Thursday, July 07, 2005

Imagine the benefit if business was competing to see who could do the most good for inner city kids and familes.

Yesterday morning (July 5th) I opened a letter from the leader of a program in Lawndale, titled Young Men's Educational Network. His first paragraph said, "It is getting HOT here in Lawndale. And not just the temperature!Yesterday, one young many was killed, and another boy was critically shot. It seems that the heat of summer is often accompanied with increased violence. He went on to say, "I must admit, I don't look forward to summers here in Chicago! Many of the young men in YMEN share my feeling. They don't mind the time off of school, but they understand how easy it is to get into trouble when you have so much empty time on your hands."

Shortly after reading this a teen in the Cabrini Connections program came to the T/MC center and told us that a student who had been part of Cabrini Connections during the 2002 and 2003 school years had been shot in Cabrini-Green.

Thus, I share the feelings of my friend who leads the program in Lawndale. He could have been speaking about any inner-city neighborhood, in Chicago, or New York, Detroit, Dallas, LA. The details would be different. The problem would be the same.

However, this is a year-round problem, not just a summer problem. Tribune articles this past week have reinforced the link between poverty and poorly performing schools. They say that low income kids who are part of schools where most kids are not living in poverty get better grades than the same kids attending high poverty schools. While it would be ideal to think that all 200,000 school age kids in Chicago who live in concentrated poverty could be bussed to some suburban school with open space, it's not realistic. Let's instead talk of ways to make schools in high poverty neighborhoods better. Let's talk about providing alternatives to gangs and street violence.

The Cabrini Connections teen who was shot in Cabrini-Green was Devon Otis. He was with us during his 7th and 8th grade years. We don't know why he stopped coming. He was here more than 83% of the time during his second year. I do wonder if we could have done more to keep him involved with Cabrini Connections. It frustrates me not to havethe resources to do more of the things I know need to be part of the services we offer.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, I looked in the news and metro and obituary sections of the two major Chicago papers (Chicago Tribune and Chicago SunTimes) for information about Devon's shooting. Sometimes the papers turn stories like this into headlines, and follow with editorials that shout "Do Something!" Most times a shooting in Chicago gets a small paragraph in the Metro section. For the past two days I found no mention of this shooting.

Maybe the local news media think their readers would rather read about American's being killed in Iraq instead of in American cities. Maybe they don't want to scare the people buying high priced condos near Cabrini Green. Maybe there's just too much of this to report every death with a profile like the ones of soldiers killed in action. If not enough people care about what's going on in our cities, maybe some day they will be breeding grounds for future terrorist. Instead of killing each other.... I hope not. That's why we work so hard to make volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs available in inner city neighborhoods.

Programs like Cabrini Connections can expand the network of mentors and learning experiences available to inner-city youth during the non-school hours. But they cannot do this with the type of inconsistent support thatmost of them receive from various funding sources.

This is why I'm proud to have been a partner in the growth of the Lend A Hand Program at the Chicago Bar Association since 1994. The CBA is raising visibility and recruiting volunteers and donors to support volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs throughout the Chicago region. They don't pick just one program, like some business and professional associations do. They use the T/MC database and maps as a guide for providing support into all neighborhoods where tutor/mentor programs are needed.

If we can encourage accountants, engineers, alumni, civic and social groupsto take on the same mission, we can dramatically increase funding for tutor/mentor programs and that will improve the consistency and quality of staffing and services.

The only way this vision will be a reality is that volunteers who are connected with inner city kids, and who are accountants, engineers, lawyers, and members of alumni associations from various colleges, go back to their networks and say "We've got to do something more than what we're already doing."

The purpose of this Blog is to reach out to people who are tutors, mentors, board members in tutor/mentor programs all over the country. We're using our web sites as a meeting place where you can talk about your involvement in a tutor/mentor program, and you can brainstorm ways to make tutor/mentor programs more effective, and more available.

Where can you find more information? Where can you talk about this with peers from Chicago or from other cities? Visit the new T/MC web site, that has been created for us by IUPUI. By mid August this will replace the content at the site.

Anyone who reads this blog can forward it to people they know who are already involved with tutoring and/or mentoring programs. The links have examples of what some business and professional groups are doing. If more people use the web site, we'll gather additional examples. Then as we point business and professional people to web sites that show what competitors are doing, maybe we'll spark a competitive interest that will encourage others to duplicate the best work being done by others. Imagine the benefit if business was competing to see who could do the most good for inner city kids and families.

When I come to work each morning, I have an "If it is to be, it is up to me" attitude.

I invite you all to take that same ownership approach to making comprehensive, volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs more available to more kids in Chicago and in other major cities.

Daniel F. Bassill
Tutor/Mentor Connection

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