Thursday, September 20, 2012

Lend a Hand and help create the future you want

Today I attended the Ninth Annual "My Hero" Awards Luncheon organized by the Lawyers Lend A Hand to Youth organization based in Chicago. Close to 200 lawyers, judges, members of the legal community, and youth organization leaders gave recognition to volunteers from the legal community who are going the extra mile to help kids in poor neighborhoods connect with mentors and tutors who support those kids as they make their way through school and into their adult lives. UPDATE: See story in the Daily Law Bulletin, written 9/21

While the My Hero Awards event is nine years old, the Lend A Hand Program started organizing events to raise awareness and dollars to fund volunteer-based tutoring and/or mentoring programs in Chicago starting in 1994. The photo above shows myself with my son Jacob, Betsey Densmore, Executive Directory of the Chicago Bar Foundation, and Chicago Bar Association President Richard J. Prendergast at a 1997 event held at the Chicago Children's Museum.

In today's event Dan Cotter, current Chair of the Board for Lawyers Lend A Hand, presented a check for $45,000 which he had personally raised through a "Lifting to Lend-A-Hand" campaign. Dan personally has raised more than $250,000 to support the Lend-A-Hand efforts since 2002. Imagine if hundreds of lawyers and other professionals were making the same commitment to support volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs in Chicago.

This year's Law Firm Partnership of the Year Award went to Freeborn & Peters LLP who has provide long-term support to Chicago Scholars. At the conclusion to the event Genita Robinson, Executive Directory for Lawyers Lend-A-Hand said "If every mentor program in Chicago had a partner like Freeborn & Peters, LLP, what a difference it would make."

I'd like to see that vision extend to every industry in Chicago, not just every law firm.

No single donor funds more than a small percent of the full operating costs of any tutor/mentor program. Thus dollars need to come from multiple sources, not just from one or two. At the same time, one of the greatest benefits of a tutor/mentor program is that it connects young people to adults and experiences beyond the poverty neighborhood where they live. If tutor/mentor programs had volunteers coming from many different industries and professions each program would offer a wider diversity of experiences and mentoring to their students.

This could happen if every person who attended today's lunch were to read this article and make an effort to encourage people he/she knows to get involved. It could happen if the volunteers in every program funded by Lend A Hand were to actively encourage their companies, faith groups, college friends and families to devote part of their giving pie to support volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs in different parts of Chicago.

Merri Dee was MC for today's lunch. I first met her in 1990 as I was creating the Cabrini-Green Tutoring Program, Inc. I've always been inspired by her "If it is to be, it is up to me" statement.

If we want to help reduce poverty and violence and improve the quality of Chicago's workforce, it is up to every one of us to try to build the resources and talent flow that is needed in programs throughout the city and suburbs.

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