Saturday, April 18, 2009

Understanding "tutor/mentor" as family

I've used this VILLAGE map before to illustrate the range of people and organizations who need to be involved in helping tutor/mentor programs connect with kids in poverty neighborhoods. I've used maps to illustrate all of the places in Chicago with high poverty where such programs are needed.

However, I'm not sure that many people really understand the concept of "tutor/mentor" the way it's implemented at Cabrini Connections.

Tis is a photo of me in 1974. The young man next to me is a 4th grade boy named Leo. He was the first, and only, student that I've been in a one-on-one mentoring match with.

This is a link to a profile of Cabrini Connections on the Oprah's Angel Network web site. If you scroll down to read the comments, you can find a message posted by Leo. We've stayed connected for more than 35 years. You can find him in my Facebook friends list.

You can also find more than 20 other Cabrini Connections alumni, and many other volunteers, including the people who were the leaders of Cabrini Connections in the 1990s. Today I received a message from one student who said:

Technology is amazing isn't it! You can re-connect at the tap of a button :) it has been sometime, I was talking about the Cabrini program and few other programs that I participated in when I was child. I believe I started at 10 years old, and now I am 30 years old---wow!!! It is so awesome to speak with you, and if I never said so thank you! You may have never known this but when I was a junior tutor, we had a special celebration and an opportunity to win gifts. Well I did pretty good and won a christmas tree. I pushed that tree home from Chicago Ave....LOL and my family and I had a great christmas with our tree :) it's so small but it meant so much to us.

Another former student, who is now pursuing an acting career in New York, wrote, "Dan, I'm so happy to reconnect with you and Cabrini Connections here on Facebook. "

Another student wrote, "Dan, is there a way that you could find our old tutors?"

That last message illustrates part of what is possible with the Internet. We can connect students to former mentors and we can connect volunteers and students to each other.

In poverty neighborhoods, such as those shown on the Chicago maps, kids don't have as broad a network of adults and experiences. They don't have many connections to people beyond poverty that a program like Cabrini Connections provides.

While the role the mentors play as the kids move through school is important, I think the connections that are continued through adult lives, as we're all struggling with family, jobs, health, and many other issues, can be even more important. Without the connection Cabrini Connections has made, and sustains, many years after the donor paid for the match to take place at our tutor/mentor site, many of our kids, and their children, would still be isolated by poverty, without many lifelines to help them overcome these challenges.

While the Cabrini Connections program operates in one neighborhood of Chicago, the Tutor/Mentor Connection supports the growth of tutoring and/or mentoring programs in all parts of Chicago. While not many other programs have the long-term view of Cabrini Connections, our aim is to help them get the steady flow of volunteers and dollars that enables such long-term relationships to grow.

If you're a donor, or a business executive looking to establish a new foundation, or someone looking to bequeath wealth to be used after your death, why not consider setting up a foundation to support this type of tutor/mentor program.

1 comment:

Shannon said...

Love it. Honestly I got all choked up, and I suspect you might have even held back on the real tear jerkers. How gratifying to know that the work you do, that you think makes a difference, that you hope makes a difference, gets written into a person like that. That years later they look back and can say "you changed me. Thank you." Here's an idea... maybe this summer Dan, you want to brainstorm with me to see if we can come up with an idea to use social media in conjunction with national mentoring month? Esp. Thank Your Mentor Day? With all the other pr around it, it might be a good way to encourage the ones still lost to re-connect. Let me know if you want to work on developing some ideas to bring to Harvard and MENTOR...