CH@T: $100K donation comes in recognition of CIS’s work in Chatham

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A national organization chose Communities In Schools of Chatham County as its fiscal beneficiary this past year, making a donation of just over $100,000 in recognition of CIS’s contributions to Chatham County.

This week, we speak with CIS’s executive director, Tych Cowdin, about the grant and the work the organization continues to do in Chatham County.

Cowdin says that in late 2020, staff at a national organization — which asked not to be identified — reached out with an offer to coordinate a fundraising campaign making CIS its fiscal and service projects beneficiary for 2021. On Dec. 17, at The Alliance in Siler City, the year-long project culminated in a virtual check celebration and donation of just over $100,000 in recognition of CIS’s contributions to Chatham County. The donation, the single biggest one-time contribution in the local nonprofit’s 32-year history, offers CIS a special opportunity to build on their mission to surround youth and their families with a network of community support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.

Communities In Schools of Chatham County, located in downtown Siler City, supports Chatham County students (between the ages of 5-19) and their families through seven versatile school and community-based programs, including the longstanding mentoring program, which has served as the agency’s cornerstone since 1989.

Cowdin began his tenure with CIS as a student support specialist in 2014 and entered his current role in April 2020. He arrived in North Carolina from Topeka, Kansas, after completing his undergraduate degree at the University of Kansas in 2008 and his Master of Business Administration at Washburn University in 2011.

He’s held a wide variety of roles throughout his professional career and joined the CIS of Chatham County team after two years as an operations assistant with the University of North Carolina football team. Cowdin has been a teacher, coach and mentor, and is excited for the opportunity to use his people skills and passion for community development.

In his free time, you can find him firing up the grill, cheering on the Jayhawks, and enjoying the outdoors with his wife Courtney.

How did this grant — and we understand they’ve requested not to be identified — come about? And how will it be used?

First off, endless gratitude to the many generous community members who have and continue to make this critical work possible. Not only through financial contribution, but through their gift of time. Roughly 100 individuals give thousands of hours annually to help support our work. We are a part of a special community, and we are very fortunate to be connected to so many wonderful individuals who, both past and present, have given a significant amount of themselves to this work.

One consistent goal over the years has been to build sustainable capacity, and to develop opportunities to serve more students. This goal remains. We know that many students and their families have a hard time accessing and navigating the maze of public and private services. There may be ample resources in a community, but rarely is there someone on the ground who is able to connect these resources with the schools and students that need them most. We bring resources into the schools to empower student success.

We intend to utilize this funding to grow our impact by hiring, training, and placing additional student support specialists in Chatham County Schools (CCS). We will be working with CCS administration and our six current partner schools over the next several months to bolster and deepen our efforts to support additional students this summer and throughout the 2022/2023 school year.

Looking back on 2021, what are some accomplishments from CIS you’d like to highlight?

We do our best to place students and their families at the center, surrounding them with a caring community of support, and by cultivating access points to critical resources like food and basic needs, mentoring, counseling, tutoring, enrichment opportunities, and remote technologies so they can take charge of the future they want for themselves, their communities, and each other. Our deep-rooted relationships and partnerships across the county have enabled our programs to persevere and serve as a critical lifeline to many.

Together, we were able to serve 203 students with individualized integrated supports, and an additional 1,100 community members (additional CCS students, siblings, parents/guardians, extended family, other community members) with targeted resources. These students achieved a great deal over the course of last school year, including an 89% success rate for school program participants who met or made progress toward their attendance goal for the year.

These partnerships and relationships with local resource providers continue to have a major impact on our ability to stay connected. These efforts included weekly food distribution and coordination, toiletry and COVID care package delivery, facilitation of both in-person and virtual mentoring and tutoring, serving as a liaison for mental health and wellness resources, school supplies, coats and clothing, bilingual parent and family engagement, student advocacy, digital literacy, and crisis management. We are proud of the work we were able to accomplish in 2021 and even more excited about the opportunities in the year ahead.

Part of the CIS's annual impact report provided to supporters.


What were you able to learn throughout 2020 and 2021 that you will apply in 2022?

The last two years have taught us many valuable lessons. Despite the obstacles that have redirected how many of us live and work, the resilience and perseverance of our staff, community members, and more importantly, students and their families, is inspiring and really stands out. One motto across the CIS network is “we are all in for kids,” and to us, this means that we will do whatever it takes to connect community resources, enhance educational success, and provide every student an opportunity to help shape their own bright future.

Of course, this hasn’t come without lessons along the way, but kindness, consistent and dependable support, positive communication, and gaining understanding by meeting people where they are, has always been, and continues to be, a key ingredient in our daily approach.

Additionally, our network of volunteers, partners, and funders who continue to sustain our work, have really stepped up and played a significant role in helping CISCC serve as a bridge to address identified service gaps that many in our community face. This collaboration has been made possible by both individual and group efforts that remain flexible, value self and community wellness, and find joy in all of the small and big wins we experience each day.

What’s your outlook for 2022? What are CIS’s biggest challenges, opportunities and goals?

As exciting development continues to boom across Chatham County, bringing new business, new homes and new community members, we will continue to advocate for and lift up those in need of our support and connection. Continuing to remain flexible and nimble to meet the many challenges that have shaped our current environment will remain critical. We look forward to the challenge and opportunity of building on our past successes to meet the needs across our richly diverse community as a dependable resource provider and bridge builder.

Looking ahead to the summer and next school year, our intention will be to add at least one model school site at a Chatham County elementary, and continue to build and grow support for our mentoring and general youth services programs. This includes recruiting and training new volunteer mentors, and growing our footprint at our current school sites. Our long-term goals of raising awareness and resources to sustain our mission and grow our impact will always be top of mind.

We know students have struggled in the pandemic — what motivates CISCC to stay positive?

Where the struggles of many in our community continue to be felt and documented, there have been countless small wins and meaningful successes along the way. None bigger than the impact of mentors and their gift of time and energy as evidenced through their stories.

Nearly all CISCC success stories begin and grow with the development of meaningful relationships. Volunteer Peter and his mentee Pascual are no different. Throughout the past year, their relationship has blossomed through their committed efforts to stay consistently connected. So far, they have enjoyed numerous fun activities, including cooking pasta and pizza, grilling hot dogs, golfing, gardening, carving pumpkins, building bird houses, puzzling, going to football games, making an iMovie of their experiences, and most importantly building the foundation for a lasting relationship that will continue to grow for years to come.

Pascual’s mother recently reached out: “I wanted to say ‘thank you’ for having Pascual with Mr. Pete. Pascual gets very happy when he sees him, he enjoys every little minute.”

This message, and the many others like it, will continue to drive us in our efforts to close the gap for students and families, supporting them in their journey to unlock their full potential in school and in life. You can check out a video about their time together here.

For more information, go to https://cischatham.org.

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