Monday, November 28, 2005

Making Religion Relevant

This morning as I drove to work I listened to a segment of Relevant Radio, a broadcast that supports the beliefs of the Catholic Church. The President of Relevant Radio was discussing business social responsibility and the role Catholics in business have in encouraging greater business responsibility.

This is the Monday following Thanksgiving. I just spent the past three days thinking of Thanks and Giving. Over the next four weeks we'll be bombarded by messages of holiday cheer, as well as holiday shopping. Thus, today's Relevant Radio stimulated this blog post.

What will it take to mobilize an army of believers into a force that helps end poverty by providing youth living in poverty with the consistent adult support needed so they stay in school, stay safe in non-school hours and are starting jobs and careers by age 25?

Religion can be more relevant to me, and maybe many others, if faith leaders connect people with each other, and with information that helps them solve every day problems. While I’m sure there are thousands of people in faith communities who meet on the Internet, in their churches, synagogues, temples and mosques, and in their homes and offices with a purpose of helping people in poverty, I’m not sure that these people are united in a long-term vision that makes their help consistently available in every poverty neighborhood in America for the next 20 years.

A way to test this premise is to look for charts that illustrate the goal of an organization. A picture is worth a thousand words, so a chart that illustrates jobs/careers as the goal of a social enterprise, would more clearly communicate this goal than dozens of sermons or political speeches.

Here's what I mean.

At http://www.tutormentorexchange.net there is a section titled Tutor/Mentor Institute. In it you can read power point essays with titles like “Theory of Change, Tipping Points, Creating a Network of Purpose, etc.”. Another is titled “T/MC use of GIS Maps”. The charts and maps in these essays illustrate the Tutor/Mentor Connection's commitment to helping kids reach careers.

I encourage you to read these and share them with leaders of your own faith and business/civic networks.

If members of faith communities begin take ownership of the ideas in these power points they will make religion relevant by connecting people who can help with young people who need consistent help for many years if they are to move from a birth in poverty to the first stages of a job and a career by age 25.

To me, the faith leaders who connect members of their congregation with information that helps them build stronger communities, and help the most disadvantaged in our society, make their religion more relevant to their members. In the same way, a politician who connects his supporters with places in the community where they can help is a much more relevant leader to me than one who only uses the “volunteer” and “donate” buttons on his/her web site to recruit support for his own election campaign.

Over the next four weeks, amid the holiday reflections, I encourage faith leaders, political leaders and business leaders to use the T/MC Map Gallery and T/MC Program Locator Database to build connections between their followers and volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs in big cities like Chicago. Furthermore, I encourage them to meet in the T/MC on-line discussion portal ( at http://msg.uc.iupui.edu/TMC/html/index.php ) to lead discussions of strategies they can use to support constantly improving tutor/mentor programs in Chicago and other cities.

This is a time of sharing. It’s a time when those who have been blessed by birth, opportunity, mentors or just good luck to reflect on those blessings and find ways to help others have similar opportunities and good fortune. While many will spend time feeding the hungry on Christmas day, I’m hoping some will lead strategies where the hungry and the poor get the help they need every day of the year, not just on the holidays.

Volunteer-Based Tutor/Mentor Programs enrich the lives of youth, volunteers and communities. They are not high profile, like hurricanes or Tsunamis, or presidential candidates. But they serve people who need help now, and will need continued support for many years if the end result is that they have jobs, careers and are helping others have the same good fortune.

Please find a tutor/mentor program and send a contribution.

To support the Tutor/Mentor Connection and Cabrini Connections, send your donation to 800 W. Huron, Chicago, Il. 60622. Or visit http://www.cabriniconnections.net/holiday.htm and use our Pay Pal donation form to send a contribution.

At http://www.mentoring.org you can search a national database of mentoring programs to find other organizations where your contributions will make a difference.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Changing NCLB standards abandons kids in poverty

Did you see the article last week in the Chicago Tribune about changing No Child Left Behind (NCLB) to a standard that would measure student progress each year rather than demand that all students meet the same standards?

The article includes a quote that says "There are things that get in the way of learning that schools have no control over." To me, this let's the teacher and the school off the hook! If this new way of measuring school performance gets accepted, schools in high poverty neighborhoods, or with large numbers of ESL students, can use this as an excuse for not doing the extra work needed to help these kids rise to an equal level of learning. The result would be to abandon efforts to improve education attainment. It would further institutionalize a permanent underclass in America.

Right now the Chicago Public School's education policy makes little strategic commitment to forming non-school learning, mentoring and social/emotional support systems that would counter the negative influences of poverty and send kids to school every-day better prepared to learn. If the system moves to adequate yearly process there will be no motivation for school leaders to focus on what happens during the non-school hours.

Is this a concern? How are you using the Internet to connect with others who have similar concerns? I presented a workshop in a virtual conference last Saturday. The archive is at http://www.alado.net/webheads. I encourage you to take a look, and to review some of the other presentations that were part of the Nov. 18 to 20 Webheads in Action international convergence. One workshop demonstrated the use of the Internet to send out public radio broadcasts. Another demonstrated the use of blogs for learning.

If we can harness these technologies and make them available at schools and in community based organizations, we can empower our kids with tools that give them a voice and enable them to take a lead in mobilizing adults to do more of what adults should do to mentor them into our next generation of leaders.

If the schools and government leaders and major foundations don't make this a priority, it's up to those who meet via the Internet to provide the tools and elearning platforms that might make it possible for small, isolated, community-based organizations to build a networked community that increases non-school learning and career development opportunities for kids throughout the world.

As we give thanks this week for our blessings, please remember those who have less and need your help.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Networking Conference this weekend

Hi everyone,

Just a quick note. On Thursday and Friday I hosted a conference in Chicago where about 90 people gathered to share information. This morning, I'm hosting a workshop in on the Internet where the participants come from Burma, France, the US and around the world. It's exciting to see how the internet can make such connections possible.

You can find us at http://www.alado.net/webheads. I hope you'll join in.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Honoring Veterans

I served in the US Army from 1968 to 1971. I was lucky to do time in Korea and not in Viet Nam where so many young people made the ultimate sacrifice.

I think that the best way to honor our veterans is for more people to be willing to make true sacrifices of time, talent and treasure to assure that every person in America has the same hope and opportunity as do the kids of the politicians who vote to send troops overseas to fight and die, but then don't provide funds to support those troops as veterans, or to support the many high poverty communities where poverty is breeding violence, feeding our growing prison industry, and creating two Americas.

Each person needs to look in their own personal mirror to determine what level of giving would be a sacrifice. However, we only need to look at a Military Cemetery, or a Military Hospital to see a standard for comparison.

In past blogs I've talked about how difficult it is for non profits to sustain funding over the long term. That was from the charity perspective. What about the donor perspective? If you want your contributions of time and money to add up to a difference, you need to think of what it took for you to earn that money or talent.

For most of us we were not born to wealth. We had to go to school, perhaps college, then work our way up in a job to the point where we could make charitable gifts. For those who started companies, it took many years of hard work before turning a profit, then expanding the business. For those with inherited wealth, your fathers or grandfathers did the heavy work of earning the money. It's up to you to do the heavy work of making sure the money build a better world.

If you want your dollars to have an impact, pick a charity and a cause and stick with it for many years...or a lifetime. Get to know what they do. Volunteer time if you can. Be an advocate if you can. Help them find others who will add their support to your support. If you jump from cause to cause, or charity to charity, you may feel good about your giving, but those you give to may never be able to sustain their work long enough to do the good that your original donations intended.

If we want world peace, it is not just the responsibility of the peacemakers to do all the work, it is the responsibility of every one who benefits from peace.

We will honor our veterans when more of us take this responsibility as a day to day responsibility.

Dan Bassill
Tutor/Mentor Connection

Thursday, November 03, 2005

What You Can Do To End Poverty

On Tuesday, Nov. 1, I attended a meeting at the Federal Reserve Bank in Chicago, where more than 200 people were given information that showed the "State of Latino Chicago". This highlighted the huge contribution Latinos are making to the Chicago area economy, and the need for more programs to help Latino youth move through school and into careers. On Nov. 2nd I attended a meeting at the Union League Club of Chicago where the No Child Left Behind law was discussed. At the same time a lunch was being held where others were focusing on ways to build better schools.

What these meetings had in common is that they were not connected to each other with an internet strategy that would have enabled participants from all three meetings to connect with each other, and with the speakers. They also did not have a strategy for engagement, that would increase the number of people personally involved in long-term efforts that help kids in poverty move to careers.

In September, people from the Connect for Kids group in Washington, DC helped me develop a letter to the editor that illustrated the role of tutoring/mentoring as a civic engagement strategy. I met Connect for Kids through internet networking and this is an example of what's possible when such networking is a strategic goal of people who host face to face meetings.

I sent my letter to the Chicago Tribune in mid October and it has not been published. So here it is for you to read:
--------------

What you can do to end Poverty, by Daniel F. Bassill

Alicia and Marquita were in elementary school when I first met them 15 years ago. They were normal kids, except they lived in the Cabrini-Green neighborhood of Chicago, where the role models and life experiences were anything but what normal kids in most parts of America grow up with. The Cabrini Green neighborhood has a high concentration of poverty, many people living on welfare, and strong street gang involvement. This is the neighborhood that shocked the nation in 1992 when 7-year old Dantrell Davis was shot and killed while walking to school. It’s a neighborhood where more than 40% of the kids drop out of high school before graduation, and where many who do graduate never move on to college and careers.

Today, Marquita has graduated from college and Alicia will do the same next year.

What happened to take these girls off the path toward poverty, and place them on a different path toward college and careers? The answer is simple, but powerful. They were able to participate in a comprehensive volunteer-based tutor/mentor program that connected them with adults who mentored them, helped with school work, talked about options and choices, and just plain cared. In elementary school they were able to participate in a program hosted by the Montgomery Ward Corporation in Chicago. After 6th grade they were able to transition to the Cabrini Connections tutor/mentor program, which has supported them for the past 12 years. This year they have become part of the adult tutor/mentor corps, and are now volunteering to help other Cabrini Green children move through school and into college then careers.

In the aftermath of Katrina, people in Chicago and across the nation are asking what we can do about poverty. I’m not a teacher by training and I don’t have special skills. I started mentoring a fourth grade boy living in Cabrini-Green in 1973 and became leader of a volunteer-based program in 1975. Thus I have 30 years of experience in recruiting volunteers and connecting them with inner-city kids. While I did not have much experience when I started, my understanding of the issues and my commitment to volunteer-based tutoring/mentoring has continued to grow with each passing year. I’ve learned the difference between being poor and being poor without hope.

I’ve also learned how tutoring/mentoring can be one of the best strategies for civic-engagement, workforce development and education reform. Long-term programs connect youth and adults from both sides of the economic and social divide in a long-term process of service and learning. This leads to a better understanding of poverty, and a stronger commitment to do what is needed to provide paths to hope and opportunity for kids who need extra support to succeed in school, move to college and find help in starting jobs and careers.

I would like every adult who is not living in poverty to become personally involved in helping build and sustain long-term tutor/mentor programs in every neighborhood where concentrated poverty is the largest obstacle to succeeding in school and moving to jobs and careers. That is how we are going to improve our schools, reduce youth violence, lower the costs of the juvenile justice system and meet the workforce needs of the 21st century.

The way to get everyone involved is for people from every walk of life – business, churches, hospitals and universities – to step up as leaders and make children living in low-wage families a priority. Businesses can use their intranets to provide information about where tutor/mentor programs are needed, and ways to contact existing programs. They can use their advertising to encourage employees and customers to volunteer in programs throughout the Chicago region. Universities can encourage their students to talk with local children about what college is like, and can develop research and teaching programs that connect students and alumni with training resources and tutor/mentor programs throughout the country. Every organization can use its website to publicize volunteer opportunities and to increase the number of people who are learning ways to become involved in tutor/mentor programs. The ways to take action are as endless as the numbers of children in need.

Such a leadership strategy needs to guide volunteers and donors to all neighborhoods where there are high concentrations of poverty, not just to the few brand name programs in highly visible neighborhoods. If we increase the number of people who are willing to commit time, talent and dollars to efforts that help end poverty, we will reduce dependency on government and build programs that last more than a few years.

No business would be successful if it advertised sometimes, and sometimes not. Children take a long time to grow up, and they will only be successful if adults like us get personally involved, stay involved, develop an understanding of poverty, and grow into leaders who bring in new volunteers to do the same. We’re building a system of support for this type of involvement. We call it the Tutor/Mentor Connection. You can find us and similar support networks that operate in other cities by using Internet search tools like www.Google.com .

By the time you read this, the media will probably be turning its attention away from poverty and to the next "hot" issue. But that doesn’t mean we have to turn our attention away from the children who need us.

###

Daniel F. Bassill is the president of Cabrini Connections (http://www.cabriniconnections.net) and the Tutor/Mentor Connection (http://www.tutormentorconnection.net) which provide an organized framework that empowers and encourages adult volunteers to give their time, effort, ideas and advocacy in seeking life-changing solutions for children living in educationally and economically disadvantaged environments such as the Cabrini-Green housing development in Chicago.

For information call 312-492-9614.
Address: 800 W. Huron, Chicago, Il. 60622