Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Tutor/Mentor Conference Planning Committee

May might seem like a long time away, but it's sooner than you think! In the effort to make this May's Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference, Angel Diaz of Midtown and I have brought together various leaders of tutoring and mentoring programs to discuss how we can make the conference better. We have had two meetings where a variety of topics were discussed.

The first order of business that we all felt was important was bringing up the number of attendees. While I was very pleased with the number of people who came to the one-day conference in November, increasing the number as well as variety of attendees is always a worthwhile goal. While it would be nice to not have to charge a fee for admission, we need to do it to cover those people who would not be able to afford attending the conference without at scholarship, as well as other conference fees. An excellent idea that was put forward was to give discounts to organizations that brought two or more staff members to the conference.

Another key part of boosting numbers discussed at both meetings was the need for a good keynote speaker or even just a few really outstanding workshop topics. This would be a good way to advertise the conference once we start sending out e-mails and inviting people. We also thought it would be a good idea to reach out to organizations other than tutoring and mentoring organizations, such as universities, hospitals, and other businesses that have a vested interest in the community.

A second topic we touched on was whether or not to have a theme for the conference. What people found to be an even better idea than a theme for the entire conference, was to have a theme for certain tracts for workshops. A great idea that was proposed was to have a session devoted entirely to problems, strategies and solutions of the different positions at tutoring and mentoring organizations. So, all the executive directors would be in one workshop, all of the development/fundraising coordinators would be another, etc. The sessions would be facilitated by someone in that position at a tutoring and/or mentoring organization and they would be a constructive open forum. The idea was also to host this session before lunch, so people could continue the conversation into lunch. This also solved another issue that people brought to these brainstorming sessions - how to make lunchtime more constructive.

While we decided that having a theme would be too restrictive, we did feel that the looming shadow of the national economic downturn should not be ignored. Instead, it should seem like a great source for topics for workshops. One great idea was a workshop on how to help programs continue to do great things with a loss in number of staff and/or dollars. This would also coincide with how to get people who have been laid off involved so that they would feel like they had been doing something worthwhile while looking for work. Perhaps this would involve some type of pro-bono work such as statisticians helping programs chart progress, or accountants helping programs with their finances.

A final topic that everyone seemed to like is the idea of bringing back awards for excellent programs. This was done at the inception of the conference, and out of this idea was the partnership with the now Sun-Times Judge Marovitz Lawyers Lend-A-Hand to Youth Program. What sprung out of this idea included awarding outstanding tutor-tutee pairs, mentor-mentee pairs, and outstanding politicians who've done the most work to promote tutoring and mentoring.

I want to especially thank Angel Diaz for all of the hard work and enthusiasm he took into planning these two meetings. Thanks also to Alex Cornwell from Chicago Lights at Fourth Presbyterian Church, Kim Forehand from Brain Boosters at Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church,
Jennifer Bricker and Devon Lovell from Family Matters, Mara O'Brien and Kait Steele from 826 CHI, Katherine Moone from East Village Youth Program, Bart Phillips from Community Building Tutors, and Maya Ashwal from Jobs for Youth for taking the time out of their busy schedules to share their thoughts on making the Tutor/Mentor Conference better than ever.

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