Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Daley Departing. Can Next Mayor Do Better?

Yesterday's announcement that Chicago's long-term Mayor Richard Daley will not run for re-election has created quite a buzz, and I'm sure it will be the main topic of media for the next six months. Bigger than the Olympics. Bigger than 9/11 ... at least for Chicago.

I'm not writing to bash Mayor Daley. He did a great job for Chicago and does not need my praise to have his place in history. However, I do wish we had found ways to connect strategically.

I first met the mayor in 1990, when he visited the Cabrini Green Tutoring Program, which I helped create that year. It originally was the Montgomery Ward-Cabrini Green Tutoring Program, started by Ward employees in 1965. I joined it in 1973 and became it's volunteer leader in 1975. Thus, by 1990 I had 15 years experience. You'd think the new Mayor would want to draw upon that.

I met the Mayor again in May 1997, when he attended the Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference, the month after the President's Summit for America's Future was held in Philadelphia.

In 1994 I began working with the Lend A Hand Program at the Chicago Bar Foundation, and each year until 2000, the Mayor signed a proclamation, calling for a Tutor/Mentor Week in November, to draw attention to efforts to help volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs grow in all neighborhoods of Chicago. Here are the proclamations from 1995 and 2000.

In 1995 the T/MC launched a volunteer recruitment campaign. Our first partner was Chicago Access TV, who has posted information like this on their web site every year since then. By 2002 the campaign was including more than 100 youth organizations and the campaign proclamation was signed by the Governor, and Mayor Daley. Here is the 2001 Campaign Manifesto.

However, these shows of support have not translated into city wide strategies to connect business volunteers and resources with tutor/mentor programs in many neighborhoods. Instead of supporting the Tutor/Mentor Connection, the Mayor's wife created Afterschool Matters. Instead of supporting non-school tutor/mentor programs, the Mayor's office supported charter schools, funded by private sector donations.

Instead of an adopt a neighborhood strategy, there is an adopt a school strategy, which leaves the neighborhoods without a full range of high quality non-school learning, and mentoring programs.

I don't blame the Mayor for this. I recognized when we formed the T/MC in 1993 that elected leaders are controlled by the everyday events that pull them in different directions. Our own organization started with no money in 1993 and grew each year, with the backing of the Montgomery Ward Corporation, and the dot-com bubble, until 2000. We were able to grow the volunteer recruitment campaign because one donor made gifts of $26,000 per year to fund a staff person for four consecutive years.

However, Wards went out of business in 2000, and we lost donated space, and $40,000 per year in funding. The dot-com bubble bursts, and 9/11 came. The donor who funded the recruitment campaign changed funding priorities.

At the same time, the partnership with the Lend A Hand Program that had resulted in the annual Mayor's proclamation and support of a November Tutor/Mentor Week, began to diverge as they begin to shape their own direction and strategy for supporting volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs.

Thus, there is no top-level leadership strategy in Chicago aimed to support ALL tutor/mentor programs throughout the city by helping each program get the operating and innovating resources, including dollars, that each program needs every week to be great at connecting youth and mentors and learning.

Thus, Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection has been struggling to keep its own program in place, and support the basic information collection and sharing that we do. We've not had the manpower or resources since 2000 to reach into the Mayors office and engage his leadership to support the growth of tutor/mentor programs that help mentor kids to careers, has not been strong enough to compete with all of the other people and organizations calling for the Mayor's attention.

Yet. If helping kids in all neighborhoods move through school and into jobs and careers is a priority, I would hope that some people in the Mayor's office, in the past, or in the future, would be doing their own research to learn what ideas they might apply to this problem.

All they need to do is search Google for "tutor mentor" and they would find our web sites and our contact information.

This is true for anyone else who wants to share this vision. While we and other tutor/mentor programs are looking for volunteers, donors and benefactors, the Internet now makes it possible for elected leaders, CEOs and anyone else to look for ideas that they can incorporate into their own actions. The don't need to look far to find the Tutor/Mentor Connection and to learn what we do based on the information we share on our web sites.

If we're heading in a direction that you can support, you don't need a proposal from us, you need to decide how, and how much, you want to help, then give us a call, or send us your donation.

Using the Tutor/Mentor Program Locator, you can shop and choose programs in many parts of the city to offer help, and you can see that many neighborhoods do not yet have programs. Your help in those cases would be to bring people together to build a team that would start new programs.

Anyone who wants to be the next Mayor could demonstrate this leadership over the next six months. Share what you do on a blog or web site, and in the media coverage you will get, and voters can choose the next mayor based on what he/she will do every day to help ALL kids in Chicago have great opportunities for bright futures.

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