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New Things, New Comforts

There were a few ideas that came to mind when I was asked to write this blog but I think the most significant has been my recent experience as a new Program Director.  This change has taken a bit of getting used to, but I am finding more and more every week that I am truly enjoying it.  I respect and appreciate the increased responsibilities of being a PD.  While traveling around to 6 different offices puts a lot of mileage on my car, it is great to change the scenery and see new faces almost daily! A few things that I love about this position is helping the PM’s with field trips, events and doing groups all while encouraging and watching them grow to produce their best work.  I have a wonderful area of ladies and could not be more blessed with hard workers!

Another great part of this new job, and probably my favorite part, is the camaraderie among all of the Program Directors.  As every social worker knows, paperwork is no picnic.  This is especially true here at CIS when, at the end of the month, each of the 88-92 students has about 20 days’ worth of documentation that is turned in. The load can seem overwhelming at times. Reviewing five or six of these loads can be an even bigger trick! However, it becomes a lot easier with the knowing smile or jokes from a fellow PD who is in the same boat. When we are all together, the various personalities of the PD’s come out and create true laughter and support.  Sometimes I’ll hear giggling from the office at the end of the hall and we all run down to hear the joke.  (Some PD’s have ALL the jokes J). Laughing together really breaks up the hum-drum of staring at Campus Plans or Monthly Measures.  We all work very hard with our different schools, schedules and staff, so coming together to share ideas and lean on one another is often times the kick we need to keep up that hard work.  These girls have gotten me through some tough days with a smile on my face!  This school year has been chaotic to say the least, but the importance of office humor and support from the Central Office staff has been wonderful and makes all the difference in the world.  Going to a job every day to find people that make you smile is the best work of all!

Sara Isley, LMSW

Program Director

Communities In Schools, GTC


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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 brigitte.diazvoigts@cistarrant.org  or Sara Isley at sara.isley@cistarrant.org.  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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Happy New Year

Believe it or not, it is 2012. With the start of the new year here at CIS we are saying goodbye to a close friend, Yvette Hanshaw who has helped CIS grow into 38 schools in seven school districts. She accepted the position of Director of Development for the College of Communication at TCU. We already miss her smiling face.

We are also saying hello to a new school, Sharrod Elementary School in Arlington. We are interviewing now to find the perfect social worker for that school.

As we returned from the holiday break, we also learned that two of our staff members are now engaged! Congratulations to Myra McGlothen and Alejandra Morado…….2012 will be a big year for the two of you.

One last thought – In our December e-newsletter we asked for help to restore the right ear for one of our elementary school students who was born without the outside part of her ear. Her family needed about $5,000 to move the process forward and we received generous gifts that moved them closer to that goal. Members of the extended CIS family always seem to come through when we need them. Thank you for your generosity.

Have a happy and prosperous new year.

-Mike Steele, President & CEO


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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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Aim Higher. Fight Harder.

I was very blessed to always have the support of my parents when I was in school. My parents have always encouraged me to be better than them; to aim higher and fight harder. I was the first in my family to graduate from high school and continue on to get a college degree. I am the new Marketing and Special Events Coordinator at CIS (8 days strong) and I am excited to be part of such an incredible agency.

During my initial interview, Yvette Handshaw, Vice President and Chief Development Officer, shared a student’s success story with me and I wanted to ask her if it was okay to cry! I was so inspired and touched by the story I had to choke back my tears. I’m pretty sure it’s not appropriate to cry during an interview. I knew at that moment that I wanted to be part of CIS.

In my position I will be working with committees, board members and other staff to bring awareness to CIS and raise money so we can keep Tarrant County kids in school. I am here to do my part so that our at-risk students can aim higher and fight harder too.

– Alejandra Morado
Marketing & Special Events Coordinator


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Kitchens Tour Excitement

On Saturday, October 29th, I attended the 16th Annual Communities In Schools (CIS) Kitchens Tour.  What a fun and excited weekend for CIS!  Over 500 people came out to see some of the most beautiful kitchens in the Idelwild neighborhood.  Thank you so much to the homeowners in this gorgeous community who so graciously opened their homes to help serve the kids of our community.  Thanks to all of our sponsors, homeowners, chefs and volunteers – we truly had a day to remember.

It was fantastic to watch the live Chef demonstrations outside in the beautiful weather – along with all of the incredible edible dishes they cooked up inside each home.  These homes were beautiful.  Some had an extensive collection of art, some had landscaping and backyards that were stunning, others had the most beautifully decorated tables – and of course all of the kitchens came right from a magazine.  What a treat to get to spend a Saturday with great food and wonderful people all to raise money for CIS so that we can keep more kids in school and graduate them!  It is such an honor to be involved with an organization that strives for excellence in everything they do.

Tiffany Cason

Board Chair

Communities In Schools


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Something Different

You did something different…I don’t like it!I have always known I wanted to work with children. To me, it is the best job. You don’t have to be perfect or even work super hard to impress them. I took some of my older girls on a field trip last week to a TCU volleyball game. It was TCU’s homecoming so there were so many fun things for them to see and do.

All the girls seemed to have a great time. One girl came up to me and said, “This is the BEST field trip I have EVER been on in my ENTIRE life!” This young lady is 11 years old. You just have to be there for them and show them that you care. It’s easy … at least for me. I have one of the greatest morning/afternoon jobs at my school…I get to stand at the front doors and greet every student in the morning and send them off with a goodbye every afternoon. I get countless hugs, high-fives and hear highlights of everyone’s day as they rush home.With kids, as you can probably imagine, there are many highs and lows. One day you are their favorite person and the next they can’t even remember your name. Kids are funny that way.

Don’t underestimate them though because they don’t miss a thing. They have you all figured out the moment you walk through the door. On top of it all, they are honest to the tee when it comes to what they are thinking especially if it is about you or someone else. I had a day last week where I decided to curl my hair. It was one of those days where I felt confident about myself and really liked what I was wearing; and it was just a great start to my day. And then one of my students came up to me and said, “You did something different with your hair…I DON’T like it! Can’t wait for group today, see you at lunch.” Well, that was humbling.

When I think about the conversations I have with my students I am often reminded of the old Bill Cosby show, “Kids Say the Darndest Things.” They don’t hold anything back and 9 times out of 10 they don’t regret anything they say! I do lunch groups with my students and on this particular day they were extra restless. All of them were coming up with all these excuses to get up and walk around during group time. The best one though, was this little boy who raised his hand (waving it in my face, because of course I cannot see a raised hand unless it is waving franticly) and he finally said, “Miss Collins, I have to poop real bad, I’m like squeezing it inside.” (all the girls screaming “EEEEWWWW” and all the other boys laughing like crazy.) I looked down at him trying not to show disgust on my face and trying not to laugh. I replied, “Did you really just tell all of us that information?” He responds, “Yeah, but don’t be mad I just made it up. Can I go get some water?” Oh, how they aim to shock us. With all these great light-hearted stories come the moments that few get to witness. Sometimes it is really hard work, and your self-esteem and physical and emotional states can take some hits. But then you talk with that mom you helped find resources so she could pay rent. Or the single parent, who, because you made 15+ phone calls in one day to 15 different places, CAN put 6 full plates of well-balanced food on the table for supper for the family. Or the mom, who, with tears in her eyes, embraces you with the biggest most grateful hug, thanking you for being there when everyone else walked away.

This is my first “real” job as a licensed social worker and it has been a wonderful, crazy, fun beginning. I wake up in the morning truly looking forward to getting to work each day. How many people do you think can actually say that? I tell some people that and they say that I am young and it will wear off. Others say that I will probably get “burned out” soon and be ‘oh so ready when that retirement day finally comes.’ But I say that I have found where I need to be. I am in the career that I have been called to all my life. Sure I work very hard and some days I am definitely ready to be home and not think about work. However, when I look back on my days I get to say I was there for someone today; I worked hard to help someone in need who was seeking a hand up.

– Nikki Collins


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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…..it 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