Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The November Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference was a Success

Whew, I finally have the time to sit down and write about the November 2008 Leadership and Networking Conference after trying to get everything in order after it was over.

The conferences are probably the most stressful part of being the Tutor/Mentor Connection Research and Networking Coordinator. It is also probably my favorite. I love seeing the conference come together and putting faces with the names that I had been corresponding with over e-mail or talking to on the phone. A new development that I also enjoy is seeing people from other programs whom I usually only see at the conferences and catching up with them. This November Conference was my fourth one that I've attended (which is incredible to me, because it doesn't seem that long ago that I started here). I also love watching people network with each other over the course of the day and know that the conference is succeeding because people are making connections with each other.

I was especially excited to have this particular conference at the Field Museum. There are a number of reasons why the Field Museum was a great place to host it. First of all, the Field Museum is in an ideal spot - linking the downtown Loop with the South Side. Second, we were somewhat able to integrate the front-line staff of the Field Museum into the Conference since many of them live in the neighborhoods that we seek to serve and have kids, friends, or relatives that would benefit from tutoring and mentoring program. Third and finally, the Field Museum is an amazing resource that has the capacity to bring the excitement of learning about science and history to kids all over Chicago.

I think we were able to integrate the possibilities that the Field Musem offers pretty well in the conference. I especially appreciated how Dr. Clinton Nichols, who's an Urban Anthropologist at the Field Museum, put a historical context on the idea of tutoring and mentoring in his keynote address. I was also pleased to see the excitement about speaking with front-line staff of the Field Museum about what they think needs to happen in their neighborhoods. I also was happy that April Richards and Moses Rasberry from the Harris Loan Education Center at the Field Museum were able to show tutoring and mentoring program leaders what the Field Museum can offer their programs by showing their method of teaching with objects that are part of the Field Museum collection (even dinosaur poop!)

I guess the fact that tomorrow is Thanksgiving makes all of us reflect on what we're thankful for and I have to say one of the many things that I'm thankful is the chance to meet all of these amazing people at the conference and be inspired by them. I'm also continuously thankful to be working at Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection and that I get to make a, though somewhat small, impact on our greater community.

On that note, I hope everybody who is reading this blog post has a very Happy Thanksgiving!
For more stories about the conference, visit Cassina, Chris, Dan, El, Mike, and Vjeko's blog about their impressions and stories about the conference. Also, if you attended the conference and blogged about it in any way, please leave a comment and let me know who you are so I can point people to your blog too!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

There are simply not enough programs out there!

In today's New York Times, the topic of donating to charity in tough times was highlighted. The article does an excellent job of highlighting the different types of charities and the ramifications that the tough economic climate will have over the next couple of years. I also was especially pleased in the comments section where a lot of people commented that they would try and donate at least something this Holiday Season, even though they were trying to tighten their budget.

Which, reminds me of a great idea. One of my mom's best friends' extended family (and it's a big, loving family!) decided that rather than give material gifts to each other, the family decided that they would each choose another family member in a drawing. Then they would donate an amount of money they would be comfortable with to a charity of the person's choice. One year the family all decided to choose the same charity - the Fanconi Anemia Research Foundation since a mutual friend's 3 sisters all have been afflicted with this genetic condition. What's great about this idea is that it can be translated to every family and could include a variety of organizations. It's all a great lesson to teach kids - is your child interested in saving the whales? - give a donation in their name to Greenpeace. Is your child an avid reader? - donate in their name to a literacy organization such as Literacy Volunteers of Illinois. This will not only be a great legacy to leave your child, but will teach them the life-long passion for giving to others. What better gift for the Holidays could there be.

One of the reader's comments though was that there are too many charitable organizations out there. What I'm finding more and more in my position as Tutor/Mentor Research and Networking Coordinator is that at least for tutoring and mentoring organizations there are simply not enough. This was especially brought to my attention when I was reading Mike's blog the other day and he was highlighting the 34th Illinois Representative District. The 34th district only has three tutoring and mentoring programs, Link Unlimited Tutor/Mentor Program, Tuley Park, and Smith Elementary School Tutoring Program. The 34th district encompasses the far southside neighborhoods of Chatham, Pullman, South Deering, Hegewisch and the suburbs of Burnham, Calumet City, and Lansing. While many of these neighborhoods have less than 10% living below the poverty lines, the neighborhoods of Pullman and Chatham have areas that have up to 50% of their population living below the poverty line. There are also 12 failing schools within this district. That's far too much of the population living in poverty and far too many failing schools in this district for there to be only three tutoring and/or mentoring programs here.

This is why, at our conference, we are highlighting the need to expand the number of volunteer-based tutoring and mentoring programs in a panel discussion. The panel discussion will be from 11am-12:15pm and will be led by Art Mollenhauer, who is the CEO of Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Metropolitan Chicago. We still need other panelists, so if you are passionate about helping kids in need where there are not enough programs, let me know!

And always, just a reminder that our Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference will be NEXT FRIDAY, November 21st at the Field Museum. Even if you can come for this one particular workshop, or even if you can come for the breakfast networking session from 8-9am or the lunchtime networking session from 12:15-1:30pm we encourage everybody to come!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Tutoring and Mentoring Programs around Mt. Sinai Hospital

In addition to highlighting the speakers at our November Conference, I also hope to highlight the different programs that our GIS Mapping Coordinator, Mike Trakan maps for various reasons to highlight the need for more tutoring and mentoring programs in poverty-stricken areas. Mike's maps are an essential tool to what we at Tutor/Mentor Connection do because they provide a striking visual to the information that we are telling people.

Recently, Mike mapped the tutoring and mentoring programs, as well as the schools, parks, and businesses surrounding Mt. Sinai Hospital, which is on the West Side of Chicago in North Lawndale. Mt. Sinai has recently started the process of restarting a tutoring and mentoring program and the Tutor/Mentor Connection had extended its services and support towards that. Mike writes about this effort in his blog, Mapping for Justice.

North Lawndale is a neighborhood known for its crime and poverty, but efforts are being made to improve it. Last Fall, through the Public Interest Program Fellowship, I had the privilege of visiting North Lawndale College Prep, which is a charter high school dedicated to college preparation. I was struck by the poverty surrounding this vibrant and inspiring school and the joy and enthusiasm of the students on the inside. I was also struck by how only so many students can be helped and how beneficial tutoring and mentoring programs would be to improving the neighborhood.

There are several excellent tutoring and mentoring programs surrounding Mt. Sinai, that Mike lists in his blog piece. The first I would like to highlight is Saint Agatha Family Empowerment, which is supported through Saint Agatha's Catholic Church. Saint Agatha Family Empowerment, or S.A.F.E. is dedicated to keeping kids off of the street, by running an afterschool program from 3:00-6:00pm, which is statistically the most dangerous time for kids to be out on the street. This time is dedicated to 90 minutes of a positive activity and 90 minutes of study time and tutoring. According to its listing on Idealist, job training and placement is especially a priority at S.A.F.E.

Another excellent program is the Carole Robertson Center for Learning, which is dedicated to helping every young person find their strengths and talents. There is an emphasis on service learning and job training and placement. The Tutoring and Mentoring Program at the Carole Robertson Center is just one of many programs dedicated to helping families and children in need.

The Union League Boys and Girls Club has one of its sites in Pilsen/North Lawndale as well. Like S.A.F.E. and the Carole Robertson Center, ULBGC is dedicated to being a safe haven for boys and girls in the neighborhood. Their tutoring and mentoring program uses peer mentors to help the children there with their homework and other school-related activities.

Finally, there's Gads Hill Club Learn, which is another community center in the Pilsen/North Lawndale area. Its Club Learn Program is dedicated to helping children learn in a safe environment and also helping empower kids to do positive things and steer them away from negative activities, such as joining gangs.

These four programs do wonderful things for the young people in their communities, but they can only do so much. There are many more children who are not being served and we're hoping that other people take the lead of Mt. Sinai Hospital and start tutoring and mentoring programs of their own.

It is an honor to get to witness history!

Last night, history was made when America elected Barack Obama as its first African-American President. I had the honor to be at the rally in Grant Park and it truly was the most incredible experience of my life. I'm still processing everything, but here are my initial thoughts.

Looking out across the crowd, it was so, incredibly beautiful to see African-Americans, Caucasians, Asian-Americans, Latinos, young, and old, families, and couples. Walking back to my apartment, I saw people of all colors and ages dancing together in the street, hugging each other, and simply enjoying the beautiful Chicago night. This truly is what America is all about and I felt like last night exemplified the best of what America has to offer.

I also feel like it is such a privilege to be working at a place like Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection at a historic time like this. Almost a year and a half ago, I started here as PIP fellow, and somewhat felt like an outsider. I didn't know what these children's lives were like or how I would be able to relate to them. But over the course of my time as Assistant Program Coordinator and Interim Program Coordinator I got to know the kids and I now feel like it's such an honor to be able to help them and kids in other programs out as well. I can't tell you what a joy it was when some of our older high schoolers and alumnae would come bouncing in telling me they had registered to vote or had voted. This election energized all of us, but I think for these kids, the fact that an African-American had a shot at being president was especially exciting. One of our kids even told me last summer that we was going to be the second African-American President after Barack Obama. That is so exciting and makes working here all the more worthwhile.

I can only hope that Barack Obama will unite this country together for at least the next four years as he did last night. I do know that he will continue to serve as an inspiration to all of us in making it to the highest office in this nation quite decidedly and uniting all of us, no matter what age we are or what the color is of our skin. We have worked hard in this country to achieve what has happened last night and we will continue to work hard so that every child of every color has the chance to change the world the way President-elect Obama did last night.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Holiday Fundraising and Public Relations Panel at the Conference

Hello, everyone! Happy Election Day!

The planning for the conference is still going very well. Over the next couple of weeks, leading up to the conference, I will be spotlighting some of the workshops and panels that will be going on during the conference.

During the first morning session, we are going have a panel discussion on Fundraising and PR during the Holiday Season - always an important topic but especially in light of the current economy. We're very excited that our Marketing and Fundraising Coordinator, Cassina Sanders is moderating the panel discussion of proessionals from the media, PR, and fundraising wings. Gordon Mayer, who is vice-president of the Community Media Workshop, will be speaking as a representative of the media community and also of Columbia College, where Community Media Workshop is located.

Also, my good friend Anna Ashbaugh, a client executive at the Public Relations Firm, Burston Marsteller, will be speaking representing corporate PR. Anna's a great fit for this panel because in college, she studied corporate social responsibility as part of her Anthropology Degree and is now a tutor/mentor here at Cabrini Connections.

Finally we have Shane Caterino, who is the Director for Individual and Foundation Giving at the Academy for Urban School Leadership.
Before working at AUSL, Ms. Caterino worked at HSBC and has the dual perspective or working in both the for-profit and not-for-profit realms.

I'm very excited about the great discussion that this panel will generate. At the last conference, many people talked about the lack of workshops or panels on fundraising and I think the conference being on November 21st, the week before the Thanksgiving Holiday is an absolutely opportune time to discuss this.

On another note, I want to remind everyone to vote, no matter who your candidate is. I can't tell you how happy it makes me that many of my peers are voting for the first time in realization of what a momentous election this is. But, most of all, I am absolutely heartened by our Cabrini Connections kids bouncing into the office announcing that they have registered to vote. Hopefully, our new president will be an advocate for kids and will help raise awareness about giving service in a variety of ways both here and abroad.