Wednesday, January 28, 2009

McGaw YMCA Project SOAR

Yesterday, my colleague Chris Warren and I visited the McGaw YMCA in Evanston to find out about all the after-school programs that they have to offer. I was fairly familiar, with their mentoring, Project SOAR, because a good friend of mine started as a mentor there when he was a work-study student at Northwestern University and still mentors the same child. I also had worked with Mary Jon Girard, the Project SOAR Director at our conferences, and knew that the McGaw YMCA after-school programs were very good programs. So, it was great finally getting to visit and observe these programs at work.

We first visited the Foster Reading Center. This program is run by Lisa Matuska, the Reading in Motion Coordinator, a friend of Chris's from Northwestern, and I should also mention, one of our most enthusiastic members of our Northwestern Ning Group. Foster Reading Center is an after-school drop-in center for K-3rd graders. The cost is $20 per month, but that's for 5 days a week, 3 hours a day, so well worth the cost. Anyway, Chris and I jumped into helping a few kids with their homework and finding out what they thought about the program. I also helped Lisa, and an intern from UChicago school of social work, Edie, how they can use Tutor/Mentor Connection to their advantage, especially pointing out the Homework Help Links.

We then went back to the McGaw YMCA, and learned about all the different program that they have to offer. First off, was the one-on-one tutoring program for elementary, middle, and high schoolers. This is offered to all children who have a YMCA membership.

There is also the Project SOAR mentoring program. I should not that both the Foster Reading Center and the Project SOAR mentoring program make great use of the community resources that Evanston offers. Mary Jon has teamed up with the work-study program at Northwestern University so that NU students who qualify for work-study have the opportunity to be tutors or mentors. This is a great example of what Tutor/Mentor Connection promotes all the time: the idea that universities and tutoring and mentoring programs should team up and help each other in a variety of ways.

Another great example that McGaw YMCA Youth Programs can show other programs, is creating a partnership with other tutoring and mentoring programs. Notably, Project SOAR has teamed up with Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, another mentoring program, to help find community members in Evanston who can be mentors for children who are the most at need in Evanston. This is an example of different programs who offer different strengths can team up with each other and help each other in a variety of ways.

So, thank you to Mary Jon Girard and Lisa Matuska for kindly showing us around their programs. I was so impressed with all the good work they are doing and hope that they can help us in the future at the Tutor/Mentor Conference and other events by showing people what an outstanding tutoring and mentoring program does.

Also: Photos of the visit on their way! Chris and I realized that we should always bring our cameras to these site visits, but Lisa had a camera and kindly took photos of us helping the kids at the Foster Reading Center with their homework.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Correction to Today's Post

In my previous post, I wrote that there are six Chicago HOPES sites. There are actually seven, with the Great Hope in Little Village/Pilsen rounding out the seventh site. We still need to start a blog for them, but we're working on that.

Chicago HOPES

One of my favorite things about being the Tutor/Mentor Connection Research and Networking Coordinator is going out to the sites listed in the Tutor/Mentor Connection Program Locator and finding out more about what they do. Last Friday, I visited Chicago Public Schools Headquarters to help AmeriCorps VISTA members, who are in charge of the six Chicago Heightening Opportunity and Potential for Educational Success Sites (Chicago HOPES) throughout the city.

Chicago HOPES is an initiative through the Chicago Public Schools Homeless Education Program to give support, both academically and emotionally to homeless youth. Chicago HOPES teams up with schools, shelters and other community programs to offer tutoring and mentoring to homeless youth at their seven sites. It was a great meeting where I think both Tutor/Mentor Connection learned a lot about Chicago HOPES and Chicago HOPES not only started blogs but also learned how Tutor/Mentor Connection can work for them.

I would like to introduce you to the seven new blogs that have been started to tell people about how they can help homeless youth succeed:
The main blog can be found at This is where you can find information about their seven sites and what Chicago HOPES is doing generally as an organization. The main blog is maintained by Christy Weaver.
Ben Evans is the AmeriCorps VISTA Site Coordinator stationed at the Tab West Site in East Garfield Park.
The Gresham site is Tab South, and Javier Sedillo is the site coordinator there.
Emily Zandstra heads up the Ubuntu site in Brighton Park.
Thelma's Place is located in Ashburn and is run by Lynn Gerbec.
The Uptown location is at Cornerstone and is led by Amber Damero
Last but not least there's the Maria Shelter, in Englewood, headed up by Luis Valadez.
So, thanks Christy, Ben, Javier, Emily, Lynn, Amber, and Luis for coming to the blog training on Friday! It was so great to meet you and I hope everyone checks out your blogs! They look fantastic.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

New Tutor/Mentor Exchange is up!

Hi Everybody! With all the excitement of the Inauguration, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and National Mentoring Month. I have neglected to mention that we have a new and improved Tutor/Mentor Exchange! Poke around and check out why we do what we do here at Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection.

Over the next couple of weeks, I'll write about some of the articles featured in Tutor/Mentor Exchange. The first one I'd like to point out is the one about OHATS, which is our Organizational History and Tracking System. If you log in as a guest (username: guest, password: visitor), you can see the history of what Tutor/Mentor Connection beginning in 2000. I've been trying to update it over the past couple of weeks, but ultimately I hope other organizations are compelled to login and record their doings with the Tutor/Mentor Connection as well. In any case, it's a very user friendly way of tracking and evaluating our accomplishments over the years so potential volunteers and donors can see the good work we have been doing.

One thing that is definitely worth recording in OHATS, is the fact that we have a Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference Planning Committee! Angel Diaz, the Progam Director at the Midtown Center for Boys has generously donated his time to help make the May Tutor/Mentor Conference even better than ever! Yesterday we met with leaders with several other programs about how we can both improve upon and continue the success of past Tutor/Mentor Conferences. We're still working on the minutes since a lot of great ideas were tossed around, so I hope to be blogging about that meeting either tomorrow or Monday. Anyway, my goal is that the people on the committee will be compelled to record all the good work they are doing for the Tutor/Mentor Connection in OHATS down the road.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

My mentor

To continue with the theme of National Mentoring Month, I thought I should take the time to write about the mentor who inspired me the most in my life.

I have had many wonderful mentors who have guided me, but there is one that I think truly made me the person I am today. Her name was Merrill Watrous and she was my 5th Grade Teacher. Mrs. Watrous was one of those teachers that found a gift in every child and tried to bring out that gift. For the students that struggled in school, she did what ever was possible to bring them up to speed, whether it was staying with them after school to work with them on an essay or gave them extra materials to study for history exams. For the students who excelled, she gave them reading recommendations, news article recommendations, and extra credit assignments to push their ability.

Mrs. Watrous was the one who encouraged my interest in history - she gave my assignments to write about great American women such as Abigail Adams and Sojourner Truth. She had me read the poetry of Maya Angelou and encouraged me to try and read the New York Times. For all of her students, Mrs. Watrous emphasized the importance of history, especially the history of minorities and the poor. She taught us spirituals and learned about the slave trade. She assigned us to read The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox, about a slave ship, Lyddie by Katherine Paterson about a young girl working in a factory during the 19th century to teach us about child labor, and Dragon's Gate by Lawrence Yep to learn about Chinese-American history. The fact that I can remember these books 13-14 years later is a testament to what an impact they had on me.

Ultimately, Mrs. Watrous wanted us to be informed, passionate citizens of the world. She encouraged us to know about those who were in need, but also to learn about great figures to become our personal heroes. To this day, I still say Abigail Adams, Sojourner Truth, and Eleanore Roosevelt are personal heroes to me - all figures that I studied in 5th grade. She also had us keep journals, telling us to write not about what we learning in class, but about what we were interested, and what we were feeling that day. She encouraged us to be editors to one another and always had us "Say one nice thing to someone everyday."

Finally, as the tallest girl in the class (I know at 5'4'' this seems amazing now, but I was in the 5th grade), Mrs. Watrous encouraged me to stand tall and take pride in who I was. It helped that she was 6 feet herself and carried herself with confidence but also with warmth. She also gave the best hugs, and I'm sure many of my classmates could attest that a hug from Mrs. Watrous could make any bad day better.

Mrs. Watrous was most definitely the catalyst that led me to want to work in the public interest sector and led me to want to work at Cabrini Connections. I also think her emphasized on journaling has continued in my blogging - first when I was studying abroad in Paris, and now working at Cabrini Connections.

If someone has been a great mentor to you, please let me know and I would love to publish your story. We all have mentors, and many of us have several of them. National Mentoring Month is a wonderful time to thank these mentors for making the world a better place.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Happy Inauguration Day!

The exciting week continues! Today we say our 44th and first African-American President, Barack Obama was sworn in. In what was a stirring and inspiring ceremony, Obama's speech to the nation was the centerpiece. He, of course, brought up the troubled times we are faced with today - two wars, an economy in collapse, a healthcare system that doesn't serve the entire populus, and failing schools. However he also reminded us that we've been faced with troubled times before and have prevailed and succeeded in ways that we would've never dreamed possible - including the fact that we elected an African-American to be the leader of this great nation.

Many things that he said resonated with us here at Cabrini Connections. I'm sure you can imagine the excitement the kids have that we have an African-American President. Many of them have spoken about how inspiring they find it and how many more possibilities they realize are out there.

This truly is an example of Obama invoking "The God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, all may choose to pursue their happiness." (I'm paraphrasing here from notes that I took during the speech). This is what we strive for everyday here at Cabrini Connections and Tutor/Mentor Connection - to ensure that every child, no matter what circumstance they are born in, can succeed to their fullest potential. Unfortunately, I think we have lost sight of that goal - college is more expensive than ever, it's harder to get loans, schools are more focused on test scores than on actually learning - which makes succeeding in life even more difficult than it was before if you weren't born into the best circumstances. Hopefully, with a story like Barack Obama's - born bi-racial to single white mother and a black father, raised partially by his grandparents who weren't wealthy but who made sure that Barack got everything possible to achieve - we can return to the quintessentially American idea that anyone can become a president.

I also, want to highlight the part of the speech about "everywhere we look, there is work to be done." This is very true, and it reaffirms to me the reasons why I am so passionate about what we do here at Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection. The task before us, just in the tutoring and mentoring world, is daunting - young people are dropping out of school, girls are getting pregnant, boys are joining gangs, drug use and murders are on the rise. However, if people take this call to action to heart, more people will think of ways they can contribute to their community and to help their community be a better place to live in.

I have great hopes for the Presidency of Barack Obama. Hopefully, we will all take his words to heart and set out to improve this country in a variety of different ways.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day!

What an exciting week we have ahead of us. Today is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, commemorating the great life and work of the civil rights leader, who would've been 80 on January 15th. Tomorrow is the inauguration of our first African-American President, Barack Obama. And as always this month, it's National Mentoring Month!

Today, President-elect Obama has designated a National Day of Service. To that, I say "Hurray!" and am so happy that he is promoting giving back to the community. And of course, I must encourage you to turn this National Day of Service into a National Year of Service by becoming a tutor or mentor to an at-risk youth. What could be a better way of honoring Dr. King, who worked tirelessly to help elevate the situation of those who were in need, than to make the future brighter for a child who needs a brighter future.

Also, if you're reading this blog and want to write a guest blog about what mentoring means to you, just leave a comment, and I'll be delighted to have you contribute to my blog.

Finally, I thought you would all enjoy letters written by children to President-elect Obama. Some are funny, others show a wisdom beyond their years, and some are very sad. My favorite of course:

Dear Sir Obama,

These are the first 10 things you should do as president:

1. Make everyone read books.
2. Don’t let teachers give kids hard homework.
3. Make a law where kids only get one page of homework per week.
4. Kids can go visit you whenever they want.
5. Make volunteer tutors get paid.
6. Let the tutors do all the thinking.
7. Make universities free.
8. Make students get extra credit for everything.
9. Give teachers raises.
10. If No. 4 is approved, let kids visit the Oval Office, but don’t make it boring.

— Mireya Perez, age 8, San Francisco

Thanks Mireya Perez! I couldn't have said it better myself! Volunteer tutors do extraordinary work and I wish they could be paid! However, many tutoring and mentoring organizations are hurting for money right now for a variety of reasons. Even if you can't give your time to help the community, a donation to your local tutoring and mentoring organization would be an equally wonderful contribution to your community.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Tutor/Mentor Blog Exchange for MLK Day/Inauguration Day

Another idea to celebrate the three-part celebration that is January being National Mentoring Month and having MLK Day on the 19th and Inauguration Day on the 20th is to set up a blog exchange. Dan writes about the blog exchange in this article on our Ning Page. The idea is that during the week of the 18-24th, people should blog about programs working to help at-risk youth succeed. You can then link to other blogs that you know that are writing about tutoring and mentoring as well. We hope to have a complete list of all of these blogs on our Ning page by the end of January.

And just a quick word about Ning. It's kind've like facebook but for organizations specifically and there's lots of cool features and ways different programs can get connected in different ways.
There are two that I'd like to highlight, our main Ning page, which is for Tutor/Mentor Connection and the Northwestern University Ning page. I recommend that everybody who reads my blog joins the Tutor/Mentor Connection Ning page, but if you're a Northwestern alum or current student, please become a part of the NU page as well. It's really exciting to have so many Northwestern Alums working here (Myself, El Da'Sheon Nix, our Administrative Coordinator and Chris Warren, our Assistant Program Coordinator), as well as so many volunteers as well. Ning is a great place to share ideas, find novel ways to collaborate and get in touch with other people who are just as passionate about tutoring and mentoring as we are!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

January - a busy month!

January is going to be a very exciting month! Not only is it National Mentoring Month, but it is also the month of Dr. Martin Luther King Day on the 19th and President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration on the 20th. This is a HUGE opportunity for all of us in the tutoring and mentoring community to get the word out.

A good place to start is a wonderful article on Social Edge, a blog that highlights social issues, which writes about what the Tutor/Mentor Connection is all about. It's always exciting when you talk to people who really get what purpose Tutor/Mentor Connection serves and applies the idea to other realms. I really like how author of the article talks about how all the different types of non-profits - health, nutrition, education, women's rights can easily overlap and learn from one another. That's definitely something that we have championed here at Tutor/Mentor Connection - especially in our maps demonstrating the intersection between say - banks, failing schools, and tutoring and mentoring programs. I also appreciate how the author highlights not only the program locator aspect of Tutor/Mentor Connection, but also shows how the T/MC can be teaching tool for programs looking to improve, as well as for programs trying to get off the ground through our links library. Finally, the author does a wonderful job of drawing you into the discussion and learning more about not only what we do, but how you can take what we do and apply to your own program. So, go read the article! And then add your own comments and continue the discussion!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Thanks to everybody who donated to our Facebook Cause!

Hi Everybody! Well, we're getting there on Facebook Causes donations. So far we've raised $194, with generous donations from several friends to my birthday cause. Thanks guys! In case you didn't read the comments to my previous post, my colleague Cassina Sanders wanted to make sure that we all knew that our Facebook Causes goal of raising $2500 towards general operations so we can get a matching donation goes until February 1st. So, there is still a lot of time to make a difference!

Also, more exciting stuff - The Tutor/Mentor Institute website is being redesigned and over the course of the next year, I hope to bring light to certain articles on that website so that I can better help other programs work towards their goals.