Monday, October 21, 2013

Mentor Role in Larger Strategy

I’ve often been asked “What type of tutoring or mentoring do you do?” and have had difficulty communicating the idea that volunteer tutors/mentors represent “extra adults” helping kids living in high poverty neighborhoods of big cities who have too few people in their lives who model diverse jobs and career opportunities, and who are working to help these kids move through school and into adult lives and careers.

Kids aren’t “widgets” or “robots” where a certain dose of tutoring or mentoring can overcome the personal and environmental challenges facing them. All kids need extra forms of support. Kids in poverty have extra challenges, and less community support.
This graphic can be found in this PDF essay. It is intended to illustrate the influences in the lives of youth living in high poverty areas that are not as common to youth in more affluent areas. It also emphasizes the supports that are less frequently available.

Over the past 20 years I’ve created a variety of visualizations to illustrate my ideas. I hope you’ll read the rest of this article and follow the links to additional information and ideas. If you agree, please form a group and begin to share this information regularly.

Throughout the country the terms “tutoring” and “mentoring” are used in a variety of different ways, with different meaning, based on the experience and perspective of the person using the terms. Until we group into sub-categories, focusing on kids in urban poverty, kids in rural poverty, immigrant kids who often don’t speak English, and kids who have social/emotional needs, but may live in communities with tremendous resources, we won’t build a shared understanding of problems facing each sub group of kids, which means we won’t build and sustain long-term strategies to help youth overcome those challenges.

This graphic is from a “Defining Terms” essay that illustrates the role of different types of tutoring/mentoring roles, in different types of programs.

I’ve written numerous articles on this blog showing impact of poverty on inner city youth. I integrate maps into many, to illustrate the need for comprehensive programs in many different neighborhoods. This section of links in my web library contains links to many other web sites that focus on concentrated, segregated poverty as a root cause of many social and economic ills. On the Mapping For Justice blog I provide numerous maps that further illustrate this point.


I’ve created a variety of graphics, like this concept map to illustrate the different needs of youth as they move from one grade to another, over the 12 years most kids to move from first grade to high school graduation. In areas of high poverty, volunteer tutors and mentors are extra adults who help young people and communities access these resources.

I point to a variety of articles about “social capital” which show how youth in segregated, high poverty neighborhoods benefit from volunteers and programs that connect them to ideas, experiences and opportunities beyond what are modeled in the family or community. This is a form of “bridging social capital”.

Thus, if non-school tutor/mentor programs are able to recruit volunteers from diverse workplace backgrounds youth would be exposed to a diverse range of career and education models, as well as many different racial, age and religious backgrounds.

A program with a mix of volunteers from different business backgrounds can offer a wide range of extra learning and mentoring activities beyond one-on-one tutoring or mentoring. Site based programs with space in the neighborhood close enough for youth to participate weekly are more likely to offer such extra learning opportunities on an on-going basis than community based mentoring.

Programs that have a diverse base of volunteers are “mentor rich”. I used to use the term Total Quality Mentoring (TQM) to show a constant process of innovation and improvement made possible by the participation of such a diverse base of volunteers.

However, not every program has the leadership, marketing, or connections to business, that are needed to draw volunteers from diverse backgrounds. This set of articles in the web library show challenges facing non profit organizations.

This article focuses on “tipping points” or actions and strategies that might help stronger, mentor-rich youth programs be available in more places.

In this 2010 Civic Enterprises report titled, “Untapped Potential: Filling the Promise of Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Bigs and Littles they Represent”, a BBBS study shows that many volunteers are concerned that they alone cannot do enough to help their mentees overcome the poverty where they live. Many are willing to do more.

Thus, while using conferences, technical assistance and training to help each program improve their ability to recruit and retain volunteers, I have been advocating for leaders in business, faith groups, hospitals, etc. to become proactive in building support for mentor-rich programs in every neighborhood.

This “Recruiting Talent Volunteers” pdf and this “Virtual Corporate Office” pdf illustrate roles companies and their employee-volunteers can take.

The links below provide extra reading for corporate leaders, showing many benefits to programs of volunteers engaged for multiple years

==Service Learning Loop flash animation in 2011.

== Volunteer Involvement Growth/Benefit - flash animation -

--- In addition, here are a set of links to articles showing benefit to companies resulting from support of volunteer involvement in mentor-rich programs

This last graphic is a “reality check”. While I spend many hours every day reaching out to build a network of people and resources to support youth programs in inner city neighborhoods, I realize that the world has many complex problems, and most people are more focused on their own jobs, family, entertainment and health than they are on the well-being of people who they don’t see and relate to every day.

Thus, I’m not trying to get the attention of everyone, or even most of “everyone”. I’m just trying to get the attention of a very small percent of “everyone” which really represents a large number of people in a world with more than 7 billion humans.

Or, to put this another way, I’m trying to inspire people to devote a regular slice of the time, talent and dollars they devote to helping others, to helping well-organized, volunteer based tutor/mentor programs reach youth in high poverty neighborhoods.

One way to do this is to help business volunteers become involved in any tutor/mentor program in the Chicago region. I do this by providing this list of Chicago programs in many of my blog articles and my social media.

If what I do is copied and adopted by others, we'd have much more daily attention focused on helping people engage with this information, and become involved in different programs and the lives of kids in many places. This ROLE OF LEADERS essay illustrates strategies that could be adopted in many organizations.


I also do this by sharing ideas that help programs attract and retain volunteers. Workshops at the Tutor/Mentor Conferences always focus on volunteer recruitment strategies.

However, another way to do this is to create a “Great Mentoring Reunion” with a goal of reaching people who have been involved in tutor/mentor programs over the past 40 years. There are thousands of inactive mentors and former mentees who already have some personal experience with mentoring and tutoring. Many have benefited from such involvement. Connecting people from the past, and the present, can lead to greater support of tutor/mentor strategies and mentor rich programs in the future.

Increasing the number of programs and volunteers expands the army of people who are looking beyond ‘mentoring and tutoring’ to all of the actions needed to help youth move through school and into jobs and careers.

The Chicago Tribune is now seeking ideas for a new plan for Chicago. I encourage anyone who has been reading this blog and my articles to submit your own ideas for how we engage people, and keep them engaged and learning from their service, for multiple years.

Without engaging more people who don’t live in poverty, in personal involvement with any strategy that is developed, it’s not likely to reach youth in all the places where kids need help, for all the years help is needed.

If you share your strategy on a blog and send me the address, I’ll be happy to take a look at it. If you join the http://tutormentorconnection.ning.com site you can share your strategy in your own blog within that web site.




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