What is your official title?
Director of Development and Business Engagement at Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo.
What’s an average day in the ‘Zoo look like for you?
Normally I’m up and try to get myself ready before my son, Tyler, wakes up, because once he’s awake, that is no longer a possibility. Once he’s ready, I drop him off at daycare, and then I’m down at the office. Depending on the day, I could be meeting with different people in the community, people who are interested in working with us, or are already working with us. I could be meeting with my colleagues internally, or I could be grant writing. Then I pick Tyler up from daycare and head home to get dinner ready. Then, it’s sleep and repeat!
Tell us more about Communities In Schools.
Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo is a local organization that overcomes the barriers that derail kids from success in school. That could be anything from needing extra academic assistance to having a physical need, like a healthcare, dental or vision need, food insecurity, mental health services – any of the things that could possibly be in the way of a student being ready to learn, and being supported in doing so.
What we do is connect with community partners and organizations, faith groups, businesses and individuals who help us to address the identified needs of kids. We do this by placing a site coordinator at a school. That site coordinator works with school staff, kids, and families to address those needs, and connects the existing resources to the kids. The site coordinator is really key to the whole process. By placing a site coordinator into the school, they become a part of that school community. On their own they’re able to identify needs, but it’s also their relationships with the staff that helps to determine the types of resources and partnerships that we need to create to address the students’ needs. We say that the site coordinator connects the right resources to the right kids at the right time.
Our hope is that kids will be successful in school, graduate and be prepared for life. Especially with the gift of the Kalamazoo Promise; it’s a wonderful gift, but if kids aren’t graduating, they aren’t able to use that gift. Unfortunately, we still have a large number of students not graduating.
To give you an example of some of the resources we are coordinating, each week we have several hundred weekend food packs that go home thanks to our partnership with Loaves and Fishes. We have Family and Children Services therapists that come in and meet with individual children for therapy sessions. Last year we had 545 volunteers who tutored kids, were lunch buddies, and helped with homework and the after school program. We partnered with the County to provide dental services, and through our vision fund, we were able to provide over 220 students with assistance to get vision exams and glasses.
Can you tell us about your background/passion?
I came to Kalamazoo to go to college – I went to Kalamazoo College and got my undergrad degree there. I had the opportunity to study abroad, and I think that experience really helped to point me in the direction of pursuing a career where I was able to help people. I was able to get an internship with the Special Olympics of Miami-Dade County, which was really exciting and interesting. I did that right before my senior year after coming back from being abroad. I really liked the different challenges and the variety of experiences I gained from working with them, and figured all non-profits would be like that!
I spent my senior year applying for different jobs in the non-profit realm. I decided I wanted to look in the Kalamazoo area as well. I ended up talking to another K College alum, and he mentioned an organization that he thought would be interesting and would also have a big impact on the Kalamazoo Promise, which had just been announced at the time. Coincidentally, they had a help wanted ad in the paper, which sounds kind of old school now, but anyways, I answered it, interviewed, and got the job with Communities In Schools. I’ve been there ever since; it’s been nine years. I started off doing executive assistant type work, then moved into finance and HR, and just recently I transitioned into the development area. It’s been really wonderful. I really enjoy the people I work with and the mission is something that is really close to my heart. I just feel like I’ve had the opportunity to grow personally and professionally. I also got my graduate degree from Western, which was a nice plus, and really helped me round everything out for myself.
What do you love most about Kalamazoo?
I think what I like about Kalamazoo is that it’s a good mix of small town and big city. I’m from a smaller town, so it’s nice that I can go to Meijer and still run into someone I know, but I’ve also spent time in larger cities, so I appreciate the amenities that Kalamazoo has that are representative of what you would find in a bigger city. The art scene is great, the festivals are great. And I also think having the Kalamazoo Promise is a huge advantage. I would also have to say that I’m inspired by the generosity of our community – people giving in all different ways at all different levels, as well as this community’s support for local – local food, local products, local businesses.
What can be done to improve our beloved Kalamazoo?
I think that people would be surprised to know that approximately one in three children in the city of Kalamazoo are considered to be living in poverty. I think it’s a really startling statistic. The most recent free and reduced price lunch numbers came out this week, and we still have about 70% of students in Kalamazoo that fall into that category. We know based on research that poverty has a significant impact on education, so I think if there is something that we can be doing as a community to support kids and families, we can help with that challenge. I think we are doing it already, and Communities In Schools is there to address some of those needs, but I don’t think there is a single answer to it. I’m not sure what the answer is, but it’s important to acknowledge that statistic and to continue to think of ways to overcome it.
What have you been jammin’ to recently?
It’s kind of a mix; I’m sure you hear that from everyone. If you checked my iPod, you’d find a bunch of stuff, and I think people would be surprised that I have some metal on there, some Alice and Chains, and right now I’m listening to a Seether album, which is really great. I don’t like to admit it, but I do like the American Idol guy Phillip Phillips. I’m not a Taylor Swift fan though. I also really enjoy some good old Matchbox Twenty.
How do you take your coffee?…or do you?
With cream and sugar. I jokingly told the lady the other day who was getting my coffee that I just get coffee because of the cream and sugar, and it probably wouldn’t be socially acceptable to just drink cream and sugar. I’m not a black coffee person. I do like Water Street, which was an acquired taste for me. If I’m getting coffee in the morning, I like to go to Totally Brewed, which is on the bottom floor of the Comerica building. It’s run by this sweet woman named Laurie – she’s wonderful, and it’s just a nice way to start my morning.
Do you have a go-to spot in Kalamazoo?
I don’t know if I have a go to, but I wish I could go to Al Sabo more often; it’s a hidden gem for sure.
If you could give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?
Probably just to lighten up and not worry so much. Stop trying to plan everything, sometimes things happen organically. I think having a child has made me better about being present and being in the moment; it makes me appreciate things that are happening right now.
When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Forensic pathologist. In fifth grade I was in a McDonald’s “When I Grow Up” speech contest, and I did a lot of research and read a lot of books to get my two minute speech down. As I got older, I started to realize that if I were going to pursue that career, I’d probably be in a basement and not have a ton of human companionship, which didn’t fit well with my personality. When I went to college, I thought I was going to do international business and be a consultant and fly all over the world. Also for some time I thought I wanted to be a National Geographic writer; everyone wanted to be a National Geographic photographer, but I was really interested in the stories and thought writing would be more fun.
What celebrity would play you in a movie?
That’s a hard question because based on looks, there’s not a ton of well-known Asian-American actresses. In terms of people who I think are good actors, I do love Natalie Portman, she’s really talented. I also really like Cameron Diaz because she always plays those really fun, snarky-type roles that seem like she’s having such a good time.
What does your perfect Friday night look like?
Before I had Tyler, my husband and I were playing in a coed rec soccer league. We had so much fun, but things have changed a little bit and we don’t have time to do that anymore, but that’s what I would say would be a great Friday night.
If you could bring any event to Kalamazoo what would it be?
It’s hard because Kalamazoo has so many awesome events that take place already. I think if I could mash up an event it would be a big food festival, and combine it with something active, like an Ironman. I don’t know though; I don’t usually feel deprived of great events. I think Kalamazoo does a great job with the festivals and events that are offered here.
How does someone find information about Communities In Schools?
The website is probably the best place to find information about Communities In Schools and what types of resources we are in need of. People can also just pick up the phone and call – we are always happy to answer questions and point people in the right direction on how to get involved.