Sunday, October 04, 2015

What Am I doing? Why Do I Keep Trying?

When we first launched the Cabrini Connections tutor/mentor program in November 1992, and the Tutor/Mentor Connection in January 1993, we had no money and no deep pocketed friends. We just had a 20-year history of connecting workplace volunteers and inner-city kids in organized non-school tutor/mentor programs, and a firm belief that this was a "good thing to do".

While leading a single program at the Montgomery Ward Headquarters in Chicago from 1975-1990 I built an understanding of how important it is to be able to connect and learn from others, and a realization that without someone maintaining a master database of programs, it was not only difficult to invite people to connect and learn from each other, but for city leaders to build a sustained, long-term master plan, that would make high quality, mentor-rich programs available in all high poverty areas of Chicago and its suburbs.

Not having a committed source of revenue makes it difficult to do this work. While I raised over $6 million from 1993 to 2011, I started from zero every year and constantly had to find new donors to replace those who stopped giving. I had to put nearly $100k of my own money into this effort, and never was paid as much as I had been earning in 1990 when I left my retail advertising job at Montgomery Wards. The financial meltdowns between 2000 and 2010 had a negative impact on my personal finances, as well as my ability to raise the money needed for the work I was doing.

Thus, over the years I've had to occasionally remind myself why I do this. Since I'm at a low period, both in terms of confidence, and revenue, that's what I'm doing now. The image below shows the progression of my thinking. I have gone through this over, and over, for more than 20 years.

The first panel says "connecting a youth and non-family adult in a supportive relationship is a good thing." If you don't agree with that then you don't need to read any further.

The second panel says that in big cities like Chicago, where poverty is measured by miles and the number of kids in poverty numbers over 200,000, organized non-school programs are needed to enable volunteers from many different backgrounds to connect, and stay connected, to kids for multiple years. Some of the programs themselves become anchors in the lives of kids, offering safe places and a community of supportive adults and learning activities beyond what a single mentor might offer. I've been building a list of organizations that provide various forms of tutoring and/or mentoring in Chicago, which you can find here.

If you agree that organized programs are needed, then the next progression is to think of ways to make high-quality, mentor-rich programs available in every high poverty neighborhood for kids as early as first grade and as old as age 16 to 26. While non-profit organizations compete with each other for limited resources, making it difficult for more than a few really great programs to operate in the city, businesses use sophisticated corporate office strategies to support the growth of retail stores reaching customers in multiple locations. I've been trying to apply that thinking to my leadership of the Tutor/Mentor Connection since 1993.

Below is a 1995 story about the work I've been doing, written by John McCarron of the Chicago Tribune

This is evidence that what I write today is something I've been trying to build support for over many long years. Below is a presentation I created in 1998, showing the strategy I was sharing with city business, political and philanthropic leaders then, and which I now share with leaders in cities across the country.

This graphic is one of many that I've created to communicate ideas and strategy. If you look at the top of the pyramid, it shows we all want kids to "finish school, graduate, stay safe in non-school hours".

I believe that the work at the bottom of this pyramid, which I've been doing for over 20 years, is essential for making that happen. I still don't find others who incorporate this four-part strategy or this learning network strategy in their own efforts. That makes me believe what I do is still needed.

Every article on this blog, and each section of the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC web site are active parts of this strategy, and each is an example. However, so much information also represents a weakness. Too much information and too little time for busy people to try to understand it is a problem. Too few dollars, or talent, to create new web sites, or fix things that are broken, or out of date, like the Chicago Tutor/Mentor Program Locator, make it more difficult to demonstrate what I'm trying to do. This is something you need to take some time to read and understand.

Even though I'm at low point now, I still believe Chicago and other cities needs someone doing what I'm doing, but from a much stronger organizational base, such as a stand-alone Institute and think tank, or as a college-based Institute funded by one of those people who I seek continually donating $25 to $100 million to various universities.

In fact, I think there needs to be someone doing this work in every major city where poverty and inequality can be plotted on maps and where leaders can mobilize people and resources to fill map-areas with needed programs and services. I've a library of ideas that others could use and I'm hopeful I can become part of your planning teams if you want to take on this role. You don't need to start from scratch if you take some time to investigate and get to know what I've been doing.

I'm not certain how many more years I can sustain this work, but I'm confident that I need to keep trying. If you want to help, please introduce yourself or email me at tutormentgor2 at earthlink dot net.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Chicago Mayor says "Enough is Enough".

In response to another wave of violence in Chicago, I heard Mayor Emmanuel use the term "Enough is Enough" to show his frustration. At the left is a 1994 Chicago Tribune article where the same quote is made after a conference on violence in Washington, DC.

At the right is a 2007 Chicago SunTimes story following the killing of a Chicago youth, Blair Holt. View this news360 article, Chicago Police Commander Ronald Holt, whose son, Blair, was murdered while riding a CTA bus, says a root cause of violence is “Hopelessness. People living in poverty who have developed a ‘I don’t care’ attitude. So the slightest of things will set them off and heaven forbid they’re in possession of an illegal firearm.”.

If you search this blog, for the word ENOUGH, you'll find articles I've posted since 2007, like this one, that offers the same strategy intended to mobilize more, and more people from the entire Chicago region, in efforts that build a better understanding and deeper commitment, to the many on-going actions needed to help re-build hope in areas where this is one of the root causes of so much violence.

I've invited Mayors, media, leaders in business, religion, hospital, law firms and the entire VILLAGE to take ownership of this strategy, with limited success.

I repeat that invitation again today, with a reminder, there is no quick fix.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Internet Strategy - Who's Listening - Part 2?

When I started using the Internet in the late 1990s there was great optimism of how I could connect with people from throughout Chicago and the world to share ideas, learn, give support and gain support that would help me and others solve really difficult problems.

In August I wrote an article titled Sharing Ideas. Who's Listening and reflected on the reality that many who I was hoping would find and read my blog articles or browse my web sites are not even on the Internet, or using it for this purpose.

I've been further dismayed today after reading this article, by Robert Scoble, comparing Twitter, Facebook and Medium. I've had a growing concern that the amount of time I spend on Twitter (now have over 2,000 followers) is not connecting me with people involved in Chicago tutor/mentor programs (volunteers, leaders, donors, etc.) because few are actively using Twitter to engage. At the same time, the filtering Facebook has done over the past half-decade has also reduced the ability of the grassroots organizer to build a conversation and engage a crowd. I just started posting articles from my blogs on Medium, to try to expand my reach, but so far don't see much evidence of viewers finding them. I've also been posting articles on LinkedIn, which have gained some traction, but this platform was not included in Scoble's review.

I continue to believe that a great idea, even if created by a grade school youth in a rural community, can change the world, if it is shared on the Internet, and if others find it. However, I'm finding that this is more and more a game of chance where those who come from wealth and power, or have been lucky enough to generate their own celebrity following, are monopolizing Internet attention, making it more and more difficult for those creative ideas to gain the sunlight they need to breath and grow.

I have always been aware of the difficulty of mobilizing support for the Tutor/Mentor Connection strategies without a significant advertising budget or celebrity/business support. That's why the two graphics shown above are important. The graphic on the left shows a diagram that any program could create to show the different work-experience background of the volunteers it recruits to connect and influence the youth the program serves. The programs I've led always had volunteers from many different business backgrounds. Some helped me build the internet strategies I use today.

The graphic on the right shows the potential that volunteers who participate in well-organized, on-going programs, will begin to reach out to their own peers and network on a regular basis to build additional support for their own program, and for similar programs in their own city.

View this animation and see how a volunteer who stays involved multiple years begins to advocate and draw others to support the organization.

Here is another animation that shows volunteer involvement in a well-organized tutor/mentor program is a form of service learning. As with the first animation, this shows how volunteers begin to recruit others as they tell the story of their on-going involvement.

If enough programs were encouraging volunteers to talk about the need for their type of program to be consistently supported, AND, duplicated in other neighborhoods, we'd have the many voices needed to draw attention to our ideas via social media and traditional communications outlets.

Of course if too few read this, and too few re-post it to their own networks, this idea will never get the sunlight it needs to grow and expand.

You can help change that if you share this article with your own friends, family and co-worker network.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Pope, Poverty & Tutor/Mentor Programs

While the big news this weekend was the Pope's visit to the US, the news in many, many, poverty neighborhoods around the country is that a wide range of organized, non-school, volunteer-based tutoring and/or mentoring programs are launching their first weeks with volunteers and youth meeting with each other. So far the month of September has been full of volunteer and student recruitment, screening, orientations and matching. I know with the programs that I led that our first week of tutoring was toward the end of September.

So while everyone is focused on the work that goes with stating a new school year, I'd like to focus on the planning that will enable programs to start a new school year in 12 months, or next September. This graphic is from a PDF focused on annual planning. I hope you'll take a look. It shows the data collection, evaluation, team-building, visioning, etc. that needs to be on-going throughout the year in order to move successfully from one year to the next.

Part of this planning is laying out a week-to-week, and month-to-month, schedule of activities. This (click here) is a sample, which I used with the tutoring programs I led in Chicago. The September through May calendar offers tutoring and mentoring programs a sequence of holidays and events upon which they can build writing and enrichment activities that foster learning and creativity and help build participation and relationships.

Does your program have a planning calendar like this? Is it on your web site so volunteers can plan ahead and students can look forward to upcoming events? Having a written plan and calendar can help programs with year-to-year planning. You don't need to start from scratch once you have this in writing. You just need to update it each year, perhaps adding, or deleting activities.

You don't have the manpower to do this? Many smaller programs are over-whealmed with the work of operating a program and finding the money to keep it running. I created the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993 with the goal of helping existing programs get the ideas, attention and resources they need to constantly improve, while helping identify under-served neighborhoods where new programs are needed.

I've used print newsletters, and my blogs, to communicate a vision that intermediaries, business and philanthropists could support the growth of tutor/mentor programs in all high poverty neighborhoods of a city, not just a few high profile programs, in a few places. The graphic below shows page 2 and page 4 of the Fall 1999 Tutor/Mentor Report newsletter.

What does the Pope have to do with this? When I started the T/MC in 1993 I visited many people asking for support, with limited success. I knew they program-support strategy of the T/MC was needed in Chicago, so with the help of volunteers who helped start Cabrini Connections in late 1992, we launched the T/MC. This timeline shows 25 years of work done since then. This 2010 PDF compared the T/MC to mentoring partnerships in different cities. This page shows media stories.

Yet, it has never gained (or retained) the commitment of leaders in business, religion, media, politics or philanthropy, that is essential for a strategy like this to succeed in filling a city with high quality, tutoring, mentoring, learning and jobs programs in all high poverty neighborhoods.

I've read comments from many saying "lives have been changed" or "will change" as a result of the Pope's visit. I hope that one or two of those lives are inspired to dig through the articles on this blog and on my other web sites and then reach out to say "How can I help you? How can I help this grow over the next 25 years and in cities across the world?"

If a T/MC strategy were in place in Chicago volunteers from different companies would be offering time and talent to help programs with planning, and with communicating their vision, strategies and weekly operations to all of their stakeholders. I'm sure this is taking place in support of a few programs. I want to see a map showing a distribution of this type of support to programs in every high poverty neighborhood. That means someone needs to be trying to collect information that would show if this is happening, and where it is happening. That's one of the goals of a T/MC strategy.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Chicago Poverty - Little Change in 30 years

If you are a subscriber to the Chicago Tribune you can read today's editorial, with a headline of "30 Years Later - So Much Endures". You can also read a commentary by Father Michael Pfleger, under the headline "Still Forgotten, Still Abandoned"

I'm a subscriber to the printed version and on-line, so I'm able to read these articles, and create an archive of stories like this. But for thousands who might want to join the Tribune's crusade, but who don't want to subscribe, this information is missing it's target. You can't read it. Too bad.

If you've followed my blog, you know I've offered this message for many years. On April 27, 2015 I included this image from a 1993 Chicago SunTimes story, which started out saying "Chicago neighborhoods that were poor 20 years ago are even more entrenched in poverty today because the city lacks a comprehensive battle plan".

In October 2013 I posted this article, offering suggestions for leaders who were reading the Tribune's Plan Chicago editorials.

Over the weekend I-Open, a network of change-thinkers based in Cleveland, Ohio, posted this article on their blog. It's intended to prompt leaders to determine if a Tutor/Mentor Connection strategy is needed in Ohio cities.

On my Facebook page someone asked "who should should be looking at this?" I'm hoping that "anyone who has an itch to get involved, and may have some serious money to bring to the table" will read this. I'm hoping people "who do not want to launch a new initiative and reinvent the wheel, but want to research what is already happening, and add reinforcements to those efforts as a starting point to innovating additional needed solutions, will read the article, along with people who are already advocates in this arena, like the writers at the Chicago Tribune, or Father Pfleger, or business leaders who might be planning to make multi-million dollar gifts to universities.

My focus is on collecting the information needed to build a network connecting silos, programs networks and focusing resources on all high poverty areas, using maps and similar tools. Such a resource is needed in every city, and needs to be constantly updated. Such a resource is needed for combating poverty, and for addressing other issues that related to the well-being and economic vitality of a community. It's a resource that can be used by anyone in the region to build, and sustain, greater involvement, of more people in supporting long-term solutions in more places.

I hope the Chicago Tribune makes it's A New Plan of Chicago articles freely available to any reader interested in the future of Chicago, not just subscribers. I hope leaders and philanthropists from many cities will look at this and other stories on my blog, and want to help bring this strategy and resource to their own city.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Working with urban youth? It takes more than a mentor.

I encourage you to view the two graphics below:

Race-Poverty Map (see actual)

Birth to Work Mentoring Map (see actual)

Each map shows a range of challenges facing youth and families living in high poverty big city neighborhoods. Most of the time, a volunteer by him/herself can't over come these challenges. Organized tutoring/mentoring programs can address some of these issues, but even most organized programs don't focus on many of these issues.

I support involvement of business and college volunteers in organized, long-term, tutor/mentor programs because their involvement creates a bridge that connects youth with ideas, aspirations and experiences beyond what he/she is surrounded with. Such programs are a form of "bridging social capital". In the programs I led some volunteers even helped kids get jobs. In other cases, volunteers took on leadership roles and recruited co-workers to volunteer or donate money.

I encourage you to view this animation, showing how a volunteer connecting with a youth in a tutor/mentor program often recruits others to support the same organization.

There are more than 200 volunteer-supported youth serving organizations in Chicago. Imagine what might happen if volunteers from every program were visiting web sites of Bernie Sanders, Robert Reich, Tavis Smiley and Hedrick Smith and learning about issues that affect people in poverty more than most. Would this lead to greater effort to support the programs where they volunteer, or to help similar programs grow in more places? Would it lead to greater civic engagement in creating public policy that helps create greater opportunity?

Neither Smith, Reich, Smiley or Sanders use concept maps like above to organize the issue topics on their web sites, but if they did, they might look like mine. The Race-Poverty map shows some (but not all) issues that affect both rich and poor, but have a greater negative impact on the poor because they don't have the assets and networks that help them overcome their challenges. That's what Robert Putnam was talking about in his book: Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. That's what volunteers in well-organized, long-term programs can potentially offer.

The second map illustrates that this conversation needs to be on-going, for many years, as kids grow from one age level to another and then are seeking jobs and trying to start careers (hopefully without huge mounds of college debt!)

In one section of my web library, I point to challenges facing non-profits and social purpose organizations. As we engage more people in discussion of issues, we must find a way to involve more in discussing and innovating ways to provide flexible, on-going operating dollars to all of the neighborhoods where tutor/mentor programs are most needed.

I created the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993 to try to help mentor-rich non-school programs grow in more places. I created Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC in 2011 to keep the T/MC operating in Chicago and to help it grow in other cities. I'm not having much luck in finding financial support or partners, but I think these ideas are important and I'll continue to share them as long as I can.

Last night Valerie Leonard sent me a message saying "Take a look at this article. It made me think of you." It's titled "Becoming a Big Thinker". A lot of the article does remind me of my own efforts. A lot reminds me of my weaknesses and failures. I write these articles looking for others who share the same goal and who might help me overcome my weaknesses or share these ideas in more places.

If you're "thinking big" about these issues and want to connect, post a comment or send me a Tweet @tutormentorteam. You can also look me up on Facebook or LinkedIn.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Follow the Leader(s): Connecting the Dots.

I attended an event on Saturday at the James Jordan Boys & Girls Club, which was led by Tavis Smiley, a well known Black entertainer. This was one of many visits to different cities, where he's drawing attention to poverty and inequality, not just focusing on Black Americans, but on all who live in poverty in America (read more). Much of his focus is on inequality for Black Americans, which is a huge issue for Chicago and other major cities. His closing message was that we need to get this into the 2016 presidential campaign debates, and that will happen on January 17, 2016. He encouraged all of us to use #2016povertydebate often in our social media to build attention for the debates, and to draw viewers to his web sites.

Over the past year I've found a few other highly visible people focusing on inequality. Robert Putnam wrote a book titled Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis which he promotes with his Facebook page. Robert Reich has a website and Facebook page, and is releasing a new book this week, titled “Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few,” Hedrick Smith is now on Facebook and has a web site titled Reclaim the American Dream.

Are these guys talking to each other? I can't find links on their web sites pointing to each other.

When I started the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993 I could have created a web site with just my ideas, based on 20 years of leading a tutor/mentor program in Chicago. Instead, I said "let's build a library full of ideas from anyone who is working in this arena". The map below shows the many different sections in my library. In this link, I've posted links to the men mentioned above so that anyone who visits my library, can find their ideas, too.

This link points to a map of the four sections of the graphic above. Open each, and you'll see sub sections. Each has links pointing to dozens of web sites.

This has two purposes.

One, it enlarges the pool of ideas anyone draws from to fight inequality in America, or the world.

Second, it is an attempt to connect all of these people and organizations to each other, in on-line, on-going, conversations that might actually generate enough support to change the public will and generate the resources needed to help close the opportunity and inequality gaps we face.

There were nearly 200 people in the audience Saturday. During the 30 minutes question and answer session a few had the opportunity to ask questions. Most used the time to offer their own self-promotion and/or opinion. Out of 200, perhaps 15 had one chance to talk. Even the panel members only had a few opportunities to offer their own ideas.

I'd love to go to Tavis Smiley's web site and find links to the web sites and blogs of each panel member, just so I could reach out and learn from them and try to connect where it fits. I do encourage you to visit his site and many others in my web library, then organize a discussion group at your faith group, school, business, etc,. and start a real discussion around the ideas you're going to find.

I created this graphic many years ago to show how any one of us can invite people we know to talk about ideas that help improve equality and opportunity in America. One of the panel members on Saturday, a young man named Jamal Cole, said "Every one of us has agency. There is something we can do."

I agree. Everyone can pass on information to others about ideas and web sites where we can learn, gather, share and innovate solutions to complex problems. Furthermore, we can build upon what we're learning, and create new ways of understanding.

This graphic was created a few years ago by an intern who first looked at the graphic I posted above, then created her own interpretation. This is in two parts. Below is the second. Student in schools, non-school programs, universities and/or faith groups, aided by adult mentors, could be creating their own interpretations of these ideas, in a collective effort aimed at building the public will needed to turn ideas into solutions that reach into every high poverty area of the country.

I hope that the people who I point to will apply some of these ideas on their own web sites. I'd like to become an important resource and part of their own conversations, not just someone who follows their lead.