Thursday, April 28, 2016

Bernie and I...Movement Makers

If you've been following the 2016 Presidential election campaign you've seen the fantastic rise of Bernie Sanders, from an obscure Vermont Senator, to a force in this year's election. I saw the image above recently, showing that he's been preaching the same ideas for over 50 years. It's just in the past year that he's captured the attention of a large, and idealistic, segment of the American and world population.

I included an image of myself from the mid 1970s and from a graphic I created in the past year to illustrate the similarities between myself and Bernie. We've both been calling for involvement of individuals, business, philanthropists and political leaders and for the most part, have operated under the radar. I'm approaching 70. He's 73 or 74.

So far he's had a lot more success than I, but is just as far from making his movement a reality as I am of building a network of leaders supporting the ideas I've been sharing for so long.

Since I'm only 69, does that mean I still have hope for adoption of my ideas?

I started leading a volunteer-based tutor/mentor program in 1975 (see timeline) and had to learn to ask volunteers to contribute time and talent to help the program grow. By the mid 1980s I had created an organizational structure with volunteers filling different functional areas. The graphic as the right is from one of our handouts. 

We started Cabrini Connections in late 1992, right after this Chicago SunTimes front page story appeared, following the shooting of a 7-year-old boy in Cabrini Green. The editorial included words saying “it's everyone's responsibility” to solve this problem.

I and other organizers of CC recognized that while a new program serving 60 to 90 teens in one neighborhood of Chicago could be life changing for those teens, it would have little impact on the neatly 200,000 youth living in poverty in Chicago.  That is why we created the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993 and why I have been so committed to it for the past 23 years.

In my advertising work at the Montgomery Ward HQ in Chicago, I was one of many functional teams helping nearly 400 retail stores operate in 40 states. We wanted every single store to be the best it could be. The Tutor/Mentor Connection launched a survey in 1994 that identified 120 tutor/mentor programs in different neighborhoods, and sorted them by type of program and age group served. We plotted this information on maps, showing where they were located, with poverty overlays, showing where they were needed and where there are voids.

Then I began a year-round communications program, using quarterly events, like the Tutor/Mentor Conferences as anchors, calling on volunteers, donors, public leaders from around the region to support the growth of every program in the Chicago region, helping EACH BECOME GREAT, so each could have a greater impact on youth and volunteers. In doing so, I've simply expanded the work I started doing in the 1970s to help a single program be as good as it could be.

In recruiting volunteers and donors, I've consistently shown the image of a youth and volunteer and talked of the impact one person can have. Then I've talked about how organized programs are needed to enable workplace volunteers connect, and stay connected, with inner city kids. Finally, I've asked, “What are all the things we need to do to make well organized programs available in all high poverty neighborhoods? And what do we need to do to help each program constantly improve their impact on youth and volunteers”.

In 1993 an IWU fraternity brother, Al Leahigh, a VP at Public Communications Inc., helped me develop a strategy for the T/MC, which I've narrowed to four actions that need to be happening on an on-going basis in Chicago and other cities. 

Collecting information about non-school tutor/mentor programs is part of step 1. Telling stories, holding conferences, and building public awareness is part of step 2. Helping people understand where tutor/mentor programs are most needed, what tutoring/mentoring programs should look like, and ways they can help great programs grow in more places, is part of step 3. Actions that draw volunteers, donors and ideas directly to different programs listed in the database, is step 4.

This is a strategy that requires many leaders over many years. I've modeled it through my own actions, and continue to do that in 2016, reminding people that many need to be involved in helping well-organized tutor/mentor programs be available in all high poverty neighborhoods.

The challenge, and obstacle, I've faced is that most people don't really understand the work needed to support a single youth program for multiple years.  And even fewer  take the “corporate office role” and spend much time thinking of the work needed to support a city full of well-organized k-12 tutor, mentor and learning programs.

And few value the library of information and ideas that veterans like myself have aggregated over many years of service or are willing to provide the on-going funds to maintain a library or dig deeper into the information.

I started sharing this network-building worksheet in the 1990s, in an effort to expand the number and diversity of people supporting the work I was doing

 If each person reading this article were to identify one person in each sub group of his/her network, that would total 8-10 new people to add to my email newsletter mailing list. If those people did the same, it would add hundreds of additional people. Ultimately this would reach what I call “Super Heroes” who have the civic reach, wealth, or talent to bring the Tutor/Mentor Connection to greater visibility and impact and/or bring the Tutor/Mentor Institute to a college campus.

I've never found the super hero. I'm still looking.

I'm optimistic, because I keep finding people in different parts of the world who are trying to build an understanding of this strategy.  View this link and see how an educator from Brazil has responded.

I've posted regular articles on this blog since 2006, and sent a monthly email newsletter since 2002.  Since forming the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC in 2011 to support the continuation of the Tutor/Mentor Connection, I've not had a non-profit status, so far fewer people have been providing financial support. Thus I have not hosted the conference since May 2015 and the interactive Program Locator is not up-to-date or working properly. I created this new  map, just to show the current list of Chicago  youth organizations that I host.

I've been sending a quarterly print update to a few who still provide small donations, showing work I've been doing and asking them to visit this blog and the blog to read and share stories I post weekly.  

Their annual contributions have enabled me continue to maintain the T/MC library and share this vision on a regular basis, just as many have helped Bernie Sanders share his ideas for so long.  

Bernie understands that getting elected, or not, is not what's important. Building a movement where millions of people are involved is his goal. It needs to last beyond his lifetime, or beyond his term in office, should he be elected. I am focused on the same things. 

While I need financial support and volunteers to help now, I'm looking for leaders who will endow a Tutor/Mentor Institute on college campuses, or provide leadership and funds to continue it as a stand-alone operation that grows its impact well beyond my lifetime.

If you'd like to talk to me, email me at to arrange a time to talk by phone, Skype or in person.

If you'd like to be added to my print mail list, send a $20 or larger annual contribution.
Mail contributions to Merchandise Mart PO Box 3303, Chicago, Il

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