Thursday, December 22, 2016

Building, Connecting Villages of Hope, Opportunity

I am one of those people who fear what will happen to our democracy and freedom, and the planet's health, over the next few years.  In some of the posts I've read, writers say "don't lose hope" and "get involved locally with a cause you care about".  This message was shared in a Realized Worth blog article that I read today.

These prompted me to create the graphic shown below, which I'll explain in the following paragraphs.

Since forming the Tutor/Mentor Connection (T/MC) in 1993 my goal has been to help mentor-rich, non-school tutoring and learning centers be available in a growing number of high poverty neighborhoods. Rather than start new programs, the strategy has been to identify existing organizations who already do some form of tutoring and/or mentoring and help them get a consistent flow of ideas, talent, operating dollars and other resources needed to build constantly improving programs.

When you look at the "oil well" images on the map I want you to think of the 12 years it takes for a youth to go from first grade to 12th grade, and the four to eight years after that to go through secondary education and find a job and/or be starting a career.

Since no program starts out as "the best" the flow of resources needs to help programs launch, then grow, then build and sustain multiple year connections with youth.

It takes a lot of different talents and skills to make this happen. I use the "it takes a village" graphic to visualize this.  In addition, I've created some concept maps that show the range of talent and community networks who need to be involved in supporting each program operating in each neighborhood.

The concept map below visualizes a process that should be taking place in hundreds of locations, in the Chicago region, and in other cities, to help programs grow in places where they are most needed, and to help them become great at what they do to transform the lives of kids, families, volunteers and anyone who is involved.

See map at

When I started leading a tutor/mentor program in 1975 I had a full time advertising job, we had no paid staff, and we already had 100 pairs of elementary school kids and volunteers involved. That number grew to 300 pairs by 1990 (with about 30 hours per week of part time college student staff).  I recognized that I could never touch and train every volunteer to know all they needed to know about why we were offering the program and what they could do to be effective tutors/mentors and program participants.  Thus I began to collect information that they could read and draw from to support their own efforts.

I started to create a "learning organization" well before this term was coined in business schools and trade magazines. This is one of many articles I've written to explain that idea.

In all my communications I was asking my volunteers to look for ways to help the kids we work with move through school. I was offering a library of articles (which was put on the internet starting in 1998) that they could read, share, discuss and learn from.  I focused on a process of improvement, or  how do we get from "here to there'.  I organized social events, such as getting together for food and drinks after a tutoring session, or field trip, so that volunteers could form bonds with other volunteers and we could build an informal, on-going, discussion of what we were doing, and how they could help.

In 1990 we converted the company sponsored program at the Montgomery Ward headquarters into a non profit organization. From that point till today, my goal has been to bring donors, policy makers, media and other leaders into this same learning process.

Do a Google search for "tutor mentor" then look at the images. You'll find many graphics like this.

Chicago SunTimes, Oct. 1992
In November 1992 six volunteers and myself gathered and made a commitment to form a new program to serve 7th to 12th grade teens who had aged out of the original program.  At the same time a 7-year old boy from Cabrini-Green was shot and killed on his way to school.

The media were once again putting the "it's everyone's responsibility" message on the front page and in editorial stories. However, there was no master database of Chicago tutor/mentor programs so no leader could offer a strategy to fill neighborhoods with great programs.

So we decided to also create the Tutor/Mentor Connection to fill the void.

In the years since then we have created a huge library of information, including a list of Chicago area tutoring and/or mentoring programs,  that anyone can draw from to understand where kids need extra help, who is already trying to offer that help, and what volunteers, donors and businesses could do to help programs grow.

Between 1994 and 2015 I hosted Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conferences to bring people together to share ideas for starting or building effective programs. I also developed a public awareness strategy to try to draw more attention to the web library and the list of Chicago tutor/mentor programs that I had been developing.

However, I was only reaching a few of the people who needed to be reached, and the system was not effective in connecting people (the village) from different programs with others within a single program, or with volunteers, donors, leaders, parents and students from other programs in Chicago......or with similar people from other cities who were doing the same work.

In the early 2000s I connected with a group of ESL educators (Webheads) who were located in different countries, and who were meeting weekly via the Internet, to share ideas and build relationships.

Over the past few years I've connected with another network of educators via Connected Learning MOOC formats, where people from many different places are sharing ideas and building relationships with each other.

I point to these in various blog articles because they are examples of how people can connect and learn from each other in virtual communities.

Most of my ideas for leading a single tutor/mentor program, or for helping build a city of great programs, have come from others who I've met over the past 40 years.  One entire section of the Tutor/Mentor web library is focused on "innovation, process improvement, mapping, knowledge management, etc" which are ideas anyone can use to build strong non-profits, or build strong businesses.

Look at the graphic at the top of the page once more.

The lines on this graphic illustrate how programs within a city need to be connecting with each other using on-line libraries, communities, blogs, annotation, Twitter, Facebook and other learning tools to constantly innovate ways to increase their impact on the lives of  program participants.  The small map in the lower left corner illustrates that people in big cities all over the country need to be talking to each other in the same way.

When you look at web sites of youth serving organizations in the future, hopefully you'll see evidence that shows a program is bringing together a "village" of support for it's participants, and that the community surrounding each program is proactive in offering the time, talent and dollars each program needs to be great at what it does.

At some point in the future you should find maps of Chicago and other cities, with icons on the map showing places where "the village" or "networks of people" are working to help kids grow up, or help communities solve complex problems.  The Tutor/Mentor Program Locator interactive map can serve as a model for others to develop such maps.

The November election shows that we need to find ways to bring people from rural communities and Indian reservations into these same discussions.

We don't need government permission or support or funding to do this. We just need a commitment at the local level to build mentor-rich programs (villages) that build a culture of learning into their fundamental operating principles and then nurture this on an on-going basis.

We don't need to solve the world's problems every day. Just make a contribution to help solve a local problem.

Take a step every day and these add  up to mountains of impact over a lifetime.

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