Wednesday, August 22, 2007

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.

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