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.)

Happy Birthday, Edwards Garment!

How many of us make it to our 150th Birthday? Well, Edwards Garment has, so instead of scrambling for 150 candles, we thought we’d light up the blog by sharing what a spark a business partner can be for students.

A CIS supporter since 2004, Edwards Garment is a business rich in Kalamazoo history, having been a part of the community since 1867 when the Rosebaum family began producing pants for men and boys out of the Rosebaum building. Did you know the name of the company is inspired by Edwards Street, the side street in downtown Kalamazoo which the old Rosenbaum building shares with Michigan Avenue?

Today, Edwards Garment is a leading specialty image apparel and uniform supplier for men’s and women’s clothing. Their headquarters are located on South 9th Street and they employ 185 individuals from the greater Kalamazoo area.

Partnerships, like any relationship, evolve over time. This year, Edwards Garment has expanded their reach by supporting students at Prairie Ridge Elementary School. The school’s CIS Site Coordinator, Carly Denny, says the students as well as the school staff deeply appreciate their involvement. “Their support is wonderful,” she says. “They have given us generous donations of backpacks and school supplies. They’ve provided our students with lots of winter apparel. CIS was also able to pass some of the overflow of larger sizes on to our high school students at Kalamazoo Central and Loy Norrix.”

Edwards Garment employees commit time and energy to building a stronger community in the areas that they reside. This year, the business has also joined forces with CIS partner, Big Brothers Big Sisters, A Community of Caring to become a Bigs in Schools. “Right now we have four ‘Bigs’ working with our students,” says Carly. “The Bigs have lunch with their “Littles” twice a month. They spend an hour together and work on specific goals with their Littles. The students adore the extra attention and really thrive with this support.”

We love how Edwards Garment continues to grow with us! A while back we interviewed Gary Schultz, President and CEO of Edwards Garment. If you missed that post (or want to refresh your memory) you can read about Gary and how Edwards Garment has kids covered by going here.





Edwards Garment Has Kids Covered

Edwards GarmentA CIS supporter since 2004, Edwards Garment is a business rich in Kalamazoo history, having been a part of the community since 1867 when the Rosebaum family began producing pants for men and boys out of the Rosebaum building.  The company has morphed and grown throughout the years to become what we know

today as Edwards Garment. It is an interesting bit of trivia to note that the name of the company is not a family, but is inspired by Edwards Street, the side street in downtown Kalamazoo which the old Rosenbaum building shares with Michigan Avenue.

Today, Edwards Garment is a leading specialty image apparel and uniform supplier for men’s and women’s clothing. Their headquarters are located on South 9th Street and they employ 185 individuals from the greater Kalamazoo area. This school year, Edwards Garment donated almost 500 brand spanking new polos that CIS Site Coordinators were able to distribute to students! We recently popped in on Gary Schultz, President and CEO of Edwards Garment and had him take our pop quiz. He passed with flying colors.

Why does Edwards Garment choose to support kids through CIS?

We believe developing our youth is central to helping us thrive as a business. CIS helps address multiple issues that help kids. I’m increasingly realizing that if you don’t start in the early years of education, then the chances of a child catching up down the road are less and less. As a business person, I’m always looking for people with strong skill sets, who are employable, who will come to work on time, who will get out of bed to come to work even on days when they don’t feel like getting up for whatever reason. We are dependent upon our schools for turning out students who make excellent employees.

Our business has always committed time and financial resources for causes—but in the last few years, Edwards Garment has been focusing on organizations whose mission supports youth. We want to put our time and resources into organizations that make the greatest impact. We like how CIS goes beyond the academic and touches multiple parts of a student’s world, the barriers they face to being a successful student—those things outside the classroom that impact what goes on in the classroom. The scope of the problem is great but the breadth of the supports CIS can provide is large in scope as well. By supporting CIS, Edwards Garment is helping to address the bigger picture. Our community thrives when kids thrive. Kids are our future.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I try to learn something new each day. I’m brushing up on what I know about 401K plans as we are trying to help our employees plan more for retirement. People don’t necessarily know how to go about that. We need to help people plan more and educate them on the importance of plans after retirement.

100_5753-editWhat are you currently reading?

Mostly magazines and newspapers. While I enjoy novels I find myself reading mostly business related books. Recently, I’ve been digesting the book, “A Sense of Urgency” by John Kotter. It’s about trying to get businesses to be more attentive to get things done, earlier, faster and more efficiently.

What do you want to be when you grow up? 

As I progress through my career I realize this is what I have aspired to. And I’m doing it! Running a business of this size with a specific culture. Honestly, I feel blessed that I’m doing what I’m doing.

When I eventually retire I want to stay active. I still want to be involved in the business. I won’t retire in the sense of becoming docile because I’m the kind of person who wants to constantly learn new things.

What is your favorite word right now?         

Favorite word, huh? On a professional level, I’d say engagement. Just trying to get people more mentally involved with and committed to what our business is trying to do.

That’s interesting you say engagement. That word speaks to our vision at CIS, an engaged community where every child fulfills his or her promise. So what is your favorite word on the personal side?

On the personal side, my favorite word is gratitude. Gratitude in the sense of appreciating my circumstances. I have three healthy kids, all graduated from college, and things are going pretty well. I’m thankful for all of that.

Will you share with us something that has been on your mind lately?

I’ve had a few things on my mind. I’m trying to help make a difference, in a variety of ways. I want to grow and strengthen the relationships with my distributors and show them their impact on the company. So you can see we were here but now we’re here. But really, just trying to have an impact and change to make things better. This not only applies to my business, but also in my personal life and in the community.

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

My parents, of course. Neither of my parents went to college, yet they had high expectations for their two sons. They drilled into me at an early age that I needed to obtain my college degree.

I’d also have to add that I had a number of caring teachers in junior high who pushed me. They knew when I needed pushing, and they set the bar a bit higher than I set it for myself. I remember this one teacher. I wrote a paper for her class, and she gave me a lower grade than I expected. I thought it was unfair and told her so. “Well,” she said, “I just expect more out of you. That is why I’m grading you differently than others.” Looking back, I see how her actions and her words were less of a penalty and more of a motivation. This teacher, as did some others, saw something in me more than I saw in myself.

Thanks you, Gary, for taking time to take our “pop quiz” and thank you and everyone at Edwards Garment for supporting students through Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo!

Rosenbaum Building