Communities In Schools’ Students Continue the Fight Against Plastic Use

Pine Ridge Middle students and volunteers from the UofSC Sierra Club building garden

Last Fall, Communities In Schools of the Midlands partnered with Dominion Energy by challenging students in grades 4 K – 12th to limit their use of plastics at school and at home. Students learned about the harmful effects of plastic use and how to recycle plastics through the Communities In Schools Recycling Challenge.

At Pine Ridge Middle School students collected 200 lbs. of bottle caps and plastic lids. The recycled bottle caps were used to create a mural inspired by ocean animals showing the harmful effects of the plastics. The recycling challenge taught students friendly competition and the long term effects of large consumptions of plastic plaguing our environment.

CISM Site Coordinator Susan Key, Ashley Barnhill Dominion Energy, and Dr. David Basile Pine Ridge Middle Principal at the Bottlecap Mural Dedication , October 28, 2020

Communities In Schools Site Coordinator Susan Key has continued the Dominion Energy environmental awareness initiative at Pine Ridge by using plastics in a new gardening project. The overall goal of the project is to create a community garden where students use recycled plastic materials collected from the sustainability projects to compost. The project is scheduled to run for one year and includes composting, gardening, and harvesting. The gardening project introduces ways to eliminate waste and repurpose recycled materials through environmental sustainability skills. Each grade level has its own compost bin and right before winter break students started collecting compostable food waste.

UofSC Sierra Club Volunteers assisting with compost and greenhouse

The most exciting part of starting this garden project is the new volunteer partnership with the Sierra Club Student Organization at UofSC. The volunteers are currently working on building raised beds for each grade level and a greenhouse on the school grounds. Once it’s completed, Sierra Club volunteers will dedicate hours each week to help students maintain the garden. The outcome of the gardening project will not only teach students about the plant ecosystem but also show the importance of sustainable growing practices, benefits of local farming, and the impact they are making on the environment through the use of plastics. Our students hope to grow some fruits and vegetables and are excited about continuing sustainability programs through community partnership with Dominion Energy and local civic organizations.

UofSC Sierra Club Volunteers and Pine Ridge Middle student

Ms. Key plans to reach out to the UofSC student council members to begin open discussions about the importance of improving school culture and climate by doing hands-on learning through whole school activities and food sustainability. In the upcoming year, Communities In Schools plans to secure additional funding to expand environmental awareness projects to include energy efficiency initiatives.

The Midlands Group of the South Carolina Sierra Club discusses environmental justice and holds local events in Richland and Lexington counties. Regular group programs are held via Zoom on the 4th Monday of every month from 7:00 to 8:00 PM. A link to participate in these conversations, click here:

At UofSC, sustainability opportunities are available year-round for community members, students, alumni, faculty and staff to get involved on campus. Involvement opportunities include sustainability events with partner organizations, the sustainable Carolina garden and green office certification. To find out more about university opportunities, click on the link here

SC Humanities Awards Grant for Literacy Writing Project


December 14, 2020

Contact: Latasha Taste (, 803.414.8409


COLUMBIA, SC – SC Humanities a state program of the National Endowment of the Humanities Awards Communities In Schools of the Midlands (CISM) grant entitled “Social Emotional Learning Initiative: The Literacy Writing Project” in the outright Fast Track Grant amount of $2,500.

The Social Emotional Learning Initiative is a new program aimed to improve behavior, academic performance, and emotional well-being of students with critical needs enrolled in Communities In Schools of the Midlands intervention services. The Literacy Writing Project is a creative writing activity focused on increasing children and youth’s access to positive social and racial justice practices. Communities In Schools Site Coordinators, also known as student advocates for high risk students will collaborate with local published authors, poets, and artists to further engage students by increasing their knowledge of racial equality, social, and economic justice reforms within their communities.

“Racial inequity has a persistent effect on the social and emotional well-being of students,” said Program Director Dr. Claudia Aldamuy. “It is a priority for students in today’s society to be equipped with the appropriate support to address the multiple barriers they may face.” “From the contributions of SC Humanities, we are able to further develop interventions that help students build resilience, social-emotional skills, and self-regulate their behavior through literary writing and expression.”

“Communities In Schools of the Midlands is a new partner organization for SC Humanities, and we are pleased to be supporting their new ‘Literacy Writing Project’ that will serve at-risk youth through literacy and cultural mentorship”, said TJ Wallace, SC Humanities Assistant Director.

“It will be a meaningful effort to bring the inspiring, engaging, and enriching power of the humanities to Midlands students, their school communities, and their families.”

This program is sponsored by SC Humanities a state program of the National Endowment of the Humanities; Inspiring, engaging and enriching South Carolinians with programs on literature, history, culture and heritage. Visit the website at For more information, contact T.J. Wallace at (803) 771-2477 or email


About SC Humanities

The mission of SC Humanities is to enrich the cultural and intellectual lives of all South Carolinians. Established in 1973, this 501(c) 3 organization is governed by a volunteer 20-member Board of Directors comprised of community leaders from throughout the state. It presents and/or supports literary initiatives, lectures, exhibits, festivals, publications, oral history projects, videos and other humanities-based experiences that directly or indirectly reach more than 250,000 citizens annually.

About Communities in Schools of the Midlands

Communities In Schools of the Midlands is a part of the nation’s largest and most effective dropout prevention organization, dedicated to doing whatever it takes to help students succeed in school and achieve in life. The program provides supports to seven schools within Lexington and Richland Counties and the South Carolina Juvenile Justice Department serving nearly 3,000 young people and families each year. Based directly inside of schools throughout the Midlands, Communities In Schools of the Midlands connects students and their families to basic and critical educational and community-based resources, tailored to each student’s specific needs. Learn more about Communities In Schools of the Midlands at

CIS frontline workers go where the need is, in school and at home.

Site Coordinator Susan Key delivering meals and snack bags to students at Pine Ridge Middle School

An open letter from Susan Key,

CIS Site Coordinator at Pine Ridge Middle School

My heart is heavy these days.
I worry about my students academic gains and especially their mental and emotional drive. For the past few months, I’ve noticed families who already are marginalized and or live below the poverty level feel less empowered or motivated to push through daily life struggles.

Unfortunately, this directly impacts the students I serve who are enrolled in Communities In Schools. 

We often worry about students during the after school hours, but now students are left alone at home 10 or more hours which can cause other issues to occur. I feel it is critical now more than ever to keep our eyes on these students and be more nurturing and patient with them and their families.

With peace and love,
Susan Key

To learn more about the impact and work of CIS Site coordinators visit

MidlandsBiz Feature CEO, Tanika Epps

Tanika sits down with Allen Cooper of MidlandsBiz to give an update on where Communities In Schools of the Midlands during the pandemic.

To listen to full interview visit

To learn more about Communities In Schools of the Midlands, visit

VERZUZ: Health Careers Edition students exploring future careers despite the pandemic

In collaboration with Columbia High School, today Communities In Schools of the Midlands will host VERZUZ: The Health Careers Edition. The event serves as a virtual gateway for students in grades 9 – 12th at Columbia High School to engage with healthcare professionals to include a Q&A session.

Motivational Speaker Tim Bowers joins as the host of the session and we are excited how this is kicking off! Site Coordinator Jamila Green collaborated with the Columbia High School AVID Team to ensure all students had an opportunity to hear from healthcare experts on their journey to their career to include do’s and don’ts, success stories, and challenges they faced breaking way in the healthcare industry.

Career topics:

Nurse Practitioner, Psychology, Orthopedic Care, Pharmacology, Therapist and more.

Panelists include:

Dr. Jaelyn Jones, Pharmacology & Clinical Lab Research

Dr. Carolyn Bell, Executive Director of Community Health Resources, Inc., (CHRI)

Dr. Tyrone Wallace, Owner of Prime Care of the Lower Pee Dee in Lake City

Esther and James Gallieshaw, Spectrum Family Solutions

Colonial Life is a proud sponsor of the Communities In School of the Midlands College and Career Readiness Program to increase workforce and career readiness supports at Columbia High School.

Communities In Schools of the Midlands CEO, Tanika D. Epps awarded with the Outstanding Fundraising Professional in the 2020

Today, Communities In Schools of the Midlands CEO, Tanika D. Epps was presented with the Outstanding Fundraising Professional in the 2020 AFP Central Carolina Chapter SC National Philanthropy Day (NPD) Awards.

Epps oversees a budget of over half a million dollars, strategically aligning state and government partnerships, and manages a team of 11 employees at the organization. She has been recognized for her exemplary and creative leadership and expertise in the nonprofit landscape across the Midlands.

The award was presented by 2016 – 2018 Communities In Schools of the Midlands Board of Directors Member Becky Morrison who also serves as the NPD Chair. The committee selected the nomination for Ms. Epps in recognition for her philanthropic contributions to our community, especially during these unprecedented times.

Tanika D. Epps, CEO pictured with Becky Morrison, Director of Community Engagement ,United Way of the Midlands and NPD 2020 Chair

Communities In Schools of the Midlands Launch $180 Giving Campaign | 180 days of school is still in sight

Join the 180 Pledge Today!

Like many other states, children that attend a public or private school in South Carolina goes to school 180 days a year. Young people are most likely to develop skills like problem-solving, collaboration, empathy, and adaptability when they are engaged with complex, real-world challenges every day.

Right now students are reentering school buildings closed since March of this year. Others will open a laptop in their home and log on to their first class and classrooms under even less certain circumstances. This school year, students won’t have the opportunity to spend 180 days in school but you can help Communities In Schools deliver 180 days of critical services to students who need it the most.

Communities In the Midlands program serves over 3,800* youth ages 5-17 who are 200% of poverty. The work we do every day in schools allows us to serve the needs of students that often go overlooked like clean clothes, late arrivals to school, and risky behaviors in school due to lack of sleep at home. Youth who are food insecure and have limited basic resources are at risk for dropping out of school. To identify signs of dropout, Communities In Schools identify, target, and locate resources students need to thrive and learn every day in school and at home.  

*2019-2020 Impact Report 3,841 total students served

Many of the students we serve:

  • Come from a family living below the state poverty rate.
  • Have a parent who is unable to read and is unable to help with homework.
  • Are eligible for free and reduced lunch.
  • Are hungry and cannot concentrate in class.
  • Have special needs that have not been addressed.
  • Have trouble in school and need tutoring.
  • Need an adult role model.
  • Need additional support services to encourage positive behavior.

How your pledge can change the outcome of a student for 180 days

  • $5,000 provides 5 students with one year of all services and supports
  • $3,000 assist with funding weekend backpack programs for students with hunger
  • $1,000 helps to fund tutoring services for students performing below grade level
  • $500 provides funding for one (1) school site clothing closet with clothes, shoes, hygiene products, and school supplies
  • $300 provides funding for mentor programs to help improve student study habits and test-taking skills
  • $180 funds one month of virtual check-ins for a case-managed student 

Conveniently make your donation online at

For more information, contact Latasha Taste, Director of Development at

A first look into CIS Midlands during the pandemic

Students learning from behind the screen at home, outdoors, and in classrooms

Lexington County School District Two has been a school district partner since its inception in 2016. Herbert A. Wood Elementary and Pine Ridge Middle School are two school sites that benefit from dropout prevention services and whole child supports from Communities In Schools of the Midlands (CISM).

From August 2019 – June 2020, Site Coordinators provided one-on-one case management services to a total of 98 students in grades 4K – 8th grade with a total of 4,250 service hours to keep students on track.  They also located community resources for basic needs to include weekend meals, clothes, and school supplies.

Herbert A. Wood Elementary: total enrollment = 1000 students, CISM case-managed 47 students (4.7 % of the schools population)

Pine Ridge Middle: total enrollment = 435 students, CISM case-managed 51 students (10% of the schools population)

Tier services are temporary and long-term levels of services provided to support students success. Each level is scaled to decrease Early Warning Indicators of dropout and keep students on a pathway to grade promotion and graduation.

Since schools in Lexington School District Two reopened on September 8th, CISM Site Coordinators Amie Cooper and Susan Key have been in classrooms and behind the screen supporting school sites with resources for Hispanic families that lack childcare, assisted with food, clothing, delivering and setting up school hot spot at households, social emotional support for students attending hybrid and virtual learning, and virtual wellness check-ins.

First grade case managed student using music and movement for regulation during hybrid learning at Herbert A. Wood Elementary School.

Extended Day Coordinator Beth Strickland and social work interns meet students outside for tutoring and mentoring sessions at Pine Ridge Middle School.

Community partners stepped in to expand the capacity of Communities In Schools of the Midlands COVID-19 Emergency Response efforts since school closings in March 2020.

Harvest Hope Food Bank

The Scooter Scott Project

Crossroads World Outreach

Lexington United Methodist Church

Thank you Message from Dr. William B. James, Lexington School District Two Superintendent:

“Communities in Schools is an invaluable partner to Lexington Two.  At Wood Elementary, CIS administers a resource closet with clothing, school supplies and hygiene products; works in partnership with several community organizations to provide 200 food packages weekly to students in need; and supports Sanford Harmony, an initiative for social/emotional learning that offers trauma informed care training for staff and parents. At Pine Ridge Middle, CIS has helped launch a girls chess club initiative to improve math and social skills; partnered on a program to boost student attendance (which saw a 1.3 percent increase in 2019-20); and partnered with Dominion Energy to launch a student-led environmental program to promote recycling and other such practices.  These programs make a big difference in the lives of our students and families, and we are grateful for CIS’ support of Lexington Two.

Lexington Two Superintendent Dr. William B. James Jr. announced his plans to retire at the end of the 2020-21 school year. Superintendent-Elect Nicolas Wade will become Superintendent on July 1, 2021 and we look forward to welcoming him to the CISM Family.

Source: Lexington School District Two



September 2, 2020

Contact: Latasha Taste-Walker (, 803.414.8409

COLUMBIA, SC – Employee benefits provider Colonial Life, will partner with Communities In Schools of the Midlands (CISM) to promote workforce readiness for high school students in Richland County. Colonial Life awarded the organization with a $20,000 grant to increase employability skills in racially diverse students by way of the CISM College and Career Readiness Program for students at Columbia High School.

Columbia High is currently the only public high school site in the Communities In Schools of the Midlands Network. The organization places a full-time Site Coordinator in the school to take hold of the community and schools’ relationship, and advocate for disadvantaged, marginalized, or struggling students. Colonial Life employees will mentor to provide an opportunity for the community to reinvest in youth. This partnership aims to provide a more promising outlook for students of color in higher education, career opportunities and professional development.  

“When we started building a philanthropic relationship with Colonial Life, we realized instantly their clear vision to improve the environment of students in underrepresented communities,” said Latasha Taste-Walker, Director of Development and Community Relations. “The partnership with Colonial Life is meaningful to us and creates a pathway for Communities In Schools to go beyond the standard of satisfying the requirements of on-time graduation.”

“The Communities In Schools organization is doing great work in the Midlands to serve students from a variety of backgrounds, and Colonial Life is proud to partner with them,” said Alana Stroker, with Colonial Life’s Corporate Social Responsibility team. “We look forward to working with CISM to support our community and its educational needs.”

To learn more about Communities In Schools of the Midlands visit


About Colonial Life

Colonial Life offers critical support to America’s workers and their families when the unexpected happens. The company is a market leader in benefits education and delivery, innovative enrollment technology and customer experience. Colonial Life provides disability, life, accident, critical illness, cancer, dental and vision benefits that protect millions of customers and their families. For more information, connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Colonial Life is a registered trademark and marketing brand of Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company.

About Communities in Schools of the Midlands

Communities In Schools of the Midlands is a part of the nation’s largest and most effective dropout prevention organization, dedicated to doing whatever it takes to help students succeed in school and achieve in life. The program provides supports seven schools within Lexington and Richland Counties and the South Carolina Juvenile Justice Department serving nearly 3,500 young people and families each year. Based directly inside of schools throughout the Midlands, Communities In Schools of the Midlands connects students and their families to basic and critical educational and community-based resources, tailored to each student’s specific needs. Learn more about Communities In Schools of the Midlands at