Wednesday, July 22, 2009

West Side Community can't fight gun violence alone

In the July, 21, 2009 Chicago SunTimes Mary Mitchell's column was about the Austin community's number 1 ranking for weapons violations in the past 90 days. Her plea is for tougher gun laws so more young offenders will know they will go to prison, and think twice about carrying a gun.

She ends by saying "We need to do more to stop these offenders".

Let's look at the rest of this story and expand what "we could do" to reduce the reasons kids are dropping out of school and choosing to become part of gangs and a culture of violence. Let's look at the maps to understand this problem better.

This map shows the location of the Austin community on the far West side. To the West of Austin is the affluent Oak Park community. The Eisenhower Expressway passes through the South part of Austin, bringing commuters from the far west suburbs through the neighborhood and into the Loop every day. The color coding shows the level of poverty in the area.

There are more than a dozen poorly performing schools in the area. What's surprising is that we only have information for four site-based tutor/mentor programs operating in the Austin community, although there are others in the communities surrounding Austin. The programs in the area are:

* the Cluster Tutoring Programthat provides free one-on-one tutoring to more than 75 students (K-12);

* Circle Urban Ministries which is seeking to equip young people academically, socially, and spiritually to become leaders, agents of positive change within the community and throughout the world;

* Westside Holistic Family Services(WHFS) which offers tutoring and homework assistance through its Teen Reach After-School Program; and

* World Vision Chicago.

Using the Interactive Asset Maps on the Chicago Tutor/Mentor Program Locator I created this map, to show some of the banks, insurance companies, and pharmacies in the area. This map shows that there are very few major banks or insurance companies in Austin, or in the West side communities to the East, yet there are many surrounding this island of poverty.

At this time the Tutor/Mentor Connection is limited in how many different business groups it can show on the Program Locator, because we've run out of money for continued development. However, just with what we show let's imagine the leaders of each company shown on the map had read the Role of Leaders essay and had a team of employee volunteers looking for ways to help more tutor/mentor programs grow in the Austin area.

Such teams could be located in the Loop, or in the far West Suburbs. If they focused on the transit routes bringing people through the poverty areas on the West side, they could begin to encourage people to think of ways they could support the existing programs they pass, with workplace fund raising, individual donations, corporate contributions, and with volunteer services. Using corporate communications companies can reach their employees and customers more frequently with reasons to volunteer, and links to the Program Locator, so people can choose where to volunteer.

The result would be a growing number of people becoming personally involved in the issues Mary Mitchell is writing about, leading to more potential changes in public policy in the future.

Let's look at one more map. This one shows faith groups of most major denominations which are located in this region. Where there are few businesses investing in Austin, religion seems to be a booming business. One of the main challenges of operating a tutor/mentor program is the cost of space, and finding locations close enough for kids to walk to, and safe enough for volunteers from beyond the neighborhood to be comfortable stopping after work for a couple of hours a week to be a tutor/mentor.

We also put hospitals and colleges on this map because we believe that mentoring should be part of a public health strategy, led by hospitals and universities. Read more here and here.

If the business teams, and teams from faith groups were to combing their planning, there could be many ways that faith groups in Oak Park and the West Suburbs, and in other parts of the Chicago region, could be partnering with faith groups in Austin to launch and sustain new tutor/mentor programs for kids in this area. If they adopt this strategy as the goal of each program, and the reason for business investment, the long-term benefit to kids in Austin, and throughout the Chicago region will be much greater than just getting new gun laws passed.

The story our maps tell can change from year to year, only if people in the media, politics, religion and business begin to think strategically, and collectively, about ways to connect people who don't live in poverty with people who do. Tutor/Mentor programs, and the involvement of business volunteers in planning strategies like I've described, can lead to much broader involvement of more people in these issues. This can lead to better understanding, greater commitment to long-term solutions, and ultimately fewer kids choosing negative lifestyles.

You can create your own map analysis, and jpg images,using the interactive program locator, that you can put into your own blog. Here's a blog article Nicole White of the T/MC wrote to show ways to use the Program Locator.

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