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Community Partners Help Ease Challenges
Linda Mah
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Community Partners Help Ease Challenges

Community Helps with Everything from Tutoring to After-School Programs

By Dr. Michael Rice

Around this time each year, a lot of us take stock of our blessings. Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS) certainly has many significant challenges with which our children and families deal on a regular basis, but we are also fortunate to have more than 200 partners in the community. Let me tell you about a few of these great partners.

Communities in Schools (CIS) of Kalamazoo is the most integral partner that KPS has. Working within 20 of the 26 KPS schools, CIS recruits and coordinates volunteer tutors and mentors, as well as partner agencies, to support KPS students. Through its school site coordinators, CIS helps KPS coordinate the mobile health and dental units of the Family Health Center. It helps KPS coordinate mental health services with Kalamazoo County Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and Family and Children Services. CIS runs after-school programs in 15 KPS schools, with federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers after-school grants awarded by the state. CIS helps reduce or remove the barriers that get in the way of our children’s success.

Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes is a food bank and food distributor in Kalamazoo County. It has partnered with KPS and CIS for many years to help feed KPS children and families, first through weekend food packs and in the last several years through a growing number of school-based food pantries. Currently, Loaves and Fishes stocks food at 10 food pantries at 10 KPS schools, with an 11th on the way in the coming months. Through its work in and leadership of its Hunger-Free Coalition, Loaves and Fishes helps KPS children and families address hunger outside of school. Loaves and Fishes partners with KPS Food Service, which has expanded the number of free breakfasts, lunches, and even dinners served over the last 10 years.

First Day Shoe Fund raises funds for and annually purchases thousands of pairs of shoes for KPS elementary school students. Distributed during summer school and into the early fall, the shoes help KPS students get off on the right foot at the start of the school year. For some who have never had to worry about a pair of shoes that is too small or is worn out, it may be hard to understand the value of a new pair of shoes for our children. When you see our kids’ faces light up when they get a new pair of shoes, it becomes very clear very quickly just how important the shoes are to our students.

The YMCA runs before-school and after-school programs at five of our elementary schools that, with the help of KPS Transportation, serve children from six other elementary schools as well. In addition, the YMCA has an afterschool youth center at Lincoln International Studies School, offers school break camps, has a preschool program, and runs a summer camp. The Y has been a great across-the-street partner of Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts, as well as of the district, for many years.

Throughout the year, we continually work on improving services for children in our schools and community. Periodically, it is important simply to acknowledge how fortunate we are to have so many supports for our children. Thank you to all who pour into our children in any way, large or small. We appreciate you.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy, and productive new year!

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