VK’s reach just got a little further


This week, Mario Gonzales joins our passionate team as Program Manager. Whenever someone starts at our office we ask them to share with us (and you) what volunteering means to them. Thanks, Mario, for living our mission and welcome to our team! -Libby

And now, some words from Mario…

MARIOGreetings, Kalamazoo community.

I’m extremely elated to become part of a wonderful team of individuals who love volunteering as much as I do. To me, volunteerism is an investment in the community for a better, more civil world. It serves as an opportunity to play a role in something greater than yourself; to meet people from all walks of life, and contribute back your personal time, which can be more valuable than any dollar amount. Not only that, but it can also help create a ripple effect of philanthropic spirit that shatters the apathy that some people have towards making a difference in the local area. Too often are we divided by what separates us – whereas, when volunteering we are united by what connects us as humans. And marvelous things can happen when we are all joined for a common good. I look forward to working with every participant and affiliate here in Kalamazoo, and welcome those who have enthusiasm for making an impact in our shared community.

All my best,
Mario A. Gonzales

A night of honor

comstockI had the pleasure of volunteering with Comstock Northeast Middle School this week to help with their Celebration of Learning Awards. What a special event! Even though my part was very small, the event had a large impact on me.

Students and parents were greeted by smiling CNMS staff, and then joined their community in the cafeteria where Ryan Cousins set up the photo booth and also took pictures. Some students were dressed in summer dresses and collared shirts, while other wore more casual clothing.

The buzz in the room was electric. Every child was anxious.

When accepting their awards, students walked the red carpet to applause from all around the room. Smiles were big and heads were held high. Each student’s achievements were celebrated by the teachers and audience, my heart was filled. I was invited to volunteer at this event by my good friend and Principal at CNMS Kelley Howard. Before and during the ceremony, Kelley and I talked about how important this awards event was to this particular group of kids. You see, this was not your average awards celebration.

Mrs. Howard explained to me the difference between this awards night and others. Historically, awards have been awarded to students who operate at or above grade level, based on class grades. These awards recognize students who began the year below grade level and showed significant growth. Kelley said, “We are inspired by these steady Eddy’s and want them to know that there are many ways to measure success.”

The highlight of the night for me came when Shelley Esman, Academic Coach and organizer of the event, was conducting a drawing for prizes that ranged from new books, to headphones and other small items. She was assisted by Alesia Walsh and Jen Sylvan, both Title I teachers who are these students teachers as well as Shelley’s partners in planning. An older boy’s name was called and he came up on stage to accept his prize. He turned around with a huge grin on his face, a new basketball in his hands, practically skipping back to his table. He held the new basketball like it was a treasure that would disappear if he took his eyes off it. His mother came over to where Kelley and I were watching to say thank you, and that her son had just started going down to the park to play basketball. It was the best thing he could have received. Her words and look of appreciation brought tears to my eyes.

This amazing, heartfelt event was paid in full by the school, teachers and staff. I witnessed first-hand the love and hope that CNMS has for its students which begins with their principal and emanates through teachers and staff. In a school where over 75% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch, support for events such as these is crucial.

I was honored to be a part of this event and would like to thank the staff at CNMS for making me feel so welcome. I look forward to volunteering more of my time with them this summer and coming school year. Keep on the watch for more of my adventures at CNMS!

Volunteer Kalamazoo is Hiring: Program Manager

UPDATE: Applications are no longer being accepted for this position.

Volunteer Kalamazoo is currently taking applications for a Program Manager. Applications/resumes will be accepted through June 15, 2015. Interested candidates should send application, resume, and cover letter to Carrie Vanderbush, Executive Director, at carrie@volunteerkalamazoo.org or send/drop off to Volunteer Kalamazoo, 3901 Emerald Dr, Suite A, Kalamazoo 49001.

Click here for an Application (.doc)
Click here for Job Description (.doc) (.pdf)

Our Mission:

Volunteer Kalamazoo builds capacity for effective local volunteering, connects people with opportunities to volunteer and promotes volunteerism in our community. For more information on our programs and services, please visit volunteerkalamazoo.org.

2015-2016 AmeriCorps*VISTA Position Available


Apply to be an AmeriCorps*VISTA at Volunteer Kalamazoo!

Do you know an extraordinary individual looking to make a difference in the community while gaining valuable experience? The Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA) Civic Engagement AmeriCorps*VISTA program is recruiting an enthusiastic community member to serve full time at Volunteer Kalamazoo from August 2015 – August 2016. Learn more and apply here by June 20!

Duties include:

  • Provide training and support to teachers in area K-12 schools to develop service and service-learning projects that will mobilize student volunteers and resources to local nonprofit agencies addressing poverty reduction.
  • Facilitate student engagement in the Kalamazoo community, as well as student and teacher knowledge of service-learning and poverty.
  • Seek local media attention to highlight service-learning and volunteer efforts in the community.
  • Increase financial stability and sustainability of youth volunteer efforts.
  • Track volunteers recruited and service/service-learning projects completed by local youth volunteers or community members who volunteer in area K-12 schools.
  • Establish and sustain community partnerships to advance collaboration
  • Support National Days of Service events

Serving a year as an MNA AmeriCorps*VISTA provides valuable personal and professional development, community connections, opportunities for leadership and initiative, and a living stipend and education award. Applicants should apply by June 20 for consideration.

For more information and to apply, visit: http://mnaonline.org/mnacivicengagementvistaprogram.aspx.



Do What You Love

A perspective, by Libby Ziemelis

Today, I’m back to my office after spending two days with some of the most amazing people I have ever known. Each year, the Volunteer Centers of Michigan hosts an annual retreat bringing together as many of the 28 volunteer centers from the state as can make it. This year, we were in the Flint area for educational workshops and my favorite part – our signature service project.

On Monday, our staff joined our friends from around the state to make a difference. We met up at King Karate who operates the Harvesting Earth Educational Farm (HEEF). They believe that karate and farming go hand-in-hand.

“Farming, just like karate, involves discipline and self-defense. It takes patience, commitment, and hard work to obtain a rank promotion in karate, just as it does to clear land, plant, and cultivate crops. At our organic urban farm, Harvesting Earth Educational Farm, we teach people that their food choices are a part of their self-defense. When you know what you are putting into your body, you can help defend yourself against sickness and disease. When you grow your food locally, you are defending your community and your environment.” -HEEF

We spent the afternoon getting the farm ready for the season: weeding garden beds, mowing, weed-whacking and shoveling compost. The compost was hauled into greenhouses for the students to take over. We worked as a team to transform overgrown and weed-filled areas into beautiful spaces just ready to be filled with nutritious foods. We laughed, got dirty, and earned sunburns. Best of all, we made a difference. See the coverage from ABC12 News.

Thank you, Volunteer Centers of Michigan, for bringing us together and reminding us that our work is not thankless. Thank you, HandsOn Genesee for introducing us to an amazing organization that is dedicated to Flint. As a network, we build communities, one volunteer at a time. We are volunteers. We are community. We are love and compassion for the cities and towns in which we live.

Being surrounded by people who love what they do is always an incredible experience and I’m honored to be a part of this. Volunteer Kalamazoo has been my home away from home for me for years, and every day, I remain inspired by the work that I do. Take some time to get involved in Kalamazoo – you’ll be glad you did.


A guest post by Volunteer Kalamazoo Board President, Terry Morrow

“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” – JFK Inaugural Address on January 20, 1961

In the early 1960s, volunteerism began to gain traction in Kalamazoo. The Community Services Council (predecessor to the United Way) asked the Service Club (predecessor to the Junior League) to conduct a survey on the possible need for a Volunteer Bureau in Kalamazoo. The Council believed that there was an unmet need for centralized volunteer effort, and that the strength of volunteers was going untapped. The Service Club team of Rita Plantefaben, Betsy Maxon, Nancy Woodworth and Betty Stryker spent a year studying the issue, surveying agencies, determining potential structure, and interviewing existing Volunteer Bureaus. At the conclusion of the study, the Service Club team recommended that no effort be made to establish a Volunteer Bureau at that time, based on the consistent opinion from agencies that other needs are more urgent, including the need for more paid staff.

However, that was not the end of the story – it was just the beginning. The times changed and with the call to volunteer referenced in JFK’s Inaugural speech, the Service Club prepared another study – entitled “How to Organize and Run a Volunteer Bureau.” And, in 1965, 50 years ago, the Volunteer Bureau opened its doors on a part-time basis, staffed by as well as funded by the Service Club in space donated by the Community Services Council for a three-year pilot project. From these beginnings, Volunteer Kalamazoo grew and flourished. Today, we have over 700 volunteer opportunities listed on our website and work with over 300 nonprofit partners. Last year, volunteers gave $3.5 million in service back to the Kalamazoo community. We are proud of our long tradition in Kalamazoo and look forward to the next 50 years as we build the capacity of local volunteering, connect volunteers with nonprofit organizations, and promote volunteerism. Please join me in pledging your support for the next 50 years by making a donation to our 50 for 50 campaign – an effort to raise an additional $50,000 to support volunteerism. Your gift of $50, $500 or even $5,000 will help continue the rich history and legacy of volunteerism in Kalamazoo.

Donate Now


BronsonHealthFound_Staff_TerryMorrowTerry is the Executive Director of Bronson Health Foundation.  Terry brings a wealth of fundraising and nonprofit management experience and has led numerous multi-million dollar capital campaigns for various different religious organizations, medical foundations and institutions of higher education throughout the Midwest and the Northeastern US.  Terry has served as a volunteer for the WMU Mentor Program, the YMCA and Seton Catholic High School in Vancouver, WA.

A Year in Review

Yesterday, Volunteer Kalamazoo celebrated the past year with our Annual Meeting. We’re happy to share our annual infographic on Service in Kalamazoo and our year in review. So much amazing work is being done in our community, and we are proud to be a part of that.

VK, a Year in Review

Click image to see larger version

We’re looking forward to another great year, thank you, Kalamazoo!

We took a day to remember, to give back

When first coming to work for Volunteer Kalamazoo, I was most excited to work with young adults and families wanting to make a difference in their community.  How fitting was it that my first large scale event to promote volunteerism, which falls under our Day of Service program, was Volunteer Kalamazoo’s third annual 9/11 Family Day of Service.

The 9/11 Family Day of Service event offers families the opportunity to come and volunteer in remembrance to those lost and those who came out to serve after the 2001 attacks. Many times we hear from volunteers how they would love to share the joy of volunteering with their children but find it difficult to find volunteer opportunities for young children.  The event strives to create a space where families have the opportunity to give back together in remembrance while learning about the different nonprofits that offer family friendly volunteer opportunities.

“What I liked best about the Family Day of Service is it introduced children to volunteer service.” 2014 participant

“I liked best all the options to give back to our community. Great event!” 2014 participant

In all, fifteen nonprofit organizations were represented and offered families fun and meaningful service projects. Partners who hosted projects included: Kalamazoo Literacy Council; Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan; Open Roads; Beadventure; Animal Rescue Project; Red Cross; Generous Hands; Comstock Community Center; Kalamazoo Valley Habitat for Humanity; Ministry with Community; Junior League; WMU CTAC (Children’s Trauma Assessment Center); Battle Creek VA Medical Center; Greater Kalamazoo Girls on the Run and Blue Start Mothers of America Greater Kalamazoo Chapter.  Below is a list of completed projects:

  • 20 recruitment mailboxes and 10 bookmarks
  • 48 thank you envelopes decorated
  • 44 thank you cards for police, fire and EMS
  • 1 mural board with 52 positive messages to youth
  • 15 kids got their hands dirty,
  • 48 bike parts rescued,
  • 3 junior mechanics created,
  • 5 works of recycled bike art started
  • 68 catnip cat toys
  • 54 fleece dog toys
  • 25 cards to Soldiers deployed overseas
  • 46 birthday and Get Well Cards for recovering kids
  • 60 disaster relief kits
  • 32 families learned about literacy
  • 2 adults signed up to be adult reading tutors
  • 91 care packages and cards for Veterans
  • 42 Welcome stepping stones for new home owners
  • 30 placemats colored with positive messages for Thanksgiving Dinner at Shelters
  • 82 envelopes labeled and stuffed with Girls on the Run participant identity cards
  • 75 sets of practice 5k certificates counted and clipped
  • 35 sets of pencils sharpened and bundled for coaching kits
  • 28 sets of punched stars for Girls on the Run participants

We would like to give special thanks to community partners who helped support this event. Kalamazoo Rotary Club Charities generously helped underwrite the cost for the event and provide supplies for service projects such as the catnip and fleece, cement for stepping stones, card stock and police/firefighter stickers.  The night was made even sweeter by the Junior League of Kalamazoo who provided nuts, cranberries and cheerios for participants to make their own healthy trail mix snack. Longtime supporters Radisson Hotel generously provided space and refreshments to participants, and Big Lyle’s snapped fun and funky blue screen souvenir photos of all participants free of charge.

We here at Volunteer Kalamazoo appreciate all our sponsors, Kalamazoo Rotary Club Charities, Kalamazoo Junior League, Big Lyle’s and the Radisson, along with all the great nonprofits who provided project. It’s because of community partners like you who understand the importance of providing families opportunities to give back which made the 2014 9/11 Family Day of Service a success. Looking forward to making next year even better!

Volunteering = Community

by Monica Priest, Program Manager at Volunteer Kalamazoo

monicaAs I’m preparing to volunteer at my daughter’s fifth grade carnival at school, I’m thinking of all the things I could be doing instead. Cleaning out the overflowing storage room, organizing the cluttered computer desk, or simply relaxing with a good book on the sofa. And then I am reminded of the true reason I am volunteering, to feel a part of something bigger than myself.

When we first moved to our school district, we didn’t know any of the other parents, teachers or community leaders. How do you meet these people? Where do you meet these people? We wanted to feel a part of our new community, but didn’t know how. I had always felt the volunteer “bug” and thought, why not try and meet new people by volunteering.

I enthusiastically jumped right in by signing up for the parent association board, was the dugout mom for little league, became a Girl Scout troop leader, and even took a turn at coaching AYSO soccer. I learned a lot from these experiences. Some were good, like meeting two of my best friends. Others, I leaned what doesn’t fit within my abilities like teaching five year-olds soccer when their abilities surpassed mine the first day. In the big picture, these experiences helped me meet new people, but also gave me a sense of community.

Now when I walk into my daughter’s school I hear hello’s from teachers and parents I have worked side-by-side with. Kids walk up to me and give me hugs, or wave as they hustle to their next class. I drive down Main Street and see the flowers our Girl Scout troop planted. I now feel as though I am an important and valued member of my community. So, I am off to the carnival, not because I don’t have anything better to do, but because I can’t wait to feel a part of not only my daughter’s life, but my community.

Outstanding Volunteers: Michigan Student Service Award Recipients

For high school students, studies and extra curricular activities quickly add up.  Juggling work, family commitments, sports and clubs while preparing for graduation and acing the next exam can make time scarce. Ten students in our community have distinguished themselves as examples of what dedication to service looks like by incorporating volunteerism into their daily lives. This spring, each was honored with the Michigan Student Service Award (MSSA) for volunteering over 400 hours in the community during high school.

Sponsored by the Volunteer Centers of Michigan and Volunteer Kalamazoo, these students have gone above and beyond in the community. They are leaders and advocates. Read more about each recipient below.

 Erin Clark

Erin Clark

Hackett Catholic Central High School student Erin Clark volunteered 425 hours at nonprofit organizations that include:

  • Catholic Charities
  • St. Monica Catholic School
  • Renucci House
  • Hackett Catholic Central.
 Harrison Goscenski

Harrison Goscenski

Hackett Catholic Central High School student Harrison Goscenski volunteered 570 hours at nonprofit organizations that include:

  • Society of St. Vincent de Paul
  • Boy Scouts of America
  • Ministry with Community
  • St. Mary’s Catholic Church
 Collin Tran

Collin Tran

Hackett Catholic Central High School student Collin Tran volunteered 405 hours at nonprofit organizations that include:

  • St. Mary’s Catholic Church
  • Borgess Medical Center
  • The Salvation Army
  • Vineyard Academy
 Michael Elluru

Michael Elluru

Hackett Catholic Central High School student Michael Elluru volunteered 420 hours at nonprofit organizations that include:

  • The Luke Society
  • St. Catherine of Sienna
  • Kalamazoo Area Math and Science Center
  • Kalamazoo Gospel Mission
  • Ministry with Community
  • Kalamazoo Valley Museum

Taryn Withers

Kalamazoo Central High School student Taryn Withers volunteered 802 hours at nonprofit organizations that include:

  • Kalamazoo Nature Center
  • Michigan Blood
  • Indian Prairie Elementary School
 kitu-gbg-stHair6pro (1)

Kitu Komya

Portage Central High School student Kitu Komya volunteered 844 hours at nonprofit organizations that include:

  • Oakwood Neighborhood Association
  • Portage District Library
  • Portage Youth Advisory Council
  • Hospitality House of Southwest Michigan
  • Michigan Festival of Sacred Music.

Rachel Polus

Rachel Polus

Portage Central High School student Rachel Polus volunteered 527 hours at nonprofit organizations that include:

  • Kalamazoo Nature Center
  • Department of Human Services
  • Portage Central Middle School
  • Curious Kids.
 Genevieve Sertic

Genevieve Sertic

Portage Central High School student Genevieve Sertic volunteered 627 hours at nonprofit organizations that include:

  • Kalamazo Bird Sanctuary
  • Kalamazoo Nature Center
  • Portage Youth Advisory Committee
  • Portage District Library
  • Kalamazoo Area Math and Science Center
  • Volunteer Kalamazoo.
 Maya Ganapathy

Maya Ganapathy

Portage Northern High School student Maya Ganapathy volunteered 457 hours at nonprofit organizations that include:

  • American Red Cross
  • Portage District Library
  • Animal Rescue Project
  • Borgess Medical Center.
 Morgan Macfarlane

Morgan Macfarlane

Schoolcraft High School student Morgan Macfarlane volunteered 714 hours at nonprofit organizations that include:

  • Little Lambs Learning Center
  • Faith, Fun & Fine Arts Camp
  • Portage District Library
  • Adam’s Kids
  • Kalamazoo Nature Center
  • Volunteer Kalamazoo.