Wednesday, March 22, 2006

So, What Do We Do About It?

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve written about the shootings in Englewood, and expressed my concern that nothing will happen because there is no plan for engaging people from beyond poverty in this discussion in a process that creates ownership, understanding of the issues, and a dramatic increase the resources needed to build and sustain comprehensive tutor/mentor programs in poverty neighborhoods.

Yesterday, 3/21, I participated in an audio conference titled “Integrating Mentoring and After-School”, which focused on the need for mentoring programs in more places (like Englewood) and the potential for these programs being hosted in traditional after-school programs, such as Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCA’s, schools, etc. I encourage you to read the Policy Commentary at http://www.forumfyi.org/files/ostpc11.pdf. In a few days you should be able to read a transcript of the actual audio conference.

Today, 3/22, I attended an event titled Non profit Leadership Challenges and Opportunities, which was hosted by the Donors Forum of Chicago http://www.donorsforum.org/calendar/npcalendar.html#np_leadership.

Representatives from Compass Point, presented findings from a web survey that was distributed in eight cities over the past year. It’s titled “Daring to Lead, 2006” and you can download the full report at www.compasspoint.org.

The Daring to Lead presentation highlighted three surprising findings: a) 30% of executives leave their jobs involuntarily (either fired or forced out); b) Executive directors plan to leave their jobs but will stay active in the nonprofit sector; and c) A key driver of executive burnout is frustration with funders.

While the focus of the Donor’s Forum meeting was on succession planning, which is essential to leadership stability and organizational growth, the research constantly pointed to a lack of ACCESS TO CAPITAL as the primary challenge facing small and mid size non profits. Their was a rousing cheer when the need for funding non-restricted, long-term general operations funding was raised as a pivotal issue.

I agree. You cannot keep good leaders, or pay them well, or offer retirement, if you don’t have enough money to pay the rent on a regular basis. If you deal with this problem every day for 12 years, as I have, it tends to be a bit stressful.

How do these issues connect? If we want more to reduce the violence in neighborhoods like Englewood, we must provide better education and career opportunities. To do this we must increase the range of non-school programs that help kids succeed in school, stay safe in non-school hours, and move successfully to jobs and careers. The only time when work place adults are consistently available to be involved in long-term mentoring is after 5pm, when most after-school programs are not open.

Finally, it takes years to build good tutor/mentor programs and it takes a dozen years just to help a youth go from first grade through high school. It takes another 6-8 years before that youth is anchored on a career path. We can never support this process on a consistent basis in many locations if we cannot attract and keep key leaders for existing programs, let alone attract thousands more for the additional programs needed in Chicago and around the country.

We cannot do this without changing the funding paradigm.

So what do we do next?

There must have been over 500 people at the Donors Forum event. I don’t know how many were in the audio conference on Tuesday. However, most will never be in the same room, or the same discussion, at the same time again, because there was no strategy in evidence that gave participants and opportunity to connect with each other, and the presenters, in a facilitated, and open, on-going dialogs.

That’s why we created the Tutor/Mentor Connection. That’s why I invite anyone interested in tutoring/mentoring as a strategy for civic engagement and for increasing the understanding of poverty, to participate in the May and November Tutor/Mentor Leadership Conferences held in Chicago and on the Internet.

These are a meeting place for people to come together to present, reinforce, advocate and discuss information such as was presented over the last two days, in the context of the urgency that is reinforced by the media coverage of events like the shootings in Englewood.

Over the past two year’s we’ve also begun to develop a web conferencing process, so that people from distant locations can connect with people in Chicago, during the May and November conference periods, and so that people can stay connected on an on-going basis. As others host video and audio conferences, or face to face meetings such as today's event, my hope is that they will build web strategies that link the participants to each other, and to affinity groups such as the Tutor/Mentor Connection.

Our goal is to turn discussions into meetings, and meetings into a process of identifying tipping points, or ways to collaborate in activities, like leadership development, funding, volunteer recruitment, which effect all tutor/mentor programs in the country, not just our program in the Cabrini Green neighborhood of Chicago.
(note: if you're an architect, or work with complex decision support, we'd like to recruit you to map this process, to create a blueprint that people could follow to understand the problems and to be strategically involved in the solutions)

If you read back through the blogs I’ve posted in the past year, you’ll see that there have been many forums where information of importance was presented to a gathering of interested people.

I invite all of those who are creating and presenting research on poverty, workforce development, tutoring/mentoring, violence prevention, youth development, service learning, etc. to use the T/MC conferences and internet space as additional times and places where you can present your information, help more people understand it, and contribute to a long-term process that leads to the development of more and better programs that keep kids safe, successful in school and moving toward jobs and careers.

You can read about the conference at http://tutormentor.blogspot.com

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