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.



Champs Among Us


This past Wednesday, CIS board and staff had a fabulous time hosting the almost 400 people who gathered at the Radisson for the 10th Annual Champs event to honor community partners who share in the CIS vision— an engaged community where every child fulfills his or her promise— by actively putting forth time, energy, talent and resources to drive this vision to reality.


All in for kids, this year’s Champs are:

Evening Custodians: Mike Free, Ike Thurman, and Chalene Watson,

KPS Custodians of Milwood Magnet Middle School

Kalamazoo College Men’s Baseball Team, CIS Higher Learning Partner

Pfizer, CIS Business Partner

Prevention Works, CIS Nonprofit Partner

Rotary Club of Kalamazoo, CIS Service Club Partner

Susan Knox, CIS Volunteer

The CIS Board also honored Von and Fran Washington with the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award. This award is named for Western Michigan University President Emeritus Diether Haenicke. As educators, creators, and professional performers, this couple and their company, Washington Productions, use the performing arts to extend the dialogue of race, culture, identity, and what it means to be American. They gave an unforgettable acceptance speech that awed us all. We’ll feature the Washingtons next week.

Special thanks to the event sponsors:

  • PNC,
  • Maestro,
  • Lawrence Productions,
  • BASIC,
  • Borgess,
  • Fifth Third,
  • Greenleaf Trust,
  • Miller-Davis Company,
  • Schupan & Sons,
  • TowerPinkster,
  • Warner Norcross & Judd,
  • Western Michigan University,
  • Bronson,
  • First National Bank of Michigan, and
  • Kreis Enderle Hudgins & Borsos.

As Von Washington Jr., Executive Director of Community Relations with the Kalamazoo Promise, and emcee who kept the event flowing said, “You are all champions for children!”

In addition to hearing brief, yet memorable remarks from Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice and CIS Board President Dr. Tim Light, guests were treated to a performance of “Glorious.” As many of you know, “Glorious” was conducted by Dr. Eric Barth, Kalamazoo Kids In Tune Curriculum Director.  (Kalamazoo Kids in Tune is a partnership of The Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, Kalamazoo Public Schools, and Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo.) The children were joined by soloist Christine Mason, a CIS Youth Development Worker at Woods Lake.  Kalamazoo Kids in Tune, along with students from Arcadia, El Sol, Spring Valley, Woods Lake and Woodward Elementary Schools and Kalamazoo Central High School, Maple Street and Milwood Magnet Middle Schools filled the ballroom with glorious sounds. Bravo to all involved in the performance (both in front of and behind the scenes)!

Curt Johnson, a senior at Kalamazoo Central High School, shared his CIS story—which we’ll be publishing here in the coming weeks —and lifted up the voices and needs of the more than 11,000 students that CIS serves throughout 20 Kalamazoo Public Schools. Thank you, Curt!

A special shout out to our CIS Site Teams, the CIS Site Coordinators, After School Coordinators, Youth Development Workers, VISTAs, and interns who provide the infrastructure to support the hundreds of marvelous volunteers and community partners who work to help children stay in school and achieve in life.

So, keep up with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids to discover the Champ experience. You’ll be able to read what our various presenters said about their efforts and thanks to CIS volunteer, Don Kingery, you’ll be able to see what guests saw (and missed!) through his photographic lens.

We think you’ll agree it’s not just a one day event!

Sitting at table, left to right: Namita Sharma, Carolyn H. Williams, Sid Williams, and Moses Walker


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.