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

 

Leaders As Planters

At the 12th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, the Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council (VLAC) was honored with the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award, a recognition established last year by the Husain family to honor Gulnar’s long-time contributions to Communities In Schools and the community.

Gulnar immigrated from Pakistan in 1981 and for more than 38 years, she dedicated herself to volunteer work throughout the community of Kalamazoo.

The award recognizes a CIS volunteer who emulates Gulnar’s desire to serve children with a consistent and unflinching passion. [To learn more about Gulnar, read this post, “A Good Life.”]

Gulnar Husain and Principal Socha

Arcadia Elementary School Principal Greg Socha and CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator Nicky Aiello presented the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award, sponsored by the Gulnar Husain Legacy Fund.

Presenting the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award to VLAC at 2019 Champs

Principal Socha: I had the honor of working with Gulnar Husain for the last six of her 14 years with CIS. As the CIS Site Coordinator at Arcadia she worked persistently, quietly, often invisibly behind the scenes for children. So too does this team of 11 CIS volunteer leaders who make up the Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council.

Meeting monthly and working closely with the CIS Volunteer Services team advising CIS on such things as volunteer recruitment and retainment, this group of volunteers has helped transform the volunteer process. Because of their collective work, the on-boarding of new volunteers is smoother and new volunteers feel more supported throughout the entire process.

In addition to their advising role, the council members have taken on additional responsibilities such as mentoring new volunteers, assisting and leading volunteer orientations, shoring up recruitment efforts by representing CIS at various recruitment opportunities, and planning volunteer events.

Nicky: The 11 VLAC members are: Jeme Baker, Chartanay Bonner, Jashaun Bottoms, Pam Dalitz, Theresa Hazard, Moises Hernandez, Dedrenna Hoskins, Rollie Morse, Richard Phillips, Howard Tejchma, and Marti Terpstra.

They have taken up this advisory work while continuing to remain committed and passionate about their own volunteer work in various CIS sites throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools. Each of these individuals shares their gifts and time in a variety of ways. And each, in their role on the council is truly a leader. Among other things, these leaders are planters. As a collective, the Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council plants ideas and seeds of change. They help CIS serve children more effectively by helping to plant volunteers in the paths of our children. And then they help CIS figure out ways to nurture, grow, and sustain these volunteers.

Principal Socha: Gulnar Husain’s vision stretched beyond a lifetime. She was one of the best “people gardeners” I’ve known. Throughout the school day and often well into the evening she was busy planting seeds of hope, love, and justice. She would be delighted that you are receiving this special recognition.

Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council, thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Each volunteer received a flower pot handcrafted in Kalamazoo by Grayling Ceramics. Inscribed on the pot is a quote which reads: “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”

SALLY STEVENS: FIRST RECIPIENT OF GULNAR HUSAIN VOLUNTEER AWARD

From left: Arcadia Teacher Debora Gant, CIS Volunteer Sally Stevens, and CIS Board Member Carolyn H. Williams

 

At the 11th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Sally Stevens was honored with the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award, a new recognition established by the Husain family to honor Gulnar’s long-time contributions to Communities In Schools and the community.

Gulnar immigrated from Pakistan in 1981 and for more than 38 years, she dedicated herself to volunteer work throughout the community of Kalamazoo. The award recognizes a CIS volunteer who emulates Gulnar’s desire to serve children with a consistent and unflinching passion. [To learn more about Gulnar and to reflect on her, read this post, “A Good Life.”]

CIS Board Member Carolyn H. Williams presented the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award, sponsored by the Gulnar Husain Legacy Fund.

 

Gulnar Husain, in her 14 years with CIS, first as an AmeriCorps worker and then as CIS site

Gulnar Husain

coordinator at Arcadia Elementary School was not motivated by status or money or awards. She worked persistently, quietly, often invisibly behind the scenes for children. So it is fitting that Sally Stevens is the first recipient of the Gulnar Husain Annual Volunteer Award. She shares these same traits.

Sally is the invisible behind the visible. Quietly, without fanfare, she shows up each week for kids. When she retired from Borgess Hospital in 2013, Sally’s plan was to find volunteer work where she could give back and make a difference. And she has.

Visit any one the 20 CIS sites throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools and you won’t find her. You won’t see her in a classroom or in the hallways. She’s not in the cafeteria or on the playground. And yet, every day, because of her volunteer efforts, she touches the lives of students in all 20 CIS school sites.

Children want to do their job: be the best student they can be. But they need their basics covered so they can focus on learning. Sally is helping them do that by literally lifting up the generosity of this community. As many of you know, your donations to CIS Kids’ Closet help kids attend school every day with confidence and dignity, ready to learn. When students or school staff connect with the CIS Site Team at their school to meet a basic need, it is most likely Sally who has already inventoried the items CIS gives out. She has folded the sweatpants with love, organized the underwear by size, sorted socks, folded tops, gathered up the pencils, markers and crayons, and backpacks and boots, preparing them for the schools.

“Sally can organize the heck out of anything,” says John Brandon, who, as CIS partner services coordinator, oversees Kids’ Closet. “Sally,” he says, is “an incredibly hard worker, extremely efficient, and jumps in every way she can to help.” Take, for example, November 2016. When the tiny closet in the basement of the CIS/Kalamazoo Promise office building was bursting with your donations, Kalamazoo Public Schools graciously accommodated our need for more space, providing a classroom-size, walk-in closet at their building on Westnedge. Sally—who also volunteers with the Oakwood Neighborhood Association, Warm Kids, and the Bronson Park Food Pantry—bumped up her four hours a week to over seven, to get Kids’ Closet settled and up for operation. At the start of school and over holidays—when larger quantities of donations come flooding in—Sally increases her hours to meet the demand.

With Sally’s help, we’ve been able to serve children better by expanding operations at Kids’ Closet, increasing both the donations coming in and items going out to the schools.

Gulnar Husain was a prolific user of Kids’ Closet, a fact her Arcadia Principal Greg Socha could attest to. We know Gulnar would be so thrilled that you, Sally, are the first to receive this special recognition.

Sally Stevens, thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Here’s the blessing bowl Sally received. The lip of it is rimmed with words Gulnar often said and believed: “Being able to serve others, especially children, is a blessing.”

Keep up with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. You can learn more about Sally in the weeks to come. We popped one of our quizzes on her!   

 

Gulnar Husain: A Good Life

When I think of Gulnar, I think of someone who hears a problem from a child or a teacher and immediately responds with, ‘Well, let’s see how we can fix this.’ Never a list of reasons why we can’t.”                                                     -Dr. Timothy Light, CIS Board member

 

On January 1, 2018, Kalamazoo lost a giant: Gulnar Husain. Pancreatic cancer may have taken her from us, but she has left a tremendous legacy.

Gulnar Husain worked tirelessly to unleash her fellow citizen’s own potential, encouraging others to share their gifts and talents to strengthen this community she loved. Gulnar immigrated from Pakistan in 1981 and for over 35 years, gave joyously of her time to numerous Kalamazoo entities, such as Kalamazoo Interfaith Coalition for Peace and Justice, Kalamazoo Islamic Center, Michigan Festival of Sacred Music, Western Michigan University, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS), AmeriCorps Volunteers In Service to America (VISTA), Kalamazoo Public Schools, Portage Public Schools, ISAAC, St. Augustine School, Kalamazoo Non-Violent Opponents of War, Kalamazoo County Summit on Racism, Michigan Interfaith Coalition for Peace, Kalamazoo Lend a Hand, and Fetzer Institute’s Gardens of Many Faiths. The list goes on.

For over 14 years, Gulnar worked with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS). She first served as an AmeriCorps worker and then as an AmeriCorps VISTA at both Arcadia Elementary School and King-Westwood Elementary. In the last decade of her career she was the CIS Site Coordinator at Arcadia. During that time she worked ceaselessly to surround a diverse population of students with whatever it takes so they could succeed in school, graduate and be prepared for life. For Gulnar, doing whatever it takes meant coordinating and supporting more than 30 volunteers in a given school year, as well as a host of community partners to provide in-class tutoring, mentoring, counseling, music therapy, food packs, “Literacy Buddies” (a twice a week after-school program funded through State Farm), dental clinic, vision assistance, CIS Kids’ Closet (distributing basics like clothing/hygiene items), First Day Shoe Fund, Warm Kids-Winter Gear, Friendship Circle, Lunch & Learn, Math Club, Higher Thinking Club, Girls on the Run, the Recycle Project, and more.

While it’s impossible to fully capture Gulnar’s contributions to our kids and our community we want to honor her memory by providing a few photos, quotes, and links to stories (with more photos) about her, here, in one place…

Here she is back in her AmeriCorps days (2002):

Alice Gordon, on left, with Gulnar.

Gulnar worked closely with her principal, Greg Socha, and cherished his wisdom and support. Despite the daily demands principals have, she knew she could count on him to help identify and prioritize school needs, share what types of partnerships were necessary to meet the needs. Here’s what Principal Socha has said about Gulnar:

Gulnar Husain has been described as the ‘heart’ of Arcadia. Through her years of CIS service to the students and staff at Arcadia, Gulnar provided clothing, food, counseling, mentoring, tutoring and lunch-and-learn programs for students. For the staff, Gulnar offered guidance, a quiet persistence of providing needed services to students, and education on the multi-cultural needs of our families. But her world did not end at Arcadia. Gulnar promoted the Literacy Buddies program at Arcadia and Kalamazoo Central High School, matching high school students with elementary students to enhance the reading and writing of both parties. When the KPS Immigrant Program needed tutors after school, Gulnar provided her expertise and time to help students improve their English and complete their homework. Through her work with CIS, Gulnar made Arcadia a national award- winning school.”

“Still, that was not enough for Gulnar. Despite an acknowledged frustration with technology, she often provided articles and websites for staff members that promoted literacy, learning, and tolerance. She completed scholarship information to help her students expand their experiences. Her community involvement with interfaith organizations often placed her on the podium to speak of inclusion, and caring, and providing services for others in our community. All of this was completed in her humble way – quiet, but persistent.”                                

Gulnar with Arcadia Recyling Team
Gulnar checking in with student during a “lunch and learn” poetry workshop.

Gulnar believed in the five CIS basics, especially that all students deserve a one-on-one relationship with a caring adult. She felt such joy seeing volunteers in action with students, offering encouragement, academic support, and hope. Pam Kingery, CIS Executive Director, once noted, “In her role as CIS Site Coordinator at Arcadia, Gulnar has accomplished so much because she understands and values the role volunteers play in student success. Wearing that hat of ‘volunteer’ herself over many years and in a variety of settings, she knows the power of volunteers. That’s why she’s invested countless hours into supporting numerous volunteers throughout the years–she understands the potential return on that investment.”

Here’s Gulnar with just a few of the many volunteers she worked with over the years.

With Dianne Roberts.
With Mohammed Mohammed.
With Cindy Kesterke and Lenny Williams.

You can find a photo of her with Howard Tejchma in the 2016 CIS newsletter themed “Why Boys?” on page 6. Just go here.

Gulnar loved seeing students succeed. Here’s a link to Lenny’s success story, “Finding His Voice.”  And here’s the link to Lacey’s story.

Gulnar with Lacey Weston.

Gulnar was part of the Kalamazoo delegation that went to Charlotte, North Carolina when Kalamazoo was one of four communities from across the country honored as a community of excellence in 2013. Gulnar also received national recognition for her work within Arcadia Elementary School and joined the ranks of only a handful throughout the country to receive an Honorable Mention for the prestigious Unsung Hero Award. We blogged about it here, “Gulnar Husain: No Longer Unsung”. And Julie Mack covered it in a Kalamazoo Gazette/MLive article here.

When Arcadia Elementary School was one of just four sites across America honored in the school category by the national Communities In Schools’ network at the 2015 Unsung Heroes Awards in New Orleans, LA, Gulnar was there. Here she is with the Kalamazoo contingent, along with Bill Milliken, Founder and Vice Chairman of Communities In Schools, Inc. (left) and Dan Cardinali, then President of Communities In Schools, Inc. (third from right at back):

Gulnar with (from left): Greg Socha, Pam Kingery, Carolyn A. Williams, and Dan Cardinali

We blogged about all this in the post, “Singing Loudly and Proudly of Unsung Heroes.”  National CIS also wrote about it in this article, “Overcoming Cultural and Language Barriers.”  Before Gulnar left New Orleans, she took in some of the sites.

Gulnar with (from left): Mary Oudsema, Jennifer Clark, Pam Kingery, Elyse Brey, and Dominique Edwards.

An interview with Gulnar, along with a copy of the City of Kalamazoo’s Welcoming Proclamation (she helped to craft it, along with a rabbi, a United Methodist minister, and Kalamazoo’s vice mayor) is included in the anthology, Immigration & Justice For Our Neighbors. Released in April 2017, her interview begins, “Hospitality can be a radical act, particularly when one steps out of her comfort zone to indiscriminately welcome, accept, and love others. Gulnar Husain marches through her own fears and discomforts to welcome and connect with people from cultures and religions beyond her own…” Gulnar also appears in the essay, “Blueberries,” by Nicholas Baxter. More about the anthology project and where to find it here.

Here’s Gulnar, after receiving The Good Neighbor Award at the 2017 STAR Awards. She was recognized for her efforts in uniting people in the community who share different religions and backgrounds.

Gulnar with CIS Executive Director Pam Kingery.
Gulnar (second from right), surrounded by family and friends.

Shortly after being awarded the 2017 Good Neighbor Award, Gulnar was interviewed by Public Media Network‘s Pillars of the Community. You can watch it here.

If you go here to the “About Us” page on the CIS website, scroll down and click on the arrow. You can watch a really cool, three minute video about Arcadia Elementary School. Gulnar is featured in it.

In their January 2018 newsletter, ISAAC (Interfaith Strategy for Advocacy & Action in the Community) wrote about Gulnar and included some photos. Here’s that link.

Upon learning of Gulnar’s passing, Dan Cardinali, CEO of Independent Sector and former national president of Communities In Schools wrote this: I had the honor of meeting Gulnar a number of times and visiting with her and the children with whom she worked for so many years. Her gift of love and vision for peace were contagious. Her life is a powerful example what a good life can and should be. For me she taught me that we’re all called to live courageous lives of mercy in the face of violence, tolerance in the face of intolerance, hope in the face of despair, and love in the face of hate…”

Gulnar enjoying a moment with Dan Cardinali during his visit to Arcadia.

To honor Gulnar, her commitment to kids, and her special appreciation for volunteers and their impact on students’ success, her family has established the Gulnar Husain Legacy Fund at Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo.  Those wishing to make a gift to the Fund may donate online.  Checks may also be sent to CIS with a note in the Memo line indicating that the gift is for the Fund.

Gulnar with Principal Socha.