Friday, April 24, 2009

Chicago Youth Programs - Cabrini-Green Youth Program

One of my favorite things about visiting other tutoring and mentoring programs is seeing the wide variety of sites, populations of students, and populations of volunteers. It's also great knowing what other programs serve the same population you serve. I had already visited Cabrini-Green Tutoring, Chicago Lights at Fourth Presbyterian, so I was so happy when I got in touch with the Cabrini-Green Youth Program of Chicago Youth Programs and got to finally visit them on Wednesday night.

Chicago Youth Programs has three locations: the Cabrini-Green Program hosted at Northwestern School of Law and Feinberg School of Medicine just off of East Chicago Avenue, the Washington Park Youth Program, which is hosted at Chicago Youth Programs headquarters on South Prairie Avenue, and the Uptown Youth Program hosted at Loyola University, just off of North Sheridan Road. Chicago Youth Programs was actually started by Northwestern University Medical students who felt their skills and knowledge could serve the community in ways beyond medicine. Seeing a great need just down the road in the Cabrini-Green housing projects, these medical students became tutors and mentors to these students. This tradition of law and medical students has continued with the majority of the tutor/mentors for the Cabrini-Green program being from Northwestern, for the Washington Park Program being from University of Chicago, and the majority for the Uptown program being from Loyola.

What has happened in terms of volunteer recruitment is a great tradition of continuity. The reality is that med and law students can only tutor for two to three years maximum. Therefore, when these students are no longer able to be tutors because they are graduating or they don't have enough time anymore, they take it upon themselves to recruit the new "class" of tutor/mentors through e-mail blasts, flyers, and much more. I must add, however, that being a medical or law student is a very busy existence, but many of the tutor/mentors I visited with spoke of their dedication at at least showing up once a week for an hour and a half. Seriously, other people don't have an excuse if these amazing tutor/mentors don't.

The idea of continuity also is prevalent in the youth programs themselves. Students can start at the age of 3 years old with the "Read to me" program, where they work on phonics and basic reading skills, and the PREP program, where parents come with their children and read to them and learn parenting skills. When students reach the first grade they continue with the tutoring program, where they get one-on-one homework help. Finally, there's the Higher Education Program, where in addition to homework help, there's an emphasis on college admission, testing, and job preparation. There are also exclusively mentoring programs at Washington Park and Uptown, and a health service program at Washington Park.

I was extremely impressed with all of their students and their tutor/mentors that I met at the Cabrini-Green Youth Program. In addition to the volunteers who were in the midst of med and law school exams still coming to tutoring, there was the kindergartner who was reading the words "about" and "lunch" out loud to me and the junior in high school who had been in the program since he was three years old and who had been with his tutor/mentor for eleven years.

Chicago Youth Programs not only does a great job with continuity, but also of evaluating their success. You can view some metrics of how they evaluate how their program is doing here.

I want to thank Sarah Hardin, who's the coordinator of the higher education program for showing me around and answering my questions, and Herman Verner III, the coordinator of the Cabrini-Green Youth Program, who took the time out of his very hectic evening (it was the last night of tutoring) to talk to me as well. I hope to see both of you at the May Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference!

Wicker Park Learning Center

On Tuesday, Chris Warren and I made our way up to the Avondale neighborhood to visit Wicker Park Learning Center. Kathy Anderson (pictured left, speaking at our November Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference at the Field Museum) has been at the helm of this tutoring and mentoring program for about 20 years and while the location has changed (Wicker Park Learning Center was once in Wicker Park, but has been located in Avondale for the past 15 years), the dedication to helping individuals from kindergarten through adulthood has not.

Wicker Park Learning Center actually employs paid tutors, but is free of charge to the people it tutors. As I mentioned earlier, they are headquartered in Avondale, at the Concordia Center,
where homework help is offered from 3-6pm on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and 3-8pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. A good majority of the students who come for homework help at the center at 3300 N. Whipple, live in the neighborhood and go to the school just down the street. However, Wicker Park Learning Center is willing to have their tutors go to other neighborhoods if students need a tutor and are unable to travel to Avondale. In fact, students can meet with tutors from Wicker Park Learning Center at their homes, at libraries, community centers, and at their schools. Overall, about 15 kids come to the center on N. Whipple, 30 students meet with tutors at Namaste Charter School on the South Side, 5 kids meet at a Chicago-area Catholic School, 10 students meet at park district sites, and then there are those whose tutors come to their homes or local libraries.

Whenever Chris and I visit programs, we always ask them what their greatest challenges are. With these tough economic times, the issue of funding always comes up. Normally ever summer, Wicker Park Learning Center hosts a camp where students have a safe place to go during the summer, while their parents work. However, they are unsure if they will be able to offer the comprehensive recreation and supplementary tutoring program this summer as they did before.

Ms. Anderson also says that she would like to recruit volunteers to actually do some of the tutoring as well. We gave her some ideas of using websites such as Idealist and Volunteer Match
and possibly working with volunteer student groups at nearby universities such as Northeastern Illinois and North Park University. This is why we go out and visit these programs - to find out more about them, but to also see if they need help with anything.

Thank you Kathy Anderson for sitting down and talking to us about Wicker Park Learning Center. We can't wait to hear your ideas about student recruitment on the panel at the May Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Family Matters

Last Thursday, on a beautiful Spring Day, Chris Warren and I visited Family Matters, located just north of Howard St, near the Evanston-Chicago border. We had a wonderful conversation with Jennifer Bricker and Devon Lovell, who are in charge of the tutoring program at Family Matters about all the wonderful programs Family Matters offers it's diverse community. What we didn't expect was that we would get to visit a greenhouse that the program helps maintain for Gale School, the only school in the Chicago Public Schools system that has a greenhouse.

Family Matters has been serving the "North of Howard" neighborhood for over 20 years. It's mission centers around empowering the members of its community to become leaders and be involved in the community. This spirit of empowering the people it serves is a central part of all of its youth programs especially. The newest program, and the program that Jennifer and Devon spoke about the most was the TIGRO program, which stands for Third Graders Reaching Objectives. This program is for Third Graders at Gale School, where they come in after-school and meet one-on-one with their tutor/mentors. There are only 10 students in the program, and many of them are deemed at-risk by the school. What's truly wonderful and unique about the program is that the students have the full use of the greenhouse at the school learning about nutrition, sustainability, environmental awareness, and botany - in addition to their regular homework help. Many of the tutors come from Loyola University and the ones I talked to were extremely dedicated and enthusiastic about the program.

There is also the regular evening tutoring program for students in grades 1-12 that is Monday through Thursday 6:30-8pm, where students can get help with their homework one-on-one with their tutors. Yet another program that Family Matters offers is the reading tutoring program for students with learning disabilities.

Many of the students at Family Matters are in several of the programs offered. For those in kindergarten-6th grade there is the Family Connections Program, which is an after-school program which includes a leadership corps for students to learn the principles of leadership. Parents are heavily involved in this program and are encouraged to come to monthly parent meetings so that they can have a say in the direction of the program.

Hopefully the students who are in the Family Connections Program will continue on into the Teen Girls or Teen Boys groups. Teen Girls and Teen Boys emphasize the idea of shared leadership. For the Teen Girls, activities include learning about community activisim, learning how to make jewelry, making documentaries on domestic violence, and learning African dance. The middle school and high school boys meet twice a week for dinner and have done activities such as African drumming. An especially novel idea is that the students do their own grant-writing, taking ownership of supporting the program that serves them.

I must say I wish I could've stayed longer at the greenhouse, helping with the tending of the plants, or reading in the amazing library in the cozy two-flat building that houses Family Matters. I had a wonderful time learning about this inspiring program and I especially appreciate the time that Devon and Jennifer took out of their busy schedules to explain to Chris and me all the details of their outstanding program.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Working in the Schools - Manierre School

Yesterday, Chris Warren and I visited the Working in the Schools Power Lunch program at Manierre School in Old Town. The Power Lunch program is one of the many literacy, tutoring, and mentoring programs that Working in the Schools, or WITS offers.

The Power Lunch program brings corporate employees from one workplace to a school during their lunch hour. During the lunch hour the students read with the volunteers and improve their language skills. Tutors come every two weeks, with two different work places alternating every other week. This gives students a chance to work with two tutors. It also gives the students a chance to interact with professional adults in a relaxed atmosphere. The goals of the program are to improve students' reading skills, but also to have the students want to pick up books on their own and to feel more confident reading by themselves and in a group setting. Books are donated to the schools by a variety of organizations, and WITS tries to have only new books for their students.

Another program that WITS does is their workplace mentoring program. While with the power lunch program has the professional employees come to the schools, the workplace mentoring program has the students come to the workplaces where the students get tutored and also where they can find out about future jobs and interact with an adult in a more mentor-like relationship. The workplace mentoring program is often a continuation for students who participated in the power lunch program.

There is also an early childhood program, where volunteers read to young children pre-k and kindergarten-age so the students are exposed to the joys of reading at an early age. There is also a Saturday tutoring program, where students and volunteers who wouldn't be able to come during the week can get homework help during the weekend.

I hope to visit all of the WITS programs in the future, but I'm so glad that I at least got to see the power lunch program. I talked to the students after their reading tutors left and all of the students talked about how much they love their tutors and how they are now excited to go the library and read new books. Trust me, the enthusiasm was very genuine from these students.

I always like to promote other programs fundraisers - especially in these tough economic times, we need to help each other out more than ever. So, if you're free tonight, Thursday April 16th, you should head over to Carnivale, 702 W. Fulton Market for the Young Professionals "Chalk it Up for WITS" event. It's $75 for all you can eat appetizers, drinks, a raffle, and Latin dancing. Unfortunately, I can't go, but you all should because it looks like a great time.

And thanks to Lindsey Giacherio for telling me all about all of the WITS programs. I was so impressed with your students and your program!

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Great Way to Help Kids and Save the Environment

One of the things that I've been trying to do when I go grocery shopping is to take reusable bags rather than having to lug home my groceries in paper or plastic bags. Not only do the paper and plastic bags clutter up my coat closet, but reusable bags are obviously much better for the environment.

So why am I talking about bringing reusable bags to go shopping when I usually talk about tutoring and mentoring? Because now you can both help save the environment and help out the kids at Cabrini Connections and in other programs through the Tutor/Mentor Connection at the same time! This April, May, and June, four Whole Foods stores in Chicago: the Lakeview Store at 3300 N. Ashland, Chicago, Il, the Lincoln Park Store at 1000 W North Ave, Chicago, IL (new store location will be 1550 N Kingsbury St, Chicago, IL), the South Loop Store at 1101 S Canal St # 107, Chicago, IL‎, and the Gold Coast Store at 30 W Huron St, Chicago, IL‎ all will be hosting a "One Dime at a Time" program that benefits Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection.

Here's how it works: Every time you go shopping at one of these Whole Foods stores and bring in your reusable shopping bags, they will either give you 10cents off of your total amount for groceries or give you the option of donating that 10cents to Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection. Of course you want to give that 10cents to us! And just think: Four stores, three months, and all of you bringing in your reusable shopping bags! That will save on unnecessary waste of paper and plastic bags and help out at-risk youth in Chicago. What a great idea!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Thanks to everybody who came out to the Art Festival!

On Saturday, along with glorious weather, was the Cabrini Connections Art and Video Festival. It was a great success and it was so wonderful getting to meet the students' families and have my friends meet the students for the first time. I think everybody - parents, other students, volunteers, Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection employees, and friends of the volunteers and Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection employees - was extremely impressed by the level of talent and dedication that our students and volunteers put into the Art and Video Festival. I want to especially honor Jacqueline Shay, Nicole Gordon, and Danielle Danno, who are the art club volunteers, and Rebecca Parrish, who was the the video club volunteer for all their hard work, dedication, and enthusiasm that they bring to helping kids express themselves. They are just a couple of reasons why I can't say enough good things about our volunteers here at Cabrini Connections.

In addition to the great event that the Art and Video Festival, I also have the wonderful news that we have a new and improved Tutor/Mentor Connection Program Locator. I seriously played with the interactive map all afternoon, so check it out!

Finally registration is up for the conference (which, just to reiterate, will be Thursday and Friday May 28th and 29th at Northwestern Law School). Register now and if you're interested also submit a form to present a workshop. We already have lots of exciting workshops on our agenda, so get excited!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Chicago Youth Centers - ABC Youth Center

As the coordinator for Tutor/Mentor Connection, which is centered around networking and cooperating between programs, I'm always curious how smaller groups of tutoring and mentoring programs interact - whether if they're in the same neighborhood or part of a larger organization such as Boys and Girls Club or Chicago Youth Centers, whose ABC Youth Center in North Lawndale Chris Warren and I visited yesterday.

The ABC Youth Center offers a variety of programs - from Head Start to pre-schoolers to programs that prepare students for college. We spoke to Jason Bremer, who is the director of the teen program. The teen program runs from 4-8pm every week day and students have to fulfill a variety of criteria in order to continue to participate. The group takes field trips to museums, college and even the other Chicago Youth Centers just to expose the students to other parts of the city. They also offer a number of workshops on resume-building, how to dress for success, and financial aid opportunities. They offer different activities such as a video club, a spoken word club, a photography club, and much more.

One of the most exciting things that the ABC Youth Center kids do is to go to Camp Rosenthal in Michigan to get out into nature and meet other kids from all over the country. It's a great opportunity for the students to be able to try archery, canoeing and simply to see stars in the night sky - something they wouldn't get to experience in their own neighborhood.

ABC Youth Center uses volunteers from a variety of universities throughout Chicago and organizations such as United Way. However, I have to say how impressed that the ABC Youth Center has such a dedicated and enthusiastic leader in Mr. Bremer. I can't wait to see all of his plans fulfilled from having a theater club to planting a community garden. Thanks to him for a great visit!