendship Village (in Pittsburgh). We have eight women who like to knit hats for us, one who sends boxes from Colorado! These personal relationships mean a lot to me and I am grateful for everyone who helps us get those coats and boots out to children. Thank you, CIS, for all the work you do to make it happen in Kalamazoo Schools. I hope it is rewarding for each of you, too!

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

Dr. Sandy Standish: Shining Her Light For Young People

At the 13th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, CIS Board President Namita Sharma presented the 2020 Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award, sponsored by Zoetis, to Dr.  Sandy Standish. A decade ago, this prestigious award was established by the Communities In Schools Board to honor Diether’s extensive contributions to his adopted home of Kalamazoo and in particular, his service and genuine concern for the children and young people of our community.

Those of you who’ve had the privilege of working with Dr. Standish know she’s dedicated her life to the education of young people. For thirty two years she shined her light as an innovative educator in Comstock Public Schools. Following her “retirement” from public education, it wasn’t in her to “take it easy.” Instead of hiding her light under a bushel, she took on the role as the founding director of Kalamazoo County Ready 4s, better known as KCReady4s. She spent the next decade collaborating with community partners to build a system of high-quality pre-kindergarten programs accessible to all four-year-olds in Kalamazoo County.

Parents want their children to be on solid footing when they start kindergarten. Yet, not every child is at the starting line with their peers. Not all families have the luxury or the means to access high-quality early care and education. At CIS, because we are in a similar business—creating systems of support for students kindergarten through twelfth grade—we’re particularly impressed with her remarkable work over the years of rallying this collective effort. To change mindsets about the way we work together to support and educate our children, to change the landscape of how things are done—or not done—requires vision, a teamwork mentality, passion, and more.

With her usual grace, humor, and expertise, she has been a fearless advocate for early education, because Dr. Standish knows this: Children who receive high-quality early care and education do better in school and life. In that safe and consistent space, they learn basic skills, as well as social and emotional skills, all building blocks for future success.

Sandy, in naming you the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence recipient for 2020, we give you this Blue Hydrangea Bulb blooming out of a vintage base, a symbol of your award from the Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo Board.

Dr. Standish accepting the 2020 Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award.

Thank you for educating our children, and for illuminating a pathway for Kalamazoo county to continue to support some of our youngest citizens. By shining your light, you have made our community a brighter place for all.

Dr. Sandy Standish, thank you for helping kids stay in school and succeed in life.

Growing up on CIS and Now Giving Back

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 Jayda Fair, a 2020 graduate of Loy Norrix High School. A CIS alumna and Kalamazoo Promise Scholar, Jayda now works for CIS as a youth development coach. She supports students at Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts while also acclimating to her new role of being a mother to daughter Na’riyah. She is looking forward to attending Kalamazoo Valley Community College (KVCC) next semester and ultimately obtaining a degree in social work.

We met up with Jayda over Zoom and popped this quiz on her. [Jayda is featured in the recently released CIS Annual Report, found here. She reflects on CIS and the community supports that have helped her succeed. You won’t want to miss it!]

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

Pop Quiz

What three words describe you?

Outgoing, fun, and open.

The pandemic disrupted life as we know it. Did it disrupt your educational and/career plans? If so, how?

Actually, pregnancy changed my plans way more than the pandemic did.

Jayda with her daughter.

Motherhood can do that to you! Your daughter is beautiful. [Na’riyah made a brief appearance at the beginning of this interview.] In being a new mother and navigating these challenging times, what have you learned about yourself?

I have more patience than I realized. And the days go by quickly!

What are you currently reading?

Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes. It’s like a poetry book. It’s about these high school kids who don’t like school, but as part of their class, the teacher has them writing poetry…It’s the “all-school” read for Maple Street.

Thinking back on your years at KPS, who was one of your most influential teachers?

At Woods Lake Elementary, it was Ms. [Mary Jo] Reilly. When I first started getting bullied, she picked up on it. She comforted me, addressed the situation, and got my parents involved. She connected me to CIS. I was quiet and becoming involved with CIS helped open me up.

At Maple Street, it was Ms. [Stephanie] Hampton. She made learning fun; that’s why I love English so much.

In high school, Ms. [Niambi] Pringle was a positive influence for me. She was like a mother figure. When I wasn’t feeling good or had a problem on my mind, she’d notice something was wrong, and took me under her wing.

As you have had the opportunity to be part of CIS as a young person, from first through twelfth grade, how would you explain CIS to others?

CIS is a movement that is all about empowering young people. CIS is there for you…It was there for me.

What is your favorite word or phrase right now?

YFE. That stands for: Your family is everything. My family and I take family seriously.

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

My parents. Also, [CIS Site Coordinator] Mr. [Montrell] Baker, and [Promise Pathway Coach] Melissa Nesbitt. They have all been so helpful.

You are a Kalamazoo Promise scholar!

Having the Promise is really helpful. I like that I don’t have to rush and can further my education at my own time. You have ten years to use the Promise.

It’s so cool that you received CIS support as a young student and now you are working for CIS!

I often thought that maybe I should work for CIS and give back, just like they did for me. I’d wonder, what if I could help kids, support them like CIS did for me.

And you are!

Yes! I’m really enjoying working with the students.

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

A Parade of Ugly For a Good Cause

We may not have the annual holiday parade or the Holly Jolly Trolley this year, but Kalamazoo has a parade of ugly sweaters! If you follow this blog or have walked around downtown enjoying the Christmas lights, you probably already know about the 2020 Ugly Sweater Contest and Exhibit.

“Given these challenging times, we had to reimagine this event,” says Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) Executive Director James Devers, in referencing the ugly sweater party that CIS has hosted for the past five years. The event brings awareness to the CIS “whole child” approach of supporting students, which includes providing essentials that—when missing—can get in the way of learning. “We had to figure out a new way to raise both awareness and funds for the work we do throughout 20 Kalamazoo Public Schools.”

Reimagine, indeed. Toss in loads of creativity, a handful of mannequins, and a host of elves, er, sponsors, and you have one friendly, yet ugly competition and exhibit to help support the 12,000 students CIS works with throughout the year.

Kalsec is the presenting sponsor helping to transform this Ugly Sweater event into a new and beautiful thing. Kalsec CEO Scott Nykaza says, “There is, quite simply, no better way to support the success of students in Kalamazoo than through supporting efforts performed by everyone at CIS.”

In addition to presenting sponsor Kalsec, the following sponsors have each designed and hand-crafted ugly sweaters for CIS virtual and storefront exhibits to help raise vital funding for students: Abraxas/YMCA of Kalamazoo, Edwards Garment, Fifth Third Bank, First National Bank of Michigan, Friends of Poetry, Humphrey Products, Husted’s Farm Market, Rotaract of Kalamazoo, Unifab Corporation, VIP team at CIS, and WMU Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Some of the ugly sweaters on display at the Exchange Building.

Thanks to in-kind sponsors PlazaCorp (providing the storefront window) and Memories Bridal & Evening Wear (providing the mannequins), the community can visit these unique sweaters in person now through December 18th. The window display is located downtown at the Exchange Building, on the southeast corner of W. Michigan and S. Rose, across from Bronson Park. These ugly creations are also being featured on the CIS Facebook page during “12 Days of Sweaters.

The sweaters are also on virtual display, here on the CIS website through the end of December. You can visit the sweaters virtually or in person and then cast your vote for the ugliest sweater. Each dollar donated in support of a sweater is considered a vote. The first $2,500 raised will be kindly matched by Kalsec. Voting concludes on the last day in December and, at that time, the sweater with the most in donations/votes will be crowned the winner.

“The sweaters may be ‘ugly,’ but the cause is beautiful,” says Devers. “Every vote, which translates into every dollar given, supports students in our community, empowering them to stay in school and succeed in life. It doesn’t get more beautiful than that.”

[You can catch this recently aired video of Devers speaking about the event with Fox 17 here.)