Friday, May 6, 2011

Lessons from Lawndale

Last week my NUPIP seminar visited a free health clinic, Lawndale Christian Health Center, which serves over 119,000 patients in the Lawndale community of Chicago. Dr. Wayne Detmer, the passionate and dedicated Medical Director of Medical Operations, gave us a tour of the impressive facility and told us more about the Lawndale community.

Lawndale is a neighborhood in the working poor West Side of Chicago. As Dr. Detmer described, it is among the most dangerous and impoverished communities in the entire country, and businesses will scarcely operate in the area. Several years ago, a Starbucks opened in the community as part of a joint venture between Starbucks and Magic Johnson Enterprises. This store was part of a strategy to open urban businesses in order to bring upward mobility and business and employment opportunities in struggling areas. As this
July 2008 Chicago Tribune article describes,"
For communities such as Lawndale, where vacant lots alternate with graystones, Starbucks became shorthand for the promise of better days, a neighborhood on its way up." However, a short time after opening, this shop closed its doors.

The only remaining sit-down style restaurant in the community is the gourmet pizzeria, Lou Malnati's. This restaurant has lost well over $1 million since opening, however it
continues to operate as part of the owner's personal dedication to providing safe places and employment opportunities in the Lawndale community.

This type of mindset and community investment on the part of a business is rare, but it is an incredible example of how a company can truly partner with a community. In an era where Departments of Corporate Social Responsibility are all but expected of major corporations, it is clear that businesses DO realize that social responsibility is in their best interest for building brand loyalty and visibility.

Although operating a business at a loss is not a feasible model for most to follow, it is worth considering how businesses might partner more intentionally within their communities. While annual employee service days may be worthwhile for the individuals involved, they are not productive in terms of a sustainable contribution. Likewise, short-term giving and sporadic monetary or product donations are certainly put to good use, but long-term investment in an organization demonstrates far greater commitment to creating change within a community. Mobilizing long-term volunteers or long-term funding requires a heightened level of commitment from a business, yet it also demonstrates a company's cohesive identity and well-thought-out corporate responsibility strategy. In fact, an entire section of Tutor/Mentor Connection's online resources is dedicated to explaining "A Case for Business Involvement" and the benefits of businesses partnering with tutoring and mentoring programs.

While empty lots and closed storefronts indicate the challenges of a neighborhood, tutor/mentor programs indicate a neighborhood's promise and a concrete investment in a community's future. As this map shows, there are fifteen known tutoring and mentoring programs in the Lawndale community making the ratio of sit-down restaurants to tutor/mentor programs in Lawndale 1 to 15. That's a whole lot of potential!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Conference Countdown: One Month Away!

The past few weeks have been very busy at Tutor/Mentor Connection with the conference just a month away. Our partnership with the conference host, Victory Apostolic Church, has been an excellent experience thus far. The pastors, staff, and members of the church view the conference as a ministry to the many programs supporting youth throughout the greater Chicagoland area. Although we are a secular organization, it is energizing to work with individuals who share and value the TMC's goal to help mentor rich volunteer-based programs become more available in all high poverty areas of Chicago and its suburbs.

Registration for the conference is available online, so please visit the conference website to participate in the valuable two-day event on May 19th and May 20th. Attendees are welcome to participate for both days ($80 registration fee) or for a single day ($50 registration fee). Please contact me with any questions or for information on group and scholarship rates.


Thursday Afternoon Keynote:
Phillip Jackson
, Executive Director of The Black Star Project

Friday Afternoon Keynote:
Senior Pastor Andrew D. Singleton, Jr., Victory Apostolic Church

More keynotes coming soon!


"Childhood Lead Poisoning: An Urgent Problem in Greater Englewood
Jean Carter-Hill
Executive Director,
Imagine Englewood if...

"E-Mentoring: A Case Study in Innovative Recruitment and Retention"
Oliver Miller
Community Engaged Scholarship (CES) Coordinator, Community Partnerships Department, The Chicago School of Professional Psychology

"Process for Transforming Performance"

Rose Mabwa
Manager, Mercy Housing Lakefront

"Reducing Barriers to Academic Success: Motivating Students to Learn"

Ylonda M. Ware

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor/Certified Drug and Alcohol Counselor, Naelewa Counseling Services

"Sing Your Own Blues Tune for Tutors"

Bonni McKeown

Teaching Artist, Chicago School of Blues

Miss Taj

Teaching Artist, Chicago School of Blues

"Threats to Income Tax Exemption"

Jay Readey

Executive Director, Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc.

"Volunteer Recruitment and Retention Panel"

Christy Beighe-Byrne

Director of Mentor and Volunteer Services, Chicago Youth Centers

Joel Newman

Director of Community Partnerships, Big Brothers Big Sisters

More workshops coming soon!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Project Cabrini Green

Yesterday I walked past the last standing high-rise of the Cabrini Green housing development. The demolition of this building began last Wednesday, and already the windows have been knocked out leaving each room exposed to the elements and to the view of outsiders.

As I looked inside, I saw that some rooms and hallways are tagged with graffiti; others are adorned with carefully painted colors indicating the most recent occupant’s aesthetics. I felt intrusive and strange peering into these now vacated rooms. I can’t quite imagine the violation I’d feel having a stranger stare into the exposed windows of my childhood home. I also can’t imagine how much that stranger would fail to understand the memories and stories I associate with each room and hallway.

Not surprisingly, the demolition of the Cabrini Green buildings is controversial amongst its former residents. During the demolition process, a group of art students from the Art Institute of Chicago have been working on a public art installation with young people who formerly lived in the Cabrini Green houses. This public art piece tries to capture the myriad of sentiments that youth who formerly resided in the housing project feel toward Cabrini Green, the demolition, the Chicago Housing Authority, and life in Chicago.

Students from Cabrini Connections have been involved in this art project, entitled "Project Cabrini Green," and last month Cabrini Connections hosted a two-day workshop for the project. As the Project Cabrini Green website explains: “On March 28th, two days before the beginning of the demolition, 134 self-contained, battery-powered LED modules were placed inside 134 of the building's vacated apartments. The lights will blink every day from 7pm to 1am CDT, for the four week duration of the demolition, and will be gradually erased with the building. Each blinking light has a unique pattern. These patterns are a visual translation of poems written and recorded by the youth who attended workshops developed and instructed by Tichy, Appel, and students from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

You can listen to the recorded poetry and spoken word of these students by going to the Project Cabrini Green website, clicking “Home” and then selecting any of the blinking lights. In addition, a live-feed video of the demolition can be viewed on this site over the next few weeks.

Project Cabrini Green is a reminder that the Cabrini Green housing development will long be remembered by its former occupants and by the community. It will be interesting to see the ongoing legacy of Cabrini Green in the years to come. Although the houses will be entirely demolished within the month, the families and former occupants still need support and services. Cabrini Connections has been an important source of support for students and families in the Cabrini area since 1993. Hopefully, the doors to the program will remain open as a positive outlet for former residents of this community in the years to come.


Today is the last day to support a Cabrini Madness team! If you are so compelled, please visit the Cabrini Connections website to learn more about the program and how you can get involved.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Become a Speaker at the May Conference!

Planning for the May 19th-20th Tutor/Mentor Leadership & Networking Conference is well underway!

We are excited to announce two of our keynotes. Our Thursday lunchtime keynote will be Phillip Jackson, Executive Director and Founder of The Black Star Project. The Black Star Project is designed to help children and students realize their educational potential through programs that connect men with their children, programs geared toward college preparation, and programs focused on parental involvement. Mr. Jackson has received national recognition for his contributions to eliminating racial and academic achievement gaps, and we are honored to have him joining us!

Another of our keynote speakers is Jordan Hestermann, founder and executive director of Becoming We The People which works toward ending poverty. Ms. Hestermann led a popular "Networking 101" session at our November 2010 conference, and we're excited that she'll be presenting another interactive all-group training on how to best maximize networking opportunities during and after the conference.

In addition to these keynotes, we also have a variety of workshops already in place. Visit the conference website for details and updates on keynotes and workshops in the weeks prior to the conference.

We are still looking for additional workshop presenters. Please see the list of suggested topics below, and contact me for more information!

Workshop suggestions:

* Program Spotlights: Do you want the stage for 10 minutes to briefly tell about what your program is doing? Become part of a workshop/panel that showcases different programs serving the Chicago region or Northern Indiana.

* Tutoring and /or Mentoring - Train the Trainer: What resources do you use to train and support volunteer tutors and mentors? Share your expertise so others can build their own capacity based on what you are doing in your own organization.

* How can volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs be part of Drop-Out Prevention strategies? Program leaders, researchers and/or workforce development leaders are invited to talk about this topic.

*Role of Faith Communities and Business in mobilizing support for volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs. These articles on the T/MC website point to the role intermediaries can take in helping tutor/mentor programs grow. Who is doing this well and will share their ideas?

* Fundraiser events: We invite tutor/mentor programs to share their experiences in organizing fund raising events.

* Funders of Tutor/Mentor Programs: Foundations that fund tutor/mentor programs are invited to attend and present information about funding guidelines. New donors are invited to attend and learn ways to add support for tutor/mentor programs.

* Empowering Volunteers as Fundraisers: How is your organization empowering volunteers to be part of on-going fund raising? The Cabrini Madness event of Cabrini Connections engages more than 100 youth, volunteers and friends. Who else would be interested in talking about their experience in this area?

* Blogging Best Practices - This link points to blogs written by many different people who share ideas related to learning, fund raising, non profit management, etc. Included are a few blogs written by tutor/mentor programs. Dan Bassill writes about blog exchanges on his blog.

* Volunteer Panel: Veteran volunteers are invited to share why they stay involved, how they advocate for their program, what they wished they knew before becoming a mentor, and how to create a meaningful volunteer experience.

* Student Retention and Recruitment Panel

* Strategies for Keeping Program Alumni Involved

* Building a Healthy and Active Board of Directors and Advisory Council

* Strategies for Measuring and Evaluating Program Success

* "Taking advantage of the summer months"- Who has a strategy for engaging tutors/mentors and youth during June-August? How can programs best prepare now for a great start in the Fall?

*See the list of additional topics that could be part of the Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The First Cut: Cabrini Madness

The first cut for Cabrini Madness 2011 took place last night at 11:59 pm (long after all of the NCAA games were over for the night--I guess we now know which tournament is more intense!).

Due to some confusion regarding tournament policies for matching donations, Commissioners EL Da'Sheon Nix and Bradley Troast have decided to advance 9 teams this week.

The following teams are advancing to the next round:
1. $2,161..... Cabrini Allstars
2. $2,118 ... The Dream Team
$1,561..... Boom Goes the Dynamite
4. $1,385 ..... The Kids Are All Bright
5. $1,338 ....... The Golden Stars

$1,285 ..... Team High5ive
$1,265 ... Change Makers
8. $1,215 ..... The Green Team
9. $1,208 .....
Cabrini Loyalty

The following teams didn't make the first cut, but still raised a combined $1,828 for Cabrini Connections:

10. $785 ... The Blue Chips
11. $600 .......
The Free Agents

$330 ....... Team 5Dragons
13. $113 ..... Running for Cabrini

Teams have demonstrated a lot of creativity thus far in the tournament. We've seen teams raise money through bowling nights, wii tournaments, wing eating contests (see an action shot to the left), chili cook-offs, pizza sales, and online giving campaigns. I look forward to seeing what teams do in the final few weeks of competition!

I'd like to take a moment to thank my family and friends who have supported my team, The Kids Are All Bright, and have helped us move to the second round standing strong at #4. My personal competitive side and desire to win the tournament aside, your generosity helps us keep the doors open to a really amazing program!

As many readers know, it has been a challenging financial year for Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection. However, our organization is not alone in facing ongoing financial obstacles. A study was released just today by the Nonprofit Financial Fund which indicates that 87% of nonprofits feel "the recession is not over." The study also found that while 85% of nonprofits anticipate an increased demand for their services in 2011, only 46% of organizations expect to be able to meet this need.

While this study reinforces the challenging landscape faced by nonprofits such as Cabrini Connections, Cabrini Madness is a really positive reminder that we have a lot of people willing to support the program and advocate on its behalf.

Congratulations to all teams, and good luck in the rest of the tournament. For all tournament fans, stay on top of tournament news, media updates, and standings on the
official Cabrini Madness site.

Please support your favorite team before the next cut on Sunday, March 27th

Friday, March 18, 2011

May 2011 Tutor/Mentor Leadership & Networking Conference Announced!

As those familiar with Tutor/Mentor Connection know, every May and November we organize the Tutor/Mentor Leadership & Networking Conference. Each conference provides an opportunity for leaders of tutoring and mentoring programs to share best practices and collaborate toward shared goals.

Since late Spring is when tutoring and mentoring programs generally finish their sessions for the school year, the May conference celebrates each program's accomplishments while also equipping program leaders with momentum and fresh ideas to plan for the next year of programming. In addition, the May conference is intended to generate attention for tutoring and mentoring programs from
outside of the nonprofit community so that organizations can recruit volunteers, donors, and investors during the summer months.

This week Tutor/Mentor Connection President, Dan Bassill, and I had a meeting to finalize the May 2011 conference date and location. The next conference will be held on Thursday, May 19th and Friday, May 20th at Victory Apostolic Church in Matteson, IL.

Victory Apostolic Church was built in 2008 and has a beautiful facility including wireless throughout, various breakout spaces with natural light, and free parking. In addition to this state-of-the-art facility, partnering with a church in Matteson helps us to reach toward the goal of connecting with more programs in the South Suburbs. Although the church is about a 45 minute drive from the loop, we hope many programs will view this as a chance to expand the collective knowledge about tutoring and mentoring throughout the Greater Chicago Area.

We are also thrilled to be partnering with a religious institution since Tutor/Mentor Connection strives to engage faith communities in supporting tutoring and mentoring programs. You can learn more about this strategy by reading:
How Faith Communities Can Lead Volunteer Mobilization.

Dan and I had an energizing conference brainstorming meeting with Pastor Issac Greene (center), leader of Youth Ministries at Victory Apostolic Church, and Bernard Key (left), President of Key Link Technologies. Both Pastor Greene and Mr. Key have an excellent understanding of the organizations, leaders, and needs in Matteson and surrounding regions. They discussed a number of ideas for keynotes that would attract increased conference participation in addition to brainstorming ideas for raising awareness about the conference through a press conference.

Thanks to Pastor Greene and Mr. Key for helping with the planning process and to Victory Apostolic C
hurch for agreeing to host us in May. Thank you also to the many individuals who helped us search for a conference location including Toinette Gunn of PEAK, Amy Schachman of EPIC Academy Charter High School, and Carl Hurdlik of Chicago Public Schools (and a Cabrini Connections mentor).

If you would like to be a speaker at the May 2011 conference or know someone else who would lead a great workshop, please refer to the
Presenter Interest Form. Please contact me if you would like more information about getting involved.

Stay tuned for registration information and information on keynotes!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Spring Cleaning of Chicago Area Program Links

With Spring just around the corner (according to the calendar, not necessarily the weather forecast), I have been doing some cleaning of the Chicago-Area Program Links on the Tutor/Mentor Connection website.

While the Program Locator enables visitors to search for tutoring and mentoring programs based on a variety of criteria such as zip code and age group, the Chicago-Area Program Links provides a list of website links for tutoring and mentoring programs according to their region in Chicago. This allow prospective students and volunteers to find programs in their areas. Likewise, it provides an inventory of programs that the leaders of organizations themselves can use to build awareness of programs operating in the same region.

I went through all the links during the Fall to make sure programs are still operating. I revisited every website in the past week to ensure that all links are still correct and to touch base with many of the programs.

Of the 214 programs currently listed in this links directory, the regional breakdown is as follows:

The distribution of programs doesn't necessarily align with the distribution of need. This map that Mike Trakan created (click here to see enlarged view) shows the locations of programs in relation to poverty and poorly-performing schools.

It isn't rocket science to surmise that where there are more poorly performing schools, more tutoring and mentoring programs are needed to give kids academic skills, guidance, and motivation to graduate from high school and prepare for their next steps such as college, vocational schools, or careers. For those growing up in poverty neighborhoods and with failing schools, building relationships with a mentor can give students the support they need to realize their own potential.

Each one of the dots on the map represents a story, a program, a unique vision, a group of youth, a group of volunteers, and a staff.

When I look at Mike's maps, I try not to just see "dots" where programs are located. I try to picture in my head the tutoring sessions and programs occurring on a weekly basis at that center. By putting a "human face" on these locations, I realize more fully the impact of these programs and their vital roles within each community.
For a sneak-peak into a tutoring session at one of these locations (Cabrini Connections), see the latest Cabrini Madness video below.

Wednesday Night Lights from Cabrini Connections on Vimeo.

What would it take to keep these programs operating while also expanding the number of programs to reach all neighborhoods with failing schools?