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.)

2020 Award Recipients Honored Tonight

Bring out the snacks and get ready to throw some confetti at your computer screen! Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) hosts its annual Champs event tonight, Tuesday, October 27th at 6 p.m. and you can be a part of it! Just go here, to https://ciskalamazoo.org/champs. This year will look a bit different as CIS has elected to host a virtual celebration. For those who can’t watch tonight, the celebration video will remain on the CIS website through November.

Kalsec is the presenting sponsor for this event which honors community partners who share in the CIS vision— an engaged community where every child fulfills his or her promise— by actively putting forth time, energy, talent and resources to drive this vision to reality. “When I think about CIS, I think about an organization supporting education in every possible way,” says Dr. Scott Nykaza, CEO of Kalsec, Inc. “I think about equity and how CIS levels the playing field so that all students are set up to succeed, and I think about the kindness of our community.”

That kindness will be on full display during this thirteenth year of celebrating those who are making a difference in students’ lives. This year’s Champs who support our Kalamazoo Public Schools students are:

Mikka Dryer, CIS volunteer
Science Club facilitated by Zoetis, CIS volunteers
Family Health Center, a nonprofit, CIS health partner
Western Michigan University National Society of Black Engineers, CIS higher learning partner

Howard Tejchma will be honored with the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award, a recognition established by Gulnar’s family to honor her long-time contributions to Communities In Schools and work as a CIS Site Coordinator at Arcadia Elementary School. This award recognizes CIS volunteers who emulate Gulnar’s belief that there is no greater calling than serving children. For the past decade, Howard Tejchma has been working with a small group of Arcadia students during lunchtime. His fifth grade “lunch bunch” looks forward to his weekly visits in which he facilitates games and weaves in life lessons.

The CIS Board will also be honoring Dr. Sandy Standish with the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award. This award is named for Western Michigan University President Emeritus Diether Haenicke. For 32 years, Dr. Standish shined her light as an innovative educator in Comstock Public Schools. Following her “retirement” from public education, she took on the role as the founding director of Kalamazoo County Ready 4s. She spent the next decade collaborating with community partners to build a system of high-quality pre-kindergarten programs accessible to all 4-year-olds in Kalamazoo County.

Keep following us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. In the weeks to come we we will bring you more about these fabulous receipients.