It's In You.

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Save a Smile

If a child is sick or in pain it is very difficult for them to pay attention and learn in school.  If they are hungry or sad, school work might not be the most important thing on their mind. These are all needs that must be met to give that child the best chance of succeeding in school.  The same can be said for a child who is experiencing dental pain, but it seems that it is sometimes easily forgotten that a child’s mouth is connected to the rest of their body.

Save a Smile is a program that is the product of a very unique collaboration between Communities In Schools, Cook Children’s Hospital, and 107 volunteer dentist throughout the community.  Save a Smile takes very generous volunteer dentists to screen 16 Tarrant County elementary schools annually.  Students are screened and put into categories according to the severity of

their dental decay.  Save a Smile then case manages the students who were found to have the most severe dental decay through those screenings.  There are 6 Community Health Workers who are dedicated to these students.  The CHWs make numerous attempts to contact parents, including phone calls, notes home, and home visits, to offer SAS services.  Once a family has agreed to work with SAS the CHW will have a discussion with the family about available resources such as savings and insurance.  If the family does not have private insurance the CHW will assist the family in applying for Medicaid and/or CHIP.  If for any reason the family does not  qualify for either of those programs, the CHW then gives the Save a Smile Program Director the student’s information to schedule a dental appointment with one of the SAS volunteer dentist.

We have volunteer dentist in every specialty including general practice, oral surgery, endodontics, pediatrics, orthodontics, and we even have a couple of anesthesiologist who volunteer for surgery cases. Students are scheduled with a dentist that most closely meets their needs. Our dentists treat Save a Smile patients in their private offices free of charge.  SAS provides translation and transportation for families when needed. The CHW also works with the family throughout their child’s entire dental treatment to ensure the child makes it to scheduled dental appointments, and that the parents understand the child’s treatment.

There have been many cases in which the CHW assigned to a child has gained the trust of a family and was able to assist in other areas of need.  We have received donations of beds for children who have been sleeping on floors, we have assisted families in need of food and clothing, we have helped families pay for prescriptions that are needed for their children, and we are able to help families begin the process of receiving treatment for medical conditions that may not necessarily be related to the child’s mouth.

It is very rewarding to be part of the save a smile program.  It is so great to see so many members of our community give so much to the students in our schools. I feel incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by so many individuals from different professions who have come together to give the children in our community the gift of a healthy smile and another nudge in the right direction to overall success.

Brigitte Diaz-Voigts LMSW
Save a Smile Program Director

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Tidbits for Thought

CIS is about keeping kids in school because we believe education determines our future. Hopefully this is one thing that everyone can agree on – at least at some level. Keeping kids in school may be the biggest opportunity to change the things that need to be changed and create a future that is rich in independence, confidence and the desire to be self-sufficient.

There are several challenges that get in the way of children’s success and make staying in school difficult.  Most of them don’t have anything to do with the work required in school but rather the nurturing of the heart and dealing with basic needs of life.  Teaching is about engaging the brain and heart and requires different kinds of resources – maybe more than one teacher can present. The heart is as critical as the brain to performance, wellness, and emotional stability.  When children find meaning in their life, and have a mentor to help them define their path and deal with the obstacles they are confronted with, they learn to be independent and learn to succeed in life.

Questions I ask myself:
1.       Doesn’t it make sense to seek out children in need and create an environment that nurtures the heart so we can engage the brain?
2.       Does the combination of CIS Social Workers and quality teachers in our school district provide the best approach for dealing with the life challenges that get in the way of education?
3.       How do children in a negative environment, with no mentor to help them find meaning in their life, find the way to create a future for themselves and build confidence?
4.       Can we change “takers,” those people looking for someone to give them something, into “contributors” by providing an environment that nurtures and teaches independence and self-sufficiency?

The concept of helping others to help themselves is far from new.  A basic example that we have all heard, “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him to fish and he will eat for a lifetime”, is what  this is about and, we need to find a way to begin teaching children why “learning to fish” will prepare them to improve their future.

The problem isn’t access to education, it’s helping children and families overcoming the obstacles and helping them to understand the relevance of education and it’s positive effect on our future.  We should be asking the questions “What do you want your future to be? What do you want it to be for your children, your community, your world?”

-Michelle Jenkins, CIS Board Member

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Prom Dress Drive

It is time to kick off our 2nd annual CIS Prom Dress Drive!  Please look in your closet and pull out any formal dresses that you would like to donate to our CIS prom store. The CIS Prom Store is designed to allow girls who attend our CIS high schools, who would not otherwise be able to afford a prom dress, to “shop” for their very own prom dress at no cost to the student. We are looking to collect approximately 80 formal dresses with no discrimination in size, color, or style. We are only asking that the dresses be in good shape.  If you are interested in donating a dress (or two!) please contact Brigitte Diaz-Voigts at  or Sara Isley at  If you do not have dresses to donate but still wish to help, we are accepting small monetary donations to go toward dry cleaning and event supplies. We will need to have all dresses collected no later than Wednesday, March 21, 2012. Thank you so much for your help in making prom a special event for the seniors who attend CIS schools!

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The importance of return on investment

It is the end of the year. As we come off the holiday season (well, almost) undoubtedly you had many opportunities to give to those who are less fortunate than yourself. It could be angel programs or church groups; the food bank or presents for kids under the supervision of Child Protective Services. All great, worthy causes. These organizations tug at your heart strings especially when so many people have so little. It just feels good to give.

And of course, I am not one to say that there is no return on investment for these gifts. The idea that kids have presents under the Christmas tree or food in their tummies is obviously what we want. Obviously the ROI is there.

But do you really know?

So in the new year … I challenge you to think about your gifts. Really think about them. What is the return on your investment – whether it is money, or time or talent? An organization like Communities in Schools Tarrant County has verifiable results. We can see the ROI on our money – not only immediately (e.g. how much it takes to keep a kid in school and graduate) but over the long term (e.g. how that kid goes on to become a more productive citizen who may not need public assistance). Honestly, the fact that CIS has an amazing ROI is one reason I am involved (that is probably the business professor in me).

When developing a “giving strategy” for 2012, I would suggest you ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do you care about? What causes are important to you? Concentrate on those.
  • What organizations work on the cause that you care about? Make a list. Do some research. See what these organizations are doing with their donor dollars and what difference they are able to make.
  • Get involved with one or two. Make a donation, join a committee or a Board. Make a civic contribution to make your community better. Be the difference that you want to see.
  • And give. Give to these organizations that you feel have a great ROI. Give to some that honestly, just feel good to give to. But give.


Stacy Landreth Grau

Neeley School of Business

Texas Christian University

Board Member: Communities in Schools Tarrant County

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The Holidays

The holiday season is a time of reflection and thanks. Family is always my first thought, but I am lucky enough to have a great family at work too. That family includes our Board members…..all of whom came to us because of their passion to help kids and specifically to help them secure an education……the kind of help that lasts a lifetime and into future generations. But at this time of year, my heart really goes out to our staff. None of these wonderful people are here because of great salaries. CIS people, social workers, financial, marketing and other office staff find their way to CIS and stay with CIS because they know CIS is making a difference in the lives of thousands of kids and their families. It is not everybody who is lucky enough to get paid for doing something that they really love. I am thankful for the opportunity to be associated with so many wonderful and dedicated people. Those of you who know me know that I love my job……you hear me say it all the time. I also hear it from CIS people all the time. So I want to wish a very happy holiday season to everybody in the CIS family…..a very special family.

– Mike Steele, CEO

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Proud, Proud, Proud

As the CEO at Communities In Schools I have the great good fortune of knowing some of the most dedicated young professionals in our community. They are the social workers of CIS. I hear them talk about the students and families they are serving and I even get to meet some of our students. Bottom line, on occasion I have the honor of being up-close-and-personal with the work of CIS. I can see the day-to-day work and have a feel for the difference it is making, not just statistically or in hard outcomes, but in the lives of students and family members. This is here & now stuff… is real and inspiring work.

Occasionally though, I see first hand the longer-term transformation of a CIS student over a period of several years. One such student was a student at a Fort Worth high school a few years ago. I met her because of her extraordinary story and success. She lived for most of her time in high school in a homeless shelter here in Fort Worth with her mother, father and a younger sibling. She was picked up in the morning in front of the shelter by a school bus and dropped off at the end of the school day. I’m sure you can imagine as well as I can, the grief she must have taken from her fellow students. All of her worldly belongings fit inside a steel locker that was about a foot wide. She said that when visitors toured the shelter she felt like an animal at a zoo.

To say that she had low self-esteem would be a pretty giant understatement. As she walked, her head was always down and her arms hung lifelessly at her side, she didn’t look anybody in the eye and she would only respond to people when absolutely necessary. When she graduated from high school, I was really proud of her. When she went on the Tarrant County College, I was really proud of her. When she earned her Associates Degree, I was REALLY proud of her. Now she is a junior at UTA majoring in social work and she is doing her first internship here at CIS and doing a great job……proud, proud, proud of her. But do you know what is the most obvious and striking difference between now and when I first met her? Confidence! Genuine confidence in who she is and where she is going. I see her walk down the hall and her posture is straight, her head is up, she greets people when she sees them and she stretches out her hand to meet new people. She is growing into a mature, successful professional.

For me, she epitomizes the most significant and lasting accomplishment of CIS. She has changed her family tree forever. When she has her own family, it will be on a different pathway than the one she grew up on. Expectations for her own kids will be completely different and that difference means that her kids will be very unlikely to need the help of a program like CIS. Proud, proud, proud of her!

– Mike Steele, CEO

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What Motivates Me

What motivates me, you might ask?  As the chief fundraiser for CIS, there are many reasons why I look forward to coming to work every day.  I love our mission and what we do to support the community we serve.  I also feel a great sense of loyalty toward the kids we work with.  The service we provide is a necessity.  I feel confident that in the years to come, CIS will have a presence in every school in Tarrant County, working on behalf of at-risk students.

I’m also incredibly impressed with our staff, especially the hard-working program managers located inside the 37 schools we are serving this year.  When I get the opportunity, I like to remind our staff that we are able to raise money because of the wonderful work they do every day.  Day in and day out they come to work to help our students find the motivation to stay in school.  When you hear some of the heart-wrenching stories from our students and truly understand the obstacles they face, you seriously want to go home and cry.  You wonder how our staff continues this good fight and never gives up on a single student.  I know it’s because of the relationships they have built with their students.  Our program managers recognize that they are the glue that keeps students connected to school.  Without the presence of our program managers inside the schools each day, the students we serve would likely become overwhelmed and unmotivated to come to school.  What a major responsibility our program managers have and all I can say is THANK YOU!

Finally, without a doubt, we have the best board of directors in our community.  They are the most dedicated, smartest and energetic board I have ever worked with.  I feel honored to work along side them to do the good work of CIS.  A non-profit is only as strong as its board of directors.  I can enthusiastically tell you that CIS is a strong and efficient organization and that is, in large part, due to the wonderful and dedicated board members and volunteers who offer their time and support to CIS.

This is what motivates me.  I can go home every night and know I work for an organization that makes the world a better place.

— Yvette Hanshaw, VP & Chief Development Officer, Communities In Schools

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The Fun has Begun

A few moments from my first weeks back to school:

*One little 2nd grader comes marching back to my classroom with her mom and two younger brothers, longing for a very specific pair of shoes. When I say longing, I DO mean longing. According to her mom, she’d been talking and dreaming all summer about the pair of white heels with sparkles that I wouldn’t let her keep last year because they were too big.  In a teacher like moment last year, I apparently told her that she could “have them next year if they were still here.” Well, much to her chagrin, her foot has grown and I still have the shoes. She already has several new dresses from the clothes closet that she’s been dreaming of pairing with those shoes, including the floor length black velour dress that she wore the next day with her heels. Don’t worry, she modeled it for me. Quite the look for the playground. Did I mention she has six brothers?

*Lest she be outdone by the boys, I had a 1st grade boy come to my room the next morning. Now, this kid is just funny. Thanks to modern medicine, he focuses extremely intensely while he is at school. Last year, every time he came to see his mentor, he had her look through all of my shoes. He wore a size one. I had a pair of patent leather, shiny black dress shoes, size five. I can’t even tell you how many times he tried to talk me and his mentor into giving them to him. I went ahead and gave them to a 5th grader for his dance program last year and hadn’t thought about them since then. Last week, my little friend came into my classroom and immediately asked me about those shiny black shoes “because my foot has grown bigger and they might fit me now.” Disappointment is sadly a part of life…

*I’ve worn my hair curly at least one day each week. I personally don’t love it that way, but it’s SO much faster! I spoke with a mom and her three kids. She said, “Ms. Stacks, I really like when you do your hair curly – really makes your face look fatter.” I went home and straightened it.

*Goal setting with a 1st grader. Typical goals include broad statements like “Do my best every day; Be nice to others; Get 0 behavior card marks; Make a new friend; etc.” However, one boy with blonde hair, pudgy cheeks, big blue eyes, very serious demeanor and an adorable southern drawl had different ideas. His included; “Make a cover out of tape and cover the holes in the walls to keep the roaches out of the bathroom and our school; Draw something scary on the tape; Scare the roaches out of our school; They aren’t as bad as water bugs like the one that crawled on me in my bathtub last week.”

Back to school…the fun has begun.

-Mandi Pickens, CIS Project Manager

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A Long Journey

The first of September marks my mandatory “retirement” as a member of the Board of Directors at Communities in Schools (CIS) after 6 years.  I came to Communities in Schools as a board member with more questions than answers, but hopeful they had an answer for the seemingly inextricable problem of our community’s children not completing their education.   I had a belief education could make a permanent difference in the lives of our children and their future generations. I still want to believe in the American dream, a promise of opportunity—not a promise of result, but opportunity for all our people.  Inherent in that promise is some assurance of a level playing field.  In my belief the primary underpinnings of this assurance are, rule of law and education.  I know we cannot legislate good parenting, or even good behavior on the part of adults who happen to be parents, but as a society we are obligated to try to give all our children an education that can equip them for success in the world.   In my mind if we fail, we risk losing our driving values as a country and therefore we risk losing our own grandchildren’s future.  We can cocoon ourselves behind the walls of our closed minds and closed eyes to this failed promise.  We can rail on and on about teachers unions, bad kids, bad parents, bureaucracies and on and on and on; much of which contains grains of truth.  But after the words fade off, the child is still there unprepared to face a world of increasing complexity without the skills to be self sufficient and we will be forced to take care of them, either incarcerated or on welfare.  As a recent New York Times article on the issue of teachers unions and charter schools stated,  “Teacher quality may be the most important variable within schools, but mountains of data, going back decades, demonstrates that most of the variation in student performance is explained by nonschool factors: not just poverty, but also parental literacy (and whether parents read to their children), student health, frequent relocations, crime-­related stress and the like.”

Does CIS have the answer to all of this, no of course not?  There is no one answer. But I can say with total confidence that CIS produces a significant cost efficient positive result to our dropout problem in Tarrant County.  CIS does significantly reduce the dropout rate in schools and it does have a positive impact on classroom behavior and attendance, which promotes a positive learning environment for all the students in the school.  It does go a long way to leveling the playing field. These are documented hard researched facts not speculation or mushy feel good thoughts.

It does this primarily thanks to the dedicated young social workers that work inside the schools.  Folks this job is hand to hand combat. Success is won through skilled, caring hearts and strong convictions that they can make a difference.  These young women are not changing the shape of education, they are not magically producing better parents for our children; they are simply making a difference in the individual lives of the children, one problem at a time.  Addressing the very complexity of problems in the students lives the New York Times article quotes above, so these problems are no longer a barrier between the child and success.  In doing so these young social workers show the child true compassion, not as a statistic but as a person, maybe for the first time.  This is why CIS has such success. This is why CIS makes a difference in the children’s lives, in the schools and in our community, a difference that will last for generations.

-Stuart Murff, CIS Board Member

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Can one social worker overcome every obstacle a student faces; can she do it for dozens of students in her school?

 Of course not and that is exactly what three decades of research confirms very clearly. Yet the research also confirms that only comprehensive solutions achieve meaningful results in reducing dropout rates and increasing graduation rates. So if solutions for everything must be available, how does one CIS social worker get it done? Not alone………it literally takes a village. In fact over 80 partner organizations bring their expertise in things like gang prevention, drug abuse, bullying, anger management, self esteem, conflict resolution, abuse, neglect, vision correction, social skills, date rape, adolescent pregnancy, dental treatment, food, clothing, utility bills, family violence……… name it. The CIS social worker’s role? – Assess the needs of individual students, build trust and connect them and families with community resources. Then stay connected to monitor progress. In short – what ever it takes.


– Mike Steele, President and CEO