Friday, October 10, 2008

Mapping a Faith Based Tutor/Mentor Strategy

Illinois State Senator, the Rev. James Meeks has been leading a publicity campaign intended to draw more state money to fund public schools. Most recently was a boycott on the first day of the 2008-09 school year, and a picket line outside the Cubs game at the first round major league baseball playoffs.

This is great publicity. But as I've written many times before, just doing a march does not draw volunteers and donors to places in a neighborhood where kids can get help needed to stay safe in non-school hours and be better prepared for school.

We've been creating maps to show how leaders in government, faith groups, hospitals and universities could mobilize resources to support the growth of volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs. Today, the Mapping For Justice blog has a series of maps, like this one, showing the Illinois Senate district of Rev. James Meeks, along with the neighborhood around Salem Baptist Church.

These maps are intended to serve as tools for leaders like the Rev. Meeks. While it may take years to build the public and political will-power to put more money in schools, it only takes the commitment of a few people to launch a tutor/mentor program in neighborhood. In this area there are two groups trying to start programs. We helped the SON Foundation start a blog last week. Kids Off the Block has been struggling to find resources to expand for a long time. You can search the Chicago Program Links to find information for other groups working with youth in this area.

Our goal is that leaders point to these programs when they are giving sermons, or press interviews, or doing advertising, so that people who listen to their messages are encouraged to volunteer time, talent or dollars helping existing programs grow in the mapped area, or learning ways to create new programs in places where none now exist.

In addition, our goal is that faith leaders like the Rev. Meeks, encourage learning circles to form within the congregation, so that people are discussing the research and maps found on the Tutor/Mentor Connection web site, and in the links on this blog, so that they grow more and more sophisticated in understanding poverty and poor schools as a complex problem that does not get solved by just making more money involved, but by getting more people from business and community and colleges involved.

Faith leaders have been pointing congregations to scripture for thousands of years, and coaching the understanding and actions of people on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. If they form groups focused on helping kids move safely from poverty to citizenship and adult careers, the actions of congregations can actually increase the number of people who are involved, and who vote to support policy changes to support their involvement.

The Tutor/Mentor Connection would be happy to meet with your group to help you understand how to use these maps, and to coach you on building support for tutor/mentor programs. We'll host a conference on November 21 at The Chicago Field Museum. We hope you'll attend, and begin this learning process.

As you meet in your own congregations this weekend, or gather with friends and family for sports or other activities, I hope you'll think about ways you can support the growth of such learning circles, in the Chicago region, or in any other part of the country.

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