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.