Saturday, May 03, 2008

Open Letter - an Invitation to network

Every day I send one or more letters to people in Chicago and around the country, introducing myself, and inviting these people to visit our web sites, and connect with us in some form of on-going learning and collaboration aimed at helping more and better tutor/mentor programs be in the lives of inner city youth. I'm writing one right now, and I decided I'd share it with those who read my blog. I hope you'll forward it to people in your own network, as this graphic suggests.

This letter is written to Catherine Jordan, project manager for the National Partnership for Quality Afterschool Learning at the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory in Austin, Texas.


Hi Catherine,

I'm Dan Bassill, president of a Chicago-based non-school tutoring/mentoring program named Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection (CC, T/MC). I read your quote in the April 2008 Youth Today article, stating "What attracts kids and keeps them coming is an adult who cares about them." My organization, Cabrini Connections was mentioned in the same article, and our entire strategy revolves around this connection between an adult volunteer and an inner city youth. You can see the program strategy in the Success Steps page at

I'm writing to introduce you to the second part of our organization, the Tutor/Mentor Connection (T/MC). I started my volunteer work with tutor/mentor programs in 1973 at the same time as I was beginning a 17 year advertising career with the Montgomery Ward corporation. We had 400 stores in 40 states, and used advertising to draw customers to these stores every day. We also had another team of people working to make sure we had stores near customers, and that each store had well trained people, and products and services that would appeal to customers.

Between 1975 and 1990 I began to create a network of Chicago area tutor/mentor programs, encouraging the group to meet regularly to share ideas and build supportive relationships. As I did this I recognized a pattern in media and public leadership that I call the "Camel effect". Every so often there would be a surge of public indignation following some tragedy, such as a school shooting, or a report, such as Nation at Risk, that would cause the newspapers and editorial writers to call for some action.

However, when that happened, they only pointed to a few brand name youth organizations as the solutions, and they only pointed to a few of the high poverty neighborhoods of Chicago as the location of the problem. Furthermore, this public attention only lasted a short while, as the media and our leaders would soon be drawn to some other crisis.

This surge in attention is happening right now in Chicago, as the media are focusing on the tragic killings of a growing number of inner city kids.

In our advertising at Wards we knew that we needed to keep our customers focused on our stores and services every day, and we needed to make every store as good as it could be, in order to attract repeat customers to each store.

Thus, I created the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993, with a goal of helping constantly improving, volunteer based tutor/mentor programs be available in every high poverty neighborhood, following the same principles that our company was using to try to make sure high quality stores were available to shoppers all over the country.

In the Program Locator and Chicago Program Links sections of the T/MC web site, shoppers can learn about different tutoring/mentoring programs throughout the region, and choose what area of the city they want to support, and which programs in that region they want to help. In many cases there are few, or no programs, thus a shopper (volunteer or donor) might need to help start new programs, in order to serve the youth in that region.

I believe that a high quality non-school youth organization must have a base of adults committed to the lives of the children they serve, and that extra adults, who don't live in poverty, and who can model a variety of jobs and careers, need to be involved as tutors, mentors, coaches, fiends, advocates, etc. If the youth organization makes a commitment to "do all it can to assure that the children are in jobs and careers by age 25" then it is the adult volunteers who need to stay connected to the organization, and its youth, so that as kids finish high school or college, there are people beyond the poverty neighborhood where these kids live, who can open doors to job opportunities, and provide support to career growth.

This is what a volunteer-based tutor/mentor program is to me, and what we try to do at Cabrini Connections. Through the Tutor/Mentor Connection we work to help other programs get the resources they need to build and sustain similar long-term commitments to the youth they serve.

I hope you'll take a look at the T/MC and see how we're using maps, the internet, conferences and an on-line program locator database to help volunteers and donors find the various programs in the Chicago region. This is a strategy that any city can duplicate in order to assure that good programs, with adults who care, are in more of the places where they are needed.

We'll be doing the next conference on May 29 and 30. If someone from your network can attend, we hope you'll connect with us there. If you cannot attend, then connect with us on line in the T/MC web site, or in places like

I'll look forward to hearing from you. I hope the Youth Today article draws a few more people toward this idea of adult involvement and mentoring as part of a strategy of "no child left behind".

Daniel F. Bassill
Cabrini Connections
Tutor/Mentor Connection
800 W. Huron
Chicago, Il. 60622

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