Saturday, September 30, 2006

Making a Difference and Bridging the Poverty Divide

During the past two weeks an amazing thing has happened in Chicago. Volunteers from various businesses and professions have begun meeting with 7th to 12th grade teens from the Cabrini-Green neighborhood for a 14th year of tutoring/mentoring and networking at the Cabrini Connections Tutor/Mentor Program.

More than 470 teens and 600 volunteers have been involved with this program since 1993. Here's a few highlights from my recent newsletter:

Daniel Sherrod (who started with CC in 1994) honored with Associated Colleges of Illinois award - ACI Honors Cabrini Connections alumni

Cabrini Connections Music Video can be viewed -
on YouTube

Michael Tam blogs from Hong Kong - http://michaelcnt.blogspot.com

Josh Rothstein (2005-06 volunteer) emailed to tell us he's moved back to California and will be interviewing in the coming weeks at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (a NASA contracted facility) in Pasadena.

Ted Bills (former volunteer) emailed from St. Louis and said "Our United Way campaign kicked off today and I sent the email to 70+ people that I have met at GE. "

Larry Daigle (former volunteer) emailed to tell us he enjoys staying connected via our email newsletter and he's now living in Costa Rica

These illustrate how Cabrini Connections is turning the meeting between teens and volunteers at our Chicago site into a life long connection made possible by the Internet. With such a connection we can remove the isolation of poverty for every teen who joins us and learns to connect with each other and volunteers via the Internet.

In order for us to keep our teens and volunteers connected with each other and with Cabrini Connections, we must constantly raise money. You can make a difference this weekend, by writing a check or going on line and making a Pay Pal donation.

Some of you have already received the Back to School Mailing in a Yellow Envelop. Here's a link to a PDF that you can forward to friends.
Back to School Campaign

Some of you might be interested in a social/networking opportunity. Join us on Oct. 13 for Martini Madness. Here's a pdf with details: Martini Maddness

In other sections of this blog you've been able to read posts about how difficult it is for non profits to find on-going dollars to sustain their work. We've been fortunate to find dollars for the past 14 years, but never enough to avoid borrowing money when cash is short, and never enough to do all of the work we know needs to be done to assure that our teens are in jobs by age 25.

As you read this, I hope you'll make an effort to help us now, and in the future. I also hope you'll make an effort to help programs like Cabrini Connections that operate in other neighborhoods, and other cities, get the dollars and volunteers they also need.

While we change the future for the teens who join Cabrini Connections, we still only impact a small number out of the more than 200,000 youth living in poverty in Chicago and the millions living in poverty in other big cities. A strategy that supports all tutor/mentor programs consistently is one that will also support Cabrini Connections more consistently.

If you'd like to discuss ways you can help, email me at tutormentor2@earthlink.net

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Mentoring in the News. The Rest of the Story

On Thursday and Friday of this week the Chicago Sun Times ran stories of mentoring efforts supported by the CEO of ComEd and the CEO of Soft Sheen. These programs are part of a mentoring initiative started by the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago in response to studies showing incarceration rates of young black men at historically high rates.

I wrote the SunTimes, and said "thank you" and I called the United Way and said "let's meet". The REST OF THE STORY is that this has been a problem for more than a few years and that there are many organizations in Chicago who already offer volunteer-based tutoring/mentoring and who would love to have help from ComEd, Soft Sheen and every other business in the city.

My hope is that the media will link stories they write about one initiative, to existing work already being done in the city, in these, or other neighborhoods, so that the visibility the story draws to mentoring, will draw volunteers, donors, and business partners to tutor/mentor programs throughout the city and suburbs.

In the same edition of the SunTimes that talked about how a mentor program keeps young blacks focused was another story with the headline "20-year old slain on Southwest Side". Nothing in the reporting of this story suggested that mentoring or other forms of youth development or career development, could be a way to keep this type of problem from happening, yet the neighborhood where the youth was shot is the same area where mentoring is being offered.

If you want to help make mentoring more available in high risk Chicago areas, visit the Program Locator at http://www.tutormentorconnection.org and search by zip code to locate programs in specific areas. You'll find that some areas don't have many programs, thus, we'll need companies like ComEd and Soft Sheen to help start new programs, while we also need their help to keep existing programs in operation.

I hope that the new African American Initiatives at the United Way and at the Chicago Community Trust draw needed reinforcements to existing programs throughout the city. This is the only way we can assure that youth get the adult support needed to stay in school and move to careers.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

What business execs don't know, but should know about non profits

Dennis Whittle, founder of Global Giving has a thought-provoking essay on his Pulling for the Underdog blog. He links to an article written by the from the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

As you read this, I encourage you to think of the thousands of places where comprehensive, volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs need to reach kids living in high poverty and near poorly performing schools. Each of these programs needs an innovative, dedicated leader who can attract kids, volunteers, donors and keep programs growing from "good to great" over a period of years.

If we can enlist business leaders to innovate ways to distribute needed resources to all tutor/mentor programs on a more consistent basis, we can do much to build a pipeline connecting inner city kids to careers. One strategy leaders might employ is to provide links on their web sites to organizations that mentor kids to careers, then encourage employees and customers to volunteer and donate money through payroll deduction programs to support these programs.

The goal is that an executive point to all of the organizations in a city, or multiple cities, that offer tutoring/mentoring and not just to the one that he/she may serve as a board member. In the Tutor/Mentor Program Locator I illustrate one sort of database that executives could refer volunteers to in order to distribute support to multiple locations.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Blogging for a Purpose

Today in the Chicago SunTimes, Steve Huntley wrote a commentary titled "Lots of Questions to answer before schools get more money." In the article he asked why parents who have sacrificed to have kids in communities with better schools, and higher taxes, would be willing to pay for the costs of educating other people's kids.

To me, this goes beyond providing that proposed school reform, and non profit strategies work, it provokes a question of "how do we get more people personally involved so they'd care enough to help other people's kids?"

I feel volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs are one of the best strategies the nation might invest in to get adults who don't live in poverty personally connected with kids who do. Through these connections these adults will have a better understanding of the challenges poverty presents, and a more personal reason to use their time, talent and dollars to create change.

Unfortunately, there are too few programs building long term connections, and too few dollars to help existing and new programs grow from start, to good, to great.

That brings me to the topic of blogs, and blog exchanges. I encourage you to visit

Monday, September 11, 2006

Remembering 9/11 - How much sacrifice is enough?

Today people in the USA and friends from around the world are pausing for a few moments to remember the lives lost in the 9/11 tragedy and in the war on terrorism that has taken place sense then.

Last week we were pausing to remember the Katrina tragedy.

Those of us at Cabrini Connections and the Tutor/Mentor Connection add our prayers of hope and remembrance to the families of those directly affected by these events. However, we would like to go a step further.

We'd like to ask everyone to dig a bit deeper and to find a little more time to try to understand the poverty in the world that is a breeding ground for these events. While nature caused the Hurricane, it was poverty that gave us the images of desperate people in New Orleans.

While it is a small group of fanatics fanning the fire of terrorism, it is poverty that provides recruits for these fanatics.

Thus, it's poverty we need to understand and deal with.

In this context, the next question is "how much time, talent and treasure" should one be expected to commit to this war on poverty? In the speeches that will be given today we'll honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. The number of dead will be totaled. In the background will be the number of families and children changed forever because a parent was lost in 9/11 or killed or severely wounded in the years since then.

When we think of this as 100% sacrifice, how do our own daily commitments of time, talent and treasure stack up? I'm not in a position to say what the appropriate level of giving should be. However, I can look in my own mirror every night and feel good about my own efforts.

I'd like to find a way that more people were looking in the mirror every night and doing more than just staring at a pretty face!!

Tonight we'll hold our first orientation for the volunteers who will become tutors/mentors in the 2006-07 Cabrini Connections program. As I talk to them I'll be starting them on a journey that is intended to stretch their involvement beyond two hours a week with one of our teens, to a commitment that draws the heart, body and spirit of a growing number into the efforts it takes to end poverty by helping kids move through school and into jobs/careers.

We promise our kids "we'll do everything we can" to assure that you're starting a job/career by age 25. "Everything" is a lot. It's unconditional effort. It recognizes the potential of unleashing the talent of our volunteers, their friends and families, the people they work with, and the people they pray with or go to football games with, in efforts to end poverty and provide hope.

Our efforts to unleash and focus more of the talents and time of our students, alumni and volunteers are the best memorial to 9/11 that I feel we can offer.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Fan donates $220k to send band to football game. How much to help kids get to college?

On Saturday night I watched a bit of the Ohio State vs Texas football game. I heard the announcers say that an Ohio State benefactor had provided $220,000 to bring the entire OSU band to Texas for the game.

I love football, but I wonder how much that money could have done to help a few more inner city kids get the adult support they need to be able to attend either one of these universities.

Maybe this benefactor also gives millions of dollars to charities helping kids.... I hope so.

As leader of http://www.cabriniconnections.net I know how hard it is to find $5,000 a month to pay our rent and keep our kids connected to tutor/mentors. Donations over $200,000 would cover the operating costs of my program for an entire year.

Friday, September 08, 2006

No Child Law near perfect? No way.

Last week Education Secretary Margaret Spellings was quoted as saying the 2002 No Child Left Behind Law was "99.9" percent close to working properly and needed little change when it comes up for renewal next year.

That's not the opinion of many, including the Center for Mental Health in Schools at UCLA: http://tutormentor.blogspot.com/2006/07/learning-supports-needed-to-make-nclb.html

In today's Chicago SunTimes there were four articles that I feel related to NCLB, but none seemed intended on relating to each other, or demonstrated a long term vision of how to change the status quo.

On a page 23 article titled "No Child law near perfect? Blagojevich begs to differ", Governor Blagojevich was quoted as "joining a growing chorus of critics".

On page 34, there was an article titled "A Last Ditch effort to save gang members". This talked about how ministers in Durham, North Carolina, are raising money to send gang members out of state, so they can escape gangs. Does this mean if they send them to Chicago's West or South side neighborhoods they won't be recruited into gangs? No. Poverty is a breeding ground for gangs. While education is the path out of poverty, government has not yet outlined a plan that provides learning supports in the non-school hours, and in all high poverty neighborhoods.

On page 40, Tom Sharp of Lincoln Park wrote "Principals don't deserve easy A's"
Tom's article concluded with, "The basic fact that CPS leadership has yet to accept is that the students themselves, there home environments, and the value placed on education by their parents/guardians are the key variables to education success. The teacher plays a secondary role and the principle, more often than not, is a minor player at best.

On page 39, Andrew Greeley's column was titled "Greed trumps common good every time".
Greeley wrote about "how difficult it is for this large, pluralistic and cumbersome country to accomplish goals that most of its people agree on, more or less." According to Greeley, "one of the major obstacles is greed." He targets big business, saying, "The common good just doesn't matter when big business is running the country -- into the ground."

In my opinion, these are articles are all related. NCLB (and government policy) does not provide funding for the wide range of learning supports (including tutoring/mentoring) that would help more kids come to school with greater aspirations and motivations to learn.

It does not provide the type of non-school activities that would compete with gangs for student involvement. It does not motivate businesses to use their own resources (people, dollars, technology, jobs, leadership) to help youth come to school prepared to learn, and move through school more prepared for 21st century jobs. Just pointing at teachers and principles, or at the bureaucracy of NCLB, is not providing a vision for how we all work together to solve the problem.

Tutor/Mentor programs are learning supports where people from beyond poverty can connect with youth living in poverty, and become extra resources to help youth move through school and into jobs. However, without consistent funding there are too few programs, and too few good programs.

Until leadership understands that these programs not only benefit youth, but also transform the adult volunteer into a leader, they won't invest time and leadership into strategies that draw more adults into these programs, or support the operations that retain volunteers for multiple years.

In the end, we cannot legislate morality or dictate leadership. We can only recognize and support it when we see it. Thus, when we talk of greed, my suggestion would be to find ways to recognize with our votes, and with our shopping habits, those leaders who do more to make this a better world. If we reward good leadership others will soon learn to duplicate this, or even innovate better leadership.

Imagine a day when elected leaders and big and small businesses would be competing with each other to see who could do the most good.

A first step would be for editors to link stories in the news to web site forums that draw people together to understand how these stories relate to each other. Another would be to find ways to get more people personally involved.

Being a volunteer in a tutor/mentor program is a good way to start that involvement.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

CEOs and Volunteerism

In most of my posts my focus is on building strategic partnerships with business and professional groups. I often point to web sites such as www.healthworkforce.org/guide/pipeline_sec1_1.htm where industry leaders are talking about workforce issues specific to their industry. These show "WHY" CEO's should take a strategic role in tutoring/mentoring, and provide examples that CEOs in one community can borrow for use in their own communities.

This week I'm leading a discussion of CEOs and Volunteerism on the http://www.socialedge.org web site. I hope you'll join in and provide links to other web sites that illustrate why business should become more involved, or that illustrate innovative forms of leadership that draw volunteers, and donors, to volunteer-based charities.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Ending Poverty. Improving Schools.

School starts in Chicago on Tuesday for over 400,000 kids. Almost half live in high poverty neighborhoods. Many will be attending over-crowded schools. Many will come with few aspirations or experiences that prepare or motivate them to learn. This is the same in every big city of America.

As school starts, many in the media will be writing editorials and commentary, lamenting the lack of leadership, or involvement, in solving poverty, or improving schools. One initiative, the Million Dad March, will seek to involve men in getting kids to school this week, and in helping those kids learn.

What's missing? While media stories that focus on Katrina, or individual kids are well written and catch some reader attention, they don't create the on-going personal connection that leads people beyond poverty, or who don't have kids in poor schools, to become personally involved.

Without a personally connection this remains "someone else's problem".

I feel that volunteering in a tutor/mentor program, where a volunteer makes a weekly contact with a youth, is one way of creating a bridge that links people beyond poverty with children and families in poverty. I write about this often in this blog.

As school starts, tutor/mentor programs all over the country, including Chicago, are looking for volunteers...and donors.

In Chicago you can visit the Program Locator at http://www.tutormentorexchange.net to find contact information for different programs in different neighborhoods. In other cities, you need to search volunteer databases, such as http://www.volunteermatch.org.

All of these programs are different. They are not equally good at what they do. However, they are a connecting place where those who want to help can begin to build a personal understanding of the problem, and a personal connection with a young person who will enrich the life of the volunteer, as the volunteer seeks to do the same for the youth.

If you are a writer for a radio, TV, or newspaper, or if you know someone who is, I urge you to end your stories about poverty, poor schools, gangs, drugs, workforce development, civic engagement, etc, with links to web portals where people who don't live in the neighborhoods you write about can find ways to become personally connected.

If you do this with every story, you will be helping us build this bridge, and we'll begin to have more people read your stories with a personal understanding of what the problem is, and ways to solve it.

This is not a race. This is a journey. It takes 12 years just to go from 1st grade to being a high school graduate. It takes another 4 to 8 years to go on through the next level of education and be starting a job/career.

Many kids won't make it because too few people are involved personally in helping them along the way.

As school starts this week, let's make a commitment to change this.