Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Focus on the WHY and draw more people into your youth development efforts

Last April I included this 1993 Chicago SunTimes story in this blog article, pointing out that we were trying to reduce poverty 20 years ago and we're still trying today.

In the late 1990s I attended an event hosted by the Great Cities Institute at UIC, where the focus was on poverty.  At the end of the event, one student asked "If this has been a problem for so long, and we've spent millions of dollars to solve it, why is it still with us?"  The speaker responded "Too few people really care."

I started leading a tutor/mentor program in 1975 and every August I began a new school year by recruiting volunteers to become tutors/mentors, including some who had been volunteers the previous year or more. As I recruited volunteers, and student participants, I also had to figure out how to keep them involved from September through May of the next year.

I started inviting tutor/mentor program leaders to gather and share ideas in 1976 and formalized this process when creating the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993. I'm still leading that effort, but through the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC. This was extra work for me, but I did it from self interest. I was learning from others who had ideas and experiences that could help me build my own tutor/mentor program. I was also gaining social/emotional support from people who were facing the same challenges as I was.  That's still true today.

I've created a huge body of information that anyone can read and use, and I've created illustrated presentations (and more than 1000 blog articles since 2005) with the question "What are all the things we need to be doing to help youth born or living in high poverty be starting jobs/careers by age 25?"

I've also piloted an on-going network building strategy intended to engage a growing number of people from all sectors of business, civic, religious and philanthropy (the village) in discussions that aim to generate answers to this question, along with new questions that come from what we learn from each cycle of questions and answers.  I'm constantly looking for new ideas to add to the library and share with others.

Today Simon Ensor, a professor from France, shared a video with me, that I want to share with you.

I identify with this quote from Mike's lecture "I'm a co-knower among students and other learners who are asking the same "Why".   

For myself, and everyone else who is concerned with poverty, inequality, social justice and the future well-being of our own kids, as well as other people's kids, focusing on the "WHY" question as a form of motivation for learning and engagement may be fuel for getting more people involved, and finding ways to make solutions available to youth and families in more of the places where they live.

This graphic is the four-part information-based problem solving strategy that I've developed over the past 20 years. I describe it here and in many other places on my blogs.  

The video Simon Ensor shared with me is part of the information I share, (like through this article). It is archived with all the other information I've been collecting, which is STEP 1.   

By sharing this video on my blog, then on social media, I'm trying to make it available to more people who might view the video, and my own strategies, and then share them with others. That's part of STEP 2.

In the video Mike Wesch, an associate professor at Kansas State  University, is facilitating understanding of the ideas in the video, with his students, and with anyone else who looks at the video, or my own blog article.  That is part of STEP 3.

This week I created a new concept map, to illustrate an effort to "know" who was also sharing my ideas with others, and to connect those people with each other.  This is part of the first three steps in the four-part strategy.

However, it also demonstrates a part of Step 4, which is that maps can show where poverty is most concentrated, along with other indicators that show negative impacts of poverty.  Maps can also show what organizations are working in those areas, and serve as a resource that volunteers, parents, social workers, donors and business partners can use, to reach out and help each of those organizations become the very best at helping youth move through school and into jobs.

If we have better information (step 1) and more people looking at it daily (step 2) with greater understanding of where, why and how to get involved (step 3) then more people will proactively visit lists showing the different youth serving organizations operating in a city, and volunteering time, talent, ideas and/or dollars to help each organization become the very best in helping kids grow up....without waiting to receive a formal request, or proposal, for help.

That's what I've been trying to do with the maps I've been sharing for nearly 20 years.  

For a dramatically greater number of people to be engaged in this conversation they need to be motivated by their own interest in asking "Why?" does poverty still exist in America after so many years of trying to find ways to reduce it."

I think that if more of the volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs in Chicago and other cities were engaging their volunteers and students in the WHY questions, we'd have many more people helping us find solutions to the big challenges that face us. 

If more colleges, high schools, civic, social and religious groups had teams engaging others in the "Why?" discussion, even more people would be looking for "where" to get involved.  

For me, engaging volunteers in the "How can we make this work better, and why is it important?" questions was one of the strategies that helped the programs I led grow volunteer participation to 550 a year in one program, and 100 a year in the second. 

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