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!

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