Meet Malissa Martin
Earlier this year we sat down with Malissa Martin, the CEO of Communities in Schools MidAmerica. Malissa has been the head of CIS MidAmerica (then CIS Kansas) for over 10 years. She has vast experience helping children facing the effects of poverty and is the perfect person to be the first in our series of interviews
Here are all of Malissa's comments during our interview:
Hi, I'm Malissa Martin. I'm the CEO of Communities in Schools of Mid-America and we are a non-profit that works on school campuses to support the very at-risk kids and their families to help address their needs so that their school experience can be better.
About CIS MidAmerica
Well, CIS of Mid-America has actually been in existence for about 25 years but we're part of a national organization that is about 41 years old now, works across the country. Essentially, we place highly-trained social workers and staff on school campuses and the idea is that the most at-risk students on a campus are really facing barriers outside the school experience.
They are typically in poverty, they often don't have enough to eat, they often have inadequate clothing, they lack health care, all the basics. They do not come from homes that perhaps have books whose parents are educated in order to help the kids with their homework and so there are just a lot of barriers that really create a situation in which a child may struggle or fail in school.
And when a child does not do well in school, then it can really perpetuate a cycle of poverty and lack of education. It can lead to a lack of learning and graduated actually undereducated and unprepared for next steps. It could lead to dropping out with no high school diploma at all and all of those things create a future that really is tough. That it will be very hard for that child to be an adult who does not live in poverty.
Children in Need of Clothing
When children don't have adequate clothing it can create a firestorm of issues. So, first of all, kids may be made fun of because they've only got one outfit that they wear to school every day. It's often dirty, it is threadbare, it may have holes in it, it may not fit, it may be too big, it may be too small. Kids can bully as we know, so kids who experience this often experience being ostracized, they experience being isolated, or bullied, they feel shame, they're embarrassed, they feel set apart from other kids.
When they're young, parents may be ashamed of their family's situation and so they may be reluctant to bring their child to school especially say in the winter when there is no coat or even a heavy sweater for the child to wear and when the child is older and can make more of their own decisions, that child may become truant as a teenager, just refuse to go to this place where they made be bullied or ashamed every day because their clothing is so inadequate or so different from that of their peers.
- [Interviewer] How did you get introduced to Equinox and Solstice and what was your initial reaction when they told you the plan for the jacket? -
I was introduced to Equinox and Solstice by Alex Delaney who is a board member for Communities in Schools of Mid-America and when he first told me about the project I was really excited on two fronts because what he first told me was, hey we're gonna be creating this line that it's the weather-tech type gear, and I'm a hiker, and one of my favorite times of year and places to hike is in the snow and ice. So, I was really interested in hearing about lightweight, high-tech weather gear in that context but then, he went on to tell me about the concept of buy one give one.
And then beyond that, the hyperlocal aspect of it that if one was purchased here in Lawrence, Kansas, then a child in Lawrence, Kansas within 50 miles of me would actually receive the same jacket or if it was purchased in Austin, Texas, or Fargo, that again a local child or teen would receive the jacket and I found that enormously exciting. So, there was the personal interest because of my own hiking and then, of course, the professional interest because this is what we do, is connect kids to basic resources like this.
Quality and Substance: Ethical Clothing
I feel like one of the benefits of kids having these coats too is not only the fact that they'll have a good coat when they're going to and from school, or they're outdoors, a lot of our kids even in cold climates are living with inadequate heating in the home and so forth. These are lightweight, they could even be worn indoors if they need to be by students who are in unheated homes and so forth.
I do know of kids in our local area that could benefit from the Northward Jacket. Right here there's a school within three miles of where we sit today that come this winter we will be clothing dozens of those students and they will all need coats. When I first felt the Northward Jacket, I was so impressed, first of all, it's really light and so to have that kind of warmth with a light jacket and not one that bundles you up so much you can hardly move, is great. It was really soft, both the exterior fabric and the interior fabric were really soft to the touch, which I loved.
I loved that it was sophisticated but simple. It really had a lot of style to it. I loved some of the hidden pockets and things in the jacket. I think anybody would be proud to wear the Northward, kid, adult, anybody, it's great.