Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Chicago Lights at Fourth Presbyterian Church

Last Thursday, I visited Chicago Lights One-on-One Tutoring and Mentoring Program at Fourth Presbyterian Church, just off of N. Michigan Ave.. Alex Cornwell and Stacy Jackson graciously received me even with a huge turnout of new volunteers (which is a good thing!) Chicago Lights and Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection have collaborated on many things including the Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference and the Tutor Training Conference.

Chicago Lights at Fourth Presbyterian has been around for more 40 years. A very long time by any standards, but an especially long time for a tutoring program to grow and prosper. And grow and prosper is what Chicago Lights has been doing, with now 400 students, a good majority from the Cabrini-Green Housing Projects and the surrounding areas, ranging from grades 1-12, and 482 volunteers, mostly one-on-one tutor-mentors.

Tutoring at Chicago Lights occurs Monday through Thursday evenings, starting out with a free, warm meal. The kids then have a choice of going to art, music, or martial arts before starting tutoring. I think this is a great way to help the kids focus on their schoolwork by having them eat and be active after school first and is a great model for other programs. The kids then sit down with their one-on-one tutors at 6pm and work until 7:30. There are always substitute tutors available if a student's tutor does not show up.

Chicago Lights does a great job of using the resources of the surrounding neighborhoods by having students from DePaul University come in for course credit and be substitute volunteer tutor-mentors or supervisors at the dinner hour. This is a great example of how a tutoring and mentoring organization such as Chicago Lights and a nearby university, such as DePaul can team up and benefit each other.

Another part of the Chicago Lights program that I was especially impressed with was their summer high school internship program. Starting in January, high school students and their tutors attend workshops on resume-writing, job interviewing, job search tools and other information on how to be successful in your first job. During the summer, students are placed in eight-week, sixteen hours-a-week internships at a variety of workplaces. For some it's a way to explore a career they're interested in, for others it's their first chance at finding out what happens in the working world. It's another wonderful example of why we think so highly of Chicago Lights. This program truly exemplifies their mission of "Breaking the Cycle of Poverty through Education."

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