Diane Fuller: Lifting up Kids and Teachers

At the 11th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Diane Fuller was honored with a 2018 Champ Award which was sponsored by BASIC. CIS Board President Tony McDonnell presented the award.

Diane standing with CIS Board President Tony McDonnell (left) and Chris Stys, Vice President of Human Resources for BASIC (right).

It was Stacy Jackson’s second day on the job as CIS after school coordinator, when Diane Fuller welcomed her to Edison Environmental Science Academy and introduced herself. “I come every Wednesday at 4:45 for homework help,” Diane cheerfully said.

Six years later and kids in the CIS after school program still can’t wait to seek out Diane for tutoring help. “This CIS volunteer is in high demand, says Stacy, “and that’s because she’s flexible, consistent, and understands the needs of our kids.”

It’s these very qualities that, three years ago, led CIS to seek Diane’s thoughts on modifying Miller-Davis Company’s Secret Santa program. Diane works at Miller-Davis as bookkeeper, and also coordinated the program. Would Miller-Davis employees, instead of providing gifts to 20 to 25 students each year, consider gifting to each teacher in the building? As Stacy puts it, “Gift one teacher and you impact 30 kids.”

Diane immediately saw the benefit to shifting to this “adopt a teacher model” and worked closely with CIS to map out a plan. Diane then presented it to her colleagues and they got right on board. So, Diane the homework helper, who recognizes and responds to students’ academic needs, also started listening and writing down teachers’ wishes—who, after all, knows better than teachers what teachers need to create learning environments most responsive to student needs?

Each year, Diane is making the list and checking it twice, trying to find out if it’s Mrs. Powell who wishes for the magazine subscription, Mrs. Smith who would love arts and crafts supplies and a gift card, and that it’s Mrs. Zarei King who could really use some flashcards or a set of books.

While students couldn’t begin to shower these gifts upon their teachers, they are a part of the experience. It is a wonderful gift to give a child: letting them see their teacher who cares for them, being cared for, too.

In her quiet yet mighty way, Diane is making a big impact at Edison, and helping her colleagues do the same.

Diane Fuller, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Come fall, our kids will need many more volunteers like Diane. Go here to consider one of the several ways you can become a volunteer today to help the kids of tomorrow. 

What is the CIS Board Reading in 2017?


We know it’s important for kids to read. But we shouldn’t forget, it’s also important for our 12,000+ kids that they see grownups reading too! What have you been reading this summer? A few months ago, we asked Communities In Schools board members what they are reading. Here’s what some of them said:


I am currently reading Centered Leadership by Joanna Barsh. I attended a Johnson and Johnson Women’s Leadership Initiative and heard Joanna speak. I loved her stories and the research she has placed into this book.

-Jen Randall


QBQ! The Question behind the Question by John G. Miller.

-David Maurer


Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

-Patti Sholler-Barber


I am reading two books right now:  Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow and Never Caught by Erica Dunbar.

-Pamela C. Enslen


Lab Girl by Hope Jahren.

-Janice Brown


I’m actually reading the Kalamazoo Community Read: Writings on the Wall: Searching for a New Equality Beyond Black and White by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

-Tony McDonnell


Looking for more ideas for summer reads? Check out the JULY 2017 INDIE NEXT LIST, which is recommendations from independent booksellers.



Trio of Custodians Going Above and Beyond For Kids

2017 Champs (from left): Ike Thurman, Chalene Watson, and Mike Free.

Today we highlight the Evening Custodians of Milwood Magnet Middle School. Mike Free, Ike Thurman, and Chalene Watson have been honored with a 2017 Champ Award. This trio’s Champ award was sponsored by TowerPinkster. CIS Board member and President and CEO of Maestro, Jen Randall, presented the award.

Trio on stage at the 2017 Champs Celebration.

When the school day ends, the work of these Champs is just beginning. Kalamazoo Public Schools has entrusted these three individuals with taking care of Milwood Magnet Middle School. Not only do Mike Free, Ike Thurman, and Chalene Watson embrace their work as evening custodians and care for the school building,” says CIS Site Coordinator Keith Platte, “they look out for the students who move through the halls.” He also notes that they see kids benefitting from the 500 healthy snacks we’re able to deliver each month thanks to our partnership with Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes. They clean every scrap of paper the kids leave behind and perform heroic raisin and applesauce clean-up for students who forget to properly dispose of their healthy snacks during the school day. We would literally be a mess without them!”

“They are the unsung heroes of the CIS After School Program,” says After School Coordinator Maggie Walters. “I would not have survived last school year without them. All three go above and beyond their regular duties to support the CIS mission. Friendly and helpful, they go out of their way to stop by and say hello to me, my staff, and the students. They are always ready with emergency supplies.”

“Our kids,” Maggie says, “love to create stuff and creating, by its very nature, is messy. So, for Cooking Club, they bring out the big rolling garbage cans for us, they find drop cloths for our Arts & Crafts, they provide cleaning sprays and paper towels—the good kind!—so we can clean up after ourselves.”

“And on those days when a student has been struggling, all three of them—at different times—have stepped in to help. Students seek them out because they are a beacon of light within the school; they provide a safe haven for our kids. They listen, give great advice, and are super encouraging. It’s not in their job description to assist with student behaviors, but when a caring adult is what’s required, they’re there for the kids.”

A vital part of the CIS mission, this trio of custodians creates an environment where the floors shine and the children do too.

Mr. Mike, Mr. Ike, and Ms. Chalene, as evening custodians of Milwood Magnet Middle School, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

(From left) CIS After School Coordinator Maggie Walters, KPS Custodians and Champs Ike Thurman, Chalene Watson, and Mike Free, and CIS Site Coordinator Keith Platte.



Honoré Salon

Honoré Salon owner and senior stylist Shaun Moskalik and stylist Mindy Meisner accepting Champ Award on behalf of Honoré Salon.

Today we highlight Honoré Salon, one of seven school and community partners honored with a 2016 Champ Award.  Their award was sponsored by Miller-Davis Company and CIS Board member Jen Randall presented the award.

Hairstylists are caretakers, friends, confidantes, and risk-bearers. In the business of trust, asking questions, listening, and bringing out the best in us, Honoré Salon bring these same qualities into their partnership with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. And just as an excellent stylist is unfazed by ever-changing styles and trends, Honoré, as our partner, adjusts as needs evolve.

Honore Salon owner Shawn Moskalik (center) with some of his Honore stylists at Champs.
Honoré Salon owner and senior stylist Shaun Moskalik (center) with some of his stylists at Champs.

Earlier this school year, on the streets of downtown Kalamazoo, Honoré owner and senior stylist Shaun Moskalik bumped into Emily Kobza, Director of Development for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. “How are things going?” he wanted to know. She updated him, mentioned CIS Kids’ Closets deodorant supply had dwindled dangerously low, and they parted ways. Later that afternoon a financial donation arrived, allowing CIS to purchase deodorant that could be distributed to CIS site teams.

“There’s no rule that says businesses need to be engaged in their community,” says Emily. “But Shaun has a passion for giving back and that passion is a spark that spreads to his staff and clients. We can’t be everywhere advocating for our kids,” Emily points out. “We need the community to help.” Truly a beautiful partner, Honoré advocates for kids and for CIS in a variety of ways. They spread the word on their website, paint the CIS logo on their storefront window, they talk to clients as they cut and style their hair, creating opportunities for their clients and the community to be involved.

For two years in a row, Honoré has “rounded up for warmth,” collecting new winter wear including coats, hats, and gloves for CIS Kids’ Closet. In addition, they have raised over $2,000 so CIS could purchase even more Kids’ Closet items for students.


Stylist Mindy Meisner sets down her scissors one day a week and volunteers at Woods Lake. CIS Site Coordinator Maureen Cartmill says Mindy is a treasure. “She has the perfect temperament for working with our students. She’s calm and patient. She’s absolutely charmed two of our kindergarteners and her third grader knows she has the coolest tutor in the school.”

Keely Novotny, as CIS Site Coordinator at Edison Environmental Science Academy sees the impact Honoré’s support has on student success. “When students feel their best, they do better academically. Honoré gets that. By working through Communities In Schools, Shaun and his business remove barriers not just for Edison students but for students at all 20 of our CIS sites.”

Honoré Salon, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.


Welcome to our new home

Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids has a beautiful new home. Come on in! You’ll notice that our blog is now snuggled within our brand spanking new website. We think that’s pretty cool. And our new website more closely aligns with who we are and who we strive to be every day.  After you finish reading today’s post, feel free to grab a cup of coffee and a donut—preferably powdered sugar—and explore our site. We don’t mind if you drop a few crumbs, after all, it’s been designed with you in mind. (You’ll notice we got rid of the lumpy couch and that lamp many of you complained about.)

We want to be easy to navigate. Life is hard enough. Figuring out what hoops to jump through can be frustrating for the kids and families we serve.  Throughout twenty Kalamazoo Public School buildings, our Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo Site Teams are working hard to overcome the barriers that derail kids, giving them hope and the belief they can succeed in school, graduate and be prepared for life.

We want our website to do the same. We want you to find what you’re looking for when you visit us. This new design is intuitive and will help you navigate more easily.

We strive to be clear and transparent. It’s important to share the needs of our 12,000+ kids and what our CIS staff, along with school and community partners, volunteers, and donors are doing to address those needs and ignite hope and belief in our children.

We want that same clarity when it comes to our website. And heck, as long as we’re being transparent let’s admit it. It’s nice when we can make ourselves more attractive and appealing.

Maestro is the genius behind our transformation. A software development company that builds tools for some of the most advanced companies in the world, Maestro donated their time and expertise to Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo because they believe in our mission to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and succeed in life. We believe their quality design will draw more people like you into our mission. We can’t thank Maestro and its fabulous Maestronauts enough for taking us under their wing and helping us fly. President of Maestro (and CIS Board Member) Jen Randall and her team listened, they asked questions, and guided us through this entire process.

Maestro helped us clean up our on-line act and figure out what’s important to say and not say. We need others to make us better. We want to thank Jen, Zach DeYoung, John Pinkster (pictured above- left), Joe Greve (pictured above- right), Nate Norman, Bill Truesdell, and everyone else at Team Maestro. We wouldn’t be who we are without Maestro and we couldn’t do what we do without you.

So come on in, look around, and stay for a while. We’re so glad you’re here!


Before After Website




Nourishing Wisdom…from Jen Randall

Jen Color
Jen Randall, CIS Board Member and President of Maestro

We recently met up with Jen Randall at Maestro, where she is President of this software development company that builds tools for some of the most advanced companies in the world.Maestro believes that we all deserve a chance at success. For her company, nothing is more elemental than this:  Allow everyone freedom and space to succeed by doing what they do best. She also puts this belief into action to benefit Kalamazoo Public Schools students through her service as a Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo board member. We feature this conversation in our latest newsletter which has a theme of “nourish.” Here is just a taste of the conversation we had with her, including a few bites we didn’t include in the newsletter due to space constraints.

What feeds success?

Success feeds success. If we are talking about a child, you can’t just give a child success. They need to discover it, feel and find it for themselves. Once children have a taste of success—they can crave that for themselves. This is where CIS and everyone else in the community comes into play. We can be that spark that fuels that hunger for hope, helps kids experience success so they can move forward in life, with a healthy appetite for success, along with the skills and tools they need to feed themselves.

What do you think are some of the fables we feed our kids?

Judgement. We’re pretty quick to judge each other, and judge critically. Judgement isn’t necessarily a fable, but our children can’t grow when they’re served a steady diet of judgement. Whether we’re talking about an individual or a community, it is not our place to judge. We are taught to love and serve others. I believe that it is through the pure love of Christ and service we have the opportunity to change lives.

Speaking of love, you have also been busy feeding this community through [Rob Gardner’s oratorio] Lamb of God. I attended this year and it was an incredibly moving experience. Thank you for bringing this to Kalamazoo.

We had 200 local people on stage from 50 churches in the community. Our performance dates are already set for next year—March 11 and 12. Like anything else, it will take the community coming along, supporting Lamb of God and spreading the message of love and hope.

Any final thoughts?

Nourish makes me think of this book I have—about Mother Teresa. She was serving all the time, and yet she also nourished herself. She took the time to feed her spirit so she could continue to feed and nourish others. If we take the time to nourish ourselves, then we are in a good place, and have even more to give. If we don’t take that time to nourish ourselves, we have less to give. Nourish. It’s a really amazing word to contemplate.

To find out what feeds and nourishes Jen, some ways she believes the community can nourish our children, and more, read the rest of the conversation in the latest issue of CIS Connections. 

Nourish: CIS Connections 14-15 Vol III

IMG_3700-editShow me a nourished student and I will show you a student who, because of a healthy appetite for learning, lives each day to their fullest potential. Students, just like any of us, must have their basic needs met (ie. food, shelter, sense of emotional and physical safety) before they are motivated to a higher level of need. Hunger, by its very nature, takes bites out of academic success. An emotionally or physically hungry student, worried about where they will sleep, if or where they will get their next meal, can’t fully be present in the classroom. Survival, not learning, is utmost on their mind. As third grade Kalamazoo Public School teacher P.J. Bucholtz puts it, “No amount of love in the world can fill an empty tummy.” Only food can do that. And it is only because of the efforts of Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes that CIS Site Coordinators, with the support of many organizations and volunteers, can get Friday food packs into the hands–and tummies–of our hungriest of children.

CIS staff find that physical hunger is all too real for many of our children. Just as real is emotional hunger, which can, research has shown, leave students feeling depressed, confused, and physically sick more often and longer than emotionally fulfilled students. There is no better emotional food for students than the belief that adults in their school care about their learning and about them as individuals. This emotional satisfaction helps them academically engage and feel an increased sense of connectedness to their school. This is a good thing because connected students are more likely to have higher attendance rates and stay in school longer, increasing the likelihood of academic, occupational, and life success (Battin-Pearson et al., 2000).

Because CIS focuses on the whole child, our partners and volunteers are feeding our children in many ways. By both their caring presence and resources offered, they dish up hope, often offering students a taste of opportunities they might not otherwise have. Some (including CIS Kids’ Closet donors) are making sure staple ingredients, like underwear, shoes, food, glasses, coats and more are on the menu.

We are thankful for the ongoing commitment of members of this community who, in their roles as teacher, educator, parent, partner, volunteer, or donor, make it possible for our children to arrive each day to school more focused and hungry to learn.

Read more:

CIS Connections: 14-15 II

Paying It Forward At An Early Age

20140506-DSC_7712 - CopyToday we celebrate the work of Kawyie Cooper who was honored at the seventh annual Champ celebration. CIS Board Member Jen Randall along with Stephanie Walther, CIS Site Coordinator at El Sol Elementary School, presented the award. Following the award, Kawyie gave a speech.

If you saw our youngest Champ of all time coming down the hallway at King-Westwood Elementary School, you’d first be struck by her gigantic smile and bright eyes. As you’d get to know her a bit better, like her CIS Site Coordinator Laura Kaiser has, you’d find out what a caring, outgoing, friendly and hard working student Kawyie Cooper is. Over the past year, this fifth grader has embraced the CIS mission, empowering herself to take full advantage of the CIS resources Laura has connected her with to stay in school and achieve in life. Over a matter of months she made huge improvements in her reading, math, and behavior. How many grownups can boast that?

When AmeriCorps VISTA Maggie Orlieb started an Environmental Club, Kawyie enthusiastically got on board, serving as a positive leader within the group, full of ideas. “She really helped set the tone for the other kids,” says Laura. “She is a real leader.” This young leader is flourishing with the support of her parents, KPS teachers, and the efforts of yet another Champ, her tutor and mentor,Rosalie Novara. Funny, how that works, isn’t it?

20140506-DSC_7628Kawyie’s literacy teacher and 2010 Champ recipient, Ms. Killen, says this: “Kawyie has also made improvements in systems of organization and management.  She is able to arbitrate for herself, respectfully, when she disagrees with someone, and her classmates respect and admire her.” Ms. Cruz-Davis, her homeroom teacher, says this: “She is more responsible for her homework since the beginning of the year. Academically she has made improvements in allareas… “

It’s clear that Kawyie’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. When, during a school team meeting, the CIS Site Coordinator recommended that Kawyie serve as a mentor for a young student, the school team unanimously agreed.

20140506-DSC_7714Surrounded by a community of support, Kawyie is living out that CIS basic: an opportunity to give back peers and her community. She mentors a second grader, reviewing a daily checklist created by the CIS Site Coordinator to keep her young charge on track. Turns out, Kawyie is just what this second grade student needs: a caring, older student who is looking out for her, and always with that beautiful smile. With Kawyie’s support, this student is improving her own academics and behavior.

At the end of the day, the Site Coordinator will often catch a glimpse of Kawyie, taking her mentee’s hand, walking down the hall and out to the same bus they ride together.

Kawyie Cooper, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.