History Gallops into Kalamazoo

April is National Poetry Month and so it seems the perfect time to share a poem with you. A number of poems were created during a recent Family Fun Poetry Night that was hosted virtually by Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. Before writing their own poems, students, family members, and CIS staff first learned about ekphrastic poetry, in which a poet describes a piece of art. They studied “Clouds over Miami” a painting by local artist Mary Hatch and then the poem written by local poet and CIS volunteer Elizabeth Kerlikowske who was inspired by the painting. [You can view that artwork and poem from their book, Art Speaks: Paintings and Poetry, by going to this website.]

Everyone then reflected on CIS students’ artwork about community and wrote their own poems. After participants shared some of their efforts, they then worked together to generate this poem:

HISTORY HAS ITS EYES ON US

Community poem inspired by Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb”

History gallops into Kalamazoo.
Wearing a suit and tie and fur coat,
History eyes our community and rumbles deeply
in a British accent, “Diversity wins!”
History returns two days later and never leaves.

      -written by CIS students & their families

 

Hungry for more poetry? The Kalamazoo Poetry Festival will be holding its annual festival this coming Friday and Saturday, April 16 and 17. All events are virtual and free. To learn more and register in advance to participate in any of the events, go here.

And if you didn’t get the chance to see Amanda Gorman recite her poem, or you just want to listen to it again, you can do so by going here.

 

What CIS Volunteers are Reading in 2021

While March may be recognized as National Reading Month, it’s always reading month for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo volunteers. Here’s what some of them are reading …

[Note: Like our last post in which CIS staff shared what they are reading, book titles link to the Indie Bookstore Finder. Should a book peek your interest, this allows you to learn more and easily obain the book from one of our fabulous independent bookstores.]

 

I am reading (recently finished):  Tecumseh and the Prophet, The Shawnee Brothers Who Defied a Nation by Peter Cozzens. Why this book?  I grew up near Battleground, Indiana, and as a youth on multiple occasions visited the Battleground memorial, which honored Willian Henry Harrison, as well as ‘Prophet’s Rock’ which was reputed to be the site of a rousing speech by Tenskwatawa (The Prophet) to his followers. Having learned the ‘traditional’ history, I was interested to read about the perspective of the Shawnee brothers. It was illuminating to say the least! The Shawnee and other tribes were pawns, allied and abandoned on multiple occasions, in the efforts by Great Britain and the nascent United States to dominate North America. Spoiler Alert:  It did not end well for the brothers and their followers.

Paul Runnels

 

I’ve been busy reading a lot of interesting books: Caste by Isabelle Wilkerson, Walk in My Combat Boots by James Patterson, Know My Name by Chanel Miller, and You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories About Racism by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar. All very different and eye-opening in different ways!

Susan Einspahr

 

I just finished (for the second time) Killers of the Flower Moon: the Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. It is a fascinating account of our history when the Osage Indians were systematically killed by whites in their Oklahoma town, circa 1921-? Highly recommended.

Karen Tinklenberg

 

Book I just finished: Skin In The Game by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Book I am reading: 7 Men And The Secrets Of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas.

 Chris Werme

 

I’m reading The Giver of Stars, a novel by JoJo Moyes. Set in Depression-era America, it’s based on a true story of five extraordinary women and their remarkable journey through the mountains of Kentucky. A team of women delivering books as part of Eleanor Roosevelt’s new traveling library, who become known as the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky. They’re committed to their job: bringing books to people who have never had any, arming them with facts that will change their lives.

Also reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, a novel by Gail Honeyman … the smart, warm, and uplifting story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes the only way to survive is to open your heart.

Holly Wohlfert

 

I just finished reading My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem – and I highly recommend it.

Ineke Way

 

I recently read The Vagabond: The Story of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison’s Ten-Year Road Trip by Jeff Guinn. It was informative of the culture and politics of the time.

Marti Terpsma

 

In the new year…

I highly recommend ALL of them!

Martha Beverly

 

Transient Desires by Donna Leon — An Inspector Brunetti mystery set in Venice (a series)
The Women of the Copper Country by Dorian Russell
The Fleet Street Murders by Charles Finch (a series)
A Brave Day for Harold Brown by Mishana Shot
The Soul of America by Jon Meacham
To name a few…

Jim Cupper

 

I am currently reading The Gown by Jennifer Robson. Enjoyable so far. Relating to the wedding gown worn by Princess Elizabeth when she married Prince Phillip. Women and their friendships and their backgrounds as they relate to the past history and current times in their lives.

 Nancy Laugeman

 

We’re reading A Promised Land by former President Barack Obama.

Nanette and Jack Keiser 

 

Midnight Library by Matt Haig and This is the Fire: What I Say to My Friends About Racism by Don Lemon. Also,  Darby’s (dog) Mom by Anita Lawson. I am currently reading The Innocent Classroom by Alexs Pate.

Deborah Yarbrough

Phillip Hegwood: Becoming His Best Self

As Phillip is now spending lots of time in his home office connecting with kids, he designed and painted a fun backdrop that you can see in this photo we took during this Zoom interview.

Born and raised in Kalamazoo, Phillip Hegwood is a proud graduate of the Kalamazoo Public Schools. After attending Lincoln Elementary and Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts (then called “South”), Phillip continued on to Loy Norrix High School. With the support of the Promise, Phillip went to Western Michigan University and obtained a degree in general studies along with three minors: English/Language/Arts, social studies, and music.

As part of the second graduating class to receive the Kalamazoo Promise, Phillip is now Maple Street’s CIS After School Coordinator, giving back in the very school that nurtured him as a youth.

Prior to stepping into his role with CIS, Phillip worked ten years with the YMCA in their before/after school settings and summer camps. During those last three years, he ran the Y’s Prime Time at Winchell, a before- and after-school care for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Now, with seven years under his belt as CIS After School Coordinator—the first three with Woodward Elementary and the last four with Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts—we wanted to introduce you to this passionate and caring man.

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

Pop Quiz

First off, how are you holding up during this pandemic?

I’m learning that I really miss being in school. I really miss being with my students. But, I’m holding up okay. I bought a house in December and have gotten hit with major house things that need to get fixed. I’m also cooking a lot and trying to focus on me and what I can and can not control. Also, staying home has shown me that my outside drama disappeared. I don’t need it and I enjoy it. I’m using this time as an opportunity to work on me.

What is one of the best parts about being a CIS After School Site Coordinator?

For me, the best part is that I’m able to provide different opportunities for the students that they can’t do normally during the school day. I love that we can offer students a variety of clubs. I think back on the trip we did with students and their families to see a Detroit Tiger’s game. Many had never been to a professional sport’s game before. I like that I was able to provide that, and other enrichment experiences, like attending Lion King at Miller Auditorium. It’s great that we can work with different enrichment providers throughout our community to provide our students with these types of experiences.

Plus, I have to say that the food at Maple Street is really good. Our head lunch lady at Maple, Lisa Saville, also helps with planning the menu for the CIS after school programs we have throughout KPS. She is super awesome, supportive of our after school program, and great to work with. Over the years, I’ve learned that to do after school well, you need three main people to help you: secretaries, janitors, and lunch staff.

They make it or break it, right?

Yep! And at Maple, we have a great team.

Given all the challenges we face during this time—school buildings closed and all of us practicing social distancing—what does your CIS work look like now? How have you continued to support students during this challenging time?

I’ve paired up with the other CIS after school coordinators who support our middle schools. Mondays through Thursdays I’m supporting Maple Street students with homework from 12 to 12:30 p.m. For after school, the coordinators and youth development coaches have been working together to provide a variety of opportunities for students. So, from 4 to 4:30 p.m., we offer social emotional support time. For that, I’m focused on just my Maple Street students. And then, from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. it is club time for students from all four of our sites. With all of us working together, we have way more opportunities to offer students.

One thing we’ve learned is that students are on the computer nine to four most ever day so it’s important to make things hands-on as much as possible to keep them engaged. For instance, we have Magic Club right now.

Magic Club! Are you a magician?

No! But I was in contact with this magician who has been on Penn & Teller. With Covid, she has created videos so we’ve been using these videos to introduce the magic tricks and then we practice and perform the tricks in front of each other. It’s been a hit with the students. We’ll have anywhere from 20 to 25 students attending every Tuesday and Thursday.

We also host special evening events for students and their families, like this Friday we will have a magic show. We also have a movie night coming up and a cooking night where everyone will learn to make minestrone soup. We’ll have new clubs starting up next week. Over a period of six weeks, students can choose three clubs every day (Monday through Thursday). Three of our enrichment providers, W.K. Kellogg Biological Station, Kalamazoo Civic Theatre, and BeadVenture will be offering clubs and we’ll also have an engineering club, a college prep club, a fitness & nutrition club, travel club, student advisory council, and gaming club.

The students you work with had already been dealing with other stresses in their lives before this pandemic. And now, this pandemic layers on additional stress for both these young people and their families. How are students coping? Are you seeing any common threads as to how students are responding?

Honestly, it really varies on a case-by-case basis. Some of my students are thriving with virtual learning and some we need to get back in school as soon as possible. The main thing they have in common is that they just miss their friends.

What are you currently reading?

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. I just started it.

I just saw a Ted Talk Brown did on the power of vulnerability. Does she talk about that in the book?

I don’t know. I’ve only just started it. There is a workbook that goes with the book so I’ll be doing that too. I’m reading it to help make me a better me.

That’s a good goal. If we all strive to be our best selves, the world only gets better. So, what is your favorite word or phrase right now?

Ducky.

As in…

Everything is just ducky. How are you doing? Ducky. How’s everything been? Ducky.

When we re-emerge from this pandemic, what is one of the first things you will do?

Knowing me, it’s probably going out for a really nice dinner or to play darts with friends.

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

My mom. Hands down. My mom, Kathy McIntyre, is truly one of my best friends now. I think also, with her being a former educator—she worked twenty plus years with KPS—anytime I had an issue as an adult in a school setting, I could go to her for advice as to what I should do. Along the way, we’ve been able to trade different skills with each other.

Anything else we should know about you?

I play four instruments. I started playing trumpet in fifth grade. In college, I ended up minoring in music. The bassoon and trumpet are my primary instruments. I’ve also picked up the clarinet and French horn throughout the years.

Oh, and I’m trying to eat a more plant-based diet. One that is more vegetarian/vegan.

Trying?

I still like cheese and a good steak from time to time. I can’t give that up, but I try to eat this way three to four days a week.

And I love my middle school team! I’m also a work in progress: I’m just trying to be a better me.

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

 

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.