Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Working with urban youth? It takes more than a mentor.

I encourage you to view the two graphics below:

Race-Poverty Map (see actual)

Birth to Work Mentoring Map (see actual)

Each map shows a range of challenges facing youth and families living in high poverty big city neighborhoods. Most of the time, a volunteer by him/herself can't over come these challenges. Organized tutoring/mentoring programs can address some of these issues, but even most organized programs don't focus on many of these issues.

I support involvement of business and college volunteers in organized, long-term, tutor/mentor programs because their involvement creates a bridge that connects youth with ideas, aspirations and experiences beyond what he/she is surrounded with. Such programs are a form of "bridging social capital". In the programs I led some volunteers even helped kids get jobs. In other cases, volunteers took on leadership roles and recruited co-workers to volunteer or donate money.

I encourage you to view this animation, showing how a volunteer connecting with a youth in a tutor/mentor program often recruits others to support the same organization.

There are more than 200 volunteer-supported youth serving organizations in Chicago. Imagine what might happen if volunteers from every program were visiting web sites of Bernie Sanders, Robert Reich, Tavis Smiley and Hedrick Smith and learning about issues that affect people in poverty more than most. Would this lead to greater effort to support the programs where they volunteer, or to help similar programs grow in more places? Would it lead to greater civic engagement in creating public policy that helps create greater opportunity?

Neither Smith, Reich, Smiley or Sanders use concept maps like above to organize the issue topics on their web sites, but if they did, they might look like mine. The Race-Poverty map shows some (but not all) issues that affect both rich and poor, but have a greater negative impact on the poor because they don't have the assets and networks that help them overcome their challenges. That's what Robert Putnam was talking about in his book: Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. That's what volunteers in well-organized, long-term programs can potentially offer.

The second map illustrates that this conversation needs to be on-going, for many years, as kids grow from one age level to another and then are seeking jobs and trying to start careers (hopefully without huge mounds of college debt!)

In one section of my web library, I point to challenges facing non-profits and social purpose organizations. As we engage more people in discussion of issues, we must find a way to involve more in discussing and innovating ways to provide flexible, on-going operating dollars to all of the neighborhoods where tutor/mentor programs are most needed.

I created the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993 to try to help mentor-rich non-school programs grow in more places. I created Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC in 2011 to keep the T/MC operating in Chicago and to help it grow in other cities. I'm not having much luck in finding financial support or partners, but I think these ideas are important and I'll continue to share them as long as I can.

Last night Valerie Leonard sent me a message saying "Take a look at this article. It made me think of you." It's titled "Becoming a Big Thinker". A lot of the article does remind me of my own efforts. A lot reminds me of my weaknesses and failures. I write these articles looking for others who share the same goal and who might help me overcome my weaknesses or share these ideas in more places.

If you're "thinking big" about these issues and want to connect, post a comment or send me a Tweet @tutormentorteam. You can also look me up on Facebook or LinkedIn.

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