Conversation with Julie Davis

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 Julie Davis. As we’re on the heels of Administrative Professionals Day and on the cusp of our 12th Annual Champs event, we thought it would be fun to meet up with this former KPS secretary and Champ (once a Champ, always a Champ as we say at CIS) of ten years ago and see what she’s up to these days.

“The sound of men playing horseshoes was part of the soundtrack of my childhood,” Julie Davis says, recalling her “idyllic years” spent growing up in the farming community of East Lynn, Illinois. She smiles as she recounts formative years spent driving tractors and “helping” with baling hay. “And I was watching—without knowing I was watching—equipment break down and seeing someone use some random thing that had been laying on the ground to make it work.”

Without realizing it at the time, Julie was learning to make do with whatever tools you have—or don’t have—in any given situation. Her knack for making things work—no matter what life throws at her—has served her well, both in her personal and professional life. As a single parent, she raised two beautiful daughters, Jodie and Abby, and happily watched as they got degrees from University of Michigan and Syracuse University, respectively. Throughout her 33-year career as a school secretary for Kalamazoo Public Schools Julie made things work on a daily basis; eight years at Loy Norrix High School and then 25 years at Arcadia Elementary School.

Julie retired in June of 2017. Three months later she was diagnosed with two different kinds of cancer, one in each breast. She underwent two different kinds of treatment and is doing fabulous now (as you’ll see, she did fabulous even then). She enjoys traveling often to Washington, D.C. to play with her two grandchildren, Sam, seven, and Norah, four.

We almost didn’t meet up with Julie at Anna’s House. In fact, we walked right by her. While her trademark shoulder-length blond hair has been replaced by short, white hair, her smile, joyous spirit, and laughter haven’t changed a bit.

Alright, Julie Davis: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

Pop Quiz

It’s so different to see you sitting and just relaxing. In your role as secretary at Arcadia Elementary School you were always non-stop.

I loved every second of every day! I have so many fond and funny memories of working at Arcadia. And so many stories!

Will you tell us a story?

Sure. I’ve got thousands of them!

There was this first grader who zipped his neck into his coat. Thankfully, it was a plastic zipper. I told him, “I’m going to get this unstuck for you but it’s going to hurt. But I’ll do it really fast.” He gave me the okay and I grabbed a bit of his neck and the coat and we did it. And off he went. We were best friends after that. I still remember his name. Eric.

And here’s another story. A third grader wanted me to pull her tooth out. This was in the 90s. ‘It’s not ready, honey,’ I told her, but she wanted that thing out. She was adamant and wouldn’t go back to class until I pulled it. I know anticipation can drive kids crazy. So I put on a rubber glove, pinched as hard as I could and out came the tooth. It made that cracking sound when it came out, the kind of sound that says it wasn’t quite ready to come out! The next day, I received a percentage of what the tooth fairy brought her—a dime and three pennies.

And then there was a time….

Here’s a 2002 award Julie received from appreciative parents for “going beyond the call of doody.” Let’s just say it involved helping with a search effort per doctor’s orders. Julie found the quarter.

Okay, bear with me. It’s going to take a minute, but there is a question at the end of this.

Okay.

You received a Champ award back in 2009. Gulnar [Husain, who served as CIS Site Coordinator at Arcadia at that time] rightly described you as kind and compassionate. She wrote: “Her patience has no limits…when all the phone lines are ringing simultaneously, a deadline for a report has to be met, a sick child has to be taken care of, a dose of medicine, ice pack, or band aid has to be given to a student, visitors have to be greeted, or a teacher’s question has to be answered, Julie is there to take care of everyone’s needs. It would be understandable if she lost her cool, but she doesn’t! She remains calm and composed and has the uncanny ability to keep everything under control.” So, what’s your secret?

I think it’s not really even a secret. I’m just thankful I was in a job that I was designed to do. If only everybody could be in that position! That is a wish of mine. That everyone could get up, brush their teeth, go out and behave as themselves, and accomplish something for others at the same time. I was designed for my job. I loved my job. I was just out there being myself and it seemed to work for everybody. [She laughs.]

CIS partners would often comment how you always made them feel at home. I won’t ask you what your secret is, but how do you do that, make people feel at home?

I think, by nature, I’m relaxed most of the time. However, at a fairly young age, about 14, I learned that if you act at ease, it puts others at ease. Having learned to be relaxed in any situation has served me well throughout my life, including my time at Arcadia, especially with regard to the daily interactions I enjoyed with families whose language I could not speak.

As you know, Arcadia is a wonderfully diverse school. I’m so thankful I got to be with people of diverse cultures because getting to know these families changed my life. It changed me for the better. When you are relaxed, it opens you up. Because I was relaxed I could embrace and feel those differences. I loved how those differences moved within me—and moved me.

I grew up in a farming community where the only diversity was the age of the farmer. To have the chance to meet people from other countries and cultures was so enlightening. How I grew! That is something I miss, not having an opportunity to be in regular contact with these enriching relationships.

From your perspective as a former secretary, what was it like to have CIS in your building?

I can’t separate what CIS does from the people. People like Gulnar, of course, who was CIS. I think of Gulnar, and even before and after Gulnar—of the character you need to have to be really committed to the CIS mission. The CIS people worked with students who had needs. Their time and energy spilled over to everybody, not just those on a “list.”

Everyone I know whose been involved with CIS has fit. They’ve shown a commitment and dedication to children and their families, and that stood out to me. I’ve seen that commitment in those who didn’t have to be there, such as the college students volunteering through CIS. When I was their age, I couldn’t imagine being committed to something other than trying to get through my classes. These young people could have been home and enjoyed spring break, but instead they wanted to stay and work with kids. I loved seeing that kind of dedication in the CIS staff and all the volunteers and partners. They were in school with us wanting to do this because of their love for children and watching them succeed.

What have you found to be the most surprising about retirement?

I’m really good at being lazy. I was so busy every day at Arcadia; who knew that lazy would work for me so well! So lazy is what I’m doing at the moment.

Do you have a pet peeve?

Oh, yea! Tailgaters. And let me tell you, pet peeve isn’t the word for it. Because I wouldn’t say to a pet what I would say to a tailgater.

What are you curious about?

[Starts laughing.] I’m curious about thousands of things, but a funny one, just sprang to mind. I was working at Loy Norrix. This was before cell phones. I had to be there at seven. And there was a girl at the payphone every morning. Back then, Loy Norrix had a phonebooth inside the building, in the hall just down from the office area where I worked. I was always curious about who she was calling.

Maybe your curiosity can finally be satisfied. Maybe there is someone reading this right now who knows something!

Wouldn’t that be something? Let’s see, it would have been between 1984 and 1992 that this happened, practically every day during the school year.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

[Laughing.] I’ve learned that after a certain age you can come across something that is really interesting, something that you didn’t know, and a few day later, somebody asks you, “What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?” and you can’t recall what it is. I’ve learned lots of interesting things since I’ve retired, but can’t recall one of them now!

Can we talk some about your experience with cancer?

Sure. I’m open about it. You know, when I received the diagnosis, the first thing out of mouth was, “Lord, I’m pretty sure you’re going to get some glory out of this somehow.” I tell you, when you have peace and joy, life is good. It doesn’t matter what comes your way. With faith, you can say, “Well, this is unexpected” and you move forward.

I was going to ask, “How and in what ways did the cancer diagnosis change your perspective?” But it sounds like this experience hasn’t changed your outlook on life in any way.

My outlook has remained the same. It didn’t rock my faith foundation. I thought, “Okay, so I have cancer. That’s what’s happening now.” I knew God was going to walk me through it. The biggest challenge came with handling the side effects of some chemicals and that gave me insight into other people’s experiences and I’m thankful for that empathy.

What are you currently reading?

I’m reading my Bible in the book of Acts. I’ve read it a billion times, but now, suddenly going through it this time, it’s like oh, my gosh! I’m relating to what the first Christians experienced… We come at it knowing how it ended. When you know the ending, you don’t get all anxious. But they didn’t know the ending.

Although I’m reading the Bible exclusively right now, I really enjoy reading a variety of genres. I think my all-time favorite is Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee.

What is your favorite word right now?

Since you want just one word, it would be content. If you wanted to know why I’m content, that would take lots and lots of words.

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

My parents, George and Helen.

Here’s one story about them. Everybody that crossed their path was drawn to them. They married in 1933 and lived in a little house in the country…Dad had a job with A&P in their warehouse, He went to work one day and the owner pulled him and the one other employee, Joe, aside and said, “I have to cut you both back to half time.”

Dad came home that evening and told my mom, who was pregnant at the time, that he lost his job. He had given his half to Joe so he could have full-time work. How he explained it to her: “Joe has two kids. We have a cow, chickens, and a garden so I feel we’ll be okay.”

That’s who they were. That story is as much about my mother. They just both shook it off, said okay, and went on.

Sounds a lot like you!

[Julie laughs.]

Thank you, Julie Davis, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

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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.

Anthology lifts up the voice of children

Have you read the new anthology, Immigration and Justice For Our Neighbors? If not, you may want to add it to your summer reading list. Published by Celery City Books, the anthology includes the work of a number of Kalamazoo Public School students from Arcadia Elementary School. Poems by Reem Ahmed, Nour Abdullah, Hala Alhasan, Nada Alhasnawi, Faris Bukhader, Nabaa Eyddan, Lisbet Lopez, Taema Qwam-Alden, Roziya Rustamova, Abdullah Tayara, and Ritika Verma are woven throughout the anthology. These fourth and fifth graders are published alongside prominent poets and writers from Michigan and beyond.

If you want to read a book on immigration policy, then this isn’t the book for you. However, if you are a neighbor, have a neighbor, or are interested in exploring the theme of immigration and what kids have to say about it, this 116 page anthology is for you.

Scott Matteson designed the book’s eye-catching cover which bears the Statue of Liberty draped in flags of different countries. Photo by Jessica Grant.

Here are nine things you may not know about this anthology project:

What readers are saying.

CIS friend and community advocate Deborah Droppers says, “I applaud the anthology of essays and poems found in Immigration and Justice For Our Neighbors. The anthology uses the written word to encourage thoughtful discourse on the challenges that each of our communities face while celebrating the amazing things that happen organically when people believe in the power of conversation between neighbors that are close and beyond our picket fences.”

Retired KPS teacher Carol Hodges says this: “Opening this anthology in the middle, I find a child’s poetic love letter to the country of Iraq juxtaposed against the complex musings of an American man teaching English to Arabs in the Mideast. Then there is the story of a Nigerian woman named Rejoice who fears being deported. How different is her modern-day experience from the 1919 steerage voyage of the young British woman leaving shame and servitude behind?This volume is thin but it is far from an easy read. You’ll need time to ponder.”

The people behind the pages.

Were it not for the support of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo and the Kalamazoo Public Schools, the children’s voices might not have been heard. A shout out to Arcadia Elementary School teachers Debora Gant, Holly Bishop, Erin Young, and Donna Judd for the opportunity to work with such wonderful students. Also, Donia Ali and Grace Gheen are two shining stars at Arcadia who are part of the fabulous Kalamazoo Public Schools Bilingual/English as a Second Language (ESL) Program. They were instrumental to the success of this project in so many ways.

It’s in the bag.

KPL’s Book Club in a Bag

The anthology is now part of Kalamazoo Public Library’s impressive list of books available as a Book Club in a Bag. Karen Trout, Reading Together coordinator for the Kalamazoo Public Library says, “KPL’s 2016 social justice resolution includes the statement: KPL values compassion and champions everyone’s right to be welcome in a safe environment in the library and in the wider community. Adding this title to our Book Club in a Bag collection–and encouraging local dialogue about the issue of immigration–is a perfect way to put this institutional commitment into action.” Book Club in a Bag is open to all Kalamazoo Public Library district resident cardholders.

 

Student voices reaching beyond Kalamazoo.

In Grand Rapids, the celebrated Iraqi-American poet Dunya Mikhail read and discussed excerpts from the “Dear Iraq” poems written by Arcadia poets at “I, Too, Am Michigan,” part of the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters “Writers Squared series.”

At a reading at the stunning sculpture gardens of Roan and Black in Saugatuck, award-winning Michigan poet Jack Ridl talked about the project and helped the voices of the children reach an even wider audience. Ridl contributed three of his own poems to the anthology.

Jack Ridl talks about anthology at Roan and Black.

Students got a lot out of this anthology project.

The Arcadia fourth and fifth graders wrote poems, some for the first time. Their work was published and they have had opportunities to read their work to others, at home, school, on the Kalamazoo College campus, and at Bookbug. They’ve read alongside well-known Michigan poets and writers like Buddy Hannah, Elizabeth Kerlikowske, Hedy Habra, Lynn Pattison, Kit Almy, Phillip Sterling, Marion Boyer, and Alison Swan. They’ve even been approached by audience members asking the students to autograph their copy of the anthology and have graciously done so. (Kudos to Arcadia Principal Greg Socha for all his support of this project, including his wise suggestion of giving students the opportunity to practice their signatures in advance of readings!)

Arcadia students with former CIS AmeriCorps VISTA Nick Baxter getting ready to read.

Student are giving back to the community.

One can’t help but think that the students have given more than they have received. Like the other contributors, the children donated their work and all proceeds benefit Justice For Our Neighbors in Kalamazoo, a legal clinic for immigrants.

Also, their words make grown ups think! As one reader said, “I know immigration has been a hot topic but it didn’t really hit home until I read the children’s ‘Dear Country’ poems.”  Similar sentiments have been shared by other readers. A reader who attended the June Bookbug event said, “I’m humbled by the bravery of these children. I can’t imagine the courage it takes to read before a group of people, let alone leave one’s country and then read so beautifully in a brand new language. How many of us could do that? I don’t know if I could!” 

CIS connections.

Nick reads an excerpt from his essay.

In addition to the students’ poems, CIS friends will be pleased to discover an interview with former CIS site coordinator Gulnar Husain. Also, Nicholas “Nick” Baxter, a former Americorps VISTA worker with CIS, contributes a lovely essay entitled “Blueberries.”

Jennifer Clark, co-editor of the anthology, works on special projects and initiatives for CIS and worked with the students on this anthology project as a CIS volunteer, offering workshops at Arcadia Elementary School. She can’t sing the praises enough of the CIS staff at Arcadia. Thanks to Caitlin Bales and Rachel DeNooyer for all their support! CIS volunteer Cindy Hadley also worked behind the scenes, escorting students to and from the poetry workshops. Go, Cindy!

 

 

A second printing.

Less than two months after the young poets read their poems before a crowd of over 125 people who turned out to celebrate the April 19th release of Immigration & Justice For Our Neighbors at the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership, the anthology sold out of its first 400 copies and went into a second printing.

Miriam Downey, co-editor of Immigration & Justice For Our Neighbors, welcomes everyone to the anthology launch.

Where to get the book.

In addition to finding the anthology at local libraries, it is available at the following locations:

Bookbug (3019 Oakland Drive in Oakwood Plaza at Oakland Dr. & Whites Rd.)

Michigan News Agency (308 W. Michigan Avenue in downtown Kalamazoo)

Kazoo Books (2413 Parkview Avenue in Kalamazoo)

Tudor House Tea & Spice (352 S. Kalamazoo Mall in downtown Kalamazoo)

First United Methodist Church (212 S. Park in downtown Kalamazoo across from Bronson Park)

-Books can also obtained by mail by completing an order form that can be downloaded here.

 

Happy summer reading! And if you haven’t had a chance to hear the students read, you can catch them reading their work here.

 

Singing Loudly And Proudly Of Unsung Heroes

2015-01-23 11.01.22
Kalamazoo at 2015 Unsung Heroes Awards in New Orleans, LA. Also pictured, Bill Milliken, Founder and Vice Chairman of Communities In Schools, Inc. (left) and Dan Cardinali, President of Communities In Schools, Inc. (third from right at back).

Question: What does Texas, Georgia, New Mexico, Kansas, and California have in common with Kalamazoo, Michigan?

Answer: They have CIS Site Coordinators and public schools who have just received the prestigious Unsung Heroes Awards.

The Unsung Heroes Awards annually honor CIS site coordinators, and schools and communities that partner with Communities In Schools to change the picture of education in America. CIS site coordinators work in more than 2,200 K-12 public schools serving 1.3 million young people and their families every year. Together, site coordinators, schools and communities keep kids in school, and this award recognizes those that are doing whatever it takes to eliminate barriers and never giving up, on anyone.

(From left) CIS Site Coordinator Martha Serio, CIS Director of Elementary Sites Elyse Brey, Spring Valley Center for Exploration Principal William Hawkins, KPS School Board President Patti Scholler-Barber.
(From left) CIS Site Coordinator Martha Serio, CIS Director of Elementary Sites Elyse Brey, Spring Valley Center for Exploration Principal William Hawkins, KPS School Board President Patti Scholler-Barber.

Last year, you may recall, Kalamazoo was one of four communities in the country given a “Community of Excellence” award by National CIS. This year, Kalamazoo won in two areas!

Martha Serio, CIS Site Coordinator at Spring Valley Center for Exploration for the past nine years, is one of five individuals to receive an Unsung Hero Award.

“I am truly honored, humbled and grateful to be receiving this award,” said Serio. “I love being a Site Coordinator for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. I am able to connect students with over 40 fabulous volunteers and community partners they need to succeed because of the support I receive from my Principal, Mr. William Hawkins and the Spring Valley teachers, staff, parents, and CIS staff. Here at Spring Valley, we are all a team.”Martha Serio, CIS Site Coordinator at Spring Valley Center for Exploration for the past nine years, is one of five individuals to receive an Unsung Hero Award.

Arcadia Elementary School, committed to the CIS model for more than 13 years, was one of four sites honored in the school category by the national Communities In Schools’ network. The award highlights successful implementation of the proven site coordinator model in a partner school.

(From left) CIS Site Coordinator Gulnar Husain, CIS Director of Elementary Sites Elyse Brey, Arcadia Principal Greg Socha, KPS School Board President Patti Scholler-Barber.
(From left) CIS Site Coordinator Gulnar Husain, CIS Director of Elementary Sites Elyse Brey, Arcadia Principal Greg Socha, KPS School Board President Patti Scholler-Barber.

“Arcadia Elementary School is a shining example of what can happen when we work together for kids. This award is shared by all of us—The Kalamazoo Public Schools, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, our volunteers, partners, and donors—all dedicated to meeting students’ needs,” said Pam Kingery executive director, CIS of Kalamazoo. “Along with the talented KPS teachers, staff, and administrators, we will continue working with the community to serve the students at Arcadia as well as students in the nineteen additional KPS schools that CIS is in.”  You can watch the Arcadia video by clicking here.

In addition, Dominique Edwards, a Kalamazoo Central High School graduate and former CIS Board member, attended the three-day CIS Leadership Town Hall and also made Kalamazoo proud—serving on the Mission Possible: Communities In Schools Alumni panel. Keep reading Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids and you’ll learn what she is up to. (We had a chance to pop our “pop quiz” on her as she waited in the New Orleans airport for her flight home.)

Checking In For Children At The Checkout Lane At Meijer

Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, has returned from Charlotte, North Carolina. She, along with a Kalamazoo delegation, joined the national CIS board for a reception to celebrate the 2013 Awards of Excellence recipients. Kalamazoo was one of four communities from across the country honored as a community of excellence. Pam wrote the below post a few days before she left. You can find out more about Kalamazoo’s award by clicking here to read Julie Mack’s Kalamazoo Gazette/MLive article.

Kalamazoo receives Communities of Excellence Award! (Pictured, from left) Founder & Vice Chairman of Communities In Schools Bill Milliken, Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell, Executive Director Emeritus at The Kalamazoo Promise® Dr. Janice M. Brown, CIS President Dan Cardinali, CIS of Kalamazoo Executive Director Pam Kingery, CIS of Kalamazoo Board President Carolyn H. Williams, and KPS Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice
Kalamazoo receives Communities of Excellence Award! (Pictured, from left) Founder & Vice Chairman of Communities In Schools Bill Milliken, Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell, Executive Director Emeritus at The Kalamazoo Promise® Dr. Janice M. Brown, CIS President Dan Cardinali, CIS of Kalamazoo Executive Director Pam Kingery, CIS of Kalamazoo Board President Carolyn H. Williams, and KPS Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice

On Sunday I did my usual run to Meijer for a few groceries and felt compelled to look at the children’s winter coats to see if they were marked down any more. The Communities In Schools Kids’ Closet still had need for some specific children’s sizes and as usual, we are trying to stretch our dollars as far as we possibly can. When I discovered that the coats and snow pants were marked down to between $11 and $15 per item, I couldn’t resist.

As I stood in the check-out line with a cart piled well over my head with my rainbow of boys and girls jackets and pants, a gentleman approached me with a rather mischievous grin, asking “Are those for all of your grandchildren?” I grinned back, explaining that probably if I had that many grandchildren, I’d be rather crazy. He got a bit more serious and said knowingly, “You are getting those for other kids who really need them, aren’t you?” I confessed that I couldn’t resist such bargains and also explained that I work for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, and that we provide all kinds of support for kids so that they can concentrate on doing well in school. I indicated that having a warm coat is one of the many ways we in the community can help.

He listened attentively for my entire explanation and with the kindest, most sincere look on his face, reached into his wallet and handed me $20 and said, “I want to help, too.”  Mr. Owens was his name. As he walked away, I could see a woman standing in line on the other side of me, looking my way with curiosity. She made almost the same inquiries as Mr. Owens, confirming that my piles of coats were going to be shared with children who really need them. Her name was Joan and she handed me $50 and she insisted, remarking that she has been fortunate herself, making it especially important to contribute.

image001And then there was Crystal, the Meijer’s check-out employee who helped me—with patience and kindness that seemed to border on joy. She too wanted to know about Communities In Schools and how CIS helps the community help kids. I think there may have been tears in her eyes as she handed me the next pile of coats she scanned to put in the extra cart she retrieved.  When I make these large purchases, the Crystals of the world can make things immensely easier. As I made my way to the door, keeping the two carts going in forward motion and making sure not to crash into the penny pony ride, the beeping started as I passed the security “gate.” Meijer’s greeter, Kathy, looked at the open piles of multi-colored puff on hangers rather quizzically. I reassured her with a smile that I was not trying to steal 43 children’s jackets as I dug in my purse for the receipt I had just neatly tucked away. She smiled back. We never did figure out why I continued to beep but Kathy, too, learned about Communities In Schools and added her sincere thanks and encouragement. When she added that she makes occasional donations at Spring Valley Center for Exploration, I sent those thanks right back at her.

Just another day in our Community of Excellence!

IMG_2103Do you, like Pam, have a moment where excellence—the generous, caring nature of this community—percolates through an ordinary, everyday activity? If so, we’d love to hear about it.

Gulnar Husain: No Longer Unsung

Gulnar Husain
Gulnar Husain

We are excited that CIS Site Coordinator Gulnar Husain has received national recognition for her work within Arcadia Elementary School. She joins the ranks of only a handful throughout this country to receive an Honorable Mention for the prestigious Unsung Hero Award. Today’s post features Gulnar and originally ran in Beyond the Classroom, the blog of national Communities In Schools.

Gulnar Husain could easily have the title of “Dispenser of Warmth and Kindness,” given the way she is described by her colleagues. She has been the site coordinator at Arcadia Elementary School in Kalamazoo, Mich., since 2007. Before taking on that role, she worked as an AmeriCorps volunteer, a VISTA volunteer and a paraprofessional at Arcadia and another school.

Arcadia Recyling Team with CIS Site Coordinator Gulnar Husain
Arcadia Recyling Team with CIS Site Coordinator Gulnar Husain

“Gulnar is one of those unique individuals who works tirelessly and patiently, connecting all the dots for each student—school, community, family—so that all an observer sees is the unbroken line, forming a perfect circle of support around the child,” said her supervisor Deb Faling, director of social and emotional health initiatives for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo.

Husain acknowledges that there are parts of the job she finds challenging, mostly the paperwork that can be complex at times. But all of that, she said, is nothing compared to “seeing the joy in a child’s eyes when he gets a new pair of boots or glasses or new clothes or a book, that is worth all of the effort and hours it took to be able to provide them.”

To see the children literally jumping for joy keeps this dedicated site coordinator in her office for as many hours as it takes to ensure that Arcadia’s students are attended to and nurtured. “I wear many hats but they all have to be piled on my head one on top of the other,” she laughed as she noted the importance of being a multi-tasker.

Gulnar and Principal Socha
Gulnar and Principal Socha

Arcadia’s principal, Greg Socha, observed, “Ms. Husain has a job to perform and a child to help. She quietly persists in her tasks.”

Having lived in the Kalamazoo community for 32 years, Husain uses her connections and friendships to support her students. Whether it’s something basic like donated clothing or bringing in volunteer mentors and tutors—or addressing larger needs like counseling or medical care, Husain finds a way to make it happen.

She is determined to provide a listening ear and open door throughout the day. “If a student shows up when I am in my office trying to meet a deadline, I set the deadline aside. If a teacher or administrator needs something, I take care of it. And when a parent comes to me, I do not put them off either.”

Gulnar Husain (left) with Lauren Knibbs, CIS intern through WMU School of Social Work
Gulnar Husain (left) with Lauren Knibbs, CIS intern through WMU School of Social Work

She enjoys watching her persistence and presence pay off as it did when a child needed counseling. She didn’t have a counselor on call, but she asked her director, who connected her to a counselor from Family & Children Services, who then sent someone to meet with the child and the mother in the school. “The child loved the counselor and so did the mom. At the end of the year, the mother came in with flowers and lunch for the counselor and asked me to take pictures of the three of them.”

A Parent Reflects on Key to Daughter’s Success

20131017-_DSC3900As a parent of a Kalamazoo Public School student, Mr. Weston couldn’t be prouder of his ten year old daughter Lacey. “I am so proud of her accomplishments and good grades. She works hard for them.”

A fifth grader at Arcadia Elementary School, Lacey became involved with CIS when, as a first grader she was struggling in reading and math. Mr. Weston noticed that, when it came to doing homework, “she would struggle and just give up. There was a point she wouldn’t even do it. As a parent, it’s hard to see your child go through that.”

Lacey’s involvement with CIS changed all that. “The Literacy Buddies program benefited her,” says Mr. Weston. “It increased her academic abilities but she has confidence in herself now. She is perfectly content to be herself. CIS made her proud to be her. Lacey really enjoys being a part of the programming she has experienced through CIS. I would love for her to stay involved with it as she grows. Maybe should could even be a literacy buddy herself when she is older. Tutor and give back, you know?”

“My daughter still struggles,” points out Mr. Weston. “Even now, I can see the frustration in her face at times when she’s trying to work on homework, but she keeps plugging away. That’s a credit to my daughter and CIS and the programs she has been supported by at Arcadia. But what is different now is that she pushes herself. I don’t try and deter her from this. I want her to have that initiative and drive to better herself. I’m just really proud of her.”

Lacey is featured in our annual report that recently came out. She talks about how she has been inspired to succeed by people who have helped her through Western Michigan University, Literacy Buddies (funded through State Farm), and Girls on the Run.

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