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?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Strategic City Planning through Maps

For my PIP seminar this week, I had the opportunity to visit Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP). CMAP is a government organization that collects and aggregates data, then makes policy and planning recommendations for the city of Chicago based on the statistics they gather. Their goal is to use information to track quality of life changes and trends for citizens of Chicago based on a number of indicators such as health, education, transportation, and arts and culture. CMAP created a plan for the city called "Go To 2040" that provides suggestions for the city and its communities moving through the next few decades.

Much of CMAP’s work resonates with the work of Tutor/Mentor Connection. Both agencies create plans for
Chicago based on maps and data that can be visualized using sophisticated technologies. CMAP even launched a new site, "MetroPulse," in November 2010 where visitors can search and view maps and charts. It reminds me of T/MC's Interactive Map.

One staff member of CMAP, a self-proclaimed "tech geek," discussed how rare it is for a nonprofit to have staff members with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) skills. He emphasized how important it is for nonprofits to be able to base their services and their strategic planning on information that can be analyzed via GIS maps that provide region-specific indicators for issues like poverty, health care, and education. As he asserted, CMAP works to fill a void in the nonprofit industry by enabling access to GIS maps and data for organizations that don't have that staff position.

While most small organizations certainly don’t have GIS staff positions, Dan Bassill values this type of thinking enough that our 6 person staff does include a part-time GIS specialist. This is something that differentiates the type of work T/MC does from most other nonprofits. T/MC uses whatever information is available to help communities make strategic plans involving tutoring and mentoring. The maps that Mike creates show where tutoring and mentoring programs exist, where there is poverty, where there is crime, and a variety of other relevant statistics and community assets that enable leaders of municipalities, organizations, churches, and organizations to recognize areas of need.

While CMAP focuses on broad issues and general statistics to create a city-wide plan for a variety of issues, T/MC focuses specifically on what we identify as relevant to tutoring and mentoring youth.

During the seminar, several other PIP fellows asked questions about how CMAP connects its GIS maps, data, and recommendations to actually impacting change. My ears perk up since this is oftentimes a question that arises surrounding the work done by T/MC. How do our maps and articles translate into change? Is there evidence that this information leads to more high-quality, well-funded programs in Chicago’s most needy neighborhoods?

From my limited experience working at T/MC, I do think that the organization fills a necessary gap within the hundreds of organizations providing tutoring or mentoring services to youth in Chicago. Countless times since I’ve been here, Dan Bassill has told me about the ways he helped new programs get started or provided consulting services to existing programs. Events like Mapping Solutions also bring visibility to the needs in our city and provide information for leaders to make strategic plans that will yield positive impacts in their community.

At CMAP, the speaker asserted that the impact of GIS mapping is tough to track. It is hard to know when people use the information or when it clicks with the right individual. But he also spoke about some pretty tangible benefits that their maps and data can provide for organizations that I think T/MC also provides. For instance, organizations can use information aggregated and mapped by CMAP or by T/MC to use in their grant proposals to demonstrate needs in their areas. They can also use this type of data to help track changes and evaluate success of their programs.

This is just one example of how maps can be of use within the nonprofit community. But in order for this to happen, someone needs to be doing this work.


"Increasingly, job growth relies on the availability of well-educated, skilled workers for knowledge-based industries. We can gain a significant advantage by ensuring that businesses and residents here have the skills necessary to compete with other global economic centers. Providing equitable opportunities to gain those critical skills is among our region's most complicated challenges. Disparities in educational attainment, health, and other measures--often based on income levels, race, or ethnicity--put the entire region's economy at risk."

-From CMAP's "Go to 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan"

Friday, February 25, 2011

Enjoy Watching Sports on TV?

....if the answer to this question is YES, then you might recall the commercial featuring Michael Jordan called "Maybe." (For a refresher, you can watch it out at the bottom of this post).

Recently, Bradley Troast and EL Da'Sheon Nix remade this video to promote the Cabrini Madness tournament. Check it out below, and I hope it inspires you donate to your favorite team.

The Kids Are All Bright (my team), is sadly trailing in the tourney in 13th place. Help us climb the leader board before the first cut on March 20th!

Thanks for your support!

First, the MJ original:

And now the Cabrini Madness remake starring our own, EL Da'Sheon Nix:

Maybe from Cabrini Connections on Vimeo.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Case for Collaboration: From Cochabamba to Chicago

Last year for my senior thesis at Northwestern, I had the opportunity to research organizations working with street youth in Cochabamba, Bolivia. My fascination began when I studied abroad in 2008 for 4 months in Cochabamba and conducted ethnographic research with a group of youth who live and/or work on the city's streets. During that time, I also became aware of the vast number of organizations that exist offering support to these kids.

When I returned to Cochabamba a year later, I conducted interviews with the staff and directors of 8 organizations providing services to street youth. In these revealing conversations, it became apparent that many of the leaders of these organizations were unaware of what other nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were ALSO doing on behalf of these youth. The leader of one organization even explained to me that he viewed similar organizations as competitors, and even witnessed certain organizations arguing over the exclusive rights to photograph specific groups of kids to use in their brochures and websites to attract donors.

It became apparent that while these organizations shared similar goals, they did very little to help each other. At best, the organizations were operating in silos unaware of the work of similar organizations. At worst, organizations were wasting scarce resources by re-inventing the wheel or replicating programs that others had realized were ineffective. And it wasn't the fault of the organizations' leaders. In fact, they had really good reasons why collaboration between similar organizations wasn't practical.

In my research I identified a number of reasons why collaboration amongst non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and nonprofits is hugely challenging. I mention this now, because so much of what I learned about the environment of NGOs in Bolivia applies to what I am learning about the nonprofit atmosphere in Chicago. For issues ranging from immigration to health care to education, a variety of organizations exist with similar goals. Yet the amount that organizations are able to work together is limited.

Some of those barriers to collaboration include:

1. Lack of time/challenges in coordinating:
Organizations are focused on serving the populations they work with and are too strapped for time to reach out to leaders of other organizations.

2. Competition for resources:
Organizations doing similar work are competing for the same grants, funding sources, and donors. Thus just like McDonald's probably wouldn't be eager to collaborate with Burger King, organizations aren't always interested in collaborating with their "competitors" but instead see the nonprofit landscape as "survival of the fittest" organization.

3. Differing Priorities: Organizations often have different ideas about how to tackle their particular social issue. While some organizations are secular, others are religiously affiliated. While some provide handouts, others are adamantly opposed to this type of assistance. These all might be reasons why organizations don't want to associate with one another.

4. Lack of awareness: Organizations may not realize that other nonprofits doing similar work even exist or where they operate.

Tutor/Mentor Connection works as a catalyst trying to break down these barriers to collaboration for organizations focused on tutoring and mentoring (especially in the Chicago region).

Here are some of the ways we tackle each challenge and our logic for why collaboration is beneficial:

1.Lack of time/challenges in coordinating:
T/MC puts in the time to coordinate between organizations, reach out to other programs, and plan ways for leaders to convene and share best practices. T/MC also builds online resources so that leaders can easily and quickly access information T/MC has compiled from various organizations.

2. Competition for resources: Perhaps what we should be asking ourselves is not: "Is there competition for resources between organizations?" (the answer will always be YES), but instead: "Is there competition for CLIENTS for our services." Let me explain. If two organizations are competing to serve the same target population, then perhaps it doesn't make sense for both organizations to exist. BUT for big social issues like "helping urban youth succeed and graduate in Chicago" or "getting kids off the streets in Cochabamba" the demand for services is unfortunately, greater than the number of organizations able to supply help. So viewing other organizations as competitors really doesn't make sense.

The nonprofit industry is different from business because when there is more demand for our services, it generally costs us money. Each student in a program like Cabrini Connections, costs about $1,500 per year. Thus the more kids we help and the greater the demand for our services, the greater our expenses. It's important to keep this in mind when realizing that the survival of other organizations actually alleviates some of the expenses off of a single organization while working toward shared goals and allowing more people to be served.

However, it's overly simplistic to think that competition for funding is not a huge factor. Thus Tutor/Mentor Connection focuses on the ways that drawing resources or attention to one organization benefits us all. When one organization gets a grant that leads to media attention, tutoring and mentoring is spotlighted as a need in this city so all programs can harness this attention to get funding for their work. In addition, TMC works to organize events throughout the year that involve organizations throughout the city. By creating a "buzz" surrounding tutoring/mentoring, we all get attention (and hopefully resources).

3. Differing Priorities: Learning about other organizations' strategies can be helpful as programs share what works and what does not. Collaborating doesn't mean all organizations have to sign on to the same mission statement, and in fact, having different focuses may help get diversified donors.

4. Lack of Awareness:
T/MC has invested in creating a database of tutoring and mentoring programs in Chicago so that students, volunteers, donors, and programs are aware of what is out there. We also work to bring program leaders together via conferences, online forums, and email contact so that they are aware of the work other organizations are doing.

This type of collaborative action through a decentralized organization is not widely practiced within the non-profit sector. Not in Bolivia, and not in Chicago. Perhaps that is why we have always struggled to find the type of funding needed to operate Tutor/Mentor Connection.

But it seems that in the age of electronic collaboration, it is the direction where the nonprofit sector NEEDS to head. This infographic illustrates "the new culture of collaboration" and refers to some of the benefits of collaboration in the digital age.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Worthwhile Experiment

What began as a personal experiment by Sasha Dichter, director of business development of Acumen Fund, has launched into a campaign to reboot Valentine's Day as "Generosity Day."

The "generosity experiment" began when instead of saying "no" to someone asking for money on the street, Dichter gave the man a few dollars. He decided that for one month, he would actively say "yes" to every panhandler, request for a charitable contribution, meeting invitation, or even email he'd been avoiding in his inbox. He describes the experiment as "transformative."

Propelled by his month-long personal experience, Dichter decided to launch a campaign to make Valentine's Day about more than romantic love, but about sharing love, generosity, and kindness to all those around us. As Dichter writes on his blog: "The goal is to spend Valentine’s Day being more generous, giving more money, sharing of yourself, being of service. All acts of generosity, small and big alike, count. But you have to say YES to everything that’s asked of you, all day long! It’s about creating more generosity in the world, and becoming a more open person along the way."

Dichter offers some ideas for Generosity Day including:
  • Give to people on the street.
  • Tip outrageously.
  • Help a stranger.
  • Write a note telling someone how much you appreciate them.
  • Smile.
  • Donate (more) to a cause that means a lot to you.
  • Take clothes to GoodWill.
  • Be patient with yourself and with others.
  • Replace the toilet paper in the bathroom.
I hope you'll join me in celebrating Generosity Day. I think I'll start by sharing some of my Valentine's Day chocolate...that might be a little out of my comfort zone, but I think it's a worthy experiment!

If your generous spirit inspires you to SHARE with a cause you care about, please consider giving a tax deductible donation to Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection through our main donation page or support your favorite Cabrini Madness Team.
Thank you!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Cabrini Madness: Game On!

The Super Bowl is now behind us, which means another tournament has begun:
Cabrini Madness 2011!

Be sure to watch the first 2011 Cabrini Madness promo video, "Training Days."

Training Days from Cabrini Connections on Vimeo.

Visit each team's page to view their roster of volunteers, staff, students, board members, and outside supporters:

You can also keep track of tournament news and updates via the main Cabrini Madness page.

Even if you aren't able to donate, you can help out by promoting your favorite team (or Cabrini Madness in general) through your Facebook page, Twitter account, or (gasp) even talking to people in person. Cabrini Madness isn't just about raising money. It's about giving people an opportunity to introduce the program and the organization to those in their networks. The more people that know about us, the more supporters we will have for the kids in our program and for the work that Tutor/Mentor Connection does throughout the city of Chicago.

Cabrini Madness is a great example of how programs can use innovative, interactive, and fun strategies for fundraising. The idea for the tournament was developed last year over a dinnertime conversation between EL Da'Sheon Nix and Bradley Troast. Now, after a successful first season, the tournament is in its second year.

Cabrini Madness also exemplifies how outside events, holidays, and even sports tournaments can be leveraged in creative ways to draw attention to nonprofits. Although most small tutoring and mentoring programs do not have the budget to advertise on a grand scale if at all, using widely recognized events to pull people to programs is a great strategy for catching people's attention and interest. For an easy reference, see this article on national events that might be creatively geared toward supporting tutoring and mentoring programs.

You can read more about the "annual calendar" that Tutor/Mentor Connection has developed in Dan Bassill's recent blog article about T/MC's strategy to engage businesses throughout the year with continual investment.

Thanks for your support and good luck to all of the teams in this season of Cabrini Madness!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

T/MC: A Virtual University

Along with many Chicagoans, I am surviving "Snowpocalypse 2011" and "Thundersnow" by working from home today. Amazingly although I am stuck at home, I do not feel cut off from the world as I may have during a snow day of decades past. Thanks to the internet, I can still connect with my co-workers, visit T/MC websites, and correspond with people through emails.

T/MC's sites make it so that anyone from anywhere in the world can access the information--regardless of location, remoteness, and even weather conditions. This type of online, equal access learning and capacity building seems to be the wave of the future. Resources like podcasts and TED talks are great examples of how the internet makes learning available to more people in more places (and not limited to those who can afford more traditional educational opportunities).

In many ways, what Tutor/Mentor Connection has developed online is a "virtual university" for people who want to learn all there is to know about creating, implementing, and supporting tutoring and mentoring programs. Many articles and presentations have been created by Tutor/Mentor Connection, but our sites aren't limited to T/MC ideas. We also compile the articles, blogs, website links, and best practices of others from all over the world. This animated Resource Map is a good starting place to navigate the vast array of information on T/MC sites.

Dan Bassill's recent "Decade Ending" blog articles outline what it has taken to create this type of "virtual tutor/mentor university." It has taken a lot of dedication and work, without nearly the level of funding that similar tutor/mentor networks in smaller cities rely on. Tutor/Mentor Connection is constantly seeking ways to get corporate and foundation partnership so that we can continue offering online learning opportunities that lead to more high quality programs for at-risk youth reaching more neighborhoods and communities.

In his recent blog posts, Dan Bassill encourages people to spend a bit of time during their snow days to puruse the resources on T/MC sites. This is a good opportunity to see what we're all about and spread the word to others!

Stay warm and safe!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Thank Your Mentor Day!!

Thank Your Mentor Day is January 25th!! Watch this video to see the 2010 Thank Your Mentor Day video from Cabrini Connections.

I hope you'll join me in expressing gratitude to personal mentors while also taking special note of the value of programs that connect caring adult mentors to youth who might not have the automatic support many of us (myself included) are blessed with at birth through loving parents, invested teachers, and supportive communities.

Thank You
to all mentors
and to all supporters of programs like Cabrini Connections.

2010 Thank Your Mentor Day from Cabrini Connections on Vimeo.

Friday, January 21, 2011

2011 Cabrini Madness Sign-Ups Starting!!

The Second Annual CABRINI MADNESS Tournament is about to start! Beginning this week, teams are forming to take part in the 2011 tournament.

This is my first year participating in Cabrini Madness, and it sounds like a lot of fun. Cabrini Madness is a fund-raising team challenge that involves students, volunteers, board members, staff, and outside supporters in a competition to see who can raise the most money to support Cabrini Connections. Teams find a wide variety of creative ways to raise donations ranging from bake sales to pizza/game parties to social events. All teams on the roster are part of a bracket, and teams are gradually eliminated to the elite eight, final four, and so on until the champion is determined
(sound like March Madness at all?).

Each week of the tournament, videos will be posted updating the fans of Cabrini Connections about how their favorite teams are fairing. Below, you can watch a video on the 2010 first draft pick (and be sure to stay tuned for the week of February 1st when we'll have our first video for 2011).

Cabrini Madness Episode 2 from Cabrini Connections on Vimeo.

Last year, the tournament was a huge success with 13 teams and 114 players together raising over $23,000!!! We hope 2011 will bring in even more support. This is a really unique and dynamic fund-raiser because it involves so many different people within our program. Everyone from board members to students to community members are encouraged to get involved in this friendly (but from what I understand, also quite heated) competition.

How to create a team:
Teams are made up of 5-10 members. Each team must include at least (1) current or former student, (1) current or former volunteer, (1) current or former staff member, volunteer coordinator, club leader, or board member, and (1) person that is not a current member of the program such as a close friend, spouse, or co-worker. Each team must also create an online fund-raising page using platforms such as GiveForward, Razoo, or FirstGiving.

If you're interested in joining the tournament, I can help place you on a team!
I will be working with team captains to fill their rosters, so be sure to contact me if you are interested in being part of a team. This is a great way to get involved (and as you'll notice, there is a special spot on each team for those not currently involved in the program--meaning anyone can join!).


  • February 6 - Deadline for entry
  • February 6 - Deadline for fundraising page
  • March 20 - First cut (Top 8 advance)
  • March 27 - Second cut (Top 4 advance)
  • April 2 - Third cut (Top 2 advance)
  • April 4 - Final cut (Winner chosen)
  • April 6/7 - Awards at tutoring

You can read a full recap of the 2010 tournament on Cabriniblog here.

Friday, January 14, 2011

"'What are you doing for others?'" -MLK, Jr.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. - Martin Luther King, Jr.

As we pay tribute to the life and leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr. this weekend, the recent shooting in Arizona is undoubtedly also on our minds. Sadly, this tragedy is a reminder that while our country has certainly progressed in many ways since MLK Jr.'s era, we are still far from the nation of nonviolent equality that this hero envisioned.

In addition to calling for nonviolent resistance and ending segregation, Martin Luther King, Jr. also fought strongly for economic equality. As he said: "The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization, when men ate each other because they had not yet learned to take food from the soil or to consume the abundant animal life around them. The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty."

I think it's fitting that National Mentoring Month coincides with the date when we celebrate MLK Jr's life and leadership. Mentoring relationships often break down barriers of culture, generation and socioeconomic status while challenging assumptions and stereotypes. Through building intentional relationships, both mentors and mentees have an opportunity to build a new understanding of those from of different backgrounds, life experience, and/or takes on the world.

As we enjoy the long weekend, I hope we also take the time to reflect upon these words spoken by MLK Jr, taking them as a lifelong challenge: Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'

If the answer to this question leads you to want to explore tutoring or mentoring programs: find a program in Chicago, in another city, learn more about tutor/mentor programs and how they could use your help (no matter what your skills) through Tutor/Mentor Institute, or contact me so I can help you find what you need!