Thursday, July 09, 2015

Haunted By The Lost Chance To Save A Life

I saw this article in a LinkedIN group today, and posted a response, which ended up being too long to be accepted. So, I'm posting the response here.

Sadly, this is a story that could be told in every major city. I created the Tutor/Mentor Connection in Chicago in 1993 to build a master directory of volunteer-based tutoring/mentoring programs, with the goal of helping existing programs get resources and ideas needed to constantly improve, while helping identify areas where there were no programs, or no programs serving specific age groups. Over the years this Directory has been used less by city business and philanthropic leaders as a planning tool (which was the intent) and has served more as a resource people in schools, libraries, social services, etc,. could use to locate programs in different zip codes. This led to frequent calls which would go something like this:

"BBBS, Blue Gargoyle, (or someone else) says you can help me find a mentor or tutor for (my son, my nephew, my client) who really needs a mentor because (several reasons listed)."

These are emotional calls of people who are searching for help.

I ask what is your zip code? As soon as I hear the response I know in many cases that there are no programs in the area, or too few, or existing programs are not as well organized as programs in some other areas. When I give that response, there is a deflation at the other end of the call. I go on to say, "Use the information on my web site" to encourage your alderman, faith leaders, businesses, etc. to fill the void by borrowing ideas from programs operating in other neighborhoods and other cities.

Usually, this is not well received, but I respond, "They are your kids. If you don't do something to get programs started, who will."

In those cases where the zip code did have programs we printed the list from our directory and mailed it to the caller, providing contact information so they could call and interview the program to see if there was a fit.

Since 2000 we've not done this as much as we've pointed people to an on-line directory where they could search to find contact information for existing programs. You can see this how the program locator is supposed to work, looking at this PDF. Since the actual program locator is not working right now (due to lack of funds) this list of Chicago programs, organized by sections of the city and suburbs, provides the next best resource.

My frustration comes from the fact that no one in the city, in philanthropy, in business or media, was consistently helping my small organization maintain this resource. It also comes from the difficulty of sustaining this for the past 20 years, despite massive financial failures, terrorist attacks, wars, natural disasters, and politial leadership that is more focused on re-election than really solving problems.

In addition, few of the other tutor/mentor programs in Chicago were actively helping us build visibility that would lift up all programs in the city. While the Mayor attended one, or two of the 1990s Tutor/Mentor Conferences, the city never offered help. Insted, they city invested thousands of dollars in the mid 2000s to build their own program locator directory, which is no longer on-line. They did not even come to us to ask "what did you learn from your effort" or better yet, "Could we help you make your directory better, or keep it going?"

Since 2011 I've not had the funds to do more than try to maintain the information on my web sites. The technology and data on my program locator needs to be updated, but I've no money to do this and no technologists offering to help. I've continued to host Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conferences, but participation has been shrinking as others host their own mentor training and/or networking events.

I've used concept maps to show many of the intermediary organizations focusing on the well-being of youth in Chicago. I don't know any with a graphic on their web site showing a year-round strategy like the one I've piloted, and none are reaching out to say "can I help you do this, so WE can do more to help make high quality tutoring, mentoring and learning opportunities available in more places.

Yet, every week the media feature stories of lives lost. Just today a letter to the editor in the Chicago Tribune told of a solution to violence launched in Los Angeles in 2002. In this the writer said "We challenged city officials, educators, drug counselors, violence prevention specialists and gang-intervention activists, to devise and coordinate short- and long-term strategies and programs to expand recreation programs, increase spending on jobs and skills, training and at-risk mentoring programs."

This is what I've been doing with whatever resources I've had available and what I encourage others to do. Look at my web site and see how maps and graphics are used to focus on all the neighborhoods of a city where these types of supports are needed, and how they encourage support for multiple years, even decades.

Anyone who shares the passion that Rich has shared in this "Haunted by the Lost Chance" article can use the information on my site, and other sites, to build a comprehensive system of supports for kids in high risk neighborhoods. Anyone can spend 15 minutes a day looking at Twitter, Facebook and Linked in and liking or forwarding articles that encourage others to get involved.

Many, many, more need to share this concern and end each day looking in their personal mirror to say "what have I done today to help solve this problem."

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