Friday, September 09, 2005

Bridges that connect people on both sides of the poverty line.

As I read newspaper reports of the Hurricane Katrina disaster a thought comes to my mind.

What if the City of New Orleans had had dozens of volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs like Cabrini Connections, which connect inner city kids and business/professional volunteers in long term relationships where the volunteer begins to act like a surrogate parent, aunt or uncle? When it came time to evacuate would there have been a few more people with cars or means of transportation calling kids and families living in the flood zone, asking if they needed help getting out of the city?

At Cabrini Connections ( more than 30% of our kids and 20% of our volunteers have been with the program for 3 or more years. Some volunteers go to extraordinary lengths to help kids stay in school and move toward jobs and careers. If a city was full of such programs I feel there would not be the disconnect between those in poverty and the rest of society that seems to be in every major city of the USA.

However, no city will have dozens of these programs by accident (and New Orleans may have had dozens of these programs. I don't know) . It takes leaders with a long-term, day to day commitment to do what's needed to build a city of such programs. Such leaders need to help programs get started, and then help them get a steady flow of volunteers, operating dollars, training, tech support, etc. Such leadership needs to be sustained even when the spotlight is pointing in a different direction. Tutor/Mentor Programs need to be sustained from year to year if they are to create strong bonds between youth and adults.

We're starting school now. Yesterday the Tutor/Mentor Connection hosted a volunteer recruitment fair at the James Thompson Center in Chicago. 13 programs were there to recruit volunteers. Many more can be found at a CAN CALL TV 42 bulleting board, or in the Program Locator section of . I did not see any articles in the major Chicago papers this week encouraging adults to seek out tutor/mentor programs, as volunteers or as donors. Does this mean I did a poor job of marketing this campaign , or that there are too few leaders in Chicago who care?

The Program locator at can be searched by zip code, type of program, age group served and time of day service is provided to determine if there are any organizations that offer services for specific age groups in specific neighborhoods. I doubt that such a service exists in any other major city, yet the lessons of New Orleans is that we are a nation where many people live in poverty and isolation and too few people think about this unless they are forced to. Building a database of existing programs and helping those programs get volunteers and dollars is the first step toward making such programs available to more children in more places.

Getting an adult to be a volunteer is just the first step in the journey of helping that adult become a coach, mentor or change-agent in the life of a teen. Getting a youth into a tutor/mentor program and matched with a volunteer is just the first step of a 10 or 15 year process that must repeat year after year if the goal of the program is that the youth is in a job and able to take care of himself and his family by age 25.

Making this type of program available in all of the places where they are needed should be a priority of many of the people who are now in the blame game, or who are outraged by the sudden discovery of poverty and racism in America.

I've been working at this for more than 30 years yet I'm still just a whisper in the wilderness. I hope that in the 2005-06 school year some of you will take ownership and become leaders of the Tutor/Mentor Connection's vision, so our whisper can become a roar that leads to more bridges connecting youth living in poverty with adults from the other side of this economic and social divide

Dan Bassill
Tutor/Mentor Connection

1 comment:

Tutor Mentor Connections said...

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