Silent Giants In The Schools

Today’s post is written by Lauren Longwell. She is venturing into her second year as an AmeriCorps VISTA with us. (VISTA stands for Volunteers In Service To America. VISTAs commit to a full-time year of service and receive a stipend which is set just above the poverty level. In addition to the stipend, VISTAs are eligible to receive an educational award at the completion of their year of service. Each VISTA is assigned to work as part of a CIS site team in two schools.) 

Lauren working in food pantry at El Sol Elementary School
Lauren working in food pantry at El Sol Elementary School

In thinking what I would like to do in retirement it came to me that education seemed to be getting short changed. I began to think about who had influenced me and where my life changing experiences had occurred. I immediately thought back on my seventh grade teacher and how she supported and guided me, cared about who I was, and saw potential in me. I wanted to be able to assist and support a child in some way so that they too would have a chance at their potential. CIS is a way the community supports our schools, providing wrap around care for Kazoo’s kids. I like that.

Becoming a VISTA went hand-in-hand with being a volunteer with CIS. AmeriCorps VISTA has many volunteer opportunities, making it possible to be a part of a community, work with people in need, and assist others in realizing a dream. For me this dream is our kids, our cities, our communities, our homes, and on the larger scale, our country. Thus, my opportunity to become a VISTA and work with CIS came to fruition.

I have the wonderful opportunity of being a VISTA within two Kalamazoo Public Schools: El Sol Elementary School and Hillside Middle School. I do a variety of tasks within the schools. El Sol Elementary rings with the sounds of two languages, Spanish and English. Although I don’t speak Spanish, I am able to get along just fine and this experience has prompted me to enroll in a Beginning Spanish Class. I assist the CIS Site Coordinator with the El Sol Food Pantry. The Food Pantry provides a wide range of foods for families in need who have children attending El Sol. Shelves are stocked weekly with food from Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes. Each week I pick up a load of food supplies and stock the El Sol Food Pantry shelves. I’d always played pretend “grocery store” as a kid and, gosh, my wish has come true. I now stock a food pantry that provides food to others.

One of my other VISTA roles is to promote a “College Going Culture” within my assigned schools. I have the pleasure of working with students in setting up College Awareness bulletin boards. Students in the CIS After School Program meet as a group and help design College Awareness posters which they then hang up throughout the school. The Middle School kids are aware of how important grades, study time, attendance and completion of homework all are in their journey to College. As a VISTA, my task is to assist, guide, support and honor the students’ potential for college. This requires care, belief in students’ abilities and assisting them to know that they can succeed.

At Hillside Middle School I have helped to promote, develop and present the idea of recycling at the school. A team of students from the CIS After School Program (and me) go to each classroom weekly to empty the recycling bins. The kids have developed a team approach which gets the job done and allows them to help keep Hillside Middle School clean as well as environmentally aware.

During my year as a VISTA I have learned much about the importance of volunteers in the school setting. I have also seen other VISTAs who are much younger than myself step forward and give back to our community and this country. It has been a humbling experience for me to step aside from a professional career to a less visible one. Having said this, I must say with a loud and clear voice that, without volunteers and the silent helpers of our community, we would be at a loss. The gifts, passion, experience and care of volunteers and VISTAs in Kalamazoo are the silent giants who give of themselves to help our community fulfill its Promise…. Thank you CIS for allowing me to be a VISTA with you and the kids of Kalamazoo!

And thank you, Lauren, for being one of those silent giants! We are grateful to have you, and the passion, wisdom, and experience you bring to benefit our children. Know a young person, a retired person, someone who is passionate about youth and may want to explore the possibility of being a VISTA with us? Share Lauren’s post with them.

Kalamazoo Takes Stock in Children

20131106-_DSC4389Twitter and Wall Street may have had Sir Patrick Stewart (he played Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation and has a twitter following of 729,766) to ring in its public debut on the New York Stock Exchange but CIS and the kids of Kalamazoo had an even more impressive lineup to ring in the public phase of its Promise Me campaign.

1. It was KPS Parent, Audrey Seilheimer, who helped us come up with the theme of Promise Me and served as creative consultant in the development of the Promise Me video featured on our campaign website. Audrey has recently been hired as Marketing and Fund Development Assistant for Girls on the Run. (You go, girl!)I can’t do any better than Yvonne Zipp of The Kalamazoo Gazette/mlive or Sonya Hollins of Community Voices in capturing the public launch and highlights of the Promise Me campaign. Nor can I strike so poignantly at the heart as to why CIS exists, as Mickey Ciokajlo did in his column that ran in Sunday’s Gazette.  (Be sure to read their pieces and check out the fabulous photos that accompany them—links below.) But, I can share with you a few behind the scenes facts:Brief, yet thoughtful remarks were made by: Promise Me Campaign Co-Chairs Carolyn H. Williams and Janice M. Brown, Kalamazoo Public Schools Superintendent Michael F. Rice, Western Michigan University President John Dunn, Kalamazoo Valley Community College President Marilyn Schlack, Kalamazoo College Provost Michael McDonald, CIS National President Dan Cardinali, (in town to serve as keynote speaker at the PromiseNet Conference), Kalamazoo Central High School student Dominique Edwards, El Sol Elementary student Juan Carrillo Betancourt, and KPS parent Meghan Wineka. (We thank each of you for your presence and lending your voice to the campaign. We are grateful for your support.)

20131106-_DSC41542. The music that played before and after the kickoff included the Promise Me song, an original piece written just for this campaign by our students. Our fabulously talented partner, Bangtown Productions, worked with a number of students, and, as part of their CIS after school programming, wrote and produced Promise Me. You can listen to the song here. (You kids rock! And so do you, Pharlon!)

3. With a goal of $4.5 million, Promise Me is almost half-way there and is seeking the support of the greater community in reaching it. Okay, so that’s not a behind the scenes fact anymore but it allows us the opportunity to thank those of you who have already made it your business to invest in CIS and the students of Kalamazoo. (Thank you!)

4. Missed the launch? You can catch the whole thing here thanks to CIS volunteer, Howard Tejchma. (Thank you, Howard!)

20131106-_DSC4159The many events of last week got me thinking about how and where we choose to put our hope in the future. When it comes to Twitter, investors believe that the company will figure out how to make a profit from its 200 million or so monthly active users. When it comes to the Promise Me campaign, investors believe that CIS and the students of Kalamazoo are a good and worthy investment. As our freshly minted mayor, Bobby Hopewell tweeted on November 6, “No better way to start my new journey as Mayor of the city of promise than to be at an event supporting our promises.”

We have gone public. And we need your support. If you think that it’s important for every child to graduate from high school on time, prepared for post-secondary education and employment, please give us your support. Already given to the campaign? Tweet about it. (Heck, why not tweet the link to this post to Sir Patrick Stewart. Maybe he or one of his many followers will be moved to give.) If you’re not a tweeter, that is fine. Talk about it. After you’ve donated, encourage your neighbors, friends, and family members to donate as well. Let them know you have given and encourage them to give to the campaign as well. CIS and the kids of Kalamazoo need you. Do it now. Promise?

 
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Media links:
MLive/Kalamazoo Gazette http://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2013/11/kalamazoos_communities_in_scho.html

http://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2013/11/communities_in_schools_launche.html

 

Community Voices

http://comvoicesonline.com/16396/education/cis-celebrates-campaign-results-changing-lives/

Wood TV 8

http://www.woodtv.com/news/local/kalamazoo-and-battle-creek/promise-me-campaign-aids-kzoo-students

WWMT Channel 3

http://www.wwmt.com/shared/news/features/top-stories/stories/wwmt_promise-me-advancement-initiative-begins-15375.shtml

CW7

http://www.cw7michigan.com/shared/news/features/top-stories/stories/wmmt_promise-me-advancement-initiative-begins-15375.shtml

WMUK

http://wmuk.org/webclip/kalamazoo-communities-schools-launches-capital-campaign