Wednesday, November 21, 2007

November Tutor/Mentor Conference Part 1 - Volunteer Recruitment Workshop

Last Thursday and Friday, we had our November Tutor/Mentor Conference at Olympia Fields Country Club in the south suburbs of Chicago. It was a great success and I really appreciate everyone who showed up and participated in our conference.

On Thursday morning, I had the privilege of leading a panel discussion on volunteer recruitment (and along with that volunteer retention and strategies for collaboration between programs). Along with me, Erin McPartlin from Cabrini Green Tutoring and Alex Cornwell from Chicago Lights at Fourth Presbyterian Church led the panel. I cannot say enough how appreciate their wisdom and experience in helping out with this discussion. Without them, I wouldn't have had such success with the panel.

Our panel touched on several important points - the first being where to find volunteers. A lot of people were unaware of the plethora of websites including our own Tutor/Mentor Connection website where volunteers can find out about programs, as well as websites such as Volunteer Match where organizations can find out about people wanting to volunteer. Also, I think people forget the good old method of word-of-mouth and in our panel discussion we emphasized the power of encouraging current volunteers to recruit their friends, co-workers and loved ones to volunteer along with them.

In volunteer recruitment, we also forget that retaining volunteers is an issue. Many programs that start in September are lucky to have 60% of their volunteers by the end of the year. A lot of this is due to outside circumstances (notably being transferred for a job) but a lot of people lose volunteers due to dissatisfaction on the volunteer's part. What Erin, Alex, and I emphasized is that our programs are really businesses that are selling a product - which is the product of helping a child out. Our volunteers are really our customers and if they're not happy with our product, then something needs to be changed. Something that might seem obvious, but that seems to work well with our programs is encouraging the volunteers not only to interact socially with our students, but also with each other. A lot of the volunteers in our program are young, 20 or 30-something professionals who are either single, or married but don't have kids yet. A great way for them to socialize is by going out after tutoring and having fun with each other.

Finally, the point that we wanted to drive home, and that I also tried to promote in my volunteer recruitment campaign is the importance of collaboration. Difference programs are NOT competing for volunteers, but rather working towards the same goal and have a lot to learn from each other. I certainly learned a lot from Erin and Alex and their programs and I think everyone who attended the panel did too.

Friday, November 9, 2007

My Own Personal Brand

Earlier today, my boss, Dan Bassill, pointed me to fantastic blog called Perspectives from the Pipeline, written by Rosetta Thurman, a young African-American woman working at a non-profit in the Washington DC area. I recommend that you read all of her entries, but the one that Dan recommend I read, and which I thought was especially relevant was titled "Get Yourself a Reputation: Blogging for Personal Branding." In this post, Ms. Thurman discusses the issues that young people of my generation face in entering the work force that is dominated by our parents' and grandparents' generation. Ms Thurman's approach to this issue of making a name for herself and setting a positive example of people of our generation. She accomplishes this through her blog - a way of creating her own personal brand and she has been extremely successful with this way of branding. I too hope that through my blog and my outreach I will also create a personal brand that people will recognize as positive and want to invest in as I get further along in my career. Probably one of the most personally gratifying things that I've heard in the past week is when an acquaintance from Northwestern who's a recent graduate as well and who is also working in the non-profit sector told me "Oh Nicole, I love reading your blog!" Hopefully people will be inspired by Ms. Thurman's blog and all that she has accomplished and eventually be inspired by my blog as well.

Another blog that I have recently discovered is that of Will Okun's, a young teacher working in a Chicago inner-city high school. Mr. Okun is one of the bloggers for Nicholas Kristof, one of my favorite columnists, New York Times column. Mr. Okun rights about triumphs and struggles of working with inner-city African-American teenagers - something that I can definitely relate to. In his latest blog post, "Understand?", Mr. Okun writes about the question of whether black teachers are better able to connect with and help black children succeed than white teachers. This is something that I have often asked myself - "What is a white girl from Eugene, OR with a degree from Northwestern University doing working with black kids from Chicago's Cabrini-Green Housing Project." I've found that with some kids I can relate to automatically - we'll discuss hip hop music (I even introduced them to some of my favorite artists who are more underground), tv shows such as Family Guy and Chappelle's Show, and how we love our large, crazy families (one of my students asked, when I told him that his description of his "auntie" sounded a lot like my beloved Aunt Gail, "oh you love your Auntie too!") But then there are some kids who I think just don't understand what I'm doing working here. After one of my middle school girls called me "white girl" (no, I have a name, thank you very much) I told my frustrations to one of the graduates of the program who I've become friends with. He sighed and expressed his dismay over the lack of role models that these kids have and told me "Just keep doing what you're doing, because it's obvious you love them and you're a great role model, especially for our girls." That pretty much made my day and it made me realize that despite the fact that all these kids need positive, African-American role models who have experienced what they have experienced, doesn't mean that you loving them and helping them isn't doing them a world of good too.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Blurring the Lines between Non-Profit and For-Profit.

Last night I attended a very interesting panel discussion on the need for more interaction between for-profits and non-profits. Three women, who all had worked in both the for-profit world and the non-profit worlds talked about the importance of the intersection of the two, because both would benefit. The panel discussed everything from the different ways for-profits can help out non-profits to ways non-profits can become more like for-profits. One interesting fact that I learned is that $295 billion is donated to non-profits each year, but only 4% of that is from corporations. This statistic is changing as corporate social responsibility is becoming a hot topic and companies such as the Gap or Motorola are selling products that benefit certain organizations, but still much more could be done in the for-profit world to help out the non-profit world.

One of the best things about last night's discussion was that it was sponsored by CampusCATALYST - a new organization started by Northwestern students that (in its mission statement) states that it "seeks to direct the innovation, ingenuity, and problem solving skills of America's future leaders towards community development by cultivating a rich academic and social entepreneurship experience for college students and tangible solutions for nonprofits." This winter, CampusCATALYST will put on a seminar at Northwestern where students will become consultants to non-profits in Evanston and help them work out organizational issues and come up with innovative ways to make the non-profit more successful.

A question that I posed to the panel was how could business schools become more involved in helping out non-profits. There is an issue of business schools staying away from teaching about non-profit management because it's not "glamorous" enough (in the words of one of the speakers who was trying to start a non-profit management program at the University of Illinois at Chicago.) However, Kellogg School of Business Management - Northwestern's business school has been instrumental in having business students be consultants to non-profits and offering a degree in non-profit management. I have discussed the wealth of opportunities that non-profits could offer to business schools and that business schools could offer to non-profit in previous blog posts. All of the panelists agreed with this assertion and hoped that students such as those who attended last night's panel discussion would be advocates for more non-profit management programs at business schools and more opportunities at business schools for students to work with non-profit.

A great way that business people could get involved in non-profits is at the Center for Economic Progress, where people involved in the financial and accounting world can help low-income families become financially savvy. A fantastic program they have, that begins in January is a program where people take courses to become volunteers to help low-income families fill out their tax forms. A lot of these families' tax forms are a lot more complicated than yours or mine and a lot of them qualify for Earned-Income Tax Credit, which can add up to a lot of money. Please visit their website to find out more.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Civic Engagement at Northwestern University Conference

First of all - apologies for not blogging in almost a month! We're gearing up for our November Tutor/Mentor Conference, which will be held Thursday November 15th and Friday November 16th at Olympia Fields Country Club in the south suburbs of Chicago. I've been e-mailing all of our contacts in our Tutor/Mentor Connection Program Database and inviting them to come. I will also be leading a panel discussion on volunteer recruitment. I invite anybody who is interested in the subjects of tutoring and mentoring - or just helping kids in general to come.

Meanwhile, I have been doing other things as well in regards to expanding my knowledge about civic engagement. Last Friday, I attended a day-long conference about civic engagement and Northwestern University. Throughout my four years of college, I came to realize that Northwestern does a fantastic job of giving students opportunities to volunteer and become active in both the local and global communities. However, there doesn't seem to be a lot of coordination between the various service organizations, fellowships, and studies that all are going towards somewhat the same goal. That's why I was so pleased to see that Northwestern was holding a conference on this very topic.

The conference began with speakers who spoke about the psychological reasons for why certain people are more inclined to engage civically. We then had a panel discussion by three people from Stanford, Brown and Duke Universities who all have successful models for centers for community service, public service, or civic engagement -all different ways of describing the same thing. Basically, Northwestern is now looking into making their various opportunities for community service into a center where all these opportunities will be coordinated.

What was especially great about this conference, was during the afternoon, we had breakout sessions in small groups to discuss what were the key steps towards that Northwestern could take in order to make this center a possibility. One of my key points, which was very positively received, was to create a facebook-like social networking website where students, faculty and members of the outside community who dealt directly with Northwestern could share ideas, learn from each other, post opportunities - both service-wise and academically. Everybody agreed Northwestern had the resources, but needs the support of the administration in order to make this happen. However, I think this conference was a great first step towards a goal that I think is very necessary if Northwestern wants to fulfill its commitment to being civically engaged.

Finally, for your reading pleasure, the Chicago Tribune recently published a series of articles on the plight of ex-convicts finding jobs after leaving jail. One organization, North Lawndale Employment Network is combatting this problem by starting their own business run and operated by ex-convicts. The business is called Sweet Beginnings and they raise honeybees and make their own honey-based beauty products called Beeline Beauty Products. At organizations such as Cabrini Connections, we are trying to break the cycle of cradle to the prison that is so prevelant in communities such as North Lawndale and Cabrini Green. However, organizations such as North Lawndale Employment Network are extremely important too because they are trying to combat another cycle of being in prison over and over again because the difficulty for ex-convicts in finding jobs. The articles are both inspiring and heartbreaking at the same time and I highly recommend them.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Bill Cosby on "Meet the Press"

Yesterday, as part of my usual Sunday morning routine of breakfast, the Chicago Tribune, and Meet the Press, I happened to catch Bill Cosby and Harvard Medical School Psychiatry Professor, Allen Poussaint discussing their new book "Come on People: On the Path from Victims to Victors." The book discusses many issues within the black community including single mothers, incarceration rates, high school dropouts, and the use of the n-word. Not afraid of causing controversy, Cosby and Poussaint write about the need for activism against "the crumbling of the family" and the fight against inertia within the black community. I highly recommend watching the interview or reading the transcript of the interview.

While Cosby and Poussaint touch on many important issues in a very eloquent way, there are two things that I believe are especially relevant to the tutor-mentor realm. The first is the need for role-models - especially male role-models. Cosby and Poussaint cite stepfathers, grandfathers, godfathers and uncles stepping into the role of a male role-model in the absence of a father. I would also like to add mentor to this list, and indeed Cosby and Poussaint do cite several tutor/mentor organizations as ways the black community is fighting back, including Boys & Girls Clubs, Big Brothers/Big Sisters and 100 Black Men. I can speak from observation and experience that male mentors have huge impact on the young African-American males who participate in our program. In our most successful cases, we have relationships where the mentor takes the student out to sports games, meals and on trips to visit colleges. However, one thing that I have noticed is that while we have several African-American women who are acting as tutor/mentors, we have no African-American males who are fulfilling this role. My hope is that down the road, this is no longer the case and that the young men in our organization not only would just have male role-models, but African-American male role-models who can lead by example and who that there are many ways to be successful and to give back.

The second point that Cosby and Poussaint make, that I would like to highlight is the idea of the "love-giver." I've discussed before, in my entry on charter schools, that children growing up in poverty hear many more words of discouragement than encouragement. This goes into the idea of caregiver as opposed to love-giver. According to Cosby and Poussaint, in order for children to succeed in life, they need to be given love, rather than just cared for. In the absence of a positive love-giver at home, I think that tutor/mentors need to stand up and fulfill this role of being a love-giver to these children, in encouraging them and making them feel special.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Blogging and Social Networking

I've written before how important I think blogging and social networking (especially with websites such as facebook and myspace) can be in spreading a message. Eric Kintz, in the Digital Mindset Blog writes about how blogs become viral networks which spread in ways far superior to word of mouth. It's a very interesting article and touches on a lot of ways we're trying to promote the message of tutoring and mentoring.
I also recommend, visiting the Links Library on our Tutor/Mentor Connection website, which has a lot of valuable resources on everything ranging from philanthropy to preventing kids from dropping out of school.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Newark Mayor advocates tutoring and mentoring by being a mentor

I often look through the education section of the New York Times because they frequently have articles that discuss issues that are pertinent to what I'm doing in advocating tutoring and mentoring. Yesterday, the feature story on the New York Times webpage was about how Newark's mayor, Cory Booker, has become a mentor to three young African-American men who have all had brushes with the law and who come from some of Newarks' roughest area. Mr. Booker, an African-American himself, has found it hasn't always been easy being a mentor and sometimes there is only so much he can do to help out these young men. The article is fantastic, it emphasizes the incredible need for mentors for underprivileged youth and the realities that come to mentors. I think that Mr. Booker hits the nail on the head when he states, "There’s no reason that programs like Big Brothers and Big Sisters should have dozens of kids waiting for mentors."

As always, I try and relate what we are doing here at Cabrini Connections to what the article talks about. For this article, the fact that there are simply not enough mentors volunteering hits home for us. The past two Thursday nights, we have had to watch over 20 extra students who we have not been able to match with tutors. A lot of these students do not bring homework, are rowdy, and some have even gotten in to fights. The last straw came this past Thursday when some young men who are not in the program came in and wanted to start trouble. After we told them to leave, word got out that they were looking to jump some of our kids after our program was done. We quickly had to mobilize, calling the cops, and having the volunteers man the doors and make sure all the kids had a way of getting home safely. Not only was this scary for a lot of the kids, but I'm sure that it was very scary for a lot of the volunteers as well and I hope this incident did not scare them away.

The sad thing is that a lot of our students who do not have mentors because they do not bring homework, are difficult, pick fights, etc. are the ones who need mentors the most. Another sad thing is that those young men who came in wanting to jump some of our students as they left could've probably all used mentors when they were younger, but now it may be too late. In fact, Mayor Booker became acquainted with the young men he is not mentoring because they were arrested for spray painting "Kill Booker" on a school that none of them attended. Two of the young men became Mr. Booker's mentees, but one of them, at 13 the youngest, was described as being "incorrigeable."It absolutely saddens me to think that there are children who are, at the age of 13 incorrigeable, because I would like to believe that every child should have a chance to be a good person and not written off.

My only response to the fact that there are some kids who are incorrigeable is that there needs to be more tutoring and mentoring programs targeting younger kids so that they are able to be helped out earlier. This past weekend, I helped out at a conference at Fourth Presbyterian Church for tutor/mentors in programs in the Cabrini Green area. There are two wonderful programs catering to elementary schoolers in the Cabrini Green area, Cabrini Green Tutoring and Chicago Lights at Fourth Presbyterian Church. However, in a lot of low-income, high poverty areas, there aren't programs and more need to be created. Perhaps Mayor Booker can lead a campaign to start tutor/mentor programs starting in the first grade so that there will be no more 13-year-olds who are considered "incorrigeable."

Monday, September 24, 2007

And we're off to a great start!

Last Wednesday and Thursday kicked off tutoring for the academic year. It was so great seeing all the new and returning volunteers and all the new and returning kids finally come together and accomplish what our organization is all about. I knew it would be a good turnout from the positive attendance we had at the orientations the previous week.

Wednesday, when we have our high schoolers went extremely smoothly - we actually had a surplus of volunteers over our students, so unfortunately we actually had to ask a couple of volunteers to be substitutes. All the new student-volunteer matches seemed to work very well and everyone even brought their homework.

Thursday, on the other had was a little rockier. First of all, we knew that we were going to be short about a dozen volunteers since we had so many new students (which is great!) sign up at our orientations. However, we were only slightly prepared for the number of new students who brought friends, cousins, and siblings along with them. By the time we were able to match up all of our students who had homework (if students didn't bring homework, then they didn't get a tutor), we still had a surplus of about 20 students. Some of our veteran volunteers were very kind in helping 2 or 3 students who had homework, but there were still well-behaved students, who brought homework, who still didn't have a tutor to help them, which is very unfortunate. What was also unfortunate was that many of the kids who just showed up and didn't bring homework were just playing on the computers or horsing around. We had to ask them to leave, but still, in the end, we need more volunteers. If you, or anyone you know is willing to volunteer to tutor middle school (and a couple of high school students), please let me know!

Also, Cabrini Connections, along with Chicago Lights at 4th Presbyterian Church and Cabrini Green Tutoring, is hosting a Tutor Training Conference this Saturday, September 29th. Registration begins at 8am and the conference goes until 2:30pm, although participants can go for a half-day.

Finally, we are looking for workshop presenters and keynote speakers at out November Tutor/Mentor Conference, which is Thursday and Friday, November 15th and 16th at Olympia Fields Country Club. If you are interested in doing a workshop or in being a keynote speaker, please fill out this form and send it to Dan Bassill.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Paul Tough's endorsement of Tutor/Mentor Programs

I forgot to mention in the previous post, that Paul Tough, in an interview on Alexander Russo's blog, "This Week in Education," mentions tutor/mentor programs as an important of closing the education gap. He cites "broader, non-instructional approaches," which could most definitely include tutoring and mentoring in helping children achieve. This interview is also very interesting to read in trying to understand what Tough was trying to get at in writing his article "What it Takes to Make a Student."

Charter Schools - How do they relate to Tutor/Mentor Programs

I apologize for not having updated in such a long time. Last week, Monday through Thursday we had both of our volunteer and student orientations, which were exhausting but also invigorating because of the number of enthusiastic volunteers and eager kids who came. An entry needs to be devoted the orientations, but that can wait until later.

What I really think needs to be discussed is an article that we were encouraged to read after last week's fellowship seminar. John Ayres, the Vice President of Communications at the National Association of Charter School Authorizers came to speak to us about Charter Schools and their importance in education reform. He had us first read an editorial from the Saturday March 18, 2006 Chicago Tribune on the successes of the closing of troubled schools and their re-opening a year later. While greatly controversial, closing schools and then opening a year later with an overhauled staff and principal has been very successful for Arne Duncan and the Chicago Public Schools.

However, an even more controversial move in education in recent years has been the advent of charter schools - public schools that are privately run. There are several charter schools in the Chicagoland area, many of them run successfully to the benefit of a great number of poor and underprivileged students. One of them, North Lawndale College Prep, will be the site and topic of our seminar this week for my fellowship.

Paul Tough, in his November 26th, 2006 New York Times Magazine article, titles his article on charter schools "Still Left Behind" and asks the question, "What will it really take to close the education gap?" One of the answers, although not the entire answer (and there really are no entire answers) is charter schools. Charter schools, a recent addition to the education reform debate, are geared towards closing this education gap between (mostly) white children from middle to upper-class neighborhoods and suburbs and (mostly) black and latino children from the poor inner city. According to Tough, there are two debates about how to close this gap, one occurring within academic circles at colleges and universities and one occurring within circles of educators, teachers and principals. Tough states that neither of these debates overlap and both point the finger at the other, either for being too critical of a difficult situation or for not doing enough in that situation. What Tough does not mention is what tutor/mentor programs do to supplement the inadequacies of these children's education.

Tough goes on to cite a 1995 study, published by University of Kansas child psychologists, Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley, who found that their is a gap in a child's vocabulary based on whether they grew up in a middle to upper class or lower class home. This is based not only on the number of times the child is spoken to, but also the nature of the utterances. Tough writes, "By age 3 the average child of a professional heard about 500,000 encouragements and 80,000 discouragements. For the welfare children . . . they heard, on average, about 75,000 encouragements and 200,000 discouragements." Hart and Risley, from this study, made the conclusion taht "language exposure in early childhood correlated strongly with I.Q. and acaemic succes later on in life." To counter-act this phenomenom, tutor/mentor programs such as Cabrini Connections, create an environment of learning and growing through encouragements rather than discouragements. The earlier children start in these programs, the earlier that not only their vocabulary but also their self-esteem will grow.

Another interesting phenemom that Tough writes about is that in middle class children but not in lower class children, along with this self-esteem boost from encouraging words, there is also a sense of entitlement from adults in their lives taking their concerns and dreams seriously. In tutor/mentor programs, another benefit is that with a positive role model who cares about these children, a sense of entitlement is also created in lower class children as well.

A further interesting trend in the charter school debate that seems to mirror a trend in the Tutor/Mentor program debate is that every single charter school is its own entity, there is nothing connecting one charter school to another charter school. Looking at the success of the Tutor/Mentor Connection in linking tutor/mentor programs in a database for the Chicagoland area, a similar database would work extremely well for charter schools. While organizations such as KIPP, the Knowledge Is Power Program, founded by David Levin and Michael Feinberg in the early 90's is one such organization that links and organizes charter schools, more needs to be done to connect them just as more needs to be done to connect tutor/mentor programs in other parts of the country.

An important feature of charter schools is the instruction of study habits, including work ethic, focus, motivation, etc., what Tough places under the umbrella term "charcter. This is something many of poor children lack in their education. Tutor/mentor programs such as ours also encourage the instruction of character in creating relationships between students and their mentors. Another, extra-scholarly feature of charter schools that also can be implemented by tutor/mentor programs is the teaching of optimism - a feature that Tough attributes to a study by a University of Pennsylvania Psychology professor named Martin Seligman where "attitude is just as important as ability."Programs such as tutor/mentor programs can also promote this "learned optimism" in tutor/mentor sessions, doing, what Paul Tough emphasizes as "whatever it t[akes] to help . . . students succeed."

Another issue within the charter school debate is that parents enroll their students into a lottery system in order to be admitted to the schools. However, a problem arises in that despite being poor, these parents are aware and motivated enough to be able to enroll their children in these school admission lotteries. Many of the children of these motivated parents, despite being behind, are still far advanced from children who have no parental support at home. A solution to this problem, for both charter schools and tutor/mentor programs is that they need to go out into the neighborhood and actually recruit parents and students themelves so that even the most needy students will have a chance for help.

Another huge debate that wages between scholars in the realm of closing the education gap is whether improving education for poor students will help reduce poverty or whether the poverty is so great that first needs to be addressed before anything should be done for schools. A critic of charter schools, Richard Rothstein, a former education columnist for the New York Times, makes the former argument. Whether organizations such as Tutor/mentor connection agree with that assertion (we probably fall in the middle, wanting there to be both education reform and poverty reform) we do agree with his assertion that "the achievement gap can be significanty diminished only by correcting, or at least addressing, the deep inequities that divide the races and the classes."

Of course everything in this article, as do most debates about education, point to the No Child Left Behind Act. Tough asserts that more funding and commitment is needed in order for this act to actually be a success. However, this is where tutor/mentor programs are essential in fostering the understanding in adult volunteers that a commitment is needed into solving the problem.

Essentially, what needs to happen now is to raise the numbers of the people who are in the choir spreading the message of tutor/mentor programs and their success and closing this education gap. At the end of his article, Tough cites the motto of the conservative education movement "no excuses." No excuses should be the motto of tutor/mentor programs in creating an educated and contributing populus to the workplace and to society as a whole.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Tutor/Mentor Conference, Asset-Based Community Development

September means that the November Tutor/Mentor Conference is coming up. This year it is Thursday and Friday November 15th and 16th at Olympia Fields Country Club in the South suburbs. What I need help with is finding organizations to participate in a panel on Volunteer Recruitment strategies. If you know of any people or organizations who you think would be good to participate in this panel, please let me know.

Also, Wednesday means that I had my second seminar for my fellowship today. Jody Kretzman, a professor in the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern was our speaker today. The seminar emphasized Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD), which is finding what the assets are in the community in order to improve. Touching on ideas developed by Jane Addams and much later Saul Alinsky, Professor Kretzman underlined the importance in looking to the leaders in a community to help create social change. He describes three steps in this strategy: 1) Finding the assets in the community, 2) Connecting them or finding community connections, 3) Harnessing the assets to create a vision for the future.

This brings me to where Cabrini Connections is following this vision of Asset-Based Community Development. I have discussed before the importance in bringing in members of the community to work with an organization such as Cabrini Connections. We have been actively trying to maintain an alumae database and hopefully as our organization grows and ages, we will have more and more alumnae who we hope to turn into community leaders and organizers themselves. As Professor Kretzman says, and I have emphasized before, members of the community are such an important part in making social change happen. While we all must look outward for leaders and resources in organizations such as Cabrini Connections, we much also look inwards.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Chicago Tribune Education Article

As the new school year begins, the Chicago Tribune has published a three-part series of articles profiling the state of affairs in the inner-city Chicago public schools. Specifically, it details the hardships of one public school teacher in trying to guide and motivate a class of 8th graders at Sherman School of Excellence on Chicago's Southside. It's a fantastic series of articles - following a superior teacher through an academic year. It shows the tolls the stresses of the job puts on her, how far she takes her class in improving over the year, and the successes and failures at the end of the year. However, like many articles profiling education in our media, it doesn't ask certain important questions.

The main question it doesn't ask is what role would tutoring and mentoring programs have played in making this teacher's job easier. In the articles the teacher describes how she has to be a mother, a motivator, a teacher, a guidance counselor - everything for her 34 students. However, if there was a solid tutoring/mentoring program in the neighborhood, a huge burden would have been lifted from this dynamic teacher's shoulders. Sherman School of Excellence is in the Back of the Yards neighborhood of Chicago, which is in the 60609 zipcode. If you go to our program locator on the Tutor/Mentor Connection website, you would see that there are 10 programs in that zipcode, but none specifically near Sherman Park. With gangs and other pressures in the area, venturing even out of their small area to go to a tutor/mentor program would be an issue for a lot of these kids. In the end, after reading this article, we need to ask our own questions. Hopefully, someone reading this article may be inspired to start a tutor/mentor program near Sherman School of Excellence, not only to help these children, but also to take the burden off of our outstanding teachers who get ground down by their difficult jobs.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Recap of the Week

This week has been fairly busy as a lot of our students are starting school or are going to start school in the coming week. We also are gearing up for volunteer and student orientations and the volunteer recruitment campaign keeps chugging along. One of the coolest ways of spreading awareness about the volunteer recruitment campaign is a video made by our film club and directed by their leader, Rebecca Parrish. Please show this video to everyone you know because it is a great testimony to the power of tutoring and mentoring.

On Monday, Cabrini Connections had a field trip to the CSI exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry. One of the perks of our organization is that we get to go on field trips for free to the various museums in Chicago. The CSI exhibit was very well done - the kids had to observe a crime scene and the learn about the various ways crime scene investigators use the clues to solve a crime, such as DNA analysis, blood splatter patterns and autoposy findings. I think the kids really enjoyed the exhibit and as an added bonus, perhaps would consider crime scene investigation as a possible career path.

Wednesday, I had my first seminar for my fellowship. It was really great hearing about everyone else's jobs and how our experiences are very similar, yet we all are doing very different things. By far the most interesting part of the seminar was a young man who was a fellow last year who works for Chicago Public Schools' Alumni Relations. Various college alumni associations in Chicago have adopted different high schools to do tutoring, mentoring, job shadowing and college preparation. The three schools in my fellowship, Princeton, Northwestern and UChicago all have adopted a high school or elementary school. I think it's such a great idea to have these prestigious universities giving back to the schools in Chicago that are of great need.

Also on Wednesday, we had our first volunteer orientation for prospective volunteers. I was so happy to see that all of the prospective volunteers were really enthusiastic about tutoring and mentoring at Cabrini Connections and that all of them had so much to offer to our kids.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Want to find out more?

While our letter is very informative, I also recommend visiting these links to find out more:
1) No Child Left Behind
2) Poverty and Terrorism
3) School Drop Out Rates
4) CPS Students Dying from Violent Crime (Go to the August 17th post)
I want to emphasize the impact that social networking sites can have in spreading the word about tutoring and mentoring. There are numerous social networking sites out there, notably Facebook and Myspace and they are a great way for people to collaborate on different issues. But, wouldn't it be great if different communities, from the tutor/mentor organization in Chicago to a church community to the community that is my Public Interest Program fellowship, had their own social networking sites where current members and alums can share ideas, collaborate and change the world. Not a bad idea if I do say so myself.

Volunteer Recruitment Campaign Letter

As a part of the volunteer recruitment campaign, numerous letters are being sent to different organizations with different goals. Some are for the general benefit of recruiting volunteers, others are to aldermen, and others are to service learning organizations. In meeting with Ben Spacapan, a rising senior at the Latin School in Chicago, we decided that an important opportunity would be getting the help of high schools (and colleges as well) in starting service learning organizations to spread the word about tutoring and mentoring. While many of these students who live in the suburbs might not be able to travel to Chicago to volunteer, they can spread the word about tutoring and mentoring to people who can do tutoring and mentoring themselves. Not only does this keep the conversation about tutoring and mentoring flowing but also instills a tradition in the lives of these young people, so that when they do have the time, money and resources to tutor and mentor, they will. This letter, drafted by myself and my boss, Dan Bassill, explains to service learning organizations at schools and churches the importance of spreading the word about tutoring and mentoring. Please critique/comment/edit the letter as you like:

September means the start of a new school year. As thousands of children go back to school in the Chicagoland area, we need to remind ourselves of different ways we can make a positive impact on a child's life. Nearly three dozen Chicago Public School children were killed last year as a result of some violent crime.

Thousands of additional young people will drop out of school this year, meaning their opportunities for the American dream will be greatly reduced. Many will turn to a life of crime and become a cost to society.

While many people wonder why these things happen, the question we need to ask ourselves is what we can do to prevent even more children from becoming victims of crime, or of poverty, in the future.

One of the ways you can make a difference in a child's life is through tutoring and mentoring. Studies have shown that tutoring and mentoring underprivileged youth not only improves their academic performance and chances of going to college and getting a good job, but also contributes to their overall well-being, and the well-being of the community. Children who receive tutoring and mentoring are less likely to drop out of school, join gangs, get arrested and get pregnant while still a teenager. What's more, in order to make an impact on a child's life, all a tutor/mentor needs to do is give is an hour a week of their time.

Leaders of long-term tutor/mentor programs such as Cabrini Connections also understand that the involvement of the volunteer in a tutor/mentor program can transform the life of the volunteer as much as that of a youth. Thus, part of our strategy is to provide information to help more adults become involved, as tutors/mentors, leaders, donors, advocates, so that we help this process of growth take place, as a strategy of building more and better tutor/mentor programs in Chicago, and throughout the country.

Veteran tutor/mentor leaders understand that for tutoring/mentoring to have a quantum impact on youth aspirations and life choices, the tutor/mentor relationship needs to be sustained for many years, not a few months, or a single year. This means programs, or places where youth and volunteers connect, and which provide an enriched learning environment, are essential pillars of a long-term tutor/mentor strategy. In such places youth may have a primary volunteer, and several other mentors. Thus, if the primary volunteer moves to another job, or another city, the youth remains in the program, and his new mentor may be someone he/she already knows.

In such programs volunteers can serve as one-on-one tutors/mentors, group leaders, substitutes, organizers, and coordinators of activities. While tutors and mentors mainly are adults, these types of programs enable high school and college students to also become a meaningful part of this long-term process.

Unfortunately, in most cities there are not many programs that offer this type of comprehensive, mentor rich environment, and there are too few donors supporting such programs from year to year.

One of the ways students in high schools and colleges throughout the Chicago region can make an impact on children's lives is to form a service learning group that connects other students and adults from their community, with tutor/mentor programs throughout the Chicago region. Such teams would become learning communities, reading and discussing information that shows why kids in poverty face different challenges that youth living in more diverse and affluent areas, and where tutor/mentor programs are operating, or are needed.

As these teens create learning circles, within their school, church and community, they begin to use various communications strategies, such as public speaking, performance education, or social networking on the Internet, to share what they are learning with others, so that more people become involved in the different tutor/mentor programs located in the high poverty neighborhoods of Chicago and its suburbs.

This form of youth leadership will help many students and adults from the school community find ways to get involved with tutor/mentor programs, and will provide on-going support to help these adults learn from their experience and stay involved over a longer period. If such a structure forms within a high school, it becomes a permanent leadership team, like National Honor Society and Student Council. Except as students graduate and move away, and are replaced by younger student leaders, the alumni remain connected to this learning group, as they continue to grow their involvement in tutor/mentor programs in whatever city where they live and work.

This strategy offers many learning and teaching opportunities for students and faculty, and can be supported by state and federal grants that fund learn and serve and service learning programs at the high school and college level. As one or more high schools create these teams, they will provide models that other teams at other schools learn from, leading to the networking of student teams from many different high schools and colleges, and creating badly needed leadership supporting tutor/mentor programs in every major city in the country.

Where do you start our learning? Use the web site. This includes extensive links to information about poverty, and about tutoring/mentoring, as well as a list of tutoring and mentoring programs in the city of Chicago and the surrounding areas. With the Program Locator tool, you can search by what age group a program serves, whether they offer tutoring or mentoring or both, and by where a program is located by zip code.

By creating a service-learning leadership team in dozens of high schools, young people become the leaders who connect the resources of their school and community with programs in high poverty neighborhoods where such resources are needed to help kids avoid the violence of the streets, and build habits of learning and networks of supportive adults, who help them stay in school and move to college and careers.

Please, relay this message to school service learning organizations and other people you think will be interested in forming this type of service learning project in a school or a church. We can all make a difference in the lives of children, simply by learning where help is needed, and spreading the word of the benefits of tutoring and mentoring so that more people become volunteers, leaders, donors and advocates for tutor/mentor programs throughout the city of Chicago.

Thank you for your time. Please spread the word.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Are you aware?

Here's an interesting article in the Chicago Sun-Time yesterday.
Apparently the average CPS freshman has 19 absences and 2.6 F's. While this is not good news at all, and there is also a 60-something page report by Chicago Public Schools that details how the research was done and what the findings were, there was not anything in either the article or the report that emphasized how these results followed along poverty lines, racial lines and language lines. What the report also doesn't say and what is even more pertinent to what we're doing is how tutoring and mentoring programs could combat these poor results. A lot of people have read the article, and fewer people will read the report. But it takes a special person who will draw the same conclusions that we have on the importance of tutoring and mentoring programs in improving students' performance in schools. The key word is awareness - are you aware to what is going on in Chicago schools and do you care enough to ask. Everybody who reads this article should ask themselves this very question.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Enough is Enough

Yesterday I had two very constructive and eye-opening meetings. The first meeting was for every youth-centered non-profit organization that is funded by the city in our region. It was at the Union League Baretto Boys and Girls Club in Humboldt Park. The meeting overall was very interesting to me because I got to meet a lot of people I had been contacting these past couple of weeks. However, it was also very eye-opening to go into another neighborhood where there is high crime and fairly high poverty. Humboldt Park, like the area around Cabrini-Green is being gentrified (the city is now calling it Bucktown so the negative connotation of Humboldt Park won't stay with the area) and there is a lot of construction going on in the area. However, the real state of things in the neighborhood really came to light for me when I met a gentleman who worked at another Boys and Girls Club four blocks away (the two Boys and Girls Clubs can actually see each other from their buildings). Of course I was naive enough to ask "Why would you need another Boys and Girls Club four blocks away." His answer was painfully obviously: "Because the kids can't cross gang lines." What makes this even more interesting is that each of the Boys and Girls Clubs in this small area host over 1000 children.

A further interesting fact right now is that the gentleman whom I spoke with said that he had recently moved to Oak Park because living in Humboldt Park had gotten too expensive. This fact is another daily part of people's lives who live in the Cabrini Green area as well. One thing that I've come to realize is that there a lot of organizations that serve the Cabrini Green area. Why? Because it's so close to wealthy neighborhoods such as Lincoln Park and the Gold Coast. Humboldt Park is similar being so close to both Wicker Park and Logan Square and it is also similarily taken care of by various organization. When people who have money see poverty up close, they tend to act. However, as the poor of Chicago move away from areas such as Humboldt Park and Cabrini Green and into to the areas such as the Southside and the Westside, they become in some ways hidden from the rest of Chicago. When people don't see poverty, they act like it isn't there and that's why there is a huge difference between the number of programs on the Northside and those on the West or Southside. That needs to be changed.

That's why it was so gratifying to meet with someone who is very passionately trying to create change on the Southside later yesterday evening. Mac-Z Zurawski is from the Southside and very passionate about her neighborhood. She has taken upon herself to be a community organizer and she is a wonderful advocate for tutoring and mentoring programs. Her big push has been to start an arts organization on the southside and also trying to get the aldermen to start caring about tutoring and mentoring programs in their areas. If more people cared like Mac-Z, then the world will truly be a better place. It is in Mac-Z's own words that "Enough is Enough" that I have titled this entry.

Finally, everybody should go to my links and read the E-Learning Blog of our E-Learning and Technology Coordinator Keith Smith. Keith is a wonderful person and very passionate about helping kids. His insights are invaluable and he's a pretty funny guy too. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Brainstorming Meeting

Today, our volunteer recruitment campaign took another step forward with a brainstorming meeting at Literacy Volunteers of Illinois. Organizations as diverse as Chicago Lights at 4th Presbyterian Church, Lawrence Hall, Childserv, Corazon a Corazon, Saturday Scholars, and Eternal Light Community Services, in addition to Cabrini Connections and Literacy Volunteers of Illinois all met to discuss the issue of recruiting volunteers. All of these organizations do tutoring and mentoring of some type and all of them rely on volunteers to make their organizations work. However, every single organization serves a different community, a different age group, are a different size and have a different history.

I started the meeting out with having everyone introduce themselves. I, of course knew everyone at least from e-mail correspondance, but a lot of these organizations didn't know each other and these introductions were a small way of networking all these different organizations. Once these people were introduced, I had them go around the table again and say what they were doing to recruit volunteers. Now, some of these organizations have 400 volunteers and some of these organizations have 10, but their strategies for recruiting volunteers are very similar. A lot of these organizations function on cold calling and general word of mouth. Others collaborate with churches, community centers and the local chambers of commerce. I think that one aspect of sharing strategies for recruiting volunteers was that many of these organizations served similar communities or had contacts in other communities that could be helpful to other programs who are struggling to find volunteers.

Another aspect of the volunteer recruitment campaign that I pushed was the PR campaign that has to be involved in trying to reach potential volunteers. Word of mouth can only travel so far and websites are great, but only for those who are looking for them. A lot of what I'm trying to do with the volunteer recruitment campaign is to reach out to those people who wouldn't normally seek out being a volunteer tutor/mentor, but who, when the idea was planted, would consider the possibility. A huge emphasis in our discussion in regards to PR is the importance of community publications and not just the major daily newspapers or radio or television. Business connections are another important contact, because they can not only be a source of money, but also of volunteers, and of services such as providing food for open house meetings.

A final aspect I pushed in this meeting was the importance of the internet. Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connections has both a Myspace page and a Facebook group and the Volunteer Recruitment Campaign is an event on Facebook as well. A lot of organizations do not consider the power that social networking sites have in acting as free publicity for organziations such as ours. Also, the mere act of creating a blog and writing about the daily successes and struggles or working in a non-profit is a great way of sharing your story as well.

I felt our meeting was a great success and I'm very excited about the information that is already being shared by and between these different organizations. What I do want people to do now is to try and figure out what happens next. What is the next the step in the process so that we can have an influx of volunteers come September. I would be open to any possibilities that people would be willing to share.

Friday, August 10, 2007


I would first like to announce that it has been exactly one month since I started here at Cabrini Connections and like always, time flies when you're having fun.

As part of our Volunteer Recruitment Campaign and in the general realm of continuing networking, Dan Bassill and I met with Jon Marino, who is just finishing his Public Interest Program Fellowship with Chicago Public Schools. Jon is now working with the Center for Global Engagement at Northwestern University, where he will be developing ways of getting people involved in global volunteerism and public service. While Jon's organization is oriented more globally and our organization, due to its focus of course, is mainly focused locally, both of our organizations have a lot in common. There were many issues that we touched upon in our almost two hour meeting, and I could easily dedicate several posts about these issues, but one of the issues that I think is important is the issue of using universities as a place where networks can be created towards the realm of social change.

First of all, Northwestern is a research university and both Dan and Jon had the idea of having grad students collaborate with organizations such as the Center for Global Engagement or Cabrini Connections, and study the ways these programs implement social change and problem solve. Then, they can publish these findings in a dissertation or a book so that other organizations can use this information for their own benefit. We all agreed that all these researchers at universities do some wonderful research, but mainly just to get published in a journal where only a few people will read it. Why not get the information out and into the public and use this information to benefit others, in addition to explanding knowledge.

Also, I highly encourage you to visit my fellowship's website: and see not only what I have said about my experiences so far at Cabrini Connections, but also about what other fellows are doing with their organizations.
Finally, a fond fairwell to Paul Wei, our intern from Hong Kong. It was such a pleasure meeting Paul and I also encourage you visit his blog (under the Hong Kong Blog link in my favorite links section) where you can see the really cool animation that Paul created while he worked with us. Paul demonstrates how an organization like Cabrini Connections is not just looking locally, but internationally for ways of creating social change.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Volunteer Recruitment Campaign Brainstorming Session!

It's official: The 2007 Chicago-area Volunteer Recruitment Campaign has a place for its brainstorming meeting! It's at Literacy Volunteers of Illinois
30 E. Adams, Suite 1130
Chicago, IL 60603
Phone Number: 312-857-1582
If you're feeling creative and want to make an impact in promoting awareness about volunteering as a tutor and metor to school-age children, please come.
Dates-wise, the Volunteer Recruitment Campaign will most likely culminate the weekend of September 8th and 9th, the week after Chicago Public Schools and most other schools in the Chicagoland area will be starting school.
Another exciting event is the Volunteer Training Conference, which Cabrini Connections is doing in conjunction with Cabrini Green Tutoring and Chicago Lights Tutoring at 4th Presbyterian Church. Yesterday, myself and Ana Llorens, Cabrini Connections' Program Coordinator met with Erin McPartlin of Cabrini Green and Alex Cornwell of Chicago Lights at the beautiful St. Vincent De Paul building to discuss this conference. This is for already-committed volunteers, either new or veteran and there will be workshops on everything from what is happening in the Cabrini Green neighborhood to working with children with learning disabilities. I think it's a wonderful thing that our three organizations are working together on this because we're all serving the Cabrini Green community and our goals are all the same. This is just another example of how networking between organizations can make a difference for everyone in the long run.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

And We're Off!

As far as I am concerned, the Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection Annual Volunteer Campaign is off to a great start! Yesterday, we had our first planning meeting and myself and Christrine Lassandrello are going to be co-charing this year's event. Ben Spacapan, a senior at the Latin School is also helping us out and bringing (even more) youthful energy to the campaign. So far, we've decided that we will meet on Tuesday August 14th at 2pm with other tutoring and mentoring programs throughout the city and try and brainstorm ways to make this campaign creative and successful. So far, we don't have a site for the meeting, but we're working on that.
Two innovative ways that we are raising awareness about volunteer recruitment:
MySpace: Thanks to Ben, Cabrini Connections has it's own myspace page. Find us at Tutor/Mentor Service on
Facebook: We also have a Facebook group and the Volunteer Recruitment Campaign is a month-long event. If you're a member of facebook, join our group and say that you're attending the campaign.
If any of you who read my blog have new, fun, creative ways of recruiting volunteers before the school year starts, please let me know. I would appreciate as much input as possible.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Volunteer Recruitment Campaign

Week 3 is winding down and I can't believe it's almost August 1st! Lately, my life at Cabrini Connections has been contacting all of the tutor/mentor programs in our database and making sure their information is up to date and that they have completed the program survey. While most of the organizations have been quite responsive about completing the survey and making sure their information is current, I've had less success convincing the programs to join our Yahoo group for recruiting volunteers to be tutors and mentors ( in case you're interested in joining!)
However, there are many great ways to network online if you're trying to recruit tutors and mentors, like I am:
The first way, that my boss, Dan Bassill showed me is Classroom 2.0, sort of a Myspace for people who are working in the field of education and technology. Our group in Classroom 2.o is found at:
Another site is:
Which is yet another social networking site.
I'm finding that a lot of programs I talk to who don't have websites (some don't even have e-mail addresses) are reluctant to be integrated into sites like these. But this is another one of those cases where everybody benefits.
Another interesting part of the Tutor/Mentor Connection website is the library links, where you can read other people's blogs about recruiting volunteers and fundraising. They're actually very interesting and offer a glimpse into the world of non-profit:
An especially interesting blog, that actually points to a wiki group as well, is one that Dan has referred to his on blog at
The blog can be found at:
and addresses several important issues in working with underprivileged youth, especially preventing dropping out of school.
I really encourage everyone to go to these sites just to see how people are working together and communicating about helping underprivileged youth succeed.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Hong Kong Intern's Blog

Oh, and just to let everybody know. I added my colleague, Paul Wei's blog to my favorite links. Paul is an intern from Hong Kong Baptist University who will be with us for two months. He's a great guy and I think his observations about working in an American non-profit are incredibly insightful and interesting. Enjoy!

Business School Connection

One of the more interesting projects I've been given in these past three weeks is to maintain our Business School Connection, a concept that was launched last year by a fellow through the University of Chicago Graduate School. The idea is very simple: why not enlist business schools to use their expertise on running businesses and taking that expertise to the realm of non-profits. After all, non-profits are pretty much businesses, just as their name indicates, not-for-profit. I think the idea is fantastic. I know there is a huge movement for corporations throughout the globe to contribute more to the public interest. There are even people who have an expertise in corporate social responsibility who's job it is to make sure that corporations are being socially responsible by being ecologically friendly, by treating their workers fairly, by contributing to a cause or a charity. Back in May, when I attended the Tutor/Mentor Conference at Northwestern Law School, I sat in on a seminar about creating ties between corporations and non-profits such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters, or Cabrini Connections.
Why not take this a step further? Why not instill this idea of contributing to the public interest while business execs are in business school? This is the whole idea of business school connection so that business schools themselves can have connections to non-profits. Both institutions will benefit in the long-run and it is my belief that CEO's who have worked with non-profits who are understaffed and underfunded while they were still in school will make better CEO's when they are the leaders of Fortune 500 companies.
My boss, Dan Bassill has made an excellent point about many of the nation's top business schools being near low-income areas. For example, University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business is near West Philadelphia, University of Chicago is on the Southside of Chicago, Stanford business school is near East Palo Alto. My alma mater, Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Business has consistently been named one of the top business schools in the world and it is also fairly close to low income areas. I am very excited about maintaining and creating new connections with business schools and if anyone has any possible contacts, please let me know.
There are two forums for our business school connection. One is in our Tutor/Mentor Connection website at:
another is our business school wiki at:
I hope everyone thinks about this idea and if anyone would like to contribute anything, please do!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Monday of Week 3

It's Monday and I really felt like I've accomplished something this past weekend. This past Saturday, one of our board members hosted a poker night at his house in Winnetka. His entire law firm (which is an internationally-known law firm and has offices all over the world, not just in Chicago), along with at least some visitors from New York, showed up to play poker and black jack for raffle tickets. All the money raised then went back to Cabrini Connections.
I had more fun that night learning how to deal Texas Hold-Em Poker (if all else fails, I could move to Vegas!), and talking with the attorneys. I was plugging Cabrini Connections especially hard to the Summer associates since they are law students in Chicago and I think they would be great assets for the kids; if anything to come and speak to them about what it takes to get into law school at our career day.
After the success that was Saturday night (we raised $3,000!), I think more people are capable of putting on fundraisers like this to benefit non-profits for Cabrini Green. Not only does it raise money, but I also think that it is a great way to advertise our name and create more awareness for ours and other programs. Plus, people were having fun! We also discussed the possibility of doing a Karaoke/Skit night for the Tutors and the Tutees maybe around Halloween or Christmas time. Judging from how much adults were having fun at Poker Night, I think the kids would have that much more fun if we did a similar event with them.

Friday, July 20, 2007

End of a Busy Week

Greetings! I have just completely an exhausting, yet very fulfilling second week at Cabrini Connections.
The third day of the Edgewood College visit was a short one - all the Edgewood College students and the kids left around noon. During our short morning together we did several activities, but one in particular left a big impression on the kids. We played jeopardy, but our version was all about college and careers. I think the part that made the kids think the most was the category about "Cost of Living." Several questions were "What is the average salary of someone with only an 8th grade education?" (Higher than I expected - although only $14,000/year), "How much do diapers and wipes cost per month?" (a whopping $100) and what does the average two bedroom apartment cost in Chicago ($1500!). These were things that I had no idea about when I went to college, so I thought it was important that the kids realized how much things really do cost and how important it is for them to stay and school. I also thought it was really important that the Edgewood College people kept emphasizing how much money there is out there to help kids go to college. If they have the grades, there really is no excuse for them not to go to college. However, I also thought it was important to emphasize that going to trade school, or getting a job that doesn't require a college education is a very viable option as well. I think my Northwestern friends would be surprised to realize just how much construction workers, or plumbers or electricians really do make and how they have great benefits as well. Since a good number of the kids at Cabrini Connections will not go to college, the emphasis on these type of jobs is so important as well.
All in all, I think the Edgewood College graduate students got just as much out of working with the Cabrini Connections kids as the Cabrini Connections kids got out of working with the graduate students. I know it was great for the kids to meet adults who were going to school and who were becoming teachers, since a lot of kids, especially on the last day, shared their negative experiences with teachers with the graduate students. For the graduate students, however, I thought it was very important to interact with the Cabrini Connections kids so closely because I think they got a lot of insight into these kids' lives that they wouldn't have gotten otherwise.
In a complete reversal of situations, yesterday Cabrini Connections had its 12th Annual Jimmy Biggs Memorial Golf Tournament at Highland Park Country Club. Jimmy Biggs was one of the first Cabrini Connections students and worked for Cabrini Connections after high school. Tragically, he died at a very young age from Diabetes, which Dan Bassill emphasized is one of the most common silent killers of young people in the Inner City.
I thought it was a great idea to bring out a couple of the Cabrini Connections kids to the Golf Tournament, both current and graduated, to put a face on the program. All different kinds of businesses, corporate firms, etc. participated in the golf tournament and it was definitely a different crowd than what I had been working with since I started Cabrini Connections. For most of the day, I supervised one of the Par-3 holes where a hole-in-one contest was going on. At all of the Par-3's, if you got a hole-in-0ne you would win a prize such as a 2-year lease on a brand new Lexus, or an all-expenses paid trip to Hawaii. Unfortunately nobody won, but I still had a great time. While the tournament was going on, the Cabrini Connections kids were zooming around in golf carts and taking photos of the teams. Hopefully, next week I'll put up some photos of the golf tournament and the Edgewood College visit. Anyway, while I was supervising the hole-in-one contest, I was attempting to tell the players about Cabrini Connections, to little avail since they were pretty focused on our golf game. However, after the tournament, while we had dinner and a silent auction, I found a great opportunity to tell people about Cabrini Connections, and also my fellowship. It was a nice change of pace talking to adults in the business or law world about Cabrini Connections and I was really pleased how interested and responsive the people were.
Next week, look forward to stories of poker night and photos of the past week!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Edgewood College Visit Day 2

It is the end of Day 2 of Edgewood's College visit and I think we are all exhausted (but in a good way) at this point. The first thing we did was listen to a college admissions counselor on what it takes to get into college. What was really great was that the college admissions counselor who came from Edgewood was African-American and grew up on the south side of Chicago. She kept emphasizing that there were lots of scholarships out there for kids in their situation and there is absolutely no excuse when it comes to paying for college. I really hoped the kids were listening (it was early still) because I think she will be a great resource for them.
This morning, we also did several activities at Cabrini Connections, including an activity about obstacles where we blindfolded the kids and they had to guide themselves along a rope and where obstacles were placed in front of them. The point was to show the kids that even though they had obstacles placed in front of them, they could never let go of the rope. The kids understood the activity pretty quickly but did not seem to be as involved as they were in the next activity.
The next activity we did was a combination of charades and pictionary where two students who were on different teams picked a job out of a hat and either had to act out the job or draw it. Once the kids guessed what the job was, the Edgewood people would read a description of what you need in order to qualify for the job. The most interesting part was when the job of police officer came up and the kids listed skills necessary for the job as being: aggression, willingness to kill, etc. The Edgewood College people emphasized that there are good cops and bad cops and that a good cop is not aggressive and does not kill unless he or she absolutely has to. I found this to be especially interesting because I felt it really demonstrated how the police force are viewed in these kids' communities as something negative while they really should be viewed as a positive force there to protect them, rather than hurting them.
After lunch, we boarded a bus to Navy Pier. I think the kids had a good time on the Ferris Wheel, although I wish our visit there could have been longer. After Navy Pier, we walked to the Museum of Contemporary Art, where we got free admission. I was a little disappointed in the Edgewood College people loudly commenting on how "weird" the art was, because I think the kids were finding it interesting and besides, it's good for them to be exposed to new things like modern art. The main exhibit was on contemporary art in Mexico and I think a lot of topics explored in the art were really meaningful to the kids, especially certain works that were influenced by the issue of gang violence. Again, I wished we had stayed longer because I think these kids need, and deserve to have as much exposure to these kinds of things as possible.
Like yesterday, today was very successful and I truly feel that our students at Cabrini Connections are lucky to have people like those from Edgewood College come and open up new worlds to them.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Edgewood College Visit Day 1

Today was by far the most fun day at Cabrini Connections yet. Edgewood College, a small liberal arts college in Madison, WI comes every year and does field trips, team-building and college counseling with our kids. Most of them are grad students who are teachers or are planning on going into the field of education. It's really important for the kids because a lot of them haven't had any exposure to people who work in the college field and might not even be thinking about going in that direction.
The first thing we did was go to the Freedom Museum at the Tribune Center. The entire museum is dedicated to the First Amendment and I was really impressed that one of our kids could name all parts of the First Amendment (freedom of speech, religion, press, to assemble peacefully and to petition). I couldn't even name all the different parts of the First Amendment and so I was really impressed. The museum was very cool and I think the kids especially enjoyed the part where you could record a clip of you describing what freedom meant to you. Then you can go to a video screen and watch what you said as well as what other people have said, including former president Jimmy Carter and the newest Bull, Joakim Noah.
We then did a scavenger hunt along the upper part of the Loop. I had a great group of girls who really took the initiative to go above and beyond what they were asked to do. Rather than find just one person who speaks a foreign language, they found two. Rather than find three ethnic restaurants, they found five. After racing back (our team got second, but I would give them first place for the effort they put into it), we had lunch and then did an activity about networking - something that I think everybody should work on. We then filled out a form and attached it to a balloon and let it go outside. While not the most environmentally friendly activity, the goal was that someone would find it and write back to the kids about networking. One of the Edgewood College people shared an anecdote about how one time when they did this activity, one of the balloons went all the way to Idaho because it fell in a truck that was making a cross-country trip. We had to do a bit of troubleshooting because the envelopes that we were using to transport the letters were too heavy for just one helium balloon so the coordinators of the activity had to tie several balloons to the letters so they would actually fly. It was a little frustrating for the kids but I think they were amazed when they saw their letters being carried off by the balloons. The final activity of the day was to create posters where the kids chose from different cut-out words to describe themselves. All in all, I think the kids surprised themselves by how much fun they had . I know I'm looking forward to tomorrow when we visit the Museum of Contemporary Art and then Navy Pier!

Friday, July 13, 2007

End of Week 1

Well, my great adventure into the world of non-profit and public policy has begun. I am winding down Week 1 and I have already learned so many things. Here are a few lessons that are result of my experiences during Week 1 at Cabrini Connection:

1) People in non-profit are really nice: One of my first projects this week has been to contact all the tutoring and mentoring organizations in our database and make sure the information is correct and up-to-date. I don't think I talked to one person who wasn't really helpful, friendly, and excited to be included in our database. Maybe, the adult world isn't so scary after all . . .

2) I'm still trying to figure out exactly what my job is going to be: My official title is Assistant Program Coordinator but I think a more apt title is "Jack(ette) or all Trades." In my first week here, I've updated the website, written dozens of e-mails, called numerous people and just helped around the office. Eventually, I am going to be involved in event planning, recruiting, fundraising, grant writing and much more. Dan, my boss, has given me the assignment of doing a powerpoint of exactly what my job is and what I plan to accomplish with it. I already know that this may be my toughest assignment yet since, when somebody asked me what I planned to get out of my job, I was at a loss for words. Also, it's been a very long time since I've done powerpoint, but hey, it's all part of the learning process.

3) There are A LOT of tutoring and mentoring organizations in Chicago. Not that I didn't think our Tutor/Mentor Connection website wasn't a good idea to begin with, but now that I'm contacting all these different organizations, I'm realizing just how many and how diverse these organizations are. Even the term tutor/mentor program is extremely fluid. Already, it's getting somewhat frustrating trying to keep track of all the different organizations and make sure that their information is all up to date. You would think it would be more organized, but our system is as good as you can get.

4) I'm only experiencing a tiny part of what my job is going to entail: Right now, we're doing summer programming and a lot of our work is office work to prepare for the upcoming school year. My duties in July are going to change greatly once it comes to September and the tutoring sessions begin.

5) You never know who could be a networking contact: I'm finding that it's not always just the people who you think will be good contacts for your network. People as diverse as attorneys, computer technicians, real estate brokers, etc. could also be important contacts.

6) Some of your biggest assets are those in the community you are working with: I think one of the biggest lessons for people working in non-profit, no matter what kind, is that their biggest asset could be right in the pool of people your working with. A lot of our former students come back and help out with chaperoning trips, helping out with evening programming (tech club, art club, film club, writing club, etc.) What a great asset, since so many of these students grew up in the same environment and have had similar experiences and hardships as many of these students have. I think a lot of organizations would have more success if they started tapping into their pool of people they work with and find out what strengths THEY have to offer the organization.

That's pretty much it for Week 1. Look forward to stories of College visits and golf tournaments next week!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Starting a great adventure!

Hello all! Well, tomorrow I start my great adventure of my first adult job. Before starting, I've been encouraged to read through several websites and blogs in order to begin to conceptualize what I need to accomplish in the upcoming year.
A very interesting discussion that read is on this website:
This discussion brings up many major issues about volunteerism, whether local or international. I know as a recent graduate of Northwestern that one of the major lessons that is drilled in our heads is to volunteer: time, money, talent, you name it. I can't think of one person that I have encountered in my time at Northwestern who hasn't wanted to make a positive impact on the world. However, as my boss, Dan Bassill has pointed out time and time again, it's one thing to build a house on a Saturday afternoon or volunteer at a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving, but it's another to build a relationship with someone and help them week in and week out. For this very reason I think that Cabrini Connection, Tutor/Mentor Connection is one of the most concrete ways one can make a positive impact on someone else's life. I am a huge believer in the power of tutoring and mentoring and I think it's such a privilege that I get to work for an organization that accomplishes such concrete results.
I believe that a graduate of Northwestern, working in Chicago, I have a huge resource base of friends, professors and others who I think have the potential to help make this concrete difference. As mentioned in the discussion above, universities are an enormous research in the volunteer-based non-profit world. Even as students (or post-graduates in a lot of cases), we have so much to offer. If you're interested in becoming involved in any way, please let me know!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

My first post!

Hello everyone! I am rejoining the blog world and am excited to share with you my experiences with Cabrini Connection, Tutor/Mentor Connection. I am a recent graduate of Northwestern University and am now a fellow throught the Northwestern Public Interest Program fellowship at Cabrini Connection. In this blog I hope to inform you about what is happening not only at Cabrini Connection but also in the general realm of tutoring and mentoring non-profits throughout the Chicagoland area. I will also be sharing my experiences in the Public Interest Program fellowship which coordinates graduating seniors at Northwestern, University of Chicago and Princeton with non-profits in Chicago that are in the public interest realm. Look forward to upcoming posts and pass this along to friends!