Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Thanks to everyone who has donated to our cause

Hello everyone. As you may know, my boyfriend, Nick Infusino, and I have been raising money for Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection by running the Chicago Marathon on Sunday October 11th, 2009. So far we have raised $686.80 thanks to the generous support of friends, family and colleagues. Our goal is to raise AT LEAST $2000 to help at-risk youth succeed. If you feel compelled to donate to a great cause, there are two ways:

1) We have a FirstGiving Page, where you can donate online at:

2) You can also write out a a check payable to Cabrini Connections and mail it to:
Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection
800 W. Huron, First Floor
Chicago, IL 60642

Thanks in advance for your donation to our cause! (And I'm doing my part by running 16 miles this weekend!)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tutor/Mentor Conference Planning Committee

Hello Everyone,
The November 2009 Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking
Conference is happening in less than three months, on Thursday and
Friday November 19th and 20th at Norris University Center at
Northwestern University in Evanston, IL.
In order for the conference to happen though, we need your help. We
are currently putting together a conference planning committee. We
need people to help with:
- Finding speakers and panelists for workshops and keynotes
- Fundraising and finding sponsors for the conference
- Marketing, public relations, and reaching out to the media
- Technology support for improving the website.
If you're interested in helping out with the conference, you can call
312-492-9614 or e-mail Nicole White at
We're hoping to have a meeting in two weeks (the week of
September 7th-11th) here at Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor
Thank you in advance for your help.
Sincerely yours,
The Tutor/Mentor Connection

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

LINK Unlimited

Today, I visited a program in the South Loop called LINK Unlimited. LINK Unlimited is a unique program in that they only serve high school students who go to private schools in Chicago. Students in the program are matched up with "sponsors," adults who not only act as mentors, but who also pledge to pay for the student's high school education.

Every fall, Link Unlimited goes around to elementary schools throughout Chicago and informs students and parents about its program. They also speak to the teachers and administrators of the school to find out which students have the potential, both academically and socially, to go to a selective high school and succeed. Students must not have below-average grades and test scores and their families must demonstrate a financial need to the extent that these students wouldn't be able to go to private school without the financial support from a LINK Unlimited sponsor. Ultimately the cost for private school is split three ways, between the sponsor, whatever financial aid the student gets from the school, and whatever is determined the student's family can pay.

Once students are accepted into the program, they are matched up with a sponsor who has similar interests. Since sponsors are required to demonstrate the capacity to support a student's private school tuition for four years, sponsors tend to be a bit older than volunteer tutor/mentors in other programs. 100% of the students in LINK Unlimited are African-American, but sponsors are of all races, exposing students to new people and experiences.

Once the student is admitted in the program after an application process that includes an interview with both the student and the parent (parents and guardians are considered an important part of the LINK Unlimited program, which is how it should be for all programs), students are required to meet with their sponsor twice a month and also to send notes of appreciate at least twice a year. Students whose grades are below average are required to meet with at tutor an hour and a half, twice a week and the LINK Unlimited Center off of State and Cermak. There are also activities where all of the students and their sponsors go on, sponsored by LINK Unlimited such as attending Bulls games and going on the Chicago Architectural Boat Tour.

LINK Unlimited does an especially good job of keeping in touch with their alumni. LINK Unlimited has an alumni association, very similar to a university's alumni association, where alumni are encouraged to keep in touch and continue to give back to the organization. A wonderful statistic is the fact that 10% of the sponsors at LINK Unlimited are alumni of the program. This is a great testament of the powerful impact that LINK Unlimited has on its students' lives.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Eleven-Year-Old Interviews President Obama about Education

In my daily perusal of the news, I came across this video of eleven-year-old Damon Weaver of Pahokee, Florida interviewing President Barack Obama on what he's doing about improving America's education system, violence in communities with a high level of poverty, and whether President Obama can dunk a basketball. While I wish President Obama mentioned after-school programs such as tutoring and mentoring programs as a way of helping students in low-achieving schools succeed and stay away from violence, I do think that President Obama said some very important things. I also am extremely impressed with the questions that young Mr. Weaver asked President Obama and look forward to watching what he does in the future. Note, on Tuesday September 8th, President Obama will be giving a speech on the state of America's Education System and what the administration is going to do next to improve America's schools. Be sure to tune in, but first enjoy this great video:

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Birthday Causes on Facebook

For some reason the August-November seems to be the time when all my friends and loved ones have birthdays. That's good, because there's a great new(ish) feature on Facebook called "Birthday Causes," where people can donate to the cause of your choice in honor of your birthday.

Here's how it works: You should receive a message a couple of weeks before your birthday saying something like "Your birthday is coming up, would you like people to donate to your cause for your birthday." When you click "yes" and indicate which cause you would like donations to go to (Hint hint, Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection is a Cause on Facebook). You then can indicate which friends this invitation to donate should go to and voila! Happy Birthday, someone has donated to your favorite cause for your birthday. I know at least a couple of my friends did that for me in lieu of presents, which was greatly appreciated.

Word of warning though, sometimes these cause invites show up in your spam or junk e-mail box (I know this because I found an invitation from a friend in AmeriCorps asking to donate to the organization that she's working with for her birthday). Maybe send out another message to everybody to check their junk or spam as well to make sure they get the invite.

Of course, even if it isn't your birthday, you should encourage people to donate to your cause.
For Cabrini Connections, you can donate online using PayPal or send a check made out to "Cabrini Connections" and mail it to:

Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection
800 W. Huron, First Floor
Chicago, IL 60642


Monday, August 10, 2009

Help Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection Start a New Year

Over the weekend, I did two things that will help me accomplish my goal of running the Chicago Marathon for Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection. The first thing that I did was run 14 miles on Saturday morning as part of my training. The second thing I did was that I mailed out my first batch of donation letters for the Chicago Marathon, asking for support for Cabrini Connections and Tutor/Mentor Connection. Hopefully, friends and family will be compelled to support me as I run 26.2 miles for helping at-risk youth succeed.

The marathon isn't until Sunday October 11 and we need your help now. The school year is starting soon, which also means that tutoring and mentoring here at Cabrini Connections and elsewhere is starting soon too. We need your support in making our program and others succeed. Your donations can help in a variety of ways, including the very basic things of paying our rent and keeping the lights on.

You can donate to Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection a couple of different ways:

1. You can donate online by using PayPal.
2. You can mail a check made out to "Cabrini Connections" to:
Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection
800 West Huron
First Floor
Chicago, IL 60642

There are a myriad of reasons to donate, but I don't think I could give the reasons any better than one of our own students, Savon Clark. Here are his Top 10 Reasons for Donating to Cabrini Connections.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Volunteer Recruitment and Retention

As soon as August rolls around many tutoring and mentoring programs start preparing for a new year of school. That means checking back in with students and tutors, but also recruiting new students and volunteers. In my two (!) years here at Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection, I have hosted roundtables, and coffeehouses, and panel discussions at various points of the year on the topic of volunteer recruitment and retention. I highly recommend visiting Tutor/Mentor Exchange, which discusses the best practices of a tutoring and mentoring organization, especially the section about volunteer recruitment.

How does an organization find new students and volunteers? There's no magic bullet, but there are several ways that have results. One is using websites such as,, and Another is using your volunteers, as one program leader put it, as evangelists for your cause. Have them bring a friend to the orientation, or to a tutoring night, or to an event for your program. Another effective way is for them to have an informational meeting at their place of work where people can come on their lunch break to find out more. Also, if you're in Chicago, be sure that your program is listed in our Tutor/Mentor Program Locator, because we can dozens of phone calls every week from people who found our site when they googled "tutoring" or "mentoring" in "Chicago." Some of them become volunteers for Cabrini Connections, but many find that our tutoring schedule doesn't work for them, or that we're not in a convenient location for them. Then, it's my job to refer them to one of the over 25o programs throughout the city that could be a perfect match for them.

Once you have a volunteer, it's also important to train them properly. Make sure they know the rules and expectation of the program. Make sure the students and parents know the rules and expectations of the program. A good idea is to have veteran volunteers speak as well at these orientations about their experiences being a volunteer tutor/mentor for your organization. Try and find a good match with a student by having them include their interests and the student's interests on their respective application forms. Once the match is made, keep tabs on the tutor/mentor and student - do they seem to be doing work and communicating? How is their body language? Is the student on the computer and the volunteer on the blackberry? Or, are they looking at a college website and talking about possible career options? These are all things you need to be looking out for as a program leader. For more information about training people to be quality volunteers, please read Dan Bassill's most recent blogpost on "Preparing to be a Tutor or Mentor."

If a match doesn't seem to be working, don't keep the tutor/mentor and student together if you think their might be a better fit with another student and/or tutor/mentor. A happy kid and happy volunteer will mean that you will have them staying in the program until June and coming back the following year. Also, be sure to acknowledge your volunteers and your students - giving the matches that succed a special recognition at various times througout the year. For examples of this, I highly recommend reading our former Northwestern Public Interest Program Fellow, Chris Warren's student and volunteer profiles on his blog, Chrispip.

I also recommend having social events throughout the year, where the volunteers can mingle and have fun. In October, Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection will be hosting it's annual Martini Madness, which is a great place for new and veteran volunteers, in addition to employees and friends of Cabrini Connections. This year it will be on Friday October 9th, again at the Store, 2002 N. Halsted on Halsted and Armitage. You can recreate this same kind of social for volunteer year-round. The point is that volunteering should be fun and rewarding and once you get your volunteers, you need to keep them.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Promoting first day of school attendance

As the summer comes to a close (it's August already?!?), parents, kids, and teachers have their thoughts resting on going back to school. As I mentioned in my blog post about the Kanye West Foundation, the issue of students dropping out is as prevalent as ever, with 50% of CPS students dropping out before High School Graduation. Of course, the first step to not dropping out is actually attending the first day of school.

Motivating students to come to school and stay is never easy. That's why I was happy to hear that newly-minted Chicago bred music star, Jeremih of "Birthday Sex" fame was using the power of Twitter to help promote the first day of school. Now, I'll admit that the song Birthday Sex is misogynistic and promotes premarital sex. I also take the attitude that CPS superindtendant Ron Huberman takes when he's quoted in a Chicago Sun-Times Article, "“We don’t condone any behavior we think is not healthy for our students. . . . But, he’s a great role model for our kids. He graduated from high school. He went on to school for engineering. He’s staying in school. That’s the message. This is part of what will be a continuing strategy to reach kids the way they communicate with each other.”

Lyrics of "Birthday Sex" withstanding, Jeremih is a great role model. He graduated at 16 from Morgan Park High School, attended the University of Illinois to study engineering, before transferring to Columbia College-Chicago to study music. He is also using his fame in a positive way by reaching out to his 70,000 followers on Twitter. Therefore, I have to commend Jeremih for using his influence for good and hopefully students will follow his example by attending the first day of school and be compelled to graduate form high school and attend college, just like he did.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Securing Sponsors for your Event

Today, I participate in a very interesting live chat about how to secure sponsors for events - such as conferences and galas. As the coordinator for the Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference, I'm very interested in really getting the conference off the ground with sponsorship for both the event and the advertising of the event.

The discussion, which was on the Chronicle of Philanthropy website, had individuals working in the non-profit field ask questions to experts on the topic of Tanya Baskin, vice president of corporate partnerships for the Special Olympics; David Hessekiel, founder of the Cause Marketing Forum; Chad Royal-Pascoe, managing director of national strategic alliances for the March of Dimes; Emily Taylor, a co-founder of SponsorPark; and Karen Hughes White, director of corporate relations for Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

A couple of important things that I learned included that developing a relationship sponsorship will most likely take 4-6 months (I need to get cracking for the November Conference), that having a connection to someone in the company that you're soliciting for sponsorship is key, and that you need to do your homework about how that company's goals are similar to your own in helping them make a decision about whether to sponsor you or not.

I asked a question about sponsorship for conferences and what their recommendations would be. Emily Taylor from Sponsor Park responded: "Whether it's a conference or any other kind of sponsorship, you still need to consider the audience, the benefits you can offer a sponsor, and I highly encourage you to offer tiered package options to distinguish different levels of sponsorship support - I don't recommed a la carte sponsorship for this type of event. Once you've considered your audience do your homework to find alignment and start making phone calls. According to IEG 55% of sponsorships come from cold calling. Agencies or connection resources are also a big help since they have established relationships"

It's good to know what companies prefer and that cold-calling works. In the next couple of weeks, I will be searching out companies whose mission is concurrent with the Tutor/Mentor Connection and hopefully they will be willing to sponsor our conference. If you have any suggestions as well about securing sponsors, please leave a comment. Thanks!

Monday, August 3, 2009

What kids think will end the violence here in Chicago

This past Friday, July 31st, students from the Mikva Challenge's Education, Teen Health, and Youth Safety Council's held a press conference at the Joyce Foundation briefing the media, politicians, and other leaders in Chicago on the survey they conducted, asking 758 Chicago Public School's Students on their views on youth violence. Mikva Challenge is a wonderful organization that teaches kids about civic responsibility and guides them in becoming activists in their community.

As we all know, violence in Chicago is at the forefront of the news right now(recommended reading is Mark Brown's column about attending the press conference here and Mary Mitchell's column about the Secretary of Education and former Chicago Public School's Superintendant, Arne Duncan's reaction to another shooting of a CPS student who had graduated from Von Steuben High School, where many of our Cabrini Connections kids go to school as well, here ) and it appears that the issue of violence in the community is at the forefront of kids' minds as well. The results of the survey are jarring and you should read what they have to say. Of course, as someone who is concerned with how tutoring and mentoring organizations impact the communities the serve, I was pleased to see that students consider "adult mentoring" as one of the best strategies for reducing youth violence. Hopefully donors and potential donors will take it from the source - the kids that these mentors work with - and realize the importance that these mentors have in these kids lives and realize that adult mentoring is one of the many ways of combatting youth violence.