Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Successful Tutor Training Conference

Hello Everybody! I just wanted to say how happy I was with the Tutor Training Conference that was held this past Saturday, September 27th at Fourth Presbyterian Church in conjunction with Cabrini Green Tutoring and Chicago Lights at Fourth Presbyterian Church. Attendance by our volunteers shot up dramatically with 20 people affiliated with Cabrini Connections coming to the conference for at least part of our day.

Several of our volunteers presented workshops at the conference. Tami Wielgus was a panelist on making the most of the tutoring session. Alexandria Hill spoke about establishing boundaries and expecations with your student. Amy Proger discussed on what matters for college readiness and access for urban youth. Finally, Jen Nolan and Carla Reyes presented a workshop on helping your student get accepted into and pay for college. I was only able to attend one of the sessions since I was helping greet people at the entrance for most of the day, but I was so glad that I was able to Jen and Carla's workshop. Despite only graduating from college a little over a year ago, I found the workshop to be extremely insightful and I feel I am now more confident in answering college-related questions from our students.

Overall, I felt like the conference is a wonderful example of different organizations collaborating with one another on a common goal. As the Tutor/Mentor Research and Networking Coordinator, I use it as a perfect example of the success that an event such as Tutor Training Conference can have when programs such as Cabrini Connections, Cabrini Green Tutoring and Chicago Lights work together to make it happen.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Come to the Tutor Training Conference this Saturday

Hello Everyone! Welcome back to a brand new year of tutoring! It's so exciting to see all the new and returning faces. I just wanted to remind everybody that the Tutor Training Conference is this Saturday, September 26 at Fourth Presbyterian Church, 126 E. Chestnut St., Chicago, IL 60611. Registration starts at 8am, the conference itself starts at 9am and goes until 2:50pm. There will be free breakfast and lunch provided as well. Please respond to the Evite ASAP so we can gauge what kind of numbers we should expect for the conference. If you can't come, please let us know as well.

The Tutor Training Conference is an essential way of learning to become a better tutor and mentor. This conference has workshops on various topics including how to motivate students to succeed, how to help students recover in math and reading and stretching your creativity by writing poetry with your students. Many of our volunteers will be presenting workshops at this conference including Tami Wielgus, who will be on a panel of veteran tutors on making the most of the tutoring session, Alexandria Hill, who will be speaking about how to set boundaries and manage expectations, Amy Proger, who will be presenting a workshop on what difficulties students encounter in the college application process, and Jen Nolan and Carla Reyes, on how to help your student apply to college. We encourage you all to come out and learn about becoming a better tutor/mentor as well as showing support to our volunteers who are helping make this conference possible!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

It's times like these where what we're doing is more important than ever

The news has been pretty ominous lately. Hurricane Ike hitting the Gulf Coast of Texas, the presidential election continues with accusations from both the Republicans and the Democrats about who is less ready to lead the country. Finally, there's the recent news from Wall Street of turmoil and thousands of lost jobs as Lehman Brothers files bankruptcy, Merrill-Lynch is bought out by Bank of America, and AIG, the world's largest insurance company looks like it's going to be the next on the chopping block. These are scary times for all of us.

So, how can we, as a relatively small tutoring and mentoring non-profit here in Chicago, Illinois, ask for money in times where thousands of people have lost their homes to natural disasters, and thousands more have lost their jobs because the uncertainties of the market. All of us here at Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection are trying to answer these questions in our own way. From my perspective as the Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Coordinator, times like these mean that we need even more tutoring and mentoring programs than before.

We've seen how the New Orleans School District has struggled to rebound from Hurricane Katrina and many children down there are being, in no better words, "left behind." After this natural disaster money poured into organizations such as the American Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity to help survivors of the Hurricane get back on their feet. This was a wonderful show of generosity from the American people, but the money only flowed in for so long. Today, almost exactly three years after Katrina, people are still living in FEMA trailers and children are still going to failing schools. There still is immense need along the Gulf Coast.

I know I may be sounding like a broken record, but it is true that a great help to places like New Orleans, and now Galveston and the Houston area would be to start up tutoring and mentoring programs in these areas. Many of the children most greatly affected in these areas were living in poverty to begin with. After a natural disaster, this only compounds the need for extra help and confidence and a safe place to go after school. Some celebrities such as Brad Pitt, have shown a wonderful initiative in helping rebuild New Orleans with safer, more environmentally friendly housing. Wouldn't it be wonderful if a celebrity took on helping children succeed in places like New Orleans by championing tutoring and mentoring programs in those areas.

But you can be a champion of tutoring and mentoring programs even in tough times like these. While we are inclined to donate money, time, and supplies after a natural disaster such as Ike, we need to look at the long-term picture. Children are living in poverty all over the country and not just in communities that have been hit by natural disasters. Tough economic times mean that it's only going to get tougher out there for children in these areas to succeed. It will also mean that there will be more children and families to serve as people lose their homes and their jobs.

So what can you do to help these people out when you, yourself, are concerned about how you're going to make it? For one, you can volunteer your time over the long-term. Become a tutor or a mentor, sit on the board of a tutoring or mentoring organization, volunteer your expertise in finance or techonology to help these organizations run better than before. Working at a soup kitchen for just one day, or donating your clothes to a battered women's shelter are all fine ways of helping out, but the real help is made with a long-term commitment. Second, rather than making one big donation somewhere, make small donations on a consistent basis. This will be both beneficial to you and if enough people do it, beneficial to organizations throughout the world. Finally, if you're truly concerned about the people living in Galveston or New Orleans, or even worried about the children in Chicago who are being shot while playing in their front yard, look into how you can help start a tutoring and mentoring organization in these neighborhoods. If we all did something to help each other in these tough times, then the world would truly be a better place.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

November Tutor/Mentor Conference - Why do we have it? Why do we need it?

Hello everybody! Tonight is our second night of volunteer orientation and tomorrow and Thursday will be our student orientations. Next week starts the first nights for tutoring here at Cabrini Connections and so it's back-to-school and back-to-tutoring.

This also means that our November Tutor/Mentor Conference is right around the corner. I still am having trouble finding a site and would appreciate any tips or suggestions for places to hold the conference. We are looking at the second or third week in November on either a Monday/Tuesday or a Thursday/Friday, but if a Tuesday/Wednesday or a Wednesday/Thursday would be better that would work too. We would even be interested if there was a great space that could only accomodate us for one day and that could hold between 100 and 150 people in one large room for keynotes and then several smaller breakout rooms for workshops and panel discussions. I have contacted all of the city colleges of Chicago and several other universities, but am often finding that they can't accomodate us because of classes. I'm also about to start contacting museums and churches. If you have any other suggestions for a site, please let me know in a comment to this post or you can e-mail me at nicolewhite.cabrini@gmail.com

I'm also looking to put together a committee to help set up the conference. Ultimately we would like to have corporate sponsorship for the conference so we wouldn't have to worry about the cost of sites and also would be able to fund more people to come from all over. I'll be talking about the conference committee in future posts.

Ultimately though, I want to touch on why we host a conference every year. There are many reasons for the conference. What I think puts the conference most in perspective though is how, as children all throughout the country are going back-to-school, the topic that seems to come up most in relation to back-to-school here in Chicago is the number of children dying from violence this year already in the Chicago Public Schools. Since last September 36 CPS students were killed. Over the Labor Day Holiday 3 young people were shot including a young women in Humboldt Park who is a friend of the family of one of our Cabrini Connections employees. You can read her heartbreaking post about how this has affected her family and neighborhood here.

Cabrini Connections was founded in the wake of a shooting that transformed the city of Chicago, the killing of a 7-year-old child in the midst of gang gunfire in the Cabrini Green neighborhood in 1992. On Sunday the Chicago Tribune wrote a story about the aftermath of the shooting and how the shooting affected Chicago but still children die every week from violence. If you scan the blotter of the Tribune, you'll read about how just in the past week, a young man in West Englewood was shot, a young girl in the Calumet Area was shot while tying her blind younger sister's shoes, and a young girl visiting Humboldt Park was shot at a family party. In the Chicago Sun-Times, there was a series that ran this summer about the fear of violence that has run rampant in the Chicago Public Schools and how it's caused many children to fear even leaving their homes.

This has got to stop. Children should be excited about going to school. They need to feel like there are safe places for them to go afterschool. We should be reading articles about how excited everyone is about going back-to-school rather than hearing reports of another innocent life lost to violence. While they don't have all the answers, tutoring and mentoring programs have a lot. There need to be more safe places for children to go to learn and to socialize. Children need mentors to show them that there's an alternative to a violent lifestyle and to make the right choices in order stay as safe as possible. Children need tutors to help them succeed in school and dream big dreams of going to college and finding a successful career path. There are far too many programs right now to serve the amount need that is in these neighborhoods.

This is why we need to have the November Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference. This is why I need your help in making it happen.