Welcome, Dr. Montgomery!

Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo welcomes the ninth president of Western Michigan University, Dr. Edward Montgomery, who began his tenure one week ago.

Western Michigan University partners with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) throughout 20 Kalamazoo Public schools to help kids stay in school and achieve in life. Here are just a few ways WMU has worked with CIS and the Kalamazoo Public Schools to support our 12,000+ kids:



We look forward to our continued partnership with WMU and what the future will bring with Dr. Montgomery at the helm.

Dr. Montgomery earned a bachelor’s degree from Pennsylvania State University and both master’s and doctoral degrees in economics from Harvard University. He comes to WMU from Georgetown University where he served as professor of economics and dean of the McCourt School of Public Policy since 2010. No stranger to Kalamazoo, he has coauthored research with CIS Board Member Randall Eberts of the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research—not to mention that his son is a recent WMU grad!

You can learn more about WMU’s new president, Dr. Edward Montgomery, by clicking on the links below:

Official WMU biography: http://wmich.edu/president/biography

Go here for Second Wave Media’s “Nine questions about Dr. Edward B. Montgomery, WMU’s ninth president.”

WMUK’s Gordon Evans interviewed Dr. Montgomery in May and rebroadcast it last week on WestSouthwest. You can listen to it here.

Click here for “10 things to know about Western Michigan University’s new president” from MLIVE.

First Day Shoe Fund: A CIS Partner With Sole

Pam Tate, AmeriCorps VISTA, fitting a student for a pair of shoes provided by First Day Shoe Fund.

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!

20151021-_dsc7121Over 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.”

Shoes off to you, First Day Shoe Fund!




Pop Quiz: Amy Kuchta

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.

January is National Mentoring Month and today we feature Amy Kuchta, Chief Executive Officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters. Whether it’s school-based mentoring or working together on initiatives like Bigs in Business, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo have been working together for over a decade to serve students in the Kalamazoo Public Schools. Amy has been involved in both sides of the partnership, having left Big Brothers in 2009 to serve as director of elementary sites for three years and then returned to Big Brothers Big Sisters in 2012 to serve as CEO. “CIS is critical to us. We have a powerful partnership and are able to provide services directly to the kids that need them. CIS is the link that makes sure we are able to reach the kids who are in the greatest needs of our services.”

Did you know that Big Brothers Big Sisters serves five counties and there are over 200 children waiting to be matched with a mentor? Amy says this number stays fairly steady as once a child is matched, another is then added to the waiting list. Think you might want to be a Big Sister, Big Brother, Big Couple, or Big Family? Click here for more information.

Amy Kuchta
Amy Kuchta

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


What is something interesting you’ve recently learned? 

This may sound geeky but I like looking at our program data, reflecting on 2015, and thinking about what we can do to improve in 2016.

What one thing did you learn in pouring over the data?

We expanded some of our programs. This made it more flexible for mentors and because of this we were able to serve more middle school and high school students. Traditionally, when people come in they want to be paired with an elementary student. People assume middle and high school students don’t want mentors—which isn’t the case at all. They want to be connected with caring adults, too.

What are you currently reading?

I’m re-reading a book by Barbara Ehrenreich called Nickel and Dimed. I love that book! I read it every couple years. I find it fascinating. Her book provides a striking picture of the challenges many individuals with minimum wage jobs face, that struggle to get by day to day.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I see myself here for a long time. I love what I do and the impact we’re having on the kids we serve.

What did you want to be when you were little?

[Amy laughs.] A Supreme Court Justice or President of the United States.

You’d be good at either, but were glad you’re here in Kalamazoo. Tell us something more about you.

Hmmm. I do read a lot of books about list of post-apocalyptic fiction. I find them intriguing—all the survival scenarios. I guess I like books that focus on ways people creatively figure out ways to survive in challenging circumstances.

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

I had a teacher in sixth grade named Mr. Pierce. My father had died about a year before and Mr. Pierce really took me under his wing and looked out for me. He made sure I had everything I needed, including emotional support, to get through a tough time.

As you know, it’s Mentoring month. We hear that word a lot, mentoring. How do you define mentoring?

I’d say that mentoring is a consistent and caring relationship between two people. At Big Brothers Big Sisters, we call them ‘Bigs’ and ‘Littles’ but we know there is an impact on both.

Thank you, Amy!