Friday, May 02, 2014

Connecting Networks. Local. Virtual.

Every day I connect with new people and new ideas as I browse the internet. I also meet new people through one-on-one meetings, planning groups and conferences. Here's a glimpse of the past couple of weeks.

On Thursday, April 24 I attended an event hosted by the Great Cities Institute, where the featured speaker, Bob Herbert, talked about "the Poverty Puzzle". He started off saying "50 million Americans live in poverty. Another 50 million are 'near poor'." He said "How can we allow this scandal to continue to fester in the USA?"

He concluded "I don't have a 10 point plan to solve this problem. It's up to ordinary people to take militant action."

One of the panel members was Alderman William Burns, who I met over 15 years ago. As his career has grown my hope has been that he'd become a champion of the ideas of the Tutor/Mentor Connection, and of using maps to draw resources into high poverty neighborhoods, including those in his Ward. I'll send him a link to this pdf showing how maps can be used by political leaders (or their opponents).

Herbert used the phrase "Enough is Enough". This resonated because I've written articles with this phrase, and offered my own steps to becoming militantly involved.

I left the UIC event at 4:45pm and took a bus to Christ the King High School on Chicago's West side to host a resource table at a community event hosted by Illinois State Legislator LaShon Ford. In the event I re-connected with Valerie Leonard, who is a community organizer in the South Lawndale area.

I first met Valerie a few years ago through the Tutor/Mentor Conference I host every six months in Chicago. Last year she posted a comment talking about how valuable the maps I've created have been to her work. I also was surprised when one of my former Cabrini Connections students, Akymmia Sutton, came up and introduced herself to me. She now helps youth as part of the Illinois Student Assistance Commission. I left information with Rep. Ford about the Tutor/Mentor Connection and my maps, with a hope he will use them in his own leadership.

I keep sharing information with former students with the goal that some of them will take ownership of the Tutor/Mentor Connection and these ideas in the future. I think youth from any tutor/mentor program could take ownership. One way to do that would be to join the intern project I host on this forum.

On Monday and Tuesday April 28 and 29 I listened to parts of the Building a Grad Nation Summit held in Washington, DC. I also interacted with others via the Twitter feed at #GNSummit and #AMGrad. If you search on Twitter using these hash tags, you can find comments posted by myself and everyone else who was active in the on-line community while the event was taking place in Washington, DC.

One of the people I exchanged ideas with was L-Mani S. Viney, who tweets at LManiSViney He and I connected recently in a "I Love Mentoring" Facebook group launched by Kelly Fair, of Polished Pebbles in Chicago. Kelly will host a workshop on blogging at the May 19 Tutor/Mentor Conference.

Then on Tuesday afternoon, April 29, I met with Jaton Jackson of Good Goodcity was founded in 1986 by Rev. William (Bud) Ipema as MidAmerica Leadership Foundation. I received a leadership award from them in 1996. I shared ideas about my use of maps and we talked about ways GoodCity might help me build the capacity described in this wiki. And he shared information about a GoodWorkChicago conference being held from June 10-12, 2014.

On Wednesday, April 30 I attended a white paper presentation and panel on at-risk youth hosted by ChildServ. President and CEO James C. Jones of ChildServ released the agency's position paper: "The State of At-Risk Children in Metropolitan Chicago: Ready by 21."

One of the panel members was Von Nebbit, MSW, PhD, from the Jane Addams College of Social Work. I wrote down many of his statements, such as "The work we do is "life defining", and "Building caring communities is like building great sports teams."

This Facebook page shows photos from the event. In the Q&A session one faith leader asked "What can Churches do?" I gave him my card and encouraged him to look at this PDF and do what churches have been doing for the past 2000 years. Gather people together to read and discuss scripture. However, in this case the "scripture" represents the aggregated information in this web library.

Right after that meeting I hustled over to the Federal Reserve Building to take part in a Thrive Chicago meeting. This group is an initiative of the Mayor's office, intended to build a collective effort that leads more youth through school and into jobs. My own "pipeline to careers" graphic illustrates my vision of a collective effort focused on helping youth in high poverty areas move through school and into jobs. Thrive has their own road map, but since they've not published it, I don't think I should.

I first wrote about the Thrive Chicago effort last August. I've attended several Thrive Chicago meetings and to me a lot of the work is attempting to learn things other people have already spent a lot of time learning. I've pointed out my web library, the map-based program locator, and try to point to work others are doing who need to be supported by the Mayor. Initiatives like Thrive can tie it all together, if they can find a way to generate the funding needed by everyone to do their own work, while sharing what they do with others.

They don't have a web space yet, so I can't point to their site, which I feel is a real disadvantage to them, and to everyone trying to understand how to work with them. However, my networking has already generated many new resources, such as my awareness of the Chicago Public Schools locator map. You can use this to build understanding of schools that need extra help once you figure out how to use this resource. I'd like to see more youth telling stories incorporating this.

One of the groups in the Thrive initiative is seeking information about youth councils and youth leadership programs in Chicago who might help in the Thrive Chicago effort to connect with youth who are out of school but don't yet have a degree.

As I listened to this goal described I wanted to share the work interns have been doing with me, helping describe this four part problem solving strategy. On this page you can see some presentations done that could be duplicated by other youth, or could guide the work of engaged young people in many neighborhoods.

On Wednesday I spent the morning at a quarterly meeting hosted by Strengthening Chicago's Youth (SCY_Chicago). The focus was #youthengagement, and representatives from Mikva Challenge, Chicago Freedom School, Free Spirit Media, and Real Chi Youth showed work they are doing and participated in a brainstorming session with participants. This photo shows Preston Robinson, a youth with Real Chi Youth, presenting ideas from our "youth engagement using technology" brainstorming session.

This photo shows an impact chart showing how easy or difficult it might be to implement some of these ideas, and the level of impact they might have. This was a good exercise. I wish I had someone who could apply this in the conferences I've hosted. I hope it is shared electronically so more people can join together in trying to make the ideas a reality.

In all of the meetings I've had over the past two weeks I've met new people, reconnected with others, and shared ideas.

I've been doing this EVERY WEEK for 20 years. I meet a lot of people. As I do, I add links to the Tutor/Mentor web library so what I learn can be used as a resource by anyone else who cares about the same problem. I've been creating maps, like this, to connect the people I'm meeting with others interested in the same work.

However, most of the people I met don't know each other, and in most of the meetings there was not process of "learning" where people dig into the information already available on the internet to expand their own thinking and range of ideas for helping youth organizations grow and reach more young people in more places.

There are also very few efforts where others are trying to map networks, and connect people already working in these fields with each other.

For instance, the youth engagement organizations who attended the SCY_Chicago meeting are exactly the type of groups the Thrive Chicago network should be looking for. In addition, these are groups who could be doing workshops at the Tutor/Mentor Conferences to show others how they can engage youth in their own organizations.

During the SCY_Chicago meeting the representative from Mikva Challenge quoted the CEO, saying "If we want young people to be professional ballplayers you provide opportunities to build skills, starting in pre school. Why don't we have a similar development system to prepare youth for civic engagement?"

I'd add, why don't we have a similar development system to prepare youth to be proactive philanthropists and volunteer leaders in their adult lives. Why do charities need to beg when the wealthy benefit from the work we do as much as the poor?

This is an idea I've been trying to communicate for many years. If we want more young people from high poverty areas to move through school and into jobs, or if we want more people taking jobs in STEM or other high demand careers, we need to start connecting them to those ideas early and support them with a stream of age-appropriate supports.

Furthermore, we must find a way to motivate resource providers to be more consistent in providing the flexible, on-going operating dollars all programs in the city need to do this work well.

The four part strategy map below show information collection as step one. However, building the number of people who look at this information (step 2) and helping people find, understand and apply the information (step 3) are critically important roles that too few people are taking. I think this is a planning strategy that any of the groups I meet with could follow, as well as anyone forming or leading a volunteer-based tutor/mentor program. It is generic to any form of problem solving. I starts with "what do I know" and moves on to "how do I get others involved?"

I feel youth could be learning to do this as they move through school. In doing so they learn communications and leadership skills, they draw needed attention and resources to their own neighborhoods, and they build a depth of understanding of the problem, solutions, and ways they can provide daily leadership and resources to all of the places where maps show youth, families and school need extra help.

The Strengthening Chicago Youth meeting was the most tech sophisticated of the groups I met with. On the back of many chairs they encouraged people to Tweet the meeting, using hash tag #youthengagement. I did, and my last Tweet encouraged people to look at the library of links I've built that focuses on MOOCs and eLearning.

There are a lot of people not yet on the internet. And, there are a lot who only use email, or do shopping or basic web searches. There are few who have been building on-line learning communities like the Webheads, who have been doing this since 2000, and the organizers of cMOOCs which started around 2007 or 2008. Those who have not spent time in these on-line forums still rely on face to face and event networking and learning, and don't feel you can build relationships in on-line events.

I think both forms of interaction are important. However, I feel that unless we connect on-line the depth of what we know will be limited, and the range of people we can connect with who help solve the problems we care about will be too small to have an impact beyond a small radius of people.

If you've read this far, thank you. You now know many of the people I've met over the past two weeks. That's my goal. If you're mapping your own network and using blogs to connect people you know, congratulations! Let's connect. Maybe we can reach more people and find some donors to help us do this work, or who will build archives that keep this knowledge available to future generations.

What I've just described is only a snapshot of about two weeks of my life. Since 2000 I've been documenting some of the actions I take to support the growth of tutor/mentor programs in Chicago. I think more networks should build on-line documentation systems like this.

I've met more people, and connected with more ideas than what I've described. Thus, you see the challenge we face. In a huge world with so many people focused on the same problems, how do we expand our understanding of each other and work collectively so scarce resources do more good?

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