Jack Szott: Stepping Up to The Plate For Kids

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 WMU graduate student Jack Szott. This former CIS volunteer turned CIS advocate is a graduate of Metea Valley High School, located in Aurora, Illinois. Baseball and college brought Jack to Kalamazoo in 2015.

Jack holds a Bachelor’s degree in accounting from Western Michigan University. Throughout his college baseball career, Jack has pitched over 160 innings for Western. He has been awarded Academic All-MAC three times and Distinguished MAC Scholar Athlete three times. He also serves as part of Western’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (S.A.A.C). CIS is thankful that this busy college student has carved out time over the years to volunteer and advocate for our 12,000+ kids.

Jack Szott will graduate this June with his Masters in accounting and head to Chicago where he already has an accounting job lined up.

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

Pop Quiz

What is a question you’ve been asked recently?

I lost my wallet yesterday for a six hour period. When I got to the bank to cash in the money for a check for CIS, the question I got was, Can I see your debit card?
Nope, I said.
Can I see your id?
Nope.
We can’t fill out the check unless we have some id. You need to find your wallet.

So where was your wallet?

It was in my room.

Sounds like maybe your room is a little messy?

It’s all relative!

What are you currently reading?

I’ve been reading a few memoirs and biographies of leaders or former leaders. I just finished reading a biography of President George H. W. Bush. It’s Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush by Jon Meacham.

It’s really interesting. I enjoyed learning about his leadership qualities, how he treated people, and what got him to where he was in the position as President of the United States.

What is your favorite word right now?

So many to choose from! But right now, I’d say fortitude. I’ve been around a lot of people who have taught me how to deal with difficult situations and I admire that quality, of being strong enough to deal with what you’re going through and helping others at the same time. I think fortitude is the difference between being a good and a great person.

What are you curious about?

I’m very curious about the future that our country is headed in. We are at a turning point in many ways, such as with technology and politics. Just how we will progress? I like to think and learn about that. I like keeping up with world news and trends.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Naperville, Illinois with a brother and sister. My life was always 50/50, divided between school and sports.

Jack Szott, Western Michigan Baseball #36.

How has sports shaped you as a person?

I’ve had no single, larger teacher than sports and baseball. I have gained many insight and lessons that I could not have learned in school. While school is obviously important, sports has molded my personality. More than anything, it has given me—and I know resiliency can be a loaded term, so I’ll say—mental fortitude. What I mean by that is you fail so much more than you succeed in sports. That experience allows you to develop healthy and effective coping mechanisms. It makes it seem a lot more manageable when you are presented with difficult situations or experience failures in life.

I’ve also found that nothing teaches you to communicate better than working with teams in sports, I’ve done a lot of group projects in school and college and felt I had an advantage with being able to communicate and work with the group because of sports.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I love Marvel movies. Recently my brother and I watched all 22 movies in order. We learned from an avid Marvel fan that some of the most famous scenes and best parts are ad-libbed and were not scripted.

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

Both my parents. My dad taught me to always let your actions and your own achievements speak for themselves. He taught me humility. You don’t need to explain your success to people. They will figure out for themselves. Mental toughness is something else he taught me.

My mom is very passionate and has always encouraged me to pursue what I care about, and to do it as hard as I can. Also, to have fun while doing it. If I have any issues, I call my mom.

How did you first become involved volunteering with CIS?

As Medallion scholars, we were looking for a class project. [Note: The Medallion Scholarship is WMU’s most prestigious merit-based scholarship and is affiliated with Lee Honors College. In 2016, they received a Champ award, which we featured in this post.]

Jane Baas [former Associate Dean of Lee Honors College, now retired] gave us the low-down on CIS and we began a mentorship program at Woodward. I did that for two years—during my junior and senior year. I really enjoyed that. [CIS Site Coordinator] Jen DeWaele assigned each of us a student to work with a couple times a week. [CIS Volunteer and Development Coordinator] Nicky Aiello trained us and then we started meeting with our students in the morning or over the lunchtime. I would always go in the morning and have breakfast with my student.

What a fun way to help a young person start their day. Your students must have loved that.

It was sure good for me! I really enjoyed it and hopefully, they liked it, too.

And then last year, I also volunteered during the Thanksgiving Dinner Giveaway [a Hands Up Foundation project that CIS partners on, with the support of many in the community]. I helped with unloading the truck and going around and packing the dinner bags. That is quite an amazing process! I didn’t think we’d get it all done but with all the volunteers and the system set up, well, we got it done in no time.

That really is something to witness and be a part of, isn’t it? So tell us a bit about WMU’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and how you all came to select CIS this year as the organization you wanted to support.

The Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (S.A.A.C.) is made up of two representatives from each WMU sports team. We wanted to come up with a fun, interactive way for our athletes to get involved, to serve the community, and donate to a good cause. We’re now in our second year of doing a dodgeball event.

As we considered potential organizations to support this year, I shared about my great experience with CIS and that I wanted to give back. A second athlete who is also part of the advisory committee said she had a similar experience with CIS and seconded the idea of selecting CIS this year. The committee and our deputy athletic director thought it was a good idea and so I reached out to CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator Nicky Aiello who put me in contact with [Director of Development] Kim Nemire. It was super easy after that.

Is this dodgeball event open to the public?

No. It’s really more for our athletes to spend some time with each other outside of their practices and games. This year, we had teams of six. Three players from a men’s sports team and three from a women’s team. Each athlete pays $5 to be in the tournament. Other athletes are also able to watch for $1. We raised $452. We had about 62 or 63 athletes compete this year. And some of those who watched, donated a dollar or more.

Last week, Jack braved snow-covered and icy roads to stop by CIS and provide Director of Development Kim Nemire with check of money the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee raised from the dodgeball event.

Well it’s a terrifically fun idea, and we’re so grateful to you, the entire Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, all the athletes who competed in the tournament, and the students who donated to the cause.

We’re so glad we could do it!

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

Steve Brewer: Celebrating the Small Victories of Student Success

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 Site Coordinator Steve Brewer.

Born in Princeton, New Jersey, Steve Brewer was barely walking when he toddled off to Tubingen, Germany with his family. (His father had been awarded the John Wesley Scholarship to live in Germany.) After several years, the family returned to Lebanon, New Jersey. Eventually, the family settled in Spring Arbor, Michigan.

A graduate of Spring Arbor University, Steve majored in sociology and minored in philosophy. Steve served two years, beginning in 2015, as an AmeriCorps VISTA at Edison and Northeastern elementary schools. Last year, he began as the CIS Site Coordinator for Northglade Montessori Magnet School and was the assistant coordinator for Literacy Buddies. As a full time CIS Site Coordinator, Steve is currently supporting Northglade as well as providing daytime and after school support to Edison Environmental Science Academy. While every school has its own unique culture, Steve says both schools share a passion for helping students learn and grow.

We met up with Steve at Northglade where he was meeting and greeting students in the hallway. It was just before Thanksgiving when we popped this quiz on him.

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

Pop Quiz

What is one of the best parts about being a CIS site coordinator?

One of my favorite times of the day is lunchtime. That’s when I check in with the students to find out how they are doing. Sometimes, I’ll just sit with them, sometimes eat lunch with them, or we might have lunch together in the CIS space.

I really like that we are doing important work. It’s work that wouldn’t be done if we weren’t here in the schools. It’s also good to know we are making an impact. Sometimes, it may not always be noticeable because often it’s small steps being made along the way. You know the saying: progress is made in inches instead of miles. It’s important to look at the big picture and recognize the small victories.

Can you share a small victory?

One of my small victories is that a student is now bringing his back pack to school each day. He wouldn’t bring it last year.

What is one of the most challenging aspects of being a site coordinator?

We still don’t have enough resources to take care of everybody. Take Northglade, for example. We have 224 students. We are not one of the higher poverty schools in the district, yet at least 70 percent of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch. By that measure, we may not have the highest need, but 70 percent is still 70 percent and that translates to a lot of needs. The community works with us to meet them, but it is still a challenge. For instance, our kids need coats and boots. Warm Kids—a great, long-time CIS partner—is providing us 20 brand new coats and 17 boots. That is wonderful. Still, we have more Northglade students who could benefit from these types of basic needs.

[As if on cue, Don Keller, a Northglade parent, enters the CIS room to donate several “Wish List” items for CIS Kids’ Closet, including some much needed coats. “I know that some of my kids’ friend’s may be in need of these items,” he says, as CIS intern Jessica Teske-Harden steps in to assist with the donation. Even though the Keller’s own children may not be the direct beneficiary of resources provided, Keller points out that his kids benefit when their classmates have their needs met. “We appreciate that CIS is in the school and that my wife and I can play a part.”]

The Kellers stopping by to support students through CIS Kids’ Closet.

You were meeting and greeting students in the hallway first thing this morning. Plus, you have had parents stopping into the CIS office. Can you give us a glimpse of what else goes on in the day of the life of a site coordinator?

I find first thing in the morning is a great way to connect with kids and get a sense of how things may be going. That’s why I’ll also stop into the cafeteria as students are eating breakfast. It gives the students the opportunity to reach out about something that may be on their mind. For instance, today two students needed CIS help. One involved a boot situation and one student just needed to connect and talk a little. Which reminds me, I have several calls to make about coats and boots and other basic needs!

Let’s see, what else is going on? I just completed the community feast spreadsheet and turned it into Trella [Artrella Cohn, CIS Senior Director of Community Engagement & Student Investment] so that 45 of our school’s families can have a thanksgiving meal they might otherwise not have. [While CIS staff like Steve are identifying families and doing the necessary paperwork, Hands Up Foundation, a fabulous CIS partner, works hard year-round raising the funds to make sure KPS—as well as families with children in the surrounding area—have a Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings. This year, they provided over 1,000 Thanksgiving dinners to KPS families.]

Every day is different. Like right now, I have glasses on my mind. I’m in the process of reviewing a vision list. Every school year, throughout KPS, first, third, and fifth graders are screened for vision and tested to see if they need glasses. As a site coordinator, I’m looking at results and following up with parents whose children need further follow up. I’m calling them to see if they were able to get an appointment, if they need some kind of assistance with this, or we can help in any way. I’ve already set up an appointment for one family based on one of these calls.

I’m also working on student support plans for each of the students we serve. Jessie [Teske-Harden], our CIS intern through WMU School of Social Work, has been helping with these plans. She’s a great support for our kids.

I also have a little bit of work left to do for Girls on the Run. For our school’s team, I’ve identified two Girls on the Run coaches. One is a teacher and one person is with CIS After School. Both had expressed interest in doing this so that made it easy. I just gave them our partner’s website information they needed to register. Now I need to work on finding one or two more volunteers to serve as assistant coaches.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

Decaf coffee isn’t caffeine-free, it just has less caffeine.

What are you currently reading?

Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion by Gareth Stedman Jones.

What is your favorite word right now?

Sleep. I can’t get enough.

Where is one place in Kalamazoo you love hanging out?

Shakespeare’s Pub. My band plays there a lot in their lower level, and also I like to watch comedy there.

What’s the name of your band?

I’m in two, actually. One is called Bike Tuff, and the other is Pack Sounds. I play drums in both. Both could be considered kind of punk/alternative bands.

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

My dad. He gave me the several pushes I needed to get through college when it got tough.

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