Monday, January 18, 2021

Service-Learning in Support of Dr. M.L. King, Jr's Dream



Millions around the USA are celebrating the life and words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today.  Here's an ESRI story map you might include in your learning.  

As in past years I'll be celebrating by learning and adding information to my web library.  Today I'm working on creating a page listing Instagram sites of Chicago area programs. 

I've been using this blog since 2005 to share what I've learned about leading a youth tutor/mentor program in Chicago from 1975 to 2011. I used an email and printed newsletter to share this in previous years.  

My goal (Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC) is to create an organized framework that encourages volunteers to serve as tutors, mentors, coaches, advocates, friends, leaders in on-going efforts that make a life-changing difference for these kids. By life-changing, I mean that the kids will not be living in poverty when they are adults because they will have the academic, social/emotional and workplace skills needed for 21st century jobs, plus a network of adults who can and will open doors to jobs and mentor them in careers.

The graphic below visualizes my thinking. There already are many youth tutor/mentor programs operating in Chicago and other places, along with countless other non-profits aimed at helping reduce poverty and inequality in America.  Yet, if we plot where these organizations operate, and what age group they serve, or what they do on maps of Chicago, we quickly can see that there is a need for  more programs in many places.

Rather than start new programs from scratch, why not borrow ideas from what is already working? How can existing programs constantly improve? How can donors improve how they provide needed operating dollars? 



I have spent time almost every day for more than 40 years trying to figure out better, more efficient, and lower cost ways to accomplish this goal.

I have learned to mine the knowledge and experiences of others to innovate strategies for tutoring/mentoring, rather than trying to develop my own solutions to problems. Using T/MC web sites, on-line networking and regular face-to-face training and mentoring, I am trying to share what I know, and the process of learning and service that I apply in my own daily routine, so that there are more people in more places accepting this role and responsibility.

So how do we make this vision a reality? We create a "learning organization", which is also the ideal of many of the best businesses in the world. We also create a "service culture" modeled after the work of heroes like Cesar Chavez, whose core values included sacrifice and perseverance, commitment to the most disadvantaged as well as life-long learning and innovation.

In a learning organization, everyone is engaged. In the world of Cesar Chavez, everyone is willing to make huge commitments, and sacrifices of time, talent and treasure to help disadvantaged people move to greater health, and greater hope and opportunity.

For more than 40 years my goal has been to find ways to draw a growing number of our stakeholders into this learning process and to build an on-going commitment to service (as opposed to random acts of kindness). This process is intended to include students, volunteers, staff, donors and leaders, and members of the business, education, faith and media in the communities where our kids live.

It also aims to engage leaders and volunteers from other tutor/mentor programs in Chicago and in other cities, plus people and organizations in the communities that don't have high poverty, but benefit from a world envisioned by Dr. M. L. King, Jr. as well as a 21st Century America where there are enough skilled workers to meet the future workforce needs of American industry.

The Internet is our meeting place. Covid-19 has made this an even greater reality than in past years.  

It's a virtual library of constantly growing knowledge. On Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC and Tutor/Mentor Connection web sites I collect and host information that shows why kids in poverty need extra help, where such help is needed, who is providing help, and what volunteer-based tutoring/mentoring programs can do to connect adults, kids and learning in an on-going, constantly improving process of mentoring kids to careers.

If we can find ways to increase the percent of our kids, our volunteers, and our leaders and donors who are drawing from this information on a weekly basis, and reflecting on this information in small and large groups, the way people in churches reflect on passages from the Bible each week, we can grow the amount of understanding we all have about the challenges we face and the opportunities we have. We can innovate new and better ways to succeed in our efforts.

This process has already started. We need to nurture and grow it in 2021.

Can you help?

Read past articles and visit the various web sites at the left side of this blog and start your own learning. Share these ideas with others via social media, ZOOM calls, videos and create  your own interpretation. Apply the ideas to your own city. 

I encourage you to read the Power Point Essay titled, Theory of Change which is one of several illustrated essays I've produced to illustrate our goals and the community that we seek to engage.

Since mid 2011 I've not operated under the Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection (T/MC) non profit umbrella, due to strategic changes made in April-June 2011. I created the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC in order to continue to support the growth of the T/MC in Chicago and similar organizations in other cities.  Thank you to those who have made contributions to help me continue this work over the past 10 years. 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Social Bonding - Lost Due to Covid19

This photo shows myself and a few volunteers from the tutor/mentor program I led from 1975-1992 as we gathered at a local Chicago tavern following one of our field trips to Indiana Dunes.

I thought of this photo today, and many like it from my archives, and was reminded of how we used social gatherings and field trips to help build social bonds between our volunteers, myself and other program leaders.  It was this bonding that led many volunteers to stay longer with the program and led a few to become leaders who helped operate the program, which from 1975 to 1992 grew from 100 pairs of 2nd to 6th grade Cabrini-Green area youth and volunteers to more than 400 pairs.  Up until 1990 most of the leadership, including myself, were volunteers.

Below is another photo from those years, showing myself and a group of youth and volunteers at a bowling field trip.

We used field trips to encourage high attendance among students and to help build bonds between youth and volunteers, and among volunteers.  We held events on-site such as the annual holiday party and year end celebration, and a break-dancing contest, to further support this social bonding.  This  helped us keep kids coming back year-after-year until they graduated after 6th grade and helped keep many volunteers for five years and longer.  

We started Cabrini Connections in 1993 to provide continued support from 7th grade through high school for the kids who aged out of the original program.  


We met in a huge space at the Montgomery Ward headquarters in Chicago until 1999 then moved to much smaller space at St. Josephs Church for two years, then to the space shown above from 2002 till sometime after 2011 (I left the program in mid 2011).   While this space looks crowded it encouraged interaction among kids and volunteers. Youth met many mentors, not just the primary volunteer who was their 1-on-1 mentor.

I've used this graphic since 1990 to visualize the type of programs I led. With the youth as the focus we tried to surround them with volunteers and experiences representing a wide range of  opportunities. As kids grew older many volunteers helped them find part time jobs and fill out applications for colleges.

At the same time we tried to motivate volunteers to stay with us for multiple years so that many would begin to become advocates encouraging others to get involved.


So how well is this happening during Covid-19? Since last March few site-based tutor/mentor programs have had youth and volunteers meeting weekly at their sites and I don't imagine many have had after-hours social bonding events, or have been able to  hold many field trips, if any.  

While many are using on-line meeting spaces like ZOOM, where kids or volunteers are at one table looking at a screen, everyone else is at a table some place else.  It is far too early to know how well this does, or does not, help build social capital, and how well it will support multi-year retention of youth and volunteers.

If the pandemic restrictions stretch into 2022 what will the negative (or positive) impacts be?  Will the social ties be weakened in a few programs, many programs, or all?  

I've posted articles about social capital often in the past.  As you celebrate #Mentoring Month or #MLKDay2021 I encourage you to spend some time at your computer reading some of these, then continue each month through the coming year.


I host a list of Chicago area tutor/mentor programs on Twitter and Facebook and on my website. I've been trying for many years to engage leaders and volunteers in discussions around issues like this, but too few are on-line in these spaces.  You can see remote learning goals that I first developed in the early 2000s at this site

If you are also thinking about social capital and the impact of Covid-19 on site based programs please share links to your articles and connect with me in one of these social media spaces

Thanks for reading. Good luck to you as you move through 2021.

If you value these articles consider a contribution to help fund my work. If you're in a university or some other institution consider adopting the Tutor/Mentor Connection/Institute, LLC.


Friday, January 08, 2021

HOPE as Cure

Like many of you I was greatly disturbed by the images I saw on January 6, 2021 as a terrorist mob invaded the United States Capitol, encouraged by the 45th President of the United States.

I've followed the responses on Twitter and Facebook and often added my own Tweets and reTweets to the noise. 

One Tweet from yesterday stood out and prompted me to write today's article. 

The result of having food, security, health, prosperity and knowledge is greater HOPE and Opportunity.  

A 'cost of poverty' report that I read in the 1990s shows that people living in areas of  high poverty who were without HOPE costs thousands of dollars more for public services than did those living in areas of poverty where HOPE and opportunity for advancement were present.  

I believe that kids who have support systems beyond the family and neighborhood provided by organized non-school tutor, mentor and learning programs feel more positive about themselves and have greater HOPE for their future and are less likely to become involved with negative behaviors.

I think the same would be true if people throughout the country who are marching in street protests against racism and police brutality, or who are occupying the halls of Congress and state capitols about the country, had greater HOPE for their own futures. 

If you've read any of the thousand-plus articles I've posted on this blog you will see that I use the word "hope" often, such as "I hope you'll read this and share it with others."

In my role as leader of the tutoring programs at Montgomery Ward, starting in 1975, and of the Tutor/Mentor Connection since 1993, I've been inviting others to join with me to create brighter futures for kids living in poverty.  

I created the image below to show a message I've repeated often since the 1970s.

I've seen the growing violence in America's cities and Chicago's neighborhoods since the 1970s and I've compared it to a snowball rolling down a mountain. I think this also applies to the growing support for the types of groups who organized the invasion of the halls of Congress this week. 

At the top of a mountain the snowball is small, and would be easy to stop. However, as it rolls further downhill, it gains momentum and is almost impossible to stop. When it reaches the valleys and homes at the bottom of the mountain, it destroys everything in its paths, including the homes of the wealthy, along with the poor.

I've feared for many years that the expanding sense of hopelessness growing among youth living in high poverty neighborhoods of Chicago and other cities would turn into violence toward others in the wider community, just as it already is destroying lives within poverty communities. I've seen terrorism grow around the world, and seen small sparks here in the US, such as the Oklahoma City bombing, and now the invasion of the Capitol. I've feared that we would reach a point where the work of volunteer tutors and mentors in non-school tutor/mentor programs would become too little, too late.

Thus, I've often told volunteers that we have two choices. You get in front of the snowball now, and try to stop it, and if no one else joins you, you'll probably be crushed by the on-coming avalanche.  Or you can wait until the snowball reaches the bottom of the mountain and you are certain to be destroyed, along with every thing you care for.

The first choice offers the opportunity, no matter how small it appears, that others will join you, and the snowball can be slowed, or even stopped. 

The second choice offers no hope.  Unless others do this work for you.

In 2017 my Facebook feed shared this video of His Holiness Pope Francis giving a TED talk. I watched it. I encourage you to look at it, too.


At one point in the video he talks about the responsibility for each of us to take on the role of the Good Samaritan, to help others who are in need.

At another he talks about HOPE, as "a humble, hidden seed of life that within time will develop into a large tree".   And he says, "A single individual is enough for HOPE to exist, and that individual can be YOU."

As the Pope said in this TED talk, "Each and every one of us can become a bright candle, a reminder that light will overcome darkness."

And he said "How wonderful would it be if solidarity, this beautiful and, at times, inconvenient word, were not simply reduced to social work, and became, instead, the default attitude in political, economic and scientific choices, as well as in the relationships among individuals, peoples and countries."

That's been my goal with many of my articles, such as this where I include a concept map similar to the one below, that focuses on the planning required to make HOPE and OPPORTUNITY available in every zip code of America and around the world. 



The conditions that made people angry and desperate enough to fly to Washington, DC then attack and occupy the Senate and House chambers did not suddenly appear. They have been growing for many years, fueled by people with a sinister agenda.  The street protests following the George Floyd murder last year were also the result of long-term, unaddressed, grievances, also often fueled by greed, racisms and lusts for power. 


The web library I host is intended to provide information people can use to understand some of these problems, and to see how many are trying to solve them in different places.  If more people look at this information as often as some people watch TV sports, or read the BIBLE, then more people will be able to borrow ideas from some places and apply them in many other places, in an on-going cycle of constant improvement aimed at making HOPE and OPPORTUNITY available in every part of the US and the world.

This is the work required to "overcome darkness". 

I HOPE the Pope's message touches your heart and inspires you to reach out to offer your time, talent, dollars, leadership, advocacy and ideas in one, or more, of the many areas where you might make a difference.

If that's not enough, maybe what you watch on your TV news or read in social media will motivate you to help this bad news snowball from growing bigger and bigger until it destroys our country and our civilization. 

Saturday, January 02, 2021

Mentoring Month Message to Volunteers


As we start a new year, and a new decade, and the National Mentoring Month, we also welcome a new President.

For the past year Democratic Presidential candidates have bombarded us with stories of hope, and change. It would give me more hope for the future, if I could see change in the way elected leaders (and candidates) act as leaders.

I led a volunteer-based tutor/mentor program in Chicago from 1975 to 2011 ( I joined the leadership committee of the Montgomery Ward Cabrini-Green Tutoring Program in Sept. 1994.) 

I formed the Cabrini Connections tutor/mentor program in 1993 to help teens from the original 2nd to 6th grade program at the Montgomery Ward HQ in Chicago get the extra support they need from 7th grade through high school, in order to be prepared for college, vocational education, and the next steps to a job and a career.

When kids and volunteers joining us each year we're making one promise: 

We will do everything we can to assure that each student who joins us will be starting a job/career by age 25. We are only limited by how much our students, volunteers, alumni and supporters are willing to share this responsibility.


Below is a message I shared with our volunteers to start 2008
. This message can be just as relevant in January 2020 to volunteers in any tutor/mentor program, or to newly elected leaders to city, state and national offices. 

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I hope that all of our volunteers have had great holidays and that you are looking forward to continuing your role as a tutor/mentor volunteer at Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection.

As you prepare for the second half of the school year, I encourage you to read some of the articles posted at Cabrini Connections - Tutor/Mentor Program in the Cabrini Green area of Chicago (archive.org)

I've been a leader of a tutor/mentor program since 1974, and I've learned that every volunteer and student are different, and constantly changing. Thus, while I can provide a structure for your participation, I can't teach you everything you need to know, or everything I've learned. I can try to help you, and your student, form a learning strategy, where you know where to find information, and find help, so that as you meet weekly, you know where to go for ideas to stimulate and support your involvement. 

Last Christmas, Rebecca Parrish (a Cabrini Connections volunteer) gave me the book "The Starfish and the Spider" as a present. As I read it, I realized that this book was describing Cabrini Connections and the role of every volunteer, staff member, and leader. It also describes the role of alumni, and veteran volunteers. 

We are a decentralized organization in which each volunteer is the CEO of his/her own tutoring/mentoring business. We succeed in life by our own efforts and by what we can learn from others. Our networks are important. They expand opportunities, open doors and provide resources. 

As you go through the tutoring year, each volunteer is learning to individualize his/her weekly activities based on the needs of your student, your own abilities and time, and the level of experience you have gained. Veteran volunteers, alumni, staff and coordinators are able to support you with ideas, information, and structure, but it is your own learning and networking with other volunteers that gives you ideas for what you do. 

Each week I'm trying to coach you with this email, with my blogs, and with the information and networks available to you on the Tutor/Mentor Connection (which we started in 1993 at the same time as we launched the Cabrini Connections program) website at http://www.tutormentorconnection.org 

You all already know how difficult it is to motivate many kids to do home work, do extra learning, and take charge of their lives. Imagine how difficult it is for me and the leaders of Cabrini Connections to recruit busy people like our volunteers, and convince them to spend time beyond their weekly tutoring/mentoring, learning how they can become more effective tutors/mentors, or giving help to others who are seeking help. 

Yet, this is the only way we can succeed in keeping the promise we make to our kids. Read more at http://cabriniblog.blogspot.com/2007/12/good-to-great-in-decentralized.html

I thank you all for your involvement in Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection. On behalf of our volunteer board of directors, I welcome you back for our 16th year of tutoring/mentoring since January 1993.

Dan Bassill
President/CEO
Cabrini Connections 
Tutor/Mentor Connection 

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In what ways will our newly elected leaders support the involvement of volunteers, donors, businesses and universities in programs like Cabrini Connections? Will they use maps to build a distribution of resources into every neighborhood where tutor/mentor programs are needed? Will they use their blogs, web sites, public speaking to connect volunteers with non profits in their district, using links to a Program Locator, so volunteers and donors can search for where to get involved? 

Or will the volunteer and donate button on their web site only point to themselves, in an effort to get elected, or stay elected? 

True leadership lifts up everyone. Real Generals understand the need to distribute troops in all places where the enemy is concentrated, and they understand the need to have an infrastructure that supports those troops with food, clothing, pay, training, weapons, etc. so they are better equipped than the enemy.

Which of our leaders are going to be demonstrating this type of leadership when they take office or ask for our votes again in a few years?

Since I started the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993 Chicago has had three different Mayors and the USA has had four different Presidents and will have a 5th in late January 2020.

I've been sharing ideas like these in printed newsletters, websites, blogs, email newsletters and social media for 25 years yet I still find few leaders using maps to show all the places where kids and families need  help, and where they are distributing needed resources.  I find few using concept maps as blueprints to visualize all the supports needed to help a youth in a high poverty area move from first grade to their first job, with a commitment to "do everything we can to assure that each student who joins us will be starting a job/career by age 25."

I thank you for reading this far and sincerely thank those few who have made contributions in 2020 to help fund the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC.  

Please go a step further and share my blog articles with your own networks so more people see these ideas and adopt them as their own.  Below is an example of one of my own recent Tweets.
The strategy map that I point to in this tweet can be found on this page, along with all my other concept maps.  Open it. Read it aloud. If it makes sense to you, create your own version. Record it. Share it. Maybe in 2021 we'll finally find leaders who will make this commitment. 

I'm on Twitter @tutormentorteam and you can find me on Facebook, Linkedin and Instagram  (see links on  this page). I look forward to connecting with others who share this commitment.