Tuesday, July 29, 2008

How Many Volunteer-Based Tutor/Mentor Programs are in Chicago? How do we tell the difference?

Since 1993 the Tutor/Mentor Connection (T/MC) has been working with scarce resources to build a more comprehensive understanding of the availability and distribution of volunteer based tutor/mentor programs in Chicago. This is part of our mission to help constantly improving programs be available to youth in high poverty neighborhoods of the region.

In the Program Locator of the T/MC web site you can now click on maps like the one shown here, to find brief descriptions for more than 480 entries in our database. You can also find a Map Gallery, with larger versions of these and other T/MC maps. If you look at this map it seems like there is a good distribution of these programs.

However, we invite you to look at this in greater detail.

We divide the database four ways. Age group served, zip code and time of day service is provided help you understand what age groups are service in specific zip codes. If we want to reduce high school drop out rates, for instance, it would make sense to have programs serving 7th to 12th grade teens available in areas where drop out rates are high.

The other way we slice the data is by the type of tutoring and/or mentoring that is offered. In this map we show programs offering pure mentoring. In many cases, such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the mentoring is community based, meaning the volunteer meets with the youth at various community locations. These cannot be maps the way a Cabrini Connections can, where volunteers and students meet at a location near where the youth live. Thus, the map does not show many locations where pure mentoring occurs.

In this map we show pure tutoring. This could be homework help, or it could be sophisticated tutoring like offered at Family Matters or Highsight. In many cases these locations might just be homework help centers at a Park District or a Library.

This third map shows organizations that are site based, and offer more comprehensive forms of tutoring and/or mentoring. The program itself is a source of continuity in the life of the child, and youth are exposed to arts, technology, college and career coaching, in addition to having a volunteer tutor/mentor involved in their life.

One of the challenges of maintaining a database is keeping it current. Another is helping people understand the differences between programs so volunteers, parents, and donors might "shop and compare".

We have over 480 listings in the Program Locator, but only show a total of 240 on these three maps. That's because in the other 240 listings we don't have information on the age group served, time of day, and/or type of program. While we have one person on the T/MC staff reaching out to try to gather this data, we urge people who operate various forms of volunteer-based tutoring/mentoring to register to use the Program Locator so you can update your own data, or add new listings.

We feel the best way to help the public understand the differences between programs is for the programs to show what they do, why they do it, and what impact they are having, using a web site. Thus with many of the listings in the Program Locator we provide web site links. We also have a section where we provide links to nearly 200 youth serving organizations in Chicago.

Many of these web sites do a great job of showing why the organization is important. Others are not as effective. Thus, one role for volunteers from media and technology companies, or colleges, it to reach out and become the web developer and story teller for one or more programs in the city. Non profits don't have the money to hire this type of talent. Volunteers don't need to be tutors/mentors to have a significant impact.

We've also created some pdf essays, such as Defining Terms, to help people understand the difference between professional tutors, volunteer tutors, volunteer mentors, tutor/mentor programs, etc. The greater the degree of poverty in an area, the more likely all forms of these services are needed.

As you look at this information, think of each type of program, and each age group served, as a layer of information on a map. As you peal back the layers leaders in a community or a city can build a better understanding of what programs already exist, and need to be supported with operating dollars, volunteers, technology, etc.

They can also show where there are voids which need to be filled with new programs.

The maps already show that there is a poor distribution of tutor/mentor programs in many poverty areas of Chicago. When we provide the next set of maps, showing age group served, or time of day, we'll show an even more staggering lack of programs for older youth, or that operate in a time frame when workplace volunteers might serve once a week as a tutor/mentor.

I hope you will circulate this article in your friend, family and business network. The next time the newspaper has a headline of kids being killed, or an editorial demanding that we all "do something", point to this article, and our maps, as well as the other resources on the T/MC web site. Use these as a resource to support your actions and we'll begin to reach more kids with better programs.

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