As 2017 comes to a close…

Thank you to all of you who have made a gift to Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo this year!  Your generous support is giving kids in our community the power of hope and the belief that they can succeed in school, graduate, and be prepared for life.

If you are planning a year-end gift to CIS, thank you!  We also want to make sure you know about some important dates to help ensure your gift can be credited to 2017.  Below are some general guidelines.  As always, you should check with your attorney or tax advisor for the most current and accurate information.

  • Checks should be dated and postmarked by December 31, 2017.  (Reminder:  December 31 is a Sunday this year.)
  • Credit card donations should be made online by 11:59 PM on December 31, 2017.
  • If you wish to drop off your gift, please note that the CIS office will be closed from Monday, December 25 – Monday, January 1, 2018.  We will re-open on Tuesday, January 2.

If your employer matches your donations, please be sure to send us any matching gift form to be completed.  You can check our website to see if your employer may offer this benefit.

If you have any questions or need help making your gift, please call (269) 337-1601, ext 205 for more information.

From all of us at CIS, we want to wish you and your family happy holidays. Thank you for investing in kids! 

2016-17 Gifts of Kindness Recognition

Thank you to the many individuals, groups, businesses, and other organizations who provided in-kind support to CIS and the students we served last school year, including donations of items to the CIS Kids’ Closet! These are in addition to those who made financial gifts, which can be found in our 2016-17 Annual Report.

Jennifer Alday
Karen Alston
Valerie Bader
Jeme Baker
Joan Baker
Ken Beadling
Tom Beech
Beth Brandon
Marilyn Breu
Yolanda Browning
Anna Castenada
Andy Clark
Keri Conant
Coco Cook
Jennifer Cook
James Corzine
Cathelia Cowles
Pam Dalitz
Mark Denenfeld
Steve and Marlene Denenfeld
Gina Dodge
Daphney L. Dotson
Emily Duguay
Micole Dyson
Carol Eaton
LaToya Elliott
Tim Fallon
John Farrell
Tonjia Hodgson
Sarah Hill
Carol Hustoles
Jennifer Jeudevine
Kendra Kasinger
Emily Kobza
Kevin Koch
Marcia Kolinske
Rebecca Kuesters
Lesley Lankerd
Kelly Leversee
Kate Littel
Andrea Lobel
Colleen Loc
Maureen Loughlin-Cartmill and Bill Cartmill
Sandie Lundquist
Savahna Mason
Erin Maxwell
Jenee McDaniel
Ward F. McDonough
Atiba McKissack
Mary Mero
Suzanne Middleton
Katherine Mills
Diana Morton-Thompson
Denise Nelsen
Vicki Nelson
Catherine Niessink
Jack Novotny
Jason Novotny
Jamie Ottusch
Erin E. Peruchietti
Nicole Pingel
Bev Pollard
Beth Polso
Gina Provinzino
Jennifer A. Rice
Frank Rocco
Pat Rothi
Dominic Schmidt-Brown
Sue Scott and Larry Fuerst
Dara Seamans
Kerry Seaver-Block
Martha Smith
Meredith Spicer
Sally J. Stevens
Camila Stewart
Stephanie Supp
Jennifer Swan
Harold Swift
Bonnie Terrentine
Melita Terrentine
Amy Terzino
Jen Theisen
Logan and J.B. Thomas
Noelle A. Todd
Jessica Waller
Elaine Willis
Lori Wingate
Tylina Zimmerman
Berkshire Hathaway
Borgess Professional Nurse Council
Breakfast Optimist Club of Kalamazoo
Bronco Express
Centerpoint Church
Coca Cola Bottling Co
Community of Christ Church
Edwards Garment
Fetzer Institute
First Day Shoe Fund
First United Methodist Church
Flynn, Thiel, Boutell, & Tanis, P.C.
Gale’s True Value Hardware
Global Clinical Connections
Heritage Christian Reformed Church
Hiemstra Optical
Honoré Salon
Junior League of Kalamazoo
Kalamazoo County Association of Retired School Personnel
Kalamazoo Deacons Conference
Kalamazoo Institute of Arts
Kalamazoo Public Library
Kalamazoo Public Schools
Kalamazoo Rotaract Club
Kalamazoo Strength and Conditioning
Kalamazoo Valley Habitat for Humanity
Kushner & Company
Miller Johnson
Mt. Zion Baptist Church
Northwest United Methodist Church
Oshtemo Area Churches
Old National Bank
Parkview Hills Community
Petals & Postings
Radiant Church
Helping Hands, Helping People – Senior Services
Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.
St. Catherine of Siena Church
St. Joseph Catholic Church
St. Michael’s Lutheran Church
Stryker Instruments- CXC
Stuart Neighborhood Association
The River Church
TRiO Future Educator Success Program
Two Men & a Truck
Westwood United Methodist Church
WMU Lee Honor’s College
Zion Lutheran

This list recognizes those who gave between July 1, 2016 – June 30, 2017. We make every effort to recognize our donors accurately. If we have omitted you or made a mistake in listing you, we need to know! Please accept our apologies for any oversights and contact us via phone at 269.337.1601 or email Emily Kobza at with the corrected information for future publications.

A Gift Of Warmth For Edison

Donna Carroll, Julie McDonald, Emily Kobza
Donna Carroll, Julie McDonald, Emily Kobza

Today’s lovely post is written by Donna Carroll, Director of Health Initiatives for CIS.

If Edison School looked like a department store last Friday it was not by chance. Over 250 volunteers from the Radiant Church in Richland magically transformed the school on Thursday evening, decorating hallways with giant icicles and candy canes, and transforming the gym into a store with racks filled with clothes, mirrors and tables. They weren’t setting up for a movie shoot, but for the Big Give Winter Fest, an enormously generous giveaway that would allow every Edison child to shop for a warm winter coat, hat, gloves and boots. The only thing missing was the cash register because this shopping experience was paid for by the over $70,000 in donations collected by the congregation at Radiant.

100_4384As individual classes lined up to shop they were entertained by Santa and his elves and could take turns hula hooping to burn off some of their excitement. As each student reached the store they were paired with a personal shopper who assisted them with their selections. Communities In Schools assistant site coordinator Christina Czuhajewski had laid some of the important ground work in the weeks before the event, contacting over 400 parents to fill out cards with the students’ sizes. So the shoppers were able to work from those cards and take the student to a rack filled with coats in the right size. All the student had to do was pick the style and color of his or her choice. Floor length mirrors gave students a chance to try on their coat and see if it was the right one. After the important coat selection had been made it was on to find matching hats, gloves and boots. When all selections were made they were put into large shopping bags for delivery to classrooms.

100_4336Radiant volunteers worked their holiday magic in other areas of the school as well. They provided pizza for students who were treated to holiday songs by a talented duo who got students to join in both words and actions to Rudolph, Frosty and other holiday favorites. Then it was on to the library where classes had hot chocolate and decorated cookies (which quickly disappeared), and then made reindeers from candy canes, pipe cleaners and other supplies. Each station was manned by Radiant volunteers, all wearing their light blue t-shirts and sunny smiles. As one volunteer said, “This is so much fun. Just seeing the smiles on the faces of the students makes it all worth while.”

“The school and teachers are so appreciative” said Principal Julie McDonald. “It’s such a generous gift to our students, to know that they will all have what they need for this cold weather.”



Monica (left) and Chelsea, just two of the over 200 volunteers from Radiant Church who worked hard to make the Big Give Winter Fest fabulous. Thank you, Radiant Church!
Monica (left) and Chelsea, just two of the over 200 volunteers from Radiant Church who worked hard to make the Big Give Winter Fest fabulous. Thank you, Radiant Church!



Count Thanks, Not Sheep

Kids SunsetWhen you find yourself having trouble falling asleep: count thanks. I tried it the other night and it worked. I drifted off somewhere around 124. It probably wasn’t a coincidence that I awakened the next morning feeling exceptionally refreshed and hopeful. In fact, researchers have found a connection between gratitude and a whole bunch of good stuff, like better health, improved relationships, and dealing with adversity. It helps to recognize that goodness is not just in us but all around us.

Two tips to keep in mind should you try this. One. When counting thanks, don’t critique your thoughts. There is no right or wrong, good or bad counting. When ordinary things like cinnamon flavored toothpicks, small brown stones, and dental floss come to mind, don’t shrink from their common-ness; just embrace it. Two. When you hit the 70 mark, don’t give up. This is when things will start to surprise you. People long forgotten may rise to the surface, like the crossing guard you haven’t seen since you were ten, but with a hello, a smile, and a stop sign, saw you safely across the intersection at Inkster and Westnedge.

Here, in no particular order, are just twelve of the things that I counted in my list of thanks:

1. For this moment.

2. For the Kalamazoo Public Schools that open their doors to all of our children. For the teachers, secretaries, janitors, principals, para-pros, administrators and bus drivers who tend our most precious resources: children.

3. Discovering “Starfish.” A poem by Eleanor Lerman, “Starfish” begins:

This is what life does. It lets you walk up to

the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a

stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have

your eggs, your coffee….

This poem not only spoke to my cruddy knees, it swept me away with the common voice of gratitude. You can read the whole thing here.

4. For that fourth grader who told me she was most thankful for having shelter.

5. For my cruddy knees that help me move through this world.

6. For the children among us who had no Thanksgiving meal.

7. For the big hearted among us, like TJ Duckett and his New World Flood and all the folks at Hands Up Project, who made lovely meals and memories possible for hundreds of children and their families this Thanksgiving.

8. For the mother who accepted the donated meal with sheer joy.

9. For the mother who accepted the donated meal with downcast eyes.

10. For students like Chris Boes whose steadfast pursuit of education brings to mind the quote, “Adversity does not build character. It reveals it.”

11. For partners like Western Michigan University who surround and celebrate students and make us proud to be a part of this community.

12. For efforts to reclaim this season and infuse it with true giving. #GivingTuesday(which is today!) does just that by generating conversations about ways to give more, give smarter, and put personal philanthropy back into the giving season.

Speaking of #GivingTuesday, Kalamazoo Fifth Third Bank branches celebrated by giving a generous donation of Thanksgiving food baskets, winter coats, clothing, and personal care items for our CIS Site Coordinators to distribute from Kids’ Closet.

Are you giving back in ways that matter to you? Have you taken a moment to support the Promise Me Campaign? Encouraged others to do so? What are you thankful for? Start counting

One Man’s Charitable Odyssey

100_4111-edit no tonyWe recently welcomed a most amazing and interesting person into our midst. Imagine making it your personal mission to seek out and perform a charitable act in every state throughout this country that you haven’t yet visited (37 to be exact). Sounds almost impossible but that is exactly what one man has set out to do. And here in Michigan, we were fortunate to have him touch down in Kalamazoo. He came bearing gifts and distributed much needed items out at Woods Lake Elementary School. But, we’ll let him tell you about his visit in his own words. The following post originally ran last week on his own blog site, 37people.

This week I continued my journey of giving, but it was just a short week with only two more states visited. Despite it being such a short week, I think that I am now starting to learn more about what this journey of giving really means to me and how it is changing the way I think about what I am doing. First I’ll tell you about MI (followed by IN), and you will see a common theme that was very evident this week (something I’m starting to hear more about lately, across various organizations). I will then talk about this common theme in a bit more depth (I’ll start explaining it in this MI post and finish it in my IN post) and what it has started me thinking about for the future.

On Monday I had the sincere pleasure of visiting the Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) in Kalamazoo, MI. I don’t think I could do a better job of explaining what CIS does than what they have on their site, so let me start with that:

Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) brings together the support of hundreds of volunteers and local organizations to meet student needs at school–before, during, or after class–so that outside problems interfere less with learning and plans to stay in school and graduate on time.

100_4096-edit (600x800)CIS works within the Kalamazoo Public Schools system, determining school and student needs and establishing relationships with local businesses, social service agencies, health care providers, and parent and volunteer organizations to provide needed resources to students.  Whether it’s tutoring in math, a pair of eyeglasses, a new pair of socks, a backpack full of food for the weekend, or a safe place to hang out after school, when these needs are met, students can concentrate on learning.

One of the after school programs CIS coordinates is called Kids in Tune (KIT), and I was able to visit their KKIT program being run at a local school.  KKIT is “a partnership between Kalamazoo Public Schools, Communities In Schools, and the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra” and I was able to provide some needed supplies for this program: five cello and five violin bows (these are one of the items that frequently need repair or replacement); 10 Suzuki cello and 10 Suzuki violin CDs (every student who learns to play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on their cello or violin has a special graduation ceremony and receives their own copy of the CD to take home and listen to); and 37 song flutes (used by the 1st grade students as they learn the musical basics prior to starting on the traditional orchestral instruments).

Let me briefly explain why I did not stop smiling during my entire visit.  I was first taken to one of their special graduation ceremonies where a 3rd grade girl, who only picked up a cello in June, was about to play an advanced version of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in order to graduate to the next level.  And to top it all off, she was playing in front of an audience with a guest from NJ (talk about added pressure!). Well she did a fantastic job and put on an amazing performance. At the end of her performance, when her instructor notified her that she had graduated, I was given the honor of presenting her with a Suzuki cello CD :-)

My next stop was to a class learning the violin, also made up of very young children. I arrived towards the end of their lesson where I was then treated to a very special performance. I cannot begin to explain how impressed I was at not only the way they played, but also how well they were being taught too. It was clearly evident on their little faces how much they were enjoying the experience.

100_4107I have actually jumped ahead a bit, so let me take a step back while at the same time summarizing my thoughts about this day.  Before going to the school, I spent some time talking to the amazing people who work at and run CIS at their office. What they do (as I quoted above), and the model that they have employed to do this is something that really resonated with me. It is such a simple but powerful concept – bring what the students need right to them by partnering with the right groups and people.  And it’s so much more than just music of course (but I’m super happy music is a part of it!). I asked CIS about some of the positive benefits they have seen as a result of this model. One thing they have found is that attendance at school is up with students being much more interested and engaged in school, which of course makes perfect sense. But let me talk about something else.  Earlier I mentioned a common theme for this week. I found the following talking about KIT:

It is a powerful change that overflows into the children’s home environment.  As one mother tells us, “My daughter may be learning music but she’s also learning so much more. Like how to express her feelings better. I’ve noticed that, because of Kids in Tune, we communicate better as a family.”

I think there are enough articles out there extolling the benefits of a strong family, and strong family participation in education, that has a direct correlation with student success and graduation rates. To me, this is the real strength of this truly wonderful program and the people who run it. Not only are they bringing positive change to the lives of these students, but they are also positively impacting their families. This is something I will come back to in my IN post.

But I do want to mention one last thing. I was told about The Kalamazoo Promise®, and once I explain it I think it will perfectly tie all of this together. In 2005 a group of anonymous donors pledged tens of millions of dollars to pay up to 100% of the tuition to a Michigan college or university for any Kalamazoo public high school graduate! And therein lies the challenge for Kalamazoo – getting their students to graduate and be accepted for post-secondary education. This is exactly why an organization like CIS is so valuable to the Kalamazoo community.

Check out his blog, 37people, to see where else his journey is taking him.

Ping Pong Wisdom On Giving

Ping-Pong-WisdomToday’s post is by guest blogger, Sandy Barry-Loken (yes, the Sandy Barry-Loken who is Director of Greater Kalamazoo Girls on the Run). Sandy shares a family tradition that could easily become a tradition you may want to establish with your family.

It’s December 26th and Nana has gathered her six grandchildren around the ping pong table.  Ages 13, 11, 10, 9, 6, and 6, every kid gathers round and anticipation fills the air.  These kids know they are not about to play a single game of ping pong – they are about to help change the world.

Their Nana, Marilyn Loken, was taught early on by her father, a medical doctor, and her mother who assisted him, that giving back and serving others is not only necessary, but a responsibility.  This is a value that she is committed to passing on to her grandchildren.

Starting eight years ago, Loken had an idea to involve her grandchildren in her annual year-end giving.  So, every year, after the gifts are open and dinner has been served, another tradition ensues at the Loken household. These kids help give Nana and Poppa’s money away to causes they believe in – and this year, they believed inCommunities In Schools of Kalamazoo.

This is how it works. The kids gather and Nana rounds the table giving the four older kids $100 in play money in a variety of bills – twenties, tens, and fives. The two six-year olds each are given a total of $50. Then, Nana asks the all-important question, “What organizations do you want to help this year?” Suddenly, a kid-friendly brainstorming session begins.

Hands go up in the air. The youngest ones bounce in their places. With grandparents and parents who volunteer and include a nurse, a police officer and the director of non-profit organization, the six Loken kids have no trouble making a list of causes they want to get behind. While the kids call out organizations and explain why they want to help them, Nana writes down their suggestions on small slips of paper and begins to spread them around the table. This is fun, but every grandkid knows the best part is yet to come. They know it won’t be long before they get to walk around the perimeter of the table and place their dollar bills on the causes that mean the most to them. They can place all of their money on one, or spread it out amongst several.

It’s no surprise that the furry friends of the world have benefited greatly through the years – these are kids, after all.  Not only have Paws With a Cause, and Loken’s son’s  K-9 unit made the list, but Heifer International has been a favorite as well.  The little ones scurry around the edge and think of the milk that will serve a village when they give $10 to help buy a goat or a sheep for a community.

As the kids are getting older, they are paying attention to stories they hear about—the many people who do not have a roof over their head, or enough food for their table. So this year, organizations like Mecosta County Habitat for Humanity, where Marilyn Loken is a member of their board of directors, also benefited.

Choosing-where-to-give-150x150There was one other organization this year that tugged on the heart strings of all of the kids – Communities In Schools. Nicholas, 13, the oldest of the kids, made the nomination. He remembered his mom coming home from work one day and telling the story of two brothers at an elementary school who were sharing a single coat through the winter – until a CIS site coordinator learned of the need and presented each with his own. The Lokens had also heard about the students -who cannot wait for Friday.  While the Loken kids know that for them, Friday means a break from the busy school week, they were moved to learn there are other students in Kalamazoo Public Schools who anxiously await  Friday because that is when their CIS site coordinator presents them with a Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes backpack full of food to get them through their weekend.  It was sad for them to learn that kids in their communities don’t get enough to eat. But they now realize, thanks to Communities In Schools, more kids are getting the help they need when school is not in session to provide them with their basic meals.

And so, when Nana’s $500 was carefully distributed around the room among five different organizations, Communities In Schools was the recipient of $140 of these dollars, and the Loken grandkids knew they were making the world a better place.  And Nana knew, so was she.