Sunday, January 15, 2012

Day of Service. Day of Learning!

The Dr. M.L.King, Jr. National Holiday is Monday, Jan. 16 and, like previous years, I’ve seen numerous articles encouraging people to go out and “volunteer” with suggestions including “prepare meals for a soup kitchen, visit the elderly and assemble food and toiletry kits for the homeless”. Here’s one story about the Holiday.

Last Thursday I saw an announcement from the Serve Illinois Commission where Comcast is seeking community-based organizations to partner with for a company-wide annual day of service during the April National Volunteer Week.

These service projects are great for team building and for short term, done-in-a-day projects. And they do necessary and helpful work. But do they really make a dent in poverty and complex social problems where more help is needed every day of the year, not just on national holidays?

What if employee volunteers, family and friends were encouraged to do a “day of learning” where they visited web platforms with information related to poverty, education issues, challenges non profits face, etc. and where they begin to look at ways they and people they work with could offer time, talent and dollars throughout the year to support a full range of organizations working in different neighborhoods, but on the same problem?

What might they study? Below is a map I created a couple of years ago to show how groups could learn about the connections between poverty, education and health from a variety of sources. Such learning could lead more people to understand the value of volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs and the need for such programs to be located near youth living in high poverty areas.

Thus, while many people could be painting classrooms, working in food pantries, or building housing on Monday, many others could be meeting at churches, business locations, hospitals, homes and in on-line learning communities, where they draw from an on-line library of articles and ideas.

This map is from the GUEST MAP on the Tutor/Mentor Connection web site. If you visit the map you can click on the icons and see comments and introductions from people who have visited the site in the past. The map illustrates our goal of serving as a "social problem solving platform" that can be used by people from throughout Chicago, and the rest of the world.

The potential for groups to connect in on-line learning groups is growing. I’ve written about organized on-line learning communities in the past. Here’s the link. Here’s a web site hosting on-line learning.

I’ve written hundreds of articles on this blog and I’ve pointed to articles written by people far smarter than I am. I have more than 1900 links in a web library that show where and why volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs are needed and why it’s good for business to support volunteer-involvement on a year-round basis

Furthermore, I've created an on-line directory that uses maps to help visitors understand where high poverty neighborhoods are in the Chicago region and where volunteer-based tutoring and/or mentoring programs are located, or needed.

The learning that people do tomorrow and throughout the year can help more people understand the lack of mentoring, tutoring, learning, jobs, etc. that contribute to hopelessness and the gang culture that breeds violence and poor education outcomes in many of these neighborhoods. By visiting web sites of dozens of youth programs in Chicago and all over the world, volunteers, donors, business partners and program leaders can share the responsibility of building and sustaining world-class tutor/mentor programs in EVERY poverty area by borrowing from the best ideas from any of these programs and by providing the talent, dollars, technology needed on an on-going basis to implement these ideas.

At the end of a day of reflection individuals and groups can post blogs, update wikis, and share their ideas in forums like or in Facebook. If you've a favorite place for sharing ideas and collaborating with others, please tell us about it.

I'm going to be taking part in a week long learning and networking effort, starting tomorrow. It's called JELLY WEEK. If you click on the JELLY WEEK map you can see that teams from nearly 200 places and more than 30 countries are participating. I'm part of a about a group collecting information about education efforts throughout the world. Members come from South America, Austria, Sweden and many other countries.

If this type of collective learning is happening throughout the year, and during every national holiday, those who do service and those who do learning will be building better understanding of the complex problems we face and a more sophisticated range of solutions.

As a result, more people will become directly involved in places throughout Chicago working to help solve social problems, and will be connected to people and ideas of other people throughout the world who are doing similar work.

To me, the “I Have A Dream” speech means that some day in the future the problems of poverty, social inequality, wealth gaps, hunger, etc. will be less than it is today because of what we learn, and what actions we take based on what we learn.

That won’t happen unless short term service projects are matched by learning, reflection and information sharing.

No comments: