Thursday, September 30, 2010

Get Ready for Martini Madness!

Join us tomorrow night for our 5th annual Martini Madness fundraiser! This event celebrates the successful start of Cabrini Connections' year of tutoring and mentoring (read blog entries by EL and Bradley to learn about the "best start in years"). It also raises money for Tutor/Mentor Connection so we can continue to provide free training and support for tutor/mentor programs throughout the Greater Chicago Area.

The Details:

Martini Madness 2010

Friday, October 1st

at The Store

2002 N. Halsted Street (map)

6:30pm – 9:30pm

$40 per person for open martini bar, appetizers, and sodas

Register online!

If you do not live in Chicago or if martinis aren't your thing, you can still participate! Raffle tickets are available online or at the door for $20 each or 3 for $50. More than twenty lucky winners will receive a variety of awesome prizes such as hotel stays, dinner packages, and sporting event tickets (see a full list here). Winners need not be present to win!

I am excited for a fun night of socializing with T/MC supporters!! I hope to see you there!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Communicating the Vision and Goals of the Tutor/Mentor Connection

These past few days, I have been investigating opportunities for funding and sponsorship for the Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference and other ongoing operating costs associated with the Tutor/Mentor Connection's current and expanding vision. As the T/MC President and CEO Dan Bassill discusses in his recent blog post, the landscape of agencies doing similar work to that of the T/MC has changed drastically since the organization was launched in 1994.

As I continue scouting out grant opportunities and as I begin crafting Letters of Intent to potential funding sources, I am continually attempting to focus and refine my thoughts. It is important for me to learn how to communicate the strategies, goals, and vision of the T/MC in ways that are succinct and compelling. What I have below is not particularly concise and it is still in a crude format, but it is my "working brainstorm" as I attempt to clarify how best to introduce the T/MC to potential corporate funding sources and foundations. Dan has encouraged me to share my progressing brainstorm on my blog. As always, I welcome any feedback or suggestions!


What would happen if every at-risk teen had the support and individualized attention of an adult tutor/mentor?

That is a question we ask ourselves daily. Studies consistently demonstrate that students matched with adult mentors are more likely to stay in school, less likely to use drugs, and more likely to go on to higher-education. In addition, students matched with tutor/mentors gain valuable social skills, increased self-esteem, and improved study habits. Although the benefits of tutor/mentor programs are well-established, thousands of students across the Greater Chicago Area do not yet have access to such opportunities in their communities. Approximately 200,000 students in Chicago live in at-risk neighborhoods and would benefit from matches with a tutor or mentor. Nationwide, an astounding 15 million students need or want tutor/mentor opportunities who are not yet involved in such programs.

Our mission is to provide an organized framework that empowers and encourages adult volunteers to give their time, skills, and support in seeking life-changing solutions for youth who live in educationally disadvantaged environments. This means we connect inner-city youth to adults from various backgrounds who serve as one-on-one tutor/mentors, advocates, and role models to these teens.

The Tutor/Mentor Connection champions tutoring and mentoring throughout the Greater Chicago Area not just in one neighborhood or with one program. We seek to increase the presence of tutor/mentor programs within high-poverty communities on regional and national levels. Our strategy involves the ongoing commitment and support of businesses, political leaders, faith institutions, universities, and individuals.

What does the Tutor/Mentor Connection do?

  • We support the growth of new tutoring and mentoring programs: The T/MC acts as a guide and consultant to hundreds of tutor/mentor agencies that seek our advice for starting or building their own programs. Our online resources provide all the information necessary to create and maintain an effective program. In addition to sharing our own ideas online, we also link to over 1,500 other websites and articles relevant to tutor/mentor organizations. Our “Links Library” connects to a wide range of skill-building topics such as grant-writing, process improvement, and training guides.
  • We promote the quality and effectiveness of existing tutoring and mentoring programs: Each year since 1994, we organize two capacity-building conferences attended by over 200 leaders of tutor/mentor programs. These conferences provide training on how to effectively lead tutor/mentor programs while fostering camaraderie between program leaders. In addition to conferences, we make information, learning resources, and tools available to any program leader, volunteer, or donor through our free online Tutor/Mentor Institute.
  • We point potential volunteers, students, corporate partners, and individual donors to programs throughout the city of Chicago: We built and maintain the first and most extensive database of Chicago-area volunteer tutor/mentor programs. Our interactive, online Program Locator points people to existing programs in their communities and identifies “gaps” where programs are still needed.
  • We draw public visibility and support toward tutoring and mentoring programs: We take an active role in educating the public about the value of tutor/mentor programs and about how individuals, businesses, and institutions can become involved as volunteers or as donors. We give presentations to university groups, maintain blogs and websites that receive 9,000 monthly visits and 150,000 monthly page-views, and lead Volunteer Recruitment Campaigns to draw attention and support to programs in the Greater Chicago Area.
  • We facilitate collaboration between programs to share best practices and strategies: Through the biannual Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference, collaboration meetings, and online forums and conversations, we are the “connectors” in helping tutor/mentor programs learn from each other about current trends and effective practices in the field.
  • We use innovative technologies to illustrate and evaluate how we involve the entire community: We utilize Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping to illustrate where programs exist and what types of assets (such as businesses, banks, and churches) are “stakeholders” in those communities. We also use Social Networking Analysis (SNA) to measure the impact of the T/MC’s work and to illustrate our role in facilitating connections between programs, mentors, students, and community members.
  • We are in-tune with the needs of tutor/mentor programs because we operate our own: While the Tutor/Mentor Connection operates on citywide, national, and even global levels, Cabrini Connection—the second part of our two-pronged organization—works at the local community level. Since 1993, Cabrini Connections annually links 75-80 teens to nearly 100 adult volunteers through one-on-one tutor/mentor matches and other enrichment opportunities. Cabrini Connections keeps the Tutor/Mentor Connection grounded in our work and provides a place for us “model” the best practices we advocate to other programs and to develop innovative new strategies such as our online feedback system for students and mentors (SVHATS). The goal of the T/MC is to help programs like Cabrini Connections develop in every high poverty neighborhood in the Greater Chicago Area and nationwide.

What are the funding needs of the Tutor/Mentor Connection?

While the technologies and strategies described above are integrated into the T/MC’s current actions, none are fully funded. Currently, the organization depends on borrowed volunteer time to innovate and sustain these concepts.

The T/MC has grown the way most small businesses grow. It started with a vision designed to solve a problem. Since 1993, its leaders have volunteered time and talent using whatever funds could be raised to convert the vision into an action plan that is now attracting attention throughout the world.

In many other states, Mentoring Partnerships exist that do similar work to that of the T/MC, yet their annual budgets range from $300,000 to $1 million. The T/MC has never had more than $225,000 in a single year to impact the third largest city in America.

The T/MC aims to “quicken the pace of its progress” and is seeking grants and social investment of $500,000 per year for three years (totaling $1,500,000). These funds will support project management, information collection and analysis, programming, software and hardware acquisition, and will help the T/MC stretch the application of these technologies in its ongoing commitment to expanding the availability and quality of comprehensive mentoring-to-careers programs in Chicago and in other major cities.

The Tutor/Mentor Connection strives to create opportunities for all kids to flourish through caring relationships with adult role models. By expanding our efforts to connect adults to programs serving inner-city youth, we heighten kids’ opportunities to blossom to their full potential and to move from poverty into higher education, jobs, and successful careers.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Looking Around the Court

In third grade, I played on a basketball team called Sasquatch (see the image on the right for a visual of our mascot). Despite our intimidating name, we won a grand total of one game the entire season (the other team didn’t show up, so we called it a win and went out for pizza). Even though our losing record rivaled that of the Cubs, my teammates and I actually did improve a lot throughout the season. My dad, an avid and talented basketball player, served as our coach, and he always offered words of encouragement and advice from the sidelines.

As third graders still learning to dribble the ball, we needed constant reminding to stay alert to what was happening all over the court so that we could pass, shoot, and move the ball more effectively. Oftentimes, my dad would have to remind us to, “Look around the court!” or "Look for help!"

I thought about my dad’s coaching today when reflecting on the goals of the biannual Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference. Among the primary goals of the Conference is to connect people leading programs, volunteers, donors, and supporters. By establishing these connections, leaders can “look around the court” and gain an awareness of what is happening in other programs or even see places for potential collaboration between organizations.

Recently, one of our volunteers, Kalyani Misra, completed a series of network maps showing organizations represented at the May 2008 Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference and the involvement of participants in the Conference. T/MC President Dan Bassill's recent blog post also comments on what these maps allow us to visualize.

As Dan and Kilyani discuss in their blogs, these diagrams illustrate how the Conference serves as a hub that connects many organizations—some from Chicago and some from other cities. Through workshops and networking, program leaders build an awareness of what is going on throughout the tutor/mentor sector
—best practices, innovations, and support in addressing common challenges.

Beyond reflections on the goals of the Conference, I also thought about the value in looking beyond one’s own niche and organization when I attended yesterday's seminar for the 2010 group of Public Interest Program (PIP) fellows. We represent a wide variety of organizations in Chicago with focuses ranging from youth to refugees to policy change. Each Wednesday, we will be coming together for workshops, site visits to organizations throughout the city, and discussions on working in Chicago's public sector. Just like the Conferences put on by the T/MC, these seminars provide a space for people who might not otherwise conne
ct to learn from each other, find ways that the missions of our diverse organizations might connect, and truly become colleagues.

Whether we are in business, non-profit, fellowship programs, or even basketball games, sometimes we need opportunities to step beyond our own tasks and become aware of what others are doing and how that m
ight relate to our broader goals. I know I am going to keep my dad's coaching in mind when I attend PIP seminars and when I continue planning the November Tutor/Mentor Conference. I hope to constantly stay alert to opportunities, connections, and potential collaborations to work toward shared goals.

Monday, September 13, 2010

If money can't buy happiness, maybe giving it away can....

The Gallup World Giving Index released a study ranking Americans fifth globally on a scale of generosity. This study, based on the charitable behavior of citizens from 153 countries (95% of the world’s population), also indicates that giving money is more strongly correlated with national levels of happiness than is a country's gross domestic product.

Please read Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection President, Dan Bassill's, recent appeal asking for continued support for our programs.

Thank you!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Makeover...T/MC Addition

Yesterday, CC, T/MC got a mini-makeover.

Two groups of incoming Northwestern freshman visited us through the Freshman Urban Program (FUP). FUP exposes Northwestern freshman to communities, social issues, and org
anizations throughout Chicago in the weeks before these soon-to-be Wildcats officially start their undergraduate careers.

Yesterday’s groups of students worked on a wide range of projects to spiff up our center prior to Cabrini Connection’s official 2010-11 start-up next week. The “FUPers” painted artwork on several walls, went through the library and got rid of antiquated books (copies of What Is the Internet? from 1994 are probably not particularly high on the reading lists of our tech-savvy students), and cleared out paperwork from old files.

We even had one person look through pages on our websites to repair broken links and update information. He contributed to some of the work I have been focusing on these past several weeks. While our office needs ongoing cleaning and maintenance, so do our websites, resource libraries, and databases. As of the beginning of August, for instance, The Program Locator had well over a hundred missing or broken links—the majority of which have now been repaired.

Checking in with organizations in order to update their information has provided me an opportunity to learn about programs and reach out to their leaders. Some have moved locations or changed personnel. Others have started new centers. Unfortunately, still others have been forced to shut down due to insufficient funding—stark reminders of how important it is for us to build ongoing partnerships and consistent support for tutoring and mentoring programs.

The visit from FUP students was an example of one of many ways universities can play an integral role in forming those types of ongoing partnerships. In fact, part of the Tutor/Mentor Connection’s strategy is to engage university communities and form partnerships with university departments, programs, and professors. As shown in former PIP Fellow Chris Warren’s concept map of resources at Northwestern and as described in Bradley Troast’s recent blog post, universities have a tremendous wealth of resources, organizations, and student groups that could form meaningful partnerships with tutoring and mentoring programs throughout Chicago.

Thank you to the leaders and freshman from FUP for their contributions to both our physical and virtual space. A lot has happened in Chicago since I was an incoming freshman—we have welcomed a new president, we have lost the Olympic bid. I wonder what changes these students will witness to the city in their four years at Northwestern---with a new mayor in store and a gradually recovering economy, Chicago's landscape will undoubtedly shift for its residents, its businesses, and its organizations. I feel optimistic.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Happy First Day of School!

For thousands of kids around the country, the day after Labor Day means the same thing: Ready or not...the First Day of School.

I always loved the first day of school. But then again, I had great teachers, my school felt safe, and my parents were able to afford fresh school supplies as I started each September. I had opportunities both inside and outside the classroom that jump-started me on a pathway toward completing high school and then college.

As CC, T/MC President, Dan Bassill, discusses in his recent blog article, improving access to opportunities for youth living in high-poverty neighborhoods takes more than improving schools themselves. Non-school tutoring/mentoring programs play a vital role in giving students networks of adult role models, enrichment activities, and quality academic opportunities catered to their individual needs.

Thus, paralleling the beginning of the school year, tutoring and mentoring programs all over the city of Chicago are starting. This week, Cabrini Connections holds orientations for both volunteers and students to prepare them for this year’s sessions. Similarly, hundreds of programs throughout the city are holding their own orientations, planning tutor/mentor training sessions, matching students and mentors, and preparing their 2010-2011 year of programming.

While schools operate in “districts” that have centralized governance, tutoring and mentoring programs work fairly independently of one another. Although these programs tend to operate along similar annual calendars, tutoring and mentoring program leaders generally plan everything on their own.

When Dan Bassill founded Tutor/Mentor Connection, he realized how much more efficiently and effectively tutoring and mentoring programs would operate were they to share best practices and collaborate in annual efforts like volunteer recruitment and mentor training. He founded Tutor/Mentor Connection in an effort to facilitate increased interaction and collaboration between programs and ultimately, to improve the availability and quality of tutor/mentor programs throughout the city of Chicago.

In the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to witness some exciting conversations take place between program leaders. Last Monday, we held a meeting in our office attended by many Executive Directors and staff of Chicago-area tutoring/mentoring programs. During this meeting, program leaders discussed issues surrounding their programs—issues as wide-ranging as finding operating dollars, wondering what background checks to use for volunteers, and questioning how to use social networking tools to market their programs. Where some program leaders had questions, others jumped in with answers.

These types of collaborations cannot easily be measured in quantifiable terms, but the benefit of sharing best practices amongst programs is readily apparent when sitting in on conversations like these.

As we prepare for the Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference in November, I am excited to watch as leaders work together to the benefit of all programs--and ultimately--to all students involved.