Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Circle Urban Ministries

Yesterday, Chris Warren and I visited Dan Hogan and his mentoring program at Circle Urban Ministries in the Austin Neighborhood. Dan has been a great supporter of the Tutor/Mentor Connection and the Tutor/Mentor Conference, and hosted a very popular workshop on using free technology to build your program's website. He also runs a fantastic mentoring program.

Circle Urban Ministries has served the Austin Community since the early 1970s in a variety of capacity. House in the complex on N. Central Ave., Circle Urban Ministries is the home of CATALYST Charter School, an After-School Program for kindergarten-8th graders, mostly students at Catalyst Charter School, the Circle Christian Development Corporation, which spearheads community revitalization projects, a Food Pantry and Depository, Rock Church, a Community Health Center, a Legal Aid Center, and of course the mentoring program. This all-encompassing commitment to the community in all aspects of helping a person is exactly what the Tutor/Mentor Connection would like to see replicated in high-poverty neighborhoods such as Austin.

The Mentoring Program started in 2001 and most of the students are 4th-8th graders at CATALYST Charter School. Students meet once a week at Circle Urban Ministries with their mentor and then four hours a week during school vacations. The site benefits from an extensive number of rooms where mentors and their students can interact with one another without anyone bothering them. When we were there we saw one pair playing Wii Boxing, another baking cookies in the kitchen, and another playing hang man in the boardroom. While the mentoring program emphasizes the mentoring relationship rather than a tutoring/academic relationship, the student and their mentor are encouraged to set one academic goal for the year and to work on that goal throughout the year with their mentor.

Circle Urban Ministries Mentoring Program also has benefited with networking with the Churches in Austin and Oak Park. Many of the mentors are members of these churches and even some parents of some of the mentees have donated their own time to help other students in the program succeed. What's great is that both CATALYST school is growing (as shown by the top picture, which was taken in the new library being constructed) and so is Circle Urban. Hopefully they are able to find more mentors for the many students who need their guidance and that Circle Urban can expand its services and help even more people in the Austin Community and beyond.

Thanks so much to Dan Hogan for a great tour of the facilities and for all his help with the conferences!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

How do we get funding? How do we track success?

As the summer begins and tutoring and mentoring programs begin summer programs to help kids stay safe and engaged, the need for funding becomes more and more apparent. Many programs at different organization are being cut, due to the Illinois State Budget Crisis, or to the stop in funding from a foundation or corporation. One of the first things that usually gets cut is summer programming since it only affects kids three months out of the year rather than nine months. But it's during the summer months that students need safe places to go more than ever. It's not a mere coincidence that summertime is the time where the crime rate skyrockets in urban areas. We can only see the recent tragedy of a third grader being gunned down while washing her dog and be reminded that their needs to be more places for her and those who killed her to go during the summer months. You can read Dan Basill's article here about how there are no tutoring and mentoring programs offered in her neighborhood.

Anyway, in an ongoing effort by the Tutor/Mentor Connection to support and promote tutoring and mentoring programs throughout Chicago, we are currently in the process of contacting programs about what ways they track success in their programs. Since a lot of funding comes from the demonstration of numbers, both positive and negative, we thought it would be a good idea to touch base with programs, see how they are doing right now in this tough economy, and find out what ways they keep track of their program.

Of course, we also need to set an example ourselves in terms of evaluating our program. One of the ways we track what we do qualitatively is OHATS, which stands for Organization and History Tracking System. What it does is that anybody who works with the Tutor/Mentor Connection in any capacity can create a profile and record important meetings, events, and developments that they have participated in that benefits the Tutor/Mentor Connection. What makes it an effective tool for tracking qualitative success is that anybody who is curious about what the Tutor/Mentor Connection has done, or is doing, can simply log in under username: Guest, password: Visitor and see the most recent activity recorded by those who work with Tutor/Mentor Connection in some capacity. I invite anyone who is interested in seeing what we're doing to login and browse around. There are entries that date back to the early 2000's, when the tracking system was first developed. It's a great way to see what we've done at Tutor/Mentor Connection, how far we've come, and where we are going.

Also, if you'd like to read more about the theory behind OHATS, I invite you to check out some great articles on Tutor/Mentor Exchange.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Putting the FUN in FUNdraising

As I'm sure you all know, one of the foremost thoughts on everybody's mind in the non-profit sector is raising money in light of the downturn in the economy. Programs all over are trying to find new and creative ways to find dollars so they can continue the good work that they're doing. Here at Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection we're using every avenue we can to make sure the lights stay on and the kids can continue to have a place to come to. You can read about one creative way in which we're raising money in Chris's blog.

I'm trying to do my part, and having fun in the process, by running the Chicago Marathon for Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection. Right now, my boyfriend (who's also running the Chicago Marathon for Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection) and I are in the process of compiling a list of people we know who would donate and are going to send out an e-mail or a letter to everyone on that list. I also created a FirstGiving page, where you can donate to Cabrini Connections directly through the site. Finally, stay tuned for updates about my fundraising efforts because down the road, we're planning on creating shirts with artwork done by the Cabrini Connections Art Club and selling them on CafePress. We're also going to make dry-wick shirts with the Art Club art and wear them during the marathon to raise visibility for our organizations, and also to show off what amazing artists our kids are.

If you're running in the Chicago Marathon, or another race and would like to help out Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection, please leave a comment and I'll get in touch with you and get you involved in our effort!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Making Media Connections Conference

Last Thursday, I had the great privilege of attending Community Media Workshop's Making Media Connections Conference. I had a great time, learned a lot, and networked a lot - what more could you have asked for?

The conference was held at Columbia College of Chicago and there was a great cross-section of people from what they referred to at the conference as "The Old Media" such as the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune to the new media, such as bloggers (the conference was actually live-blogged the entire day!) to people who worked at not for profits such as myself who wanted to find out more about how we can benefit from both.

The morning keynote was done by Monica Davies, who is the chief editor of their Chicago Bureau. Ms. Davies was an excellent speaker and touched not only on how the old media is going to survive in the age of twitter and facebook, but also how non-profits can be better able to get their stories into the news - which is mainly what I took from her talk. The thing that resonated with me the most was her point that in these tough economic times, newspapers want to hear about how people are doing - both the good and the bed. She said newspapers and other media are especially interested in how people are finding creative ways to weather the recession and if non-profits were doing creative and interesting things to survive, then the media would be receptive to those stories in addition to the bad stories about people losing their jobs and programs shutting down due to lack of funds.

The first workshop I attended was "Words on the Web" which talked about e-newsletters and blogging mainly. Since Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection is pretty up-to-date with newsletters and blogs, I realized that I already knew a lot about what they were talking about. However, an interesting tidbit that I found out was about a website called the Windy Citizen, where people can post interesting news stories including stories they've written themselves such as on their blog. Then, the other people who read their story on the site can rank the story based on how interesting they think the story is and if the story is highly ranked it will appear on the front page of the website.

The next workshop I attended was "Cause Marketing" where corporations (represented by Dominick's), PR Firms, and the media talked about about how you can partner with them to get dollars and free advertising. I learned a lot about how important it is when applying for funding from a corporation to make sure that you know what's in their mission statement and how that relates to who they fund. They also said that in asking for donations, you should be able to tell what you do and why they should fund you in the length of a tweet. Of course you're going to have to back that information up later with personal stories and data, but if you want to get your foot in the door initially you have to be concise and succinct in describing your progam and what they do.

The first afternoon workshop was all about Funding your Communications Department. The big thing they talked about was crafting a communications plan so that when you apply for funding for a communications person they will know what resources you have and resources you need. If you have a good, clear plan about how you will use the funding for using media for your organization than that's the best way to get funding for communications.

The final workshop was actually where we were all split into 3 groups and had a roundtable discussion from someone who represents the new media - in my case her name was Elizabeth Vassollo who is a community reporter for Trib Local, which is a newspaper helped by articles and stories found and written by the citizens of the communities they live in - and someone who uses the new media in their non-profit organization - Aaron Thurmond, who works for the Court Theater and who writes his own blog on arts management. I was especially interested in hearing Aaron's thoughts on building an audience for your blog. His recommendation was pretty simple - read other people's blogs who write about similar things that you do, link to their articles, comment on their posts. People will then see your stories as well and your name will be out there as one they recognize.

We also had the tables turned on us in the discussion and were asked about a success or failure we have had using either new or old media. I told the story of how I wrote about the need for finding a space for our November 2008 conference so I wrote about that on this blog. I then linked that article on my gchat, facebook, etc. An acquaintance (now a good friend!), who works at the Field Museum read that story on my blog and pointed me to the right people so that we could secure the Field Museum for our November Conference.

Overall, I had a blast at the Making Media Connections conference and hope to attend more events held by the Community Media Workshop. Even though I'm not the Media or PR Coordinator, I believe we are living in a age where we all can share our stories and it's important for all of us to know the ways we can better share our stories.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Charitable Giving Down - But the Need is Still There!

A friend of mine who works for an arts non-profit in New York City posted this New York Times Article about how charitable giving was down last year. This is not surprising with the downturn in the economy. However, this year, 2009, is probably going to be even worse since charitable giving seems to reflect the economy in the current year.

So what does that mean for organizations such ourselves and others? We're going to have to work that much harder to make sure the lights stay on, the rent is paid, and that the students we serve have a safe place to come through the summer and into the coming school year. Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection just held two amazing events. The first, the May Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference, which had over 120 people who work with youth from places as varied as Mississippi, Virginia, Iowa, Wisconsin, Arizona, and of course Chicago and the rest of Illinois come together to learn and network. The other one was our year-end dinner, which hosted over 200 students, their families, volunteers, and alumni. These two events were truly a celebration and we hope that the people who attended these events are compelled to help our organization and other organizations like ours out in the coming months.

So what can you do? Even a donation of $20 can contribute to paying the rent or keeping the lights on here at Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection. Also, keep abreast of future events that we are hosting. Our Jimmy Biggs Memorial Golf Tournament is going to be held Thursday July 16th at Highland Park Country Club. You can put together a group of yourself and three other friends and play for $700 if you register on the website before June 15th (after June 15th it's $800). If you can't get a group together, but still want to play, it's $175 for a round of golf. And, if you don't golf but want to help kids succeed, you either sponsor a hole for $330 (even more cost-effective - you can sponsor a hole with a group of friends, splitting the cost!), donate an item for our silent auction, or just come to the dinner that evening!

I also hope to keep everyone updated about fundraising events held by other programs as well in the coming months. In times like these we have to stay optimistic and positive about funding, but we also need to be proactive. If you want to help out with fundraising and grant-writing, leave a comment and we'll get back to you. Thanks everybody!

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

More Great Tutor/Mentor Conference Comments

Yesterday I was finally able to go through the workshop and conference evaluation forms from the conference. Here's what more people had to say:

"The keynotes were excellent!"

"Thank you! [The conference was] very helpful!"

"Loved [Northwestern School of Law] as the site and the openness of the participants"

"All over [my] rating is excellent for the event. Map workshop [was] very good."

Also, another e-mail:

From a panelist who has attended the previous two conferences as well: "I’ve been wanting to email you and Dan and congratulate the both of you on another very successful conference. As always, all the workshops I attended were well worth the trip to Chicago."

Hopefully, all of these positive comments will motivate people to get the word out so we can bring some sponsorship to the November Conference.

Until then, if you're interested in getting involved in the tutoring and mentoring community by either offering your time or money, and want to know what it's all about, please come to our tutoring program, Cabrini Connections' Year-End Dinner today, Thursday June 4th from 6-8pm at Cornerstone Community Center, 1111 N. Wells. Students, Volunteers, and the students' families will be honored for all of their hard work this past year and in the previous years. It's a wonderful tribute to the impact our program has on these students and volunteers.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

People's Comments about the May 2009 Tutor/Mentor Conference

Every Tutor/Mentor conference, we give out a survey for people to fill out about what they thought of the conference. Usually, we try and take note of people's comments calling for improvements as well as the comments that are more positive. Of course, we use the positive comments for any marketing we do for the next conference.

Anyway, I have yet to look at the evaluation forms from this May's conference, but I have received several e-mails in my inbox over the weekend from participants telling me what a great time they had:

From a first-time attendee: "I learned a lot and had a great time. Excellent job!"

From a panelist: "I just wanted to thank you for the invitation to present. [Your organization did] a masterful job coordinating the event. "

From an attendee, who came all the way from Arizona for the conference: "I just wanted to write and thank you for all your work and preparation for the Tutor Mentor Conference. We had a great time and were able to glean much from the more experienced programs."

Anyway, hopefully there will be more positive comments once we get our evaluation forms back. Still, it's good to know that people enjoyed the conference so much, they were compelled to e-mail us!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The May 2009 Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference

This May 2009 Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference marked our 31st conference and our 15th year of doing conferences. For me, it was my third May Conference and my fifth conference overall.

Every conference has been different - my first May Conference was in 2007 (photo at right), just after I had been hired on at Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection. I'm so glad that I went to the conference because I learned so much in those two days and met people from other programs at that conference, that I still collaborate with today. I was just beginning to grasp the concept of what tutoring and mentoring was and what the conference was all about and everything was new and overwhelming for me.

The November 2007 Conference (photo at left) was my first conference as an actual employee at Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection. I was given the task of leading a panel about volunteer recruitment and was so nervous. Fortunately, Alex Cornwell of Chicago Lights at Fourth Presbyterian Church and Erin McPartlin of Cabrini-Green Tutoring were kind enough to serve on the panel and share their wisdom and expertise. We had a really good discussion in that panel and I made a lot of great connections with people who I had not worked with before.

The first conference that I was mostly in charge of planning was the May 2008 Conference (photo below).I remember how stressed I was going in to that conference. The main thing I learned was that no matter what technological or logistical difficulties there were, people still were having a great time learning and networking.

The November 2008 Conference (photo below) was significant in that I learned the power of this blog. Because my friend Julie Nygaard, who works at the Field Museum, reads this blog, she helped me through the necessary steps to secure the Field Museum as our site for the November Conference. I also learned how to bring people together in panels showcasing their strengths and knowledge, because we only had one day to do the conference and we wanted to expose participants to a wide range of views and experiences from different programs.

Finally, there was the May 2009 Conference (photo below). Overall, I'd say this was my favorite conference by far. There was a wonderful positive energy that flowed through the conference, despite the background of a troubled economy. I had more people come up to me and tell me what a great time they were having, how much they were enjoying the speakers and workshops, and how grateful they were that there is a conference like this so people can come together and work together to help at-risk youth succeed.

If you catch a theme about what my thoughts were coming out of all five of the conferences that I attended, it probably is something along the lines of building networks of people who you can collaborate with in the future. In a nutshell, that's what I think the conference is all about. If you go to the Tutor/Mentor Exchange, you can read articles about all kinds of issues relating to starting and maintaining a quality tutoring and mentoring program. One of the many sections in the site relates to collaboration and capacity building, which is what the conference is all about. There you can read about "building networks of purpose," which I think is one of the major accomplishments that everybody who attends the conference comes out of the conference with. Especially in tough economic times like these, people needs a strong network to rely on, to learn from, to grow with, and to give back to themselves. I hope that everybody who attended the May Conference felt that their network of purpose grew and strengthened and that they felt energized and hopeful about their programs going into the summer.

I can't wait for the November Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference, which will be held Thursday and Friday November 19th and 20th at Norris University Center at Northwestern University, in Evanston, IL. Even though that's six months away, planning and collaborating is starting now. If you would like to help out with the November Conference, please leave a comment on this post and I'll contact you about what you can do to make the November Conference a success!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Come to the Cabrini Connections Year-End Dinner!

As the Tutor/Mentor Connection Research and Networking Coordinator, I reach out to other tutoring and mentoring programs and find out more about them - what they're doing right and where they can improve. However, one of the things I miss about my time as the Assistant Program Coordinator, during my Northwestern Public Interest Program Fellowship is interacting with our Cabrini Connections kids. That's why I love supervising the art club, and events such as our Year-End Dinner.

This Thursday June 4th, you too can meet our amazing Cabrini Connections kids at our Year-End Dinner. It's from 6-8pm at Cornerstone Community Center, 1111 N. Wells, Chicago, IL. At the year-end dinner, we will be showing a video about what Cabrini Connections is all about. The video was made by our Student Advisory Council and includes interviews with Dan Bassill, our President and CEO, Cabrini Connections alumni, Cabrini-Green community members, and longtime volunteers. Enjoy!

Another great Tutor/Mentor Conference

It's June 1st, which means the May 2009 Tutor/Mentor Conference has come and gone. Overall, I'd say it was a great success, with many people commenting on what a good time they were having, what great connections they were making, and how helpful and interesting the workshop and speakers are. Our three new interns from South Korea took photos during the concert, which are shown below in the slide show. Enjoy!

Find more photos like this on Tutor/Mentor Connection