Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Century After Ford...

In 1908, Henry Ford transformed the automobile from a flashy toy for the affluent to a commodity that became relatively affordable and widely available to the Average Joe (perhaps too widely available if you ask the modern environmentalist). Ford’s magic ingredient for making this manufacturing process efficient: The Assembly Line.

We all know the story.

Ford’s famously effective strategy for constructing a car-- workers building separate components in order to create a common product--is in many ways analogous to the Tutor/Mentor Connection's mission toward addressing massively complex issues like “urban poverty” or “equal access to opportunities” or “violence in American cities.” Even more so than assembling a car, however, attacking any of these issues as an individual (or even as a single organization) is as impossible as it is daunting.

Far more efficient is dividing up the workload and specializing in different tasks. These past few weeks, I have grown increasingly aware of the range of youth programs throughout Chicago with different specialties and roles. Some tutor/mentor programs focus on working within schools, some focus on the arts, others work with youth in particular neighborhoods, and still other programs mentor youth with incarcerated parents. These are just a sampling of the hundreds of tutor/mentor programs in Chicago. Each program has its strengths, its unique sets of challenges, and its specific contribution toward a goal shared across programs—launching all of Chicago's youth into bright, opportunity-filled futures.

This past month, we have been lucky to have two volunteers from the technology center at DePaul updating our computer lab. Next week, we have two recent college graduates--one with a background in advertising and another with a background in grant writing--beginning to volunteer in roles relevant to their interests. These are just a few examples of the many ways people are plugging into programs with their skill-sets.

The need to specialize is true not only on the macro-level of cities, but also within organizations. Tutor/Mentor Connection certainly has its set of “missing links”--places where we could be running more efficiently and effectively and are constantly looking for people to plug in their specialties by bringing time, talent, ideas, networks, and willing hands.

On the Cabrini Connections website is a list of volunteer opportunities that speaks to a wide range of interests, backgrounds, and time-commitment levels. If you look at this list of volunteer opportunities, it doesn't take long to realize that other programs have similar needs. I encourage you to consider how you might plug your skills and assets into a program in Chicago or another city.

As Henry Ford taught us, a lot can be accomplished when many workers contribute a small part.

What is your specialty?

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