We know you love seeing kids succeed. We do too! What else do you love? We polled a few CIS staff. Here is what they said:
“I love my new apartment, my independence and all these new possibilities that come with that: with designing and laying things out just how I want. I get to be unapologetically me.”
-Laurin Mathis, Administrative Assistant
“I love spring board and platform diving. I was a diver in high school and college. I’m soon to be training for tower diving.”
-Phillip Hegwood, CIS Afterschool Coordinator
-Nicky Aiello, Volunteer and Development Coordinator
“Music and playing guitar.”
-John Oliver, Director of Quality and Evaluation
“A really good book. As I look over the course of my life, it is so enriched by reading.”
-Pam Kingery, Executive Director
“First of all… I love my daughter with all of my heart and soul and am very proud to be her mother. I love all of my family, even with our differences. I love my friends who have become part of my family. Last, but not least, I love each and every one of the students I have and continue to come in contact with and support through my work at KPS and with CIS.”
-Martha Serio, CIS Site Coordinator, Spring Valley Center for Exploration
As long as we’re on the subject of love, we love you, dear reader and CIS friend! Thank you for putting love into action by sharing your time, talents, and financial gifts with Communities In Schools. Thank you for working with us to help students stay in school and achieve in life.
Here’s a list of five fun fall facts to enjoy while you sip your pumpkin spice latte or other favorite fall beverage.
This past September, the national organization of Communities In Schools welcomed NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal as the newest member of its national board of directors. “Every kid, no matter where they’re from or how much money their parents make, deserves the opportunity to get a good education,” said O’Neal. “My education was critical to my success on and off the court. Being in school gave me self-discipline and showed me the importance of hard work. I always knew that when my playing days were over, nobody could take my education away from me.” You can read more here.
Fall ushers in a number of opportunities for students to participate in sports. However, by middle school, 70 percent of students have dropped out of organized sports. The number one reason? It isn’t fun anymore. The good news is that there is a roadmap to fun. A study a few years back found that being a good sport, trying hardand positive coaching came in as the top three most important factors to having fun in youth sports. Winning ranks near the bottom (coming in at 48 out of 81 identified indicators of fun).
John Brandon, partner services coordinator for CIS of Kalamazoo shares this fact: “Fall is when most of our school supplies are donated, and what we receive during this time will be most of what we have to distribute throughout the school year.”
What does Michigan have in common with Alabama, New Mexico, Nevada, Idaho, Iowa, and Rhode Island? According to Candy Store.com, candy corn is our number one choice for Halloween candy. In Michigan, Starbursts ranks second, and Skittles third. To see the most popular Halloween candy state-by-state, check out their interactive U.S. map here. As long as we’re on this topic, did you know that candy corn hasn’t always been called candy corn? It was first called “Chicken Feed.” It came in a box with a rooster drawing and the tagline read: Something worth crowing for.
Here’s a fun fall fact worth crowing about: Communities In Schools is the nation’s largest provider of Integrated Student Supports. (To learn more about our unique model, go here.) That is a fun fact all year round!
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 Sally Stevens, CIS volunteer and first recipient of the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award.
A native of Kalamazoo, Sally attended Western Michigan University’s Campus School and University High through 10th grade. (These schools were once located on WMU’s East Campus.) After graduating from Kalamazoo Central High School, she attended Kalamazoo College for three years, then finished up her liberal arts degree at Western Michigan University.
Not long after retiring from Borgess Hospital in 2013, Sally began volunteering with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS). She started out at Washington Writers’ Academy, distributing Friday Food Packs. Later, Sally, along with her superb organizational skills, moved to the downtown CIS office, helping the organization with volunteer efforts, large-scale mailings, and more. Then, in early 2016, she began applying her organizational skills to CIS Kids’ Closet. [You can read more about that, and her Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award, here.]
Like Gulnar Husain, the namesake whose award she receives, Sally makes her community better and stronger by giving her time to other great causes throughout Kalamazoo. In addition to CIS, Sally volunteers for the Oakwood Neighborhood Association, the Bronson Park Food Pantry, one of Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes food distribution sites, located at First United Methodist Church, and she serves on the board of Warm Kids. [Warm Kids is in it’s 32nd year of providing new coats, boots, hats and mittens to elementary school kids in Kalamazoo County and Plainwell.]
Alright, Sally Stevens: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
I don’t know…I wasn’t striving for any award. I wasn’t expecting to be noticed or awarded so it came as a complete surprise. I’m usually working behind the scenes and don’t get recognized, so I was surprised to learn I’d been selected for the award. It feels good, though, and I’m happy about it!
Given all you have done in your volunteer role with CIS Kids’ Closet, I know Gulnar would love that you have received this award, named after her. When she was the CIS site coordinator at Arcadia Elementary School she often turned to Kids’ Closet to meet student needs. How would you describe the volunteer work you do with CIS?
I support the CIS mission through Kids’ Closet. I generally volunteer four hours a week, sometimes more, depending on what’s going on. I inventory donations and see what additional needs we have that should be requested on the CIS website. I pull together items requested by CIS coordinators that John [Brandon, CIS partner services coordinator] then delivers to the schools. Or, when coordinators stop down to the closet, I assist them with gathering up what they need. I’m often cleaning up, folding clothes, sorting items, and basically doing anything John needs me to do!
I like volunteering with CIS, I like the people and the way it’s managed. It’s just a good organization, made up of people who really care about kids.
John Brandon says this of you: Sally can organize the heck out of anything! Can you share a tip about organizing?
It helps to be detailed-oriented; I am. It also makes it less overwhelming if you can break things in pieces and see how those pieces are a part of the big picture. I like how things look when they are organized and that I can easily find what is needed. When our site people come to Kids’ Closet, I want it to look neat and organized. It’s a good feeling when things look visually appealing and I can readily find things to fill an order. While CIS buys a few things most of it comes from donations, so it helps that I can easily spot when we’re low on a particular item and we can then ask the community for donations.
What item do you find the hardest to keep in stock?
There is so much that is hard to keep in stock! Clothing. And boots. We didn’t have enough winter boots this year. Boots can be expensive item to donate. Also, personal items like deodorant. Deodorant is flying off the shelves right now. We got a lot of school supplies this year thanks to the generosity of the community. And because of that, we were able to give out more school supplies than we ever have before.
What is your most favorite item you have in your closet?
Oh, gosh! I don’t know. I don’t know if I really like all that I have in my closet! There isn’t one favorite item that comes to mind. I have certain clothes and shoes that I like to wear, but not one thing that stands out.
What are you currently reading?
I just finished Grandma Gatewood’s Walk. Emma Gatewood was the first women to walk the entire Appalachian Trail alone. She did it back in the late 1950s when she was in her late 60s! She just took change of clothes, shower curtain (for rain), food, and a little money. The author, Ben Montgomery, is related to her. It’s because of her that the Appalachian Trail became popular. At the end of Emma’s walk, when she was asked about her experience, she was quite vocal about areas of the trail not being in good condition and poorly marked in places. Because of her comments, the trail and markings were vastly improved.
I’ve just started reading Elephant Company by Vicki Croke. It’s a true story about a man who went to work for a British teak company in Burma. During World War II, he used the elephants to help people get to safety in India. In reading the book, I am also learning about elephants. They are really something!
I also like to walk. I’ll take walks at Asylum Lake, Kellogg Forest, Yankee Springs, and Fort Custer. Right now, I’m favoring places with steep hills as I’m trying to get in shape for an upcoming hiking trip in Yosemite National Park.
Favorite word right now?
Spring. If it ever comes. [This interview took place on a gray day that felt like late November, though it was actually April.]
What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?
I took a class this morning on how the states were formed. It was through OLLI [Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at WMU] and Randy Shaw taught it. I learned that there was a lot of negotiations that went on when state lines were formed. When it started out, lines were determined by the king or queen of England. When states gained independence, it was Congress that determined the lines, but, at times, arbitration was needed. Sometimes, disputes would even reach the Supreme Court. That class was really interesting and now I want to get the book, How the States Got Their Shape.
Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?
I’ve had so many people in my life that have been influential. My folks, so many teachers, my husband…a lot of wonderful influences in my life, too many to name!
Thank you, Sally, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000+ Kids.
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
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.
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!
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 John Brandon.
John grew up on the east side of Michigan, in Lexington, about 20 minutes north of Port Huron. John came to Kalamazoo to attend Western Michigan University and graduated with a degree in history. In 2014, he joined CIS as an AmeriCorps VISTA worker, supporting both Milwood Magnet Middle School and Kalamazoo Central High School. John now supports all 20 CIS sites in his role as partner services coordinator, a position he’s held for a little more than two years.
Alright, John Brandon: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
How would you describe your position as partner services coordinator?
I work as a representative of CIS with many of our partner organizations. I look over the day-to-day nuts and bolts of the partnerships, making sure services are running smoothly within the CIS model.
Part of your responsibilities also include overseeing Kids’ Closet. If you could use no more than five words to describe Kids’ Closet, what would say? Go!
Clothes. Hygiene items. School supplies.
But I have to say more because those five words don’t fully fit or complete the description of Kids’ Closet. CIS is able to distribute the basic needs items I mentioned and more to students thanks to the community. We collect and store items, we operate the distribution and delivery of these items to the schools, but it is the community that is 100% providing this resource to our kids.
We couldn’t operate Kids’ Closet without the support of community donations or the volunteers. Take Sally Stevens, for example. She volunteers five hours every week to helping with Kids’ Closet. Our kids really benefit from her organizational skills and dedication. Without her, we wouldn’t be able to accomplish one fifth of what we currently do when it comes to getting kids the basics they need. We’re able to do as much as we do because of volunteers like Sally.
What item do you find the hardest to keep in stock?
Adult sizes of [new] clothing items, like adult-sized sweatpants, especially in small and medium sizes.
What item(s) have been big in demand from school sites this year?
School supplies of all varieties. Notebooks, mechanical pencils, pocket folders, dry erase markers—all the elementary kids have a white board to do math on but they need replacement markers from time to time. That’s a new thing for us this year, the dry erase markers. We also have had many requests for sweatpants for all ages and underwear at the elementary level. This winter, boots, coats, and shoes have been in high demand, as have items like deodorant and feminine supplies. Basically, while the list of what we have in stock is long, the demand for these items is especially high. Fortunately, people in our community are good about donating them!
Also, what we need depends on the time of year. For instance, at the start of year we do great with school supplies, but towards the end of the school year, we’re in need of more of these supplies, like pocket folders, notebooks, and mechanical pencils, because the kids have already gone through them. [To see the most current list of needed items, check out the Kids’ Closet wish list here.]
What is your most favorite item you have in your closet?
Probably this sweater I’m wearing. See, it even has orange elbow pads.
You look like a history professor.
[John laughs.] I do pay attention to history. I read history books frequently and listen to a history podcast.
Podcasts are really a thing now, aren’t they? Any particular podcast you listen to?
Hardcore History. It is done by Dan Carlin and one of the more prominent history podcasts out there. Most podcasts last a half hour or so. This podcast comes in at six hours. You can’t listen to it all at once. He takes a topic in history and elaborates on it. You listen and think and then you listen some more.
Kalamazoo has such a unique collection of people. I’m from a small town, so it feels like a big city to me, but without being too big. I love all the historical buildings. It’s also hip.
I live in the Vine neighborhood. Just this weekend, I was thinking how I’m so lucky I can walk to a record store or a fancy sandwich shop or a pub. I like the mingling of small businesses along with residential areas. Those are the biggest hits for me when it comes to what I love about Kalamazoo. Oh, and of course that Kalamazoo is not too far from the lake!
Any favorite places?
I am a big fan of Fourth Coast Cafe. Also, the Lillian Anderson Arboretum which is just outside of town and owned by Kalamazoo College. I enjoy the nature trails winding through the pine trees planted in rows, off to either side. It’s a good spot. There are so many good spots and that’s why the city of Kalamazoo is so great. I learned that we even have a cat cafe!
You can bring your cat?
No. It’s called Kzoo Cat Cafe and they work with Kalamazoo Animal Rescue. Debi Newsome [CIS Senior Director for Finance, Human Resources and Administration] told me about it. You pay twelve dollars and can hang out, play with cats, drink coffee and tea, and have some snacks. The cats are all adoptable through the rescue center.
What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?
I attended a conference on foster children. I got the opportunity to listen to and speak with people whose focus is entirely foster children. In being exposed to an area of advocacy I had no real prior knowledge on, it was eye-opening. I’m constantly learning how little I really know about people’s struggles in this world.
Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?
For me, that would be my parents. Both of them. They’ve been role models for me in being a good adult. They’ve always done a good job of balancing, encouraging me to be who I am but also having a realistic view of what is possible. I’ve turned into a well-rounded person thanks to them, though. I didn’t always appreciate how awesome they are until I got older.
Thank you, John, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000+ Kids.
There is always a good reason not to give. We don’t have enough time or money or time. We think somebody else will step up or do a better job than us. The list goes on.
Millie Ellis has more than her fair share of reasons not to extend herself, particularly to kids in Kalamazoo. That’s because Millie lives 2,000 miles away, in Dripping Springs, Texas.
There, she is busy caring for her husband who recently suffered a stroke. She is also dealing with her own health issues. Yet, despite distance and her current struggles, Kalamazoo kids are on her radar.
She learned from her friend, Shirley Street, that during the cold Michigan winters, some kids didn’t have mittens to keep their hands warm. Shirley told her of the need and that, for the third year in a row, she was doing something about this by knitting mittens. Her mittens would go to CIS Kids’ Closet and from there, CIS staff in 20 Kalamazoo Public Schools would be providing them to students who needed mittens.
Shirley knew about the need thanks to her daughter, Sue Warner, who lives in Kalamazoo. A long-time CIS friend, volunteer, and partner, Sue is Kalamazoo Public Library’s Head Librarian of Youth Services. Sue Warner is a knitter too, and has been knitting mittens and hats for Kalamazoo kids over the years.
Back to Texas. When Shirley shared with Millie how she was helping kids in Kalamazoo Public Schools, Millie was moved. She wanted to figure out a way to “help those kids in Michigan,” too. The next time the friends connected, Millie said, “I found some yarn. I’m going to knit some mittens, too.” And she did.
When a box from Texas (mailed by Millie) showed up at Sue’s door, Sue was stunned. “I thought she might have managed to knit a few pairs of mittens, but Millie had knit 52 pairs!”
Sue dropped off the load of mittens, made with love from Texas, and some of the CIS staff tried on a few.
Knitters make something beautiful—in this case mittens—by interlocking loops of one or more yarns. To knit is “to join closely and firmly, as members or parts (often followed by together).” Despite her own hardships, Millie made it her mission to make the lives of kids a bit better and a bit warmer this winter. Millie joined with Shirley, who connected with Sue who connected with CIS, who now gets these mittens into the hands of children.
Thank you, Millie. And thank you Shirley, Sue, and all you knitters (and non-knitters, too!) who join together with CIS to create a caring, loving community for our children.
-Carly Denny, CIS Site Coordinator at Prairie Ridge Elementary School
I love my life.
-Tracie Hall, CIS Finance Coordinator
Walking in the woods on a fresh, fall day.
-Sally Stevens, CIS Volunteer
I love talking with former students about their progress in life.
-Von Washington Jr., Executive Director, Community Relations
I love my first cup of coffee on Saturday morning.
-Jenna Cooperrider, CIS Success Coach at Kalamazoo Central High School
I love seeing parents beam with pride while taking smartphone videos of their young musician at Kids In Tune.
-Liz Youker, Vice President, Education and Community Partnerships, Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra
Besides coffee, I love when children ask other children, “Are you alright?” It shows the building of empathy and caring.
-Aisha Coulson-Walters, CIS Site Coordinator at Parkwood Upjohn Elementary School
Lake Michigan and the bike trails that can get you there from Kalamazoo.
-John Curran, Executive Director, First Day Shoe Fund
-Deondra Ramsey, CIS After School Coordinator for Washington Writers Academy
Singing. I was a voice performance major in college.
-Nicky Aiello, CIS Volunteer and Development Coordinator
Thanks for sharing! We love hearing what you love. We especially love all the support you and our Ask Us About Our 12,000 Kids readers show Kalamazoo Public School students by sharing your time, talents, and financial gifts with Communities In Schools. Thank you for working with us to help students stay in school and achieve in life.
Partnerships, like most things in life, begin by putting one foot in front of the other. The first steps for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) and First Day Shoe Fund (FDSF) go back to early 2000 when Valerie Denghel was a tutor at Edison Environmental Science Academy with CIS. Valerie noticed some children without appropriate shoes for school. So Valerie began buying shoes for one child at a time. Valerie went from buying shoes for individual children to taking a giant step and founding the First Day Shoe Fund.
First Day Shoe Fund, which believes that all children should start school on equal footing, is celebrating their ten year anniversary and we couldn’t be happier for this tremendous milestone.
“CIS is a crucial partner for what we do,” says John Curran, Executive Director of First Day Shoe Fund. “CIS staff go above and beyond to facilitate distribution of shoes to children in the schools. For ten years we’ve relied on this successful partnership to help us do what we do and we look forward to many more years of working together.”
CIS is proud to have partnered with FDSF since its beginnings to help identify children in need of shoes and to create the infrastructure needed to get the shoes onto little feet. Valerie Denghel recalls that first distribution “On that hot summer day in 2006,” when First Day Shoe Fund, with the support of Kalamazoo Public Schools, Communities In Schools, and Junior Women of Kalamazoo distributed 307 pairs of shoes to children who needed them. (You can read her full reflection by going here).
By the Fall of 2014, we were still in step as partners, distributing 1,654 pairs of new shoes to students. The nonprofit organization has gone on to create an even bigger footprint by expanding beyond Kalamazoo Public Elementary Schools and into Comstock Public Elementary Schools and Paramount Academy. John Curran notes that this past year, the organization provided 4,371 pair of shoes!
Over these past ten years, First Day Shoe Fund, their board, and volunteers have worked hard to help meet a basic need: shoes. CIS values the sustained commitment First Day Shoe Fund makes to children to ensure they have both the physical comfort of correctly sized shoes and the sense of pride and belonging that comes with having appropriate footwear to start the year on the right foot. New shoes are one of the important pieces of the puzzle that fit together to help all of our children achieve the Promise.
As John Brandon, Partner Services Coordinator for Communities In Schools puts it, “First Day Shoe Fund is an essential partner, working with us to address the needs of the whole child. Our CIS staff positioned within Kalamazoo Public Schools see children celebrating new shoes and showing up for school, not just the first day, but throughout the year thanks to First Day Shoe Fund.”