Monday, April 22, 2013

On-Line Reunion of Tutor/Mentor Program Youth and Volunteers

We all know how we're reconnecting with long-lost friends on Facebook and Linked in. I'd like to show how this is helping a volunteer-based tutor/mentor program support long-term mentoring and networking connections between its volunteers, leaders and students

The woman in this picture is Claudia Crilly Bellucci. She was one of the first two people hired at Cabrini Connections in 1993. She had been a volunteer in the Montgomery Ward/Cabrini Green Tutoring Program for nearly 10 year prior to that.

Among the kids in this picture, the girl on the far left is Tameeka Meekins. She joined us when she was entering 6th grade, after having been part of the Montgomery Ward/Cabrini Green Tutoring program prior to that. Also in this picture is Tangela Smith (white sweatshirt near picture on wall). Tangela was one of our first high school graduates in 1997. She was the guest speaker at the 2010 year end dinner.

In the photo to the right, the lady in the middle is Gena Schoen. Gena was also hired in the summer of 1993. She had been part of the Montgomery Ward/Cabrini Green Tutoring Program from about 1988. When she was hired to work part time for Cabrini Connections she was working with the Montgomery Ward Corporate Foundation, which had agreed to provide a muti-year grant to help Cabrini Connections get off the ground.

Gena remained with Cabrini Connections through 2001, and was the primary leader and developer of the tutor/mentor program from 1993 to 2000, along with myself. She moved to Washington, DC in 2001 to take a job there. In this picture are Lovae Smith, who graduated from high school in 1999 and Eric Moore, who also graduated in 1999. I saw Eric at a funeral in December 2008.

Gena and Claudia and I have stayed in contact through email, just as I've stayed in contact with hundreds of other former volunteers from the past 30 years. As of this weekend, we're now connected to each other and to a growing number of former students through Facebook.

What this means is that the money donors invested 10 to 15 years ago to help us build these connections, is still paying dividends today, as this family of students and volunteers is reconnecting with each other in social networks spaces.

This picture shows Gena, an other volunteers and alumni at our 2003 year end Dinner. You can find some of these on Facebook, too.

I led the Cabrini Connections program from 1992 to mid 2011. Before that I led the Montgomery Ward-Cabrini Green Tutoring Program from 1975 to 1990, then led Cabrini-Green Tutoring Program Inc. (now Chicago Tutoring) from its founding in 1990 to October 1992. Each year since 1975 there has been year-end dinner celebration. In the past this has connected parents, volunteers and students from that year's program, along with alumni from previous years.

Since 2007 I've been trying to create an on-line reunion, connecting youth and adults who were part of Cabrini Connections, or the tutoring program hosted from 1965 to 1990 by Montgomery Ward, in an on-line community that would support each other in their adult lives, and provide leadership to support programs that currently operate in Chicago and other cities.

When donors ask me for metrics to evaluate the impact of Cabrini Connections, I point to the attendance records, and to metrics charts, which show how we have motivated kids and volunteers to come together at Cabrini Connections, and how many met each week for 3 to seven years. However, that is not satisfying some donors. They want to see reading and math scores or incremental gains in social/emotional behavior.

I keep showing charts like this, showing that the goal of a tutor/mentor program is (should be) to help young people move through school and into jobs. Since tutor/mentor programs operate in non-school hours, kids are volunteers, just as adults. Building and sustaining long term participation is an outcome. It's difficult to achieve.

It's also evidence of a long-term, muti-year process, that needs to be supported each year to sustain youth and volunteer involvement. There are many ups and downs during this journey and other than tracking participation and reporting milestones for individual students, it's difficult to see the impact until a program has been in place for 10 to 20 years. Even then, if the program has not maintained contact records and history of participation, it can't reach out to alumni to learn it's impact or to support interaction in the adult lives.

As we build connections between former students and volunteers on social media, the stories of how tutors/mentors have had an impact in the lives of kids, as well as the way the community keeps providing support in adult lives, can provide even stronger evidence to the value of these programs and the need to provide consistent support so that programs can recruit and retain staff who are the glue to keeping kids and volunteers involved.

The grand Tutor/Mentor Reunion
I've records of youth and volunteer participation in the programs I've led extending back to the early 1970s. I've begun to so some network analysis showing how I'm connected to youth and volunteers on my Facebook page and how other staff and volunteers are still connected. I think that with a creative advertising campaign, tutor/mentor programs could attract former participants to an on-line space. This reunion could extend to tutor/mentor programs throughout Chicago and the country. There are probably several million people in the US who have been tutors, mentors or student participants in these programs since the early 1970s. Imagine if we could connect them in one huge on-line community of people helping each other, and working to close the social and economic gaps that separate rich and poor in America today.

Most kids born in big city poverty don't have a network like this. The kids who have been part of the tutor/mentor programs I've led since 1975 do. In addition, youth who have been part of some of the other tutor/mentor programs operating in Chicago have had this type of long-term support. I've been building a list of programs, but have not had the manpower to dig deeper into what they do to show which have long-term strategies and which don't.

That's one of many things I've not been able to do as well as they need to be done.

I've been trying to develop a GIS mapping capacity as well as a social network analysis capacity (read more here)for many years. This is all part of a 4-part strategy which is shown on this concept map, which also shows work that needs to be done.

I was never able to find consistent funding or consistent volunteer involvement to do this under the non-profit tax structure of Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection, and so far, I've not found funding, volunteers and other needed support under the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC structure I created in 2011 after the Cabrini Connections Board of Directors voted to no longer support the T/MC strategy.

I think the process and tools I've been trying to develop could be applied in any urban area, and could be offered through different leadership structures, such as a college institute, a free standing non profit, a business initiative, etc. I don't think this strategy should be placed in the Mayor or Governor or President's office because when political leaders change, so do the programs they support. We need consistent support of efforts that build and sustain mentor-rich programs that does not change every few years. In addition, there's too much innovation involved, and too much ambiguity. Government funding does not encourage the type of flexibility and entrepreneurship needed to build and sustain this network of youth supports for such a long period.

I've been volunteering my time, talent and dollars to build this platform for over 20 years. I've been sharing my ideas freely on this blog and in the pages of the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC site, which allows anyone to take these ideas and implement them as part of their own leadership...without ever telling me or compensating me for initiating the ideas.

That's acceptable. The goal is to help kids, not make me rich.

However, in order to continue to develop this ideas, and build the tools that are needed, I do need financial support, as well as partners/co-owners and volunteers who will help do the technical work, the marketing, and the relationship building that is needed to carry this strategy into the future. Can you help?

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