Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Answering the $20,000 Question

The frontpage story of the Chicago Tribune this past Sunday, titled The $20,000 Question was an investigative report on how the state has squandered grant money on tutoring and mentoring programs, primarily on the West Side of Chicago, that are not actually open or do not exist. Some of these programs employ ex-cons, others don't have equipment that works. Most of these programs can be traced to State Senator Ricky Hendon and his supporters.

This article brings up many important issues that we here at Cabrini Connections addresses. Dan Bassill, in his blog, discusses how investigations like this bring up questions of what being a tutoring or a mentoring program actually means.

On my end, as the Tutor/Mentor Connection Research and Networking Coordinator, it's my job to make sure that all of the tutoring and mentoring programs in our database of tutoring and mentoring programs throughout the Chicagoland area are up-to-date and are still actually doing what they're supposed to be doing. Every six months or so we try and contact each and every program in the database to make sure their information is correct and up-to-date. This is to ensure that we are not referring students, parents, counselors, teachers, social workers and potential volunteers to tutoring and mentoring programs that have out-of-date information or no longer exist.

In my current position I also work as a referral service, helping tutoring and mentoring programs be the best they possibly can be. The tragic thing about the illegitimate tutoring and mentoring programs cited in the article is that the region that most of them are located, Chicago's far-west side is in dire need of quality tutoring and mentoring programs. Hopefully people will understand that fact from the article and act by starting tutoring and mentoring programs or helping to fund tutoring and mentoring programs that we have listed in that region.
I, myself, am working to make sure that these programs are able to at least start up blogs, if not websites, so they can take advantage of being found on the internet. I also will be helping programs learn about collaborating with other programs in their area and throughout Chicago through means such as the Volunteer Recruitment Campaign.

It's investigations like the one in the Sunday Tribune that can be frustrating to tutoring and mentoring programs in poverty-stricken areas that are trying to succeed and are desperate for funding. Fortunately this has given the Illinois Board of Education a reality check and made them start evaluating the means by which they approve grant applications. Also, it brings to light how important programs such a the Tutor/Mentor Connection are in making sure legitimate programs are advertised so that people will know about them. Hopefully, the message people will be getting from this article is that money that goes to illegitmate programs is not going to children-in-need and that needs to be changed.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Jimmy Biggs Memorial Golf Tournament/Northwestern Tutor/Mentor Connection

Hello all! Summer time can sometimes be characterized as the slowest time of the year for Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection, but this summer has been especially productive for all of us. First of all, we are putting on a golf tournament to benefit Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection - The Jimmy Biggs Memorial Golf Tournament. It will be held tomorrow, Thursday July 17th at Highland Park Country Club. Lunch will be from 11:30am-12:45pm, tee time will be at 1:00pm, and there will be dinner and a silent auction from 5:30-8pm. Last year was a lot of fun and it was a great way for me to practice selling Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection to those in the business community, who are our main supporters for the golf tournament. Hopefully, we'll have as much fun and success tomorrow as we did last year.

Also, with there now being three Northwestern Wildcats on staff now (El Da'Sheon, Chris, and myself), as well as countless volunteers, board members, and donors being NU alumnae, we felt it was time to create a Northwestern Tutor/Mentor Connection. Chris blogs about this idea in his blog and Dan wrote about the need for stronger connections between universities and their surrounding communities in his most recent blog entry. Back in November, I went to a conference at Northwestern University on Civic Engagement and the University and wrote about it early in this blog here. Moral of the story is, universities such as Northwestern University have a wealth of talent, ideas and money amongst their alumnae. It doesn't just have to be between Northwestern and Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection where this university-non-profit connection can be made but between a variety of universities and a variety of non-profits and causes. Golf Tournaments such as the Jimmy Biggs Memorial Golf Tournament and other fun fundraising events are a great way to get people to start getting involved in supporting your cause. I look forward to all the future opportunities that I may find as Northwestern and Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection become more connected than ever before.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Volunteer Recruitment Campaign Kick-Off Meeting

Yesterday, Wednesday July 9th, Cabrini Connections hosted our Volunteer Recruitment Campaign Kick-Off Meeting at Literacy Volunteers of Illinois. Chicago HOPES, a division of Americorps VISTA that has collaborated with CPS to help homeless teens succeed, Midtown Boys Club, Community Building Tutors, and the Center for Family Services in Aurora, along with Cabrini Connections and Literacy Volunteers of Illinois all participated.

The kick-off meeting was very similar to the one we had last year, and I started out with the main basic outline. However, I was very pleased that our Volunteer Recruitment network has expanded and that different groups from the year prior showed up.

The first thing we discussed was what the different organizations did to recruit volunteers. It seems that all of us use the online volunteer sites, volunteermatch.org, tutor referral and craigslist. Other ways of recruiting volunteers that were discussed were going to churches and contacting alderment to pitch volunteering as a tutor and mentor, putting up fliers on community bulletin boards, building relationships with high schools and colleges/universities and having companies like Verizon hand out fliers promoting volunteerism in their packets.

One possible idea that would need financial backing and collaboration between several different organizations would be to run an ad campaign promoting tutoring and mentoring on CTA trains and buses.

We also discussed the idea of using social networking sites such as Facebook, Myspace or LinkedIn as well as hosting ideas through website links. Here at Cabrini Connections we have found a lot of success with Facebook and LinkedIn especially for collaborating with current and former volunteers and for gaining support from people who are not yet affiliated with us.

Finally, we promoted two upcoming events. The first is the Ravenswood Community Festival called The Raven, which is sponsored by Community Building Tutors, and which will be held at Chase Park on Saturday and Sunday August 16th and 17th. Community Building Tutors is hoping that many tutoring and mentoring programs will have booths at this event to help promote volunteering as a tutor and/or mentor - something that Cabrini Connections is very excited about. This is exactly what we want every organization to do in collaborating with other tutoring and mentoring organization in their communities.

Also, Cabrini Connections is hosting a Volunteer Coffeehouse Night at ING Direct Cafe, off of Chestnut St., near the John Hancock building. It will be on Thursday August 21st from 6-9 pm and all volunteers, respective volunteers and employees of tutoring and mentoring organization are welcome to come as they get off of work for a cup of coffee and a chance to network with other people passionate about tutoring and mentoring. We're also hoping to have a webcast of people giving their testimonials of why they work or volunteer in tutoring and mentoring to webcams and then sending it out live on the internet. Look for more information in the coming weeks about this.

New Members of the Cabrini Connections Blogging Community

I want to first give a shout out to two fairly new blogs that are created by the two newest members of our Cabrini Connections staff, Mike Trakan and Chris Warren.

Mike is our Mapping Coordinator, who is creating a variety maps that will work as teaching tools showing where there is poverty and where different sectors overlap: schools, colleges and universities, hospitals, and of course, tutoring and mentoring programs. Mike explains much more eloquently than I ever could, which is why you should check out his blog, Mapping for Justice.

Our other BRAND NEW employee is Chris Warren, who is our new Northwestern Public Interest Program Fellow (or as everyone else calls him "the new Nicole") and will be fulfilling much of the same role that I did last year, giving support to El Da'Sheon and Cabrini Connections and to myself and Tutor/Mentor Connection. His blog is ChrisPIP.

Welcome to Mike and Chris! We're so excited to have you on board!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Athletes as Mentors

For the last two weeks, the Olympic Track and Field Trials were held in my hometown of Eugene, OR. Over the course of a week, my college town of 140,000 people became the epicenter for all things track and field and track field permeated every aspect of life there. This included my mom's organization Committed Partners for Youth, where she is the development director. Over the course of the past two weeks, potential olympic athletes such as 100-meter silver medalist in the 2004 Athens Olympics, Lauryn Williams have come in to speak to the kids about growing up and how much mentoring has meant to them. This is great because kids need to know how important mentoring is to help them succeed. Olympic athletes are a wonderful example of the successes that are possible when people are there along the way to push you along.

What's just as great is when athletes act as mentors themselves. My mom met the winner of the men's 800, Nick Symmonds, who trains locally in Eugene, OR. Mr. Symmonds mentioned to my mom how he has been a mentor in the past and how mentoring at-risk kids has meant so much to him as a way of balancing out the rigors of training for the Olympics.

We need more athletes like Lauryn Williams and Nick Symmonds speaking out about the importance of being both a mentor and being mentored. The Olympics is a wonderful time to celebrate the accomplishments of individuals who have worked hard. I would bet that quite a few of them have benefitted in some way by being mentored along the way. Now is the time for them to speak out about the importance of mentoring as a way of being successful.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Volunteer Recruitment Campaign

It's that time of year again - that's right, the 2008 Volunteer Recruitment Campaign is being kicked off next Wednesday, July 9th at a meeting bringing together various organizations throughout the Chicagoland area to discuss how we can recruit more volunteers to be tutors and mentors, as well generally increase awareness about tutoring and mentoring in general.

Last year my goal was to start building a network of organizations who would collaborate on the Volunteer Recruitment Campaign. This was accomplished at a meeting we had last August at Literacy Volunteers of Illinois. The theme of volunteer recruitment also continued throughout the year at the two seminars that I mediated at both our November and May Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conferences.

This year, we are kicking off the 2008 Volunteer Recruitment Campaign with a similar meeting to the one last year, but that's only the beginning. By the end of September, my goal is to have at least 25 organizations involved and for there to be mentions of the Volunteer Recruitment Campaign in the media. I'm also putting together a coffeehouse night at the ING Direct Cafe, on the near northside to bring together organization leaders, volunteers and potential volunteers to discuss the importance of volunteering in a relaxed and casual setting.

So, if you want to get involved in this year's Volunteer Recruitment Campaign, please come to our kickoff meeting, which will be Wednesday, July 9th at 2pm, at Literacy Volunteers of Illinois, 30 E. Adams, Suite 1130, Chicago, IL 60603.