Friday, December 30, 2005

Creating a Service and Learning Organization that Mentors Kids to Careers: My 2006 Resolution

If you've read some of the messages I've posted to this Blog you'll see that I lead a small non profit that seeks to connect workplace volunteers with children and youth living in neighborhoods of highly concentrated poverty.

Our goal 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.

I have spent time almost every day for more than 30 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.

Our goal is 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 our students and volunteers, our 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. It's a virtual library of constantly growing knowledge. On T/MC web sites we collect and hosting 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 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 2006.

Can you help?

Visit the various web sites at the left and start your own learning. I encourage you to read the Power Point Essay titled, Theory of Change . This illustrates our goal and the community that we seek to engage.

This and other PPT essays in the Tutor/Mentor Institute library illustrate the T/MC vision and the community of organizations that we seek to engage. Then share your own knowledge, time, talent and dollars to help us build this service and learning organization.

Thank you all for reading my messages. I hope you share them with others. May God Bless you all with peace, good health and happiness in 2006.

Daniel F. Bassill
Tutor/Mentor Connection
Cabrini Connections

Friday, December 23, 2005

Spread Holiday Hope and Holiday Cheer

I've been reading blogs on charity and philanthropy listed in the Non Profit Blog Exchange and in one the message is: Do your donors a big favor: ask them to give.

I cannot tell you how often over the past 13 years I've struggled to ask for money and how difficult others also seem to find this. Yet, here's a blogger saying that we're doing donors a favor because it feels good to give!!

I know this is true about giving of your time, but it seems harder when you're asking people to give their money. Yet, what's the difference? Time is money!! Therefore, as you head to the Christmas or Kwanzaa or Hanukkah feast, why not make everyone feel better by asking them to give to a charity that needs more dollars to do its work.

You can read more about "making donors feel good" on the Donor Power Blog, found at This is one of several non-profit blogs linked together in the December 2005 Non Profit Blog Exchange.

Let me talk about this from the other perspective. I lead a small non profit. I've had former students and volunteers tell me how much being part of Cabrini Connections has changed their lives. I've had people from around the country tell me how they have started new mentoring initiatives based on the information they found on the Tutor/Mentor Connection web site or how much they valued the information. Yet, I've also had to reach into my own pocket to pay the bills each year because I could not find enough donors to share this vision with me.

For charities like Cabrini Connections, the last six weeks of the year are critically important. We raise almost 40% of our annual revenue in these weeks. I'm please to say that we've received significant grants from HSBC, Hewitt, Kraft Employee Fund, Polk Bros Foundation, the Wm Wrigley Jr. Co. Foundation and many donations ranging from $5 to $1,000 from dozens of individuals these past few weeks, so my Christmas stocking is filling up.

But it's not overflowing, which means unless we find more donations this week and in the coming months, we'll be borrowing money in June and July to pay the rent!!

Not all charities are as good as others in raising money. There are many who do excellent work but work in relative isolation and struggle to find funds to do their work. We set up the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993 to try to change the way funds were raised and distributed to tutor/mentor programs in Chicago. We've piloted GIS maps to show where these programs are needed, based on where poverty and poorly performing schools are most concentrated. We've created a searchable database to help people learn what programs are in what zip codes, or if there are zip codes where more programs are needed. You can find this in the Program Locator at

I spend time writing blogs like this to try to help all of these programs get the resources they need, not just the programs I lead. I try to teach others to follow this example because I think it can increase the donor pool that supports all of us.

Thus, if you want to feel good, but don't want to send a contribution to Cabrini Connections ( ), we offer you dozens of other programs in Chicago where you can help kids and mentors connect. Furthermore, if you search the LINKS library, we offer you almost 900 links to organizations who do great work in all parts of the US, and who seek charitable contributions to sustain what they do.

I have been doing this work for more than 30 years. I've been blessed in more ways that I can count, starting with the kids and volunteers who have let me be part of their lives, and going on to my own children who are the result of me meeting and marrying a women who I met in 1980 when she became a volunteer in the program I was leading.

I hope that many of you have found the same type of joy from giving of your time, talent and treasure. And I hope you'll keep giving until it feels good!!

As you celebrate this holiday please look for ways to share some of your own blessings with people who are helping kids and who are trying to end poverty through mentoring and career education. ...or who are doing other forms of charity and service that also need to be funded with your contributions.

To all who have helped Cabrini Connections and the Tutor/Mentor Connection, with their donations, with their volunteer contributions, and with their encouragement, I say "Thank You!"

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 09, 2005

Lawyers in Chicago Lending a Hand to Inner-City Kids

Last night, December 8th, a special program was held in the Chambers of the Chicago City Council. Mayor Richard M. Daley joined members of the Abraham Lincoln Marovitz Lend-A-Hand Program of the Chicago Bar Association to present $45,000 in grants to 17 volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs serving at-risk youth in areas across the city including Cabrini Green, Humboldt Park, Uptown, and South Chicago.

One of the programs was Cabrini Connections, which I helped create in 1993.

The 2005 LAH Grant Recipients include: BUILD, Inc. ; The Bridges Program; Cabrini Connections; Centro Comunitario Juan Diego; Chicago Youth Programs, Inc.; Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church; Christopher House; East Village Youth Program; Family Matters; Hermosa Community Organization; Horizons for Youth; Inspired Youth, Inc.; Life Directions; Maywood Youth Mentoring Program; McGaw YMCA Project SOAR; Midtown Education Foundation; and, Sunlight African Community Center.

Included in the $45,000 were two special awards. The inaugural Much Shelist Founders Award ($7,000 for an emerging program) was given to Inspired Youth, a program started last year by Beth Palmer. Other nominees were Hermosa Community and Sunlight African Community Center. The partners at Much Shelist have made a total commitment of $35,000 to provide grants to different emerging programs for the next five years!

The Thomas A. Demetrio Awards of Excellence ($8,000 award), which recognizes an outstanding example of volunteer-based tutoring/mentoring each year, went to Midtown Educational Foundation. Other nominees were East Village Youth Program and Chicago Youth Programs. The law firm of Corboy & Demetrio has been providing funds for the Demetrio Award since 1994.

The initial Demetrio Award was the idea that launched the Lend A Hand Program. The Tutor/Mentor Connection (T/MC), which was formed by the same volunteers who formed Cabrini Connections in 1993, was one of the first applicants in 1994, and used the May 1994 Tutor/Mentor Leadership Conference to help spread application forms to tutor/mentor programs who attended the conference.

In June 1994 the T/MC and the Executive Director of the Chicago Bar Foundation created a partnership and vision of expanding from making one $2000 award each year, to becoming the first foundation to fund the general operations of constantly improving volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs throughout the Chicago region. This launched the grant making program of the Lend A Hand and the T/MC has helped it grow every year since then.

This is part of a leadership strategy intended to draw more consistent funding from all sectors of the business community to volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs throughout the city.

I’m proud that my small voice and persistent efforts have contributed to the growth of the LAH. But, imagine how many more industries might duplicate this program if more visible voices, like the Mayor, or the leaders of Chicago's largest Law Firms, or Accounting firms, or Financial institutions, were advocating for support of volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs regularly, like I do on this blog and through the T/MC web sites and email newsletter.

I’m sure the volunteers, youth and the leaders of every program that received a grant last night can tell you how important their work is to helping young people succeed in school and in life. Yet, consistent funding for non-school programs is hardly mentioned in the focus on fixing the school system in Chicago. This can change if more lawyers and law firms begin to support the Lend A Hand, or become directly involved in supporting the growth of tutor/mentor programs in their communities.

I hope that people who read this blog will forward it to journalist and that they’ll write about volunteer involvement in tutor/mentor programs like Family Matters, Midtown, Inspired Youth and the others on this list. I hope they'll also write about the Lend A Hand Program, too.

If they put such a story in a December column and they encourage other business and professional people to duplicate the LAH, or to seek out a tutor/mentor program for a holiday contribution, programs throughout the city can get the extra dollars they need to operate in 2006. That's the best gift we can give to many inner-city kids.

If you want to make a donation to a tutor/mentor program, you can visit the Program LOCATOR section of to find web sites and contact information the tutor/mentor programs who received Lend A Hand Grants, and for other programs in different parts of the Chicago region, who did not participate in this year's grants competition. They all need many donations throughout they year to maintain volunteer mentoring contacts with kids.

If you want to learn more about the Lend A Hand Program, visit or call Karina Ayala-Bermejo, Esq., Executive Director, 312-554-2041. If you want to learn more about approaching a business or professional group with the idea of duplicating the Lend a Hand, email me at

Happy Holidays to everyone who reads this far on today's blog!! With your help we can make the holidays a bit happier for volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs and the youth, volunteers and communities they support.

Dan Bassill
Tutor/Mentor Connection

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Non Profit Blog Exchange, Round Two

In September I participated in the first round of the Non Profit Blog Exchange. Through it I met some new people doing good work, learned some new ways to use a blog, and hopefully became a tutor/mentor resources to a few people who found my site as a result of being part of the Blog Exchange.

Round two starts now and runs through most of December. My blog partner is Jane King, who is located in Greater Hartford, Connecticut. Jane's Blog is titled The Giving Blog: A web log about Giving. The ULR is

I really like Jane's Blog. It's really an aggregator for blogs focused on Giving. Thus, by following the links you can find inspiration and wonderful examples of giving. For instance, one of the links to Jill Manty's is a blog that tells of chruch based charities who normally would be under the radar of most donors, and who don't have marketing and fund raising staffs to go out and find money. There are thousands of tutor/mentor programs that fit this description. I'd love to find people like Jill who would do just what Jill is doing, but focused on volunteer-based tutoring/mentoring organizations.

That's what's great about Jane's Blog. It provides examples that others can borrow and innovate from. Gee, maybe if some of the people who read my blog go to Jane's blog and then put some of her examples to work, these new blogs will some day be listed as the next examples of giving on Jane's Blog!!

I encourage you all to take a look and share this with friends. It's the holiday season and there are lots of charities who desparately need help.

To learn more about the Non Profit Blog Exchange, go to

Monday, November 28, 2005

Making Religion Relevant

This morning as I drove to work I listened to a segment of Relevant Radio, a broadcast that supports the beliefs of the Catholic Church. The President of Relevant Radio was discussing business social responsibility and the role Catholics in business have in encouraging greater business responsibility.

This is the Monday following Thanksgiving. I just spent the past three days thinking of Thanks and Giving. Over the next four weeks we'll be bombarded by messages of holiday cheer, as well as holiday shopping. Thus, today's Relevant Radio stimulated this blog post.

What will it take to mobilize an army of believers into a force that helps end poverty by providing youth living in poverty with the consistent adult support needed so they stay in school, stay safe in non-school hours and are starting jobs and careers by age 25?
Religion can be more relevant to me, and maybe many others, if faith leaders connect people with each other, and with information that helps them solve every day problems. While I’m sure there are thousands of people in faith communities who meet on the Internet, in their churches, synagogues, temples and mosques, and in their homes and offices with a purpose of helping people in poverty, I’m not sure that these people are united in a long-term vision that makes their help consistently available in every poverty neighborhood in America for the next 20 years.

A way to test this premise is to look for charts that illustrate the goal of an organization. A picture is worth a thousand words, so a chart that illustrates jobs/careers as the goal of a social enterprise, would more clearly communicate this goal than dozens of sermons or political speeches.

Here's what I mean.

At there is a section titled Tutor/Mentor Institute. In it you can read power point essays with titles like “Theory of Change, Tipping Points, Creating a Network of Purpose, etc.”. Another is titled “T/MC use of GIS Maps”. The charts and maps in these essays illustrate the Tutor/Mentor Connection's commitment to helping kids reach careers.

I encourage you to read these and share them with leaders of your own faith and business/civic networks.

If members of faith communities begin take ownership of the ideas in these power points they will make religion relevant by connecting people who can help with young people who need consistent help for many years if they are to move from a birth in poverty to the first stages of a job and a career by age 25.

To me, the faith leaders who connect members of their congregation with information that helps them build stronger communities, and help the most disadvantaged in our society, make their religion more relevant to their members. In the same way, a politician who connects his supporters with places in the community where they can help is a much more relevant leader to me than one who only uses the “volunteer” and “donate” buttons on his/her web site to recruit support for his own election campaign.

Over the next four weeks, amid the holiday reflections, I encourage faith leaders, political leaders and business leaders to use the T/MC Map Gallery and T/MC Program Locator Database to build connections between their followers and volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs in big cities like Chicago. Furthermore, I encourage them to meet in one of these social media sites,  to share and discuss of strategies they can use to support constantly improving tutor/mentor programs in Chicago and other cities.

This is a time of sharing. It’s a time when those who have been blessed by birth, opportunity, mentors or just good luck to reflect on those blessings and find ways to help others have similar opportunities and good fortune. While many will spend time feeding the hungry on Christmas day, I’m hoping some will lead strategies where the hungry and the poor get the help they need every day of the year, not just on the holidays.

Volunteer-Based Tutor/Mentor Programs enrich the lives of youth, volunteers and communities. They are not high profile, like hurricanes or Tsunamis, or presidential candidates. But they serve people who need help now, and will need continued support for many years if the end result is that they have jobs, careers and are helping others have the same good fortune.

Please find a tutor/mentor program and send a contribution.

Look at a Chicago map and list of Chicago area programs at this link.

At you can search a national database of mentoring programs to find other organizations where your contributions will make a difference.

2017 Note:  I've updated links on this article to fix broken links and reflect 2017 realities.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Changing NCLB standards abandons kids in poverty

Did you see the article last week in the Chicago Tribune about changing No Child Left Behind (NCLB) to a standard that would measure student progress each year rather than demand that all students meet the same standards?

The article includes a quote that says "There are things that get in the way of learning that schools have no control over." To me, this let's the teacher and the school off the hook! If this new way of measuring school performance gets accepted, schools in high poverty neighborhoods, or with large numbers of ESL students, can use this as an excuse for not doing the extra work needed to help these kids rise to an equal level of learning. The result would be to abandon efforts to improve education attainment. It would further institutionalize a permanent underclass in America.

Right now the Chicago Public School's education policy makes little strategic commitment to forming non-school learning, mentoring and social/emotional support systems that would counter the negative influences of poverty and send kids to school every-day better prepared to learn. If the system moves to adequate yearly process there will be no motivation for school leaders to focus on what happens during the non-school hours.

Is this a concern? How are you using the Internet to connect with others who have similar concerns? I presented a workshop in a virtual conference last Saturday. The archive is at I encourage you to take a look, and to review some of the other presentations that were part of the Nov. 18 to 20 Webheads in Action international convergence. One workshop demonstrated the use of the Internet to send out public radio broadcasts. Another demonstrated the use of blogs for learning.

If we can harness these technologies and make them available at schools and in community based organizations, we can empower our kids with tools that give them a voice and enable them to take a lead in mobilizing adults to do more of what adults should do to mentor them into our next generation of leaders.

If the schools and government leaders and major foundations don't make this a priority, it's up to those who meet via the Internet to provide the tools and elearning platforms that might make it possible for small, isolated, community-based organizations to build a networked community that increases non-school learning and career development opportunities for kids throughout the world.

As we give thanks this week for our blessings, please remember those who have less and need your help.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Networking Conference this weekend

Hi everyone,

Just a quick note. On Thursday and Friday I hosted a conference in Chicago where about 90 people gathered to share information. This morning, I'm hosting a workshop in on the Internet where the participants come from Burma, France, the US and around the world. It's exciting to see how the internet can make such connections possible.

You can find us at I hope you'll join in.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Honoring Veterans

I served in the US Army from 1968 to 1971. I was lucky to do time in Korea and not in Viet Nam where so many young people made the ultimate sacrifice.

I think that the best way to honor our veterans is for more people to be willing to make true sacrifices of time, talent and treasure to assure that every person in America has the same hope and opportunity as do the kids of the politicians who vote to send troops overseas to fight and die, but then don't provide funds to support those troops as veterans, or to support the many high poverty communities where poverty is breeding violence, feeding our growing prison industry, and creating two Americas.

Each person needs to look in their own personal mirror to determine what level of giving would be a sacrifice. However, we only need to look at a Military Cemetery, or a Military Hospital to see a standard for comparison.

In past blogs I've talked about how difficult it is for non profits to sustain funding over the long term. That was from the charity perspective. What about the donor perspective? If you want your contributions of time and money to add up to a difference, you need to think of what it took for you to earn that money or talent.

For most of us we were not born to wealth. We had to go to school, perhaps college, then work our way up in a job to the point where we could make charitable gifts. For those who started companies, it took many years of hard work before turning a profit, then expanding the business. For those with inherited wealth, your fathers or grandfathers did the heavy work of earning the money. It's up to you to do the heavy work of making sure the money build a better world.

If you want your dollars to have an impact, pick a charity and a cause and stick with it for many years...or a lifetime. Get to know what they do. Volunteer time if you can. Be an advocate if you can. Help them find others who will add their support to your support. If you jump from cause to cause, or charity to charity, you may feel good about your giving, but those you give to may never be able to sustain their work long enough to do the good that your original donations intended.

If we want world peace, it is not just the responsibility of the peacemakers to do all the work, it is the responsibility of every one who benefits from peace.

We will honor our veterans when more of us take this responsibility as a day to day responsibility.

Dan Bassill
Tutor/Mentor Connection

Thursday, November 03, 2005

What You Can Do To End Poverty

On Tuesday, Nov. 1, I attended a meeting at the Federal Reserve Bank in Chicago, where more than 200 people were given information that showed the "State of Latino Chicago". This highlighted the huge contribution Latinos are making to the Chicago area economy, and the need for more programs to help Latino youth move through school and into careers. On Nov. 2nd I attended a meeting at the Union League Club of Chicago where the No Child Left Behind law was discussed. At the same time a lunch was being held where others were focusing on ways to build better schools.

What these meetings had in common is that they were not connected to each other with an internet strategy that would have enabled participants from all three meetings to connect with each other, and with the speakers. They also did not have a strategy for engagement, that would increase the number of people personally involved in long-term efforts that help kids in poverty move to careers.

In September, people from the Connect for Kids group in Washington, DC helped me develop a letter to the editor that illustrated the role of tutoring/mentoring as a civic engagement strategy. I met Connect for Kids through internet networking and this is an example of what's possible when such networking is a strategic goal of people who host face to face meetings.

I sent my letter to the Chicago Tribune in mid October and it has not been published. So here it is for you to read:

What you can do to end Poverty, by Daniel F. Bassill

Alicia and Marquita were in elementary school when I first met them 15 years ago. They were normal kids, except they lived in the Cabrini-Green neighborhood of Chicago, where the role models and life experiences were anything but what normal kids in most parts of America grow up with. The Cabrini Green neighborhood has a high concentration of poverty, many people living on welfare, and strong street gang involvement. This is the neighborhood that shocked the nation in 1992 when 7-year old Dantrell Davis was shot and killed while walking to school. It’s a neighborhood where more than 40% of the kids drop out of high school before graduation, and where many who do graduate never move on to college and careers.

Today, Marquita has graduated from college and Alicia will do the same next year.

What happened to take these girls off the path toward poverty, and place them on a different path toward college and careers? The answer is simple, but powerful. They were able to participate in a comprehensive volunteer-based tutor/mentor program that connected them with adults who mentored them, helped with school work, talked about options and choices, and just plain cared. In elementary school they were able to participate in a program hosted by the Montgomery Ward Corporation in Chicago. After 6th grade they were able to transition to the Cabrini Connections tutor/mentor program, which has supported them for the past 12 years. This year they have become part of the adult tutor/mentor corps, and are now volunteering to help other Cabrini Green children move through school and into college then careers.

In the aftermath of Katrina, people in Chicago and across the nation are asking what we can do about poverty. I’m not a teacher by training and I don’t have special skills. I started mentoring a fourth grade boy living in Cabrini-Green in 1973 and became leader of a volunteer-based program in 1975. Thus I have 30 years of experience in recruiting volunteers and connecting them with inner-city kids. While I did not have much experience when I started, my understanding of the issues and my commitment to volunteer-based tutoring/mentoring has continued to grow with each passing year. I’ve learned the difference between being poor and being poor without hope.

I’ve also learned how tutoring/mentoring can be one of the best strategies for civic-engagement, workforce development and education reform. Long-term programs connect youth and adults from both sides of the economic and social divide in a long-term process of service and learning. This leads to a better understanding of poverty, and a stronger commitment to do what is needed to provide paths to hope and opportunity for kids who need extra support to succeed in school, move to college and find help in starting jobs and careers.

I would like every adult who is not living in poverty to become personally involved in helping build and sustain long-term tutor/mentor programs in every neighborhood where concentrated poverty is the largest obstacle to succeeding in school and moving to jobs and careers. That is how we are going to improve our schools, reduce youth violence, lower the costs of the juvenile justice system and meet the workforce needs of the 21st century.

The way to get everyone involved is for people from every walk of life – business, churches, hospitals and universities – to step up as leaders and make children living in low-wage families a priority. Businesses can use their intranets to provide information about where tutor/mentor programs are needed, and ways to contact existing programs. They can use their advertising to encourage employees and customers to volunteer in programs throughout the Chicago region. Universities can encourage their students to talk with local children about what college is like, and can develop research and teaching programs that connect students and alumni with training resources and tutor/mentor programs throughout the country. Every organization can use its website to publicize volunteer opportunities and to increase the number of people who are learning ways to become involved in tutor/mentor programs. The ways to take action are as endless as the numbers of children in need.

Such a leadership strategy needs to guide volunteers and donors to all neighborhoods where there are high concentrations of poverty, not just to the few brand name programs in highly visible neighborhoods. If we increase the number of people who are willing to commit time, talent and dollars to efforts that help end poverty, we will reduce dependency on government and build programs that last more than a few years.

No business would be successful if it advertised sometimes, and sometimes not. Children take a long time to grow up, and they will only be successful if adults like us get personally involved, stay involved, develop an understanding of poverty, and grow into leaders who bring in new volunteers to do the same. We’re building a system of support for this type of involvement. We call it the Tutor/Mentor Connection. You can find us and similar support networks that operate in other cities by using Internet search tools like .

By the time you read this, the media will probably be turning its attention away from poverty and to the next "hot" issue. But that doesn’t mean we have to turn our attention away from the children who need us.


Daniel F. Bassill is the president of Cabrini Connections ( and the Tutor/Mentor Connection ( which provide an organized framework that empowers and encourages adult volunteers to give their time, effort, ideas and advocacy in seeking life-changing solutions for children living in educationally and economically disadvantaged environments such as the Cabrini-Green housing development in Chicago.

For information call 312-492-9614.
Address: 800 W. Huron, Chicago, Il. 60622

Saturday, October 29, 2005

White House holds conference on At-Risk Youth. What's Next

On Oct. 16 I wrote about the Million More March, held in Washington, and said, "Where's the plan?" On Oct 27 the White House hosted a conference focusing on the needs of at-risk youth. It was video conferenced so many people could participate. Follow this link and you'll find details on the conference and a lot of good information on why America needs to do something more than what's been done so far.

During the same week, Chicago Public Schools hosted their annual Principal for a Day event, that attracts business people, celebrities, the Mayor and others to go to a public school and serve as "principal" for a day. It's a great PR event, and the schools follow up and ask business leaders to donate money and form volunteer programs that work with the schools. Here's the link to the CPS web site that outlines their goals for the event:

In the follow up to the White House Conference, a new organization and a new web site has been set up to get people involved. It is

What bothers me is that this is looks an awful lot like what America's Promise was set up to do. Visit and make your own comparison. I was a
Chicago delegate in 1997 to the America's promise meeting in Philadelphia. I see the same reinvention of the wheel in the White House event as in the America's Promise event.

How do these relate to Chicago's Principal for a Day? None use a Map to show where the greatest concentrations of at-risk youth are located and none are creating "blueprints" that visually show how business, non profits, community, churches, colleges, media and political leaders need to be consistently engaged, during the non-school hours and the summer, not just at the school from 9 to 3pm, and for many years, in order to change the aspirations, then the academic performance of kids born in concentrated, inner-city poverty. In these neighborhoods most of the community role models are people who live on welfare, or who are ex-offenders or people who make a living in illegal enterprises.

Unless we expand the network of role-models we cannot change student aspirations, and unless we keep these role models connected with kids for many years, we also cannot change what adults are willing to do to help kids move through school and into jobs.

Without a map, such as I show in the Program Locator at a city will never be able to build a strategy that supports the growth of needed tutoring/mentoring in every poverty neighborhood. And, without using visual blueprints, similar to the Power Point essays I show at the Tutor/Mentor Institute section of the same web site, people won't differentiate between the various types of services that are needed, and which need to be available in age-appropriate format, to kids in every neighborhood as they grow up.

Finally, what disappoints me even more, is that there are too many people holding conferences that draw attention to significant issues, are not using the Internet to encourage contact, networking, interaction and engagement among the people who attended and those who might have just heard about it in the media.

I'm hosting a Tutor/Mentor Conference on Nov. 17 and 18. This will be the 24th time I've hosted this in Chicago since May 1994. The goal is to help people build and sustain comprehensive, mentor-rich programs in all high poverty neighborhoods of Chicago and other big cities. (We have people attending who come from rural areas of high poverty, where the lack of mentors is the same, but geography poses different problems of how to create programs that connect youth and adults.) I hope some people who attended the White House event will find and want to attend.

However, if they cannot come to Chicago, they can also go to our web portal and join the on-line discussions that run parallel to the face to face event. No matter where someone is in the world they can connect on line. And if we can find help to facilitate these discussions we can lead a process of what works well in some places, and what needs to be done so those good ideas can be working well in all the other places where they are needed.

We don't need any more community needs assessment. We need leaders in communities who will build maps showing where the problem is, what organizations are in the neighborhoods already trying to end poverty by helping kids go to school and get a job when they leave school. And we need leaders who will use these maps, and their personal and professional visibility and leadership ability, to regularly encourage volunteers, donors and business leaders to reach out and become long-term partners to help these programs achieve their goals.

At the same time communities need to use the maps to learn which neighborhoods have high needs, but are missing some of the needed services that are available in other neighborhoods. Using the knowledge we have of existing programs, community and business partners can borrow ideas from what works in some places, so new programs don't reinvent the wheel, but start out with the collective experience of everyone else who has already been doing this work for many years.

Using their high visibility, the White House, CPS and the Mayor could give daily visibility and leadership to this strategy. As a result we'd have a lot more people involved in all the places where they are needed, and where non profit leaders are struggling just to pay the rent to keep their programs alive. If we keep them involved long enough, we'll begin to see a change in student aspirations, student performance, and the ability of more kids to leave school prepared for careers. I outline this Theory of Change in a Power Point essay that can be found in the Tutor/Mentor Institute section of the web site.

I hope you'll comment, or pass this on to others who want to help kids.

Dan Bassill
Tutor/Mentor Connection

Sunday, October 23, 2005

As charities vie for donations, how can we help donors navigate the choices?

Last Wednesday the Chicago Tribune had a front page/back page story devoted to Breast Cancer Month. The goal of the article was to help donors choose which charity to support. It was a great article, and great exposure for Breast Cancer charities.

Among the suggestions to donors was one that said this:

Pick a goal. It might be research toward a cure, or advocacy, or patient support services. Then pick a charity that serves that goal and stick with it.

The article quoted Sandra Miniutti of Charity Navigator who said "We tell donors, if they want to change something in the world, they need to develop a relationship with the charity. Continue to support them over time, so they can keep their costs down and track whether they do what they claim to be doing."

In May, I posted an article showing how difficult it is for non profits to sustain their work because of the inconsistent flow of dollars caused by a system that does not support flexible, long-term problem solving very well.

The Tutor/Mentor Connection focuses on connecting workplace volunteers with inner city kids in long term programs that result in the kids starting jobs/careers by age 25, with the volunteers still connected and helping to set up job interviews.

If a youth joins such a program at age 10 it takes 15 years to achieve this goal. Unless donors chose charities that offer this service and stick with them for most of these 15 years, it's not likely that the program will survive long enough to still be a meeting place for a youth and adult at a time when the youth might be looking for help finding a job.

This is one of the on-going topics of the Tutor/Mentor Leadership Conferences, held in Chicago every six months. The next conference is Nov. 17 and 18 and we're looking for people to participate and share their ideas. We're also looking for people who will blog the conference, or who will help organize on-line workshops that continue the conference topic on the Internet.

If you'd like to help build a better system of supporting on-going operations of any non profit, please join us.

Dan Bassill

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Million More March. Here's a Plan.

On Oct. 14, 2005, I read a column from the Chicago Tribune, written by Dawn Turner Trice, titled, "Only real plans make a march a movement." She was referring to this weekend's Million More March. She said, "I wonder what the legacy of this march will be?"

After the first Million Man March 10 years ago, we had a few new people to come in and volunteer at Cabrini Connections. However, most did not stay for long. Mentoring takes a lot of commitment over many years. In a small program like ours, that commitment needs to extend to fund raising, leadership and other organizational activities, if the organization is to do all it needs to do to help kids move through school and into jobs and careers.

I wrote after the last march that I wished there were one person on each bus coming back from DC with a Directory (like the Program Locator at listing tutor/mentor programs in the city where that bus was headed. During the ride back that person could be talking about the Theory of Change offered by the Tutor/Mentor Connection, which focuses on getting more people consistently involved in helping kids in poverty neighborhoods grow up and enter jobs/careers.

He could have used maps, like the T/MC creates, to show where poverty and poor schools were located in each city, and where existing programs were located. He could have been teaching the marchers about the constant need each program has for operating dollars, tech support, training and business partners who provide vocational learning, and leadership. He also could have been talking of ways churches, businesses, universities and hospitals could be partnering in sections of a city to launch new programs to fill voids.

Then, as each person got off the bus he could have asked for a pledge that each marcher would reach out to become a supporter of one or more programs, in one or more ways. He could have asked for the Independent Sector's pledge of GIVE Five!, which is five hours a week and five percent of income...not to the church, or the Million Man March, or to the campaign of a political candidate, but directly to a charity helping kids go to school and move to careers.

Finally, he'd ask for a commitment that these people would go to an on-line documentation system like the OHATS at where they would document actions that each had taken to build or sustain volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs in their community.

The last piece of information would be a web site address, such as, where the volunteers could go for more information about poverty, about mentoring and tutoring, and where they could talk to each other in on-line forums. This would also have provided a date and location for a follow up meeting, such as at the Nov. 17 and 18 Tutor/Mentor Leadership Conference in Chicago.

This was not the plan in 1995. I don't see any evidence that it's the plan in 2005. However, if you read this, you can pass it on to people who were in Washington this weekend. Maybe some will adopt this as their follow up plan.

Dan Bassill
Tutor/Mentor Connection

Friday, September 30, 2005

Illinois High School Summit, held Sept. 29, 2005

Illinois High School Summit presented by Illinois College Access Network (IllinoisCAN) and Chicago Public Schools (CPS). The discussion at the Summit was framed by the question, “What is the future vision and what must be achieved systematically for high schools to be successful in the 21st century?”

Some of the key speakers and panelists included: * Arne Duncan, CEO of Chicago Public Schools * Jesse Ruiz, Chairman of Illinois State Board of Education * Terry Mazany, President and CEO of the Chicago Community Trust * Allan Alson, Superintendent of the Evanston Township High School * Peggy Luce, Vice President of Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce * Sandra Guthman, President of Polk Bros. Foundation * Donna Carroll, President, Dominican University

Opening: Joan Klaus, Founder Illinois College Access Network

Joan set the stage for the conversation by providing statistics similar to these which were part of a speech given in late September by U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings in an address to the National Association of Manufactures Board of Directors Meeting in Washington, DC. Among her comments, she said:

Manufacturing executives rank a "high-performing workforce" as the most important factor in their firms' future success. But how can you be a high-performing worker when you don't even have a high school diploma?...

"Among ninth-graders, five out of 10 minority students fail to finish high school on time. Overall, three out of 10 ninth-graders don't finish on time... Leaving our high school students behind is not only morally unacceptable, what the President calls "the soft bigotry of low expectations." It is also economically untenable.

"When you lose a million students every year that has a tremendous impact on our economy. And it represents the American Dream... denied.

"So I would suggest, for this and a host of other reasons, that how well our students are doing is not just an "education issue." It's also an economic issue, a civic issue, a social issue, and a national security issue."

You can read the entire Margaret Spellings speech at:

A similar 2-day summit was held in Washington in September 2005. The two-day event, called The Fate of the American Dream: A National Forum on Strengthening Our Education and Skills Pipeline, was hosted by Jobs for the Future and sponsored by a number of corporations also committed to improving the education and skills pipeline. JFF has put much of this summit on its web site. Visit

The Chicago High School Summit was attended by more than 100 leaders of community organizations, foundations, businesses, schools, etc. It was hosted by the Illinois College Access Network ( ) . While the panelist were first rate and the information discussed was critically important, this forum did not have an Internet collaboration portal, thus most of the participants did not get to ask questions, and the comments of most speakers were not recorded or posted on the Internet where others could read them, comment, or reach out to find ways to work together to solve the problems that were discussed.

I’ve commented on this in previous messages that I’ve posted on this blog since April 2005. While the Summit offered time for networking, the number of participants made it impossible for anyone to talk to everyone he/she might have wanted to meet. Such networking is also not suitable for an exchange of complex ideas, which is possible through an Internet discussion portal.

I took notes as I listened to the speakers and below, I’ve posted some quotes that I feel were important. I’ve also added my own comments (see DB: xxx) Whenever I attend a meeting I am always thinking of the purpose of the meeting, and the goals of the Tutor/Mentor Connection, as I listen to speakers. Thus, I’m constantly innovating new ideas making notes of “things to do” as I listen to speakers. Yesterday, for instance, I took 12 pages of notes.

Most of the time these notes just go in a file that I keep, which I refer to for inspiration from time to time. If I had someone who would transcribe these notes for me, I’d post them on a blog like this, so others could share my own thoughts and perhaps innovate along with me.



First Panel:
Moderated by Warren Chapman. Vice President for Corporate Philanthropy at JPMorgan Chase:
How did we get here? 100 years ago most schools only served 3rd through 8th grade. * High schools began to be built in early 1930’s. Not planned as college prep. Post World War II high schools became national policy issue. In 1960’s became a civil rights issue. In their current states high schools are less than 75 years old.

DB thought. It never was the intention of wealthy to educate masses to hold leadership positions reserved for their own kids.

First panelist: Michael Cohen, President of Achieve, Inc.
Achieve’s web site provides a much better overview of what Michael Cohen added to the forum than I can post here. Visit

Cohen: Formal high school sorting process has limited options for many kids by steering them to college or vocational paths. Now, every child needs to be able to chose for himself which path he wants to take

Second Panelist: Allan Alson, Superintendent, Evanston Township High School. Mr. Alson is also part of the Steering Committee for Chicago Public High School’s High School Transformation Project.
DB: I would love a transcript of Mr. Alson's comments. He was right on target.

. Presumptuous to predict where we’ll be in 70 years when the system we’re in is only 70 years old.
. Not one system fits all needs. Need to have goal.
. High schools must serve Equity, Social Justice, Democracy goals

DB: even in US Constitution it may not have been intention of framers to educate all kids

DB: why rebuild box? Why not re-design learning distribution system?

Alson: can’t just fix one part and not fix other connected parts.

. Goal: a) improve curriculum; b) improve instruction; c) connect youth with teachers and other adults

Alson: Let’s not make mistake of saying all kids enter high school at same place (academic preparation)

Kids are not just behind in skills. If you’ve gone through 14 years of your life thinking you cannot succeed, your confidence is eroded.

As you rebuild skills, think of messages we send – high expectations. Every teacher, counselor, adult, needs to say we know you can succeed and paint picture of how to get you there.

DB: wish Alson had his comments on Internet. A ETHS student could interview Alson and post his comments on blog.

Alson. Is a 10 month year sufficient to get done what we need to do? We need to create professional learning communities.
DB: are these connected to peers on other schools?

Broker partnerships with community agencies and business. Give offices inside high school so CBOs can stay connected with same kids from middle school through high school.
DB: Great idea!!

Chapman: How do we organize schools in order to train knowledge workers. What are things that need to happen over next couple of years? From Tops Down and Bottom UP?:

Cohen: organize government and business leaders
a) learn math and English skills required for careers in business
b) research shows that only 3 states require students to take needed courses (state standards too low
c) graduation tests standards too low. In six states the math you need to know to pass the test is equivalent to what kids are expected to know in 7th or 8th grade in other countries.

Cohen – top down
a) get expectations into state policy; bring educators and employers in to picture in ways not done before; make system more transparent
b) build political will to make these changes
c) build different pathways for kids to go through the system to reach common standards of career and technical skills
d) build capacity of the system to deliver results

db: what is the marketing plan that will get millions of people involved and educated on this issue. What is strategy to create this political will?

It is one thing to say they need to take this, but Algebra 1 in one school is different than Algebra 1 in other schools. We must address equality in learning.

We must listen to kids. What helps/hinders their education? Turn peer influence into a positive.
Db: this could help with program in peer mentoring at Maine South where my daughter is a 9th grader

Alson: We have broken system on how we recruit, train and support teachers.
a) Must be building human capital to deliver goods
b) This must be a K-16 system. Need to look backwards
c) Knit communities together. All work together.

Chapman conclusion: I hope this panel inspires you to think about these issues.

Arnie Duncan – CEO of Chicago Public Schools

Improving performance of high schools is most important issue in America. We need to figure out how to make this viable.

Db: Tutor/Mentor Connection is not just a connection of volunteers with kids. It is a connection of a volunteer with the issues of educating youth for 21st century careers. This is a social, democratic issue and is a strategy of engagement. Why don’t schools understand this?

Duncan: Every other city mirrors what is happening in Chicago. Goal is to have systems of excellence instead of just islands of excellence.

Duncan talked about research team that came up with new plan for high schools. Goal was how to take system to next level?

DB: no one on research team every talked to me. I cannot find a web site collecting public input.

Duncan; We’ve improved. We’re down to a 10% annual drop out per year.

DB: that’s 40% over 4 years.

Duncan: We need a laser-like focus
a) raise expectations
b) improve quality of teachers
c) improve quality of opportunities

Improve quality of teachers and classroom instruction
1) better tools; better support
2) RFP out for new curriculum (DB, don’t we change curriculum too often? Shouldn’t we stay with something long enough to make it work?)
3) Pilot in 15 schools per year (DB, with 600 high schools in system, that will take 25 years to reach all schools

Need to hire 100 great principles. No good organization without good leaders. We need to figure out how to get better at this.

a) shrink principle eligibility pool (fewer choices of higher quality people)
b) area managers spend more time on development of leaders
c) hire recruiter to go national in looking for talent
db: how to address retention of quality people in system

Expand Quality Options - need more schools like Whitney Young. Average students don’t have quality options. Students need more choices. Need 6-8-10 great options in each section of city.

DB: What about social and emotional development, civic education, community and career mentoring? Adopt a neighborhood vs adopt a school. What about elearning? I did not hear anything all day about Internet learning.

What are we doing to get kids better prepared to enter high school with a chance to succeed? This means we need to focus on elementary schools.

URGENCY: Easy to say this is theoretical issue. We need to recognize how important this is. 85% of CPS students live in poverty. This is a life transforming opportunity. Where we don’t educate well, we perpetuate poverty.

They can rebuild New Orleans all they want, but if they don’t change the education system you’ll still have the same poverty 30 years from now.

Media not going to put spotlight on education. We need to find ways to do it ourselves.
DB: this is why I don’t understand his not embracing T/MC strategy.

Duncan’s conclusion: we must move from islands of excellence to a system of excellence.

From 9:30 to 10:30 A Panel Discussion was moderated by Peggy Luce: Her first question to Jesse H. Ruiz, Chair of the Illinois State Board of Education, was “Is there one challenge? One magic answer?”

Ruiz: Remove bureaucracy; raise standards. Gary Chico appointed to lead Illinois Education Task Force.

The second panelist was Cynthia Barron, Instructional Officer, Small Schools Area for Chicago Public Schools:

Luce to Barron: “What is most important issues of keeping students on track and bringing others up.”
Barron -
a) curriculum is most important element of high school transformation,
b) we’ve been teaching to the middle. We need to have personal plans for every student
c) every high school needs to offer advance placement classes for students that want rigor
d) at risk students, those who enter unprepared, what do we do?
e) Rigor, Relevance, Relationships-every school needs support structure to catch youth who begin to fail; intervene early
DB: where is mentoring in strategy? If boys tune out at 3rd grade, support needs to start earlier.
f) going to take ton of strategic planning to keep the momentum going
DB: what is strategy for public engagement? Building the political will?

The third panelist was Donna Carroll, Pres. Dominican University; and Federation of Independent Colleges and Universities –

Ms. Carroll introduced herself as “the university voice in college readiness”.

Remediation –access to higher education is a promise, and a presumption. I don’t think colleges will ever be out of the remediation business.
DB: universities need to re purpose resources. Look for other ways to use resources to impact college readiness goals. Colleges have army of students, faculty and alumnii.

Systemic issues of college prep. Dominican University’s average ACT is 23. CPS average ACT is 17.

Expectations and self-assessment. Students need mechanisms for understanding themselves. Most college students say
a) I wish my High School teachers pushed me harder
b) I wish I studied harder
c) I wish I knew what was expected for me to have the career I want

DB: I wish kids would listen to adults when we gave them all of this information, over and over again.

Colleges looking for students who persists vs students who do not.

Collaboration – we need to communicate more.
a) connect college and high school faculty. We need to create capacity and time to do that
b) very often it is student with potential who is working two jobs just to attend college. How can we expect him to do college work? We need to provide financial support.
Db: this is that question of political will again.

The next panelist was Jeff Mays, President, Illinois Business Round Table:

Role of business: help shape message; help reach broader audience
DB: Read ROLE of LEADERS in Tutor/Mentor Institute at

How they (youth) make decisions scares me. We need to do more to influence how they make decisions.

The next panelist was Terrell Burges – an African American teacher at Lane Tech high school. Burges was a recipient of the Golden Apple Scholarship and was a Bank One Saturday Scholar. He still works with Saturday Scholars in the summer.

a) many students don’t have access to technology and classroom support
b) need to provide authentic professional development for teachers; more collaboration time
c) provide extra learning opportunities. Saturday Scholars gave time to empower students to think
d) When students have opportunity to discover on their own, they learn
e) Only way to do this is to empower teachers
DB: but his help came from mentors in a non-school, privately funded tutor/mentor program. What about making more of these available?

The final panelist was Sandra Guthman, CEO, Polk Bros. Foundation. Funds Chicago HS Redesign Initiative.

DB: Polk Bros Foundation has funded the Cabrini Connections Tutor/Mentor Program for several years, yet, they don’t seem to have any interest in the Tutor/Mentor Connection. It seems that foundation’s who fund mentoring, don’t automatically include mentoring in strategy of high school redesign. Why not? What are we not doing?

a) need to work as individual foundations to move system forward.
DB: if school reform system does not include mentoring in strategy, foundations won’t make priority to fund

b) some foundations work toward goals in a single community.
Db: Easy to work toward goals in a single community, but leader needs to assure that there is a foundation funding each community

c) Foundation role of critical friend (outside pressure). Maybe we can work together to make it (system) better.
d) New Schools for Chicago – some corporation and foundation supporting specific schools
DB: how do they network and learn from others who do same work in different places. Seems redundant.

At this point the moderator said “A few minutes for questions”. There were more than 100 people in the room. Less than 10 were able to ask questions and most were not able to follow up on the questions they asked.

One man brought up issue of political will. He said “Are the right people involved to make significant change? Are the people driving the process the ones in charge of crafting the solutions? This question was not given an answer and the questioner was invited to email the ICAN to post his question.

DB: this illustrates the need for a forum like this to have an internet component. This person and all others could have posted questions to speakers, and each other, on line.

DB: this event had a self-serving focus on ICAN. Two speakers mentioned Saturday Scholars. However, there was no effort in the meeting to expand mentoring. The two examples of success of CPS were a teacher and a college student, both who participated in Saturday Scholars, a privately funded non-school program. If this is such a good program why are policy makers not trying to get more programs like this?

While we talk of having good schools in every neighborhood, why are we not talking about having good Saturday Scholar type programs in every neighborhood?

Final speaker: Omar, a Saturday Scholar. He was one of the best speakers. I asked him to blog his comments for T/MC

Wish list for schools:
a) financial literacy
b) people of different backgrounds working together
c) cultivate good social skills
d) sports for everyone, not just talented
e) ought to be programs for students to make sure they are there (at college) on first day of classes. Transition from inner city high school to college terrifying to some
DB: I understand this need. A couple of y ears ago we had one volunteer drive a student to Wisconsin for first day of school just to make sure he got enrolled.

Terry Mazany, President, Chicago Community Trust, concluded the meeting

Mazany listed school reform funding goals of Trust:
Read the Strategic Vision of the Education Initiative at:

DB: CCT Education Initiative Goals do not seem to include funding of community supports or funding of elearning and collaboration.

We’re in third decade of school reform post A Nation At Risk. We know a lot. There is a paradigm shift. We’re now trying to prepare all youth for higher education.

Education is means to fulfill promise of American Dream

Failure to create school system that works leaves young people out of American Dream.
DB: suggest he say “learning system” instead of “school system”

a) 8 hour school day needed; staffing ratios that provide time for planning
b) counseling ratios of 100 to 1 needed
c) inner city schools need more resources than suburban schools because of poverty
d) resources needed for technology; need more buckets of water. Illinois is 49th in state funding of education
e) Fourth R: real world connections. Need pathways to careers.
DB: if foundations follow lead of schools and schools do not show non-school mentoring as priority, then funding will not support these programs. If these programs not in place, neither are pathways or adult supports.

The formal presentations ended at 11:15am and many participants continued to introduce themselves to others and network. I had the opportunity to talk to more than a dozen people who work with the T/MC, or who I have approached in the past for support. That’s the value of forums like this that bring people together face to face. As I left I was talking to an African American woman and she saw that my name tag said Cabrini Connections.

She asked if I served the Cabrini-Green neighborhood and when I said “yes” she told me she grew up in Cabrini-Green. I asked if she had ever gone to Montgomery Ward for tutoring and she said “yes”. I told her that I was the leader of that program when she was attending. I also told her of my goal of attracting many of the 4000 volunteers and more than 2000 youth who have participated in the Wards program since 1965 to the web site where they can share their stories and talk about how the opportunity to connect with a tutor or mentor at Montgomery Ward has influenced their lives. By bringing people who have been enriched by this process back together via the internet, we can continue to connect youth and adults from different backgrounds in the on-going networking that removes social and economic isolation and creates pipelines and pathways to careers.

We also can build an army of support for the vision of the Tutor/Mentor Connection, which is to have programs like Cabrini Connections available to young people in every poverty neighborhood of Chicago and every other large American city.



Sunday, September 25, 2005

I'm up to my neck in alligators. No time to drain the swamp.

This past week Cabrini Connections started its 13th year of service to teens living in the Cabrini-Green neighborhood of Chicago. We’ve more than 80 teens on the roster, which is the most we’ve started with since 1999. Of our volunteers, two are alumni who started with us between 1993 and 1996 as 7th and 8th graders. One has already graduated from college and the other is a senior.

You can read about this program at It’s doing great things.

It just doesn’t have any money. Because we’re a small charity our cash flow is always low during September and October and then picks up during November and December when we do holiday fund raising. This means we struggle to pay the rent while at the same time we’re doing work that has great value to many people.

I’ve written about how difficult it is to raise money in previous blog entries. I’m not sure how much the Hurricanes are going to impact me, but I’m sure that since 2000 the economy, the 9/11 attack, the war, the highly contested presidential elections, the 2004 hurricanes, the December 2004 Tsunami, and now Katrina, have contributed to me raising about 70% as much now as I was in 2000.

I’m sure this is a problem for other volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs, too. That’s why we created the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993. We think it’s always been tough to find consistent funding. Thus, we’re trying to create a more consistent public awareness that would draw more volunteers and donors to support tutor/mentor programs in all parts of Chicago (and in other cities), not just our program. We’re also working to help business and professional groups form leadership strategies where they use their own visibility and resources to draw volunteers and donors to tutor/mentor programs. The Chicago Bar Association’s Lend A Hand Program is the best example of this strategy. See

So, since we’re all struggling, why is it so hard to get programs to come together to innovate new ways to increase public awareness, increase volunteer turnout, and increase the amount of money available for volunteer-based programs?

This year we had fewer programs participate in planning the Aug./Sept. Volunteer Recruitment Campaign than in past years. Part of the problem was that I no longer have funds to pay a part-time person to reach out and draw programs together. But since we all need volunteers as school starts, it would seem that more programs would want to find ways to increase the pool of potential volunteers.

On Nov. 17 and 18 I’m hosting a 24th Tutor/Mentor Leadership Conference. I’m going to hold a two-day symposium where leaders of tutor/mentor programs talk about why our work is important, ways we can improve what we do, and ways we can collaborate to increase visibility, volunteers and dollars distributed to all programs in any major city. If we can create some media attention, this could have an impact on year-end fund raising for many tutor/mentor programs.

I’m hoping that leaders of other programs are as desperate as I am for finding new ways to generate revenue and that we’ll have a number of organizations offer to participate on panels, or to help facilitate each discussion. I’m also hoping that people who cannot come to Chicago to participate directly will come to our Internet portal to take part in this discussion on-line.

I believe that “we” working together can overcome some of the challenges that individual programs working alone cannot. However, we must make time to participate in this process, even though we’re up to our neck in alligators in trying to keep the rent and other bills paid while supporting effective connections between youth and volunteer tutors/mentors in our own programs.

If you’d like to get involved, e-mail me at You can see details about the conference at

Dan Bassill
Tutor/Mentor Connection

Monday, September 19, 2005

Race and Poverty in America. Will We be Talking about This Six Months From Now?

Why does it take a natural disaster to get us talking about how to help the disadvantaged in America? I read through several back issues of Time and Newsweek this weekend. There are all sorts of articles talking about Race and Poverty and how we don't focus on these issues other than in times like now. I've posted articles in this blog before about the random coverage of this topic in Chicago's major papers.

I'm also part of the Digital Divide Network and feel that volunteers using IT skills could play a role in building on-going participation in the Race/Poverty discussion, as well as in distributing attention and resources to all of the places and all of the issues that need to be considered when thinking about this subject.

On Sept. 18 I posted a Race and Poverty blog at . I encourage you to read it. (2017 note: this site is no longer available)

I also feel that volunteer-based tutoring/mentoring can be one of the best strategies for connecting people who don't live in poverty with youth and families who do. If such programs can keep volunteers involved for more than a year or two, many of those volunteers will build a personal understanding of poverty through their weekly involvement, and a personal commitment to do something, because of their growing commitment to the kids they mentor.

Many of the volunteer based tutoring and/or mentoring programs in America do not have this as a goal, and do not have a structure to encourage long-term involvement.

Thus, in many places where various forms of mentoring are taking place, purposeful efforts to transform the lives of volunteers, and convert them to leaders, are not taking place. I feel that if we're to have more people in business and professions taking a leadership and financial role in supporting the growth of volunteer-based tutoring/mentoring, or mentoring-to-career strategies, more programs will need to add this concept to their strategic design.

You can read more about these ideas in the Tutor/Mentor Institute library at

If you have any comments, or suggestions for ways we can expand the number of people interested in this topic, or how we can build a week to week, or month to month involvement, I look forward to hearing from you.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Non profit Blog Exchange - Impact of Katrina on Charities

A few weeks ago I agreed to participate in a non profit blog exchange, which connects bloggers in non profits with each other. I've been trying to create a network of tutor/mentor bloggers, so feel this is a good way to try to further that cause.

I was matched with a blog titled Nonprofiteer: Helping Till it Hurts. (2014 Editor note: site not longer active)

The latest message posted is one close to my heart. The author talks about how the fragile fund raising efforts of many small non profits have been negatively impacted by the huge charitable response to Hurricane Katrina. In an earlier blog you can read my own thoughts like this. I feel we're a nation that focuses on random acts of kindness and we don't have the leadership to focus consistent attention over a long period of time on all of the different efforts that are needed to solve any significant social issue.

I don't think that leadership will ever come from elected people. For the most part their only goal seems to be to get elected, or stay elected. I think the leadership has to come from private sector organizations of people who are deeply committed to a cause and who will find ways to sustain their efforts over many years.

Of course, those people need consistent funding, unless they are independently wealthy, which I am not. Which leads us back to charity and random acts of kindness.

In the web links to the left you can see how I have tried to provide a solution to this. I've created a program that connects those who can help with those who need help and use traditional advertising concepts, which I learned during 17 years of advertising for a nationwide retail store chain. I've also piloted the use of GIS maps and searchable databases to focus on all of the areas of the city of Chicago where tutor/mentor programs are needed, not just on my own program, or a few brand name programs or highly visible neighborhoods. Without the map its too easy to make a contribution to one place and think the problem is solved. Until there are good programs every place where they are needed, the problem will persist.

I've also made an attempt at creating visual blueprints to show that many services need to be supported in a single charitable category, not just one or two. I use the analogy of the blueprint for a building to illustrate my point. A blueprint shows all of the steps needed to build a building, from the foundation to the top. It also shows all of the sub contractors who need to do the right thing, at the right time, if the project is to be completed. They all need to be paid.

If we could create blueprints showing all of the actions that are needed to assure that kids born today are in jobs/careers by age 25, then we'd be more likely to be able to lead a campaign intended to pay all of those people. That's the only way this is going to work.

Of course I don't have the dollars that company spent every year, so I've innovated some other ways to create reach and frequency, such as enlisting the self interest of my peers in trying to share the responsibility for building visibility for all tutor/mentor programs.

By showing all of the various sub contractors how they are related to each other, I feel it's also a first step toward getting them to work as a group to tackle the funding issue, rather than competing constantly against each other. The maps do this. So can the blueprints.

I encourage anyone who's willing to take the time to look through the sites and understand the strategy to offer me feedback or become a partner. I'd like to find ways to motivate people to give until it hurts. That's not the ultimate sacrifice, but it's the type of generosity that's more likely to sustain charitable services in all the different places where they are needed.

Dan Bassill

PS: Learn more about the Non Profit Blog exchange at

Bridges that connect people on both sides of the poverty line.

As I read newspaper reports of the Hurricane Katrina disaster a thought comes to my mind.

What if the City of New Orleans had had dozens of volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs like Cabrini Connections, which connect inner city kids and business/professional volunteers in long term relationships where the volunteer begins to act like a surrogate parent, aunt or uncle? When it came time to evacuate would there have been a few more people with cars or means of transportation calling kids and families living in the flood zone, asking if they needed help getting out of the city?

At Cabrini Connections ( more than 30% of our kids and 20% of our volunteers have been with the program for 3 or more years. Some volunteers go to extraordinary lengths to help kids stay in school and move toward jobs and careers. If a city was full of such programs I feel there would not be the disconnect between those in poverty and the rest of society that seems to be in every major city of the USA.

However, no city will have dozens of these programs by accident (and New Orleans may have had dozens of these programs. I don't know) . It takes leaders with a long-term, day to day commitment to do what's needed to build a city of such programs. Such leaders need to help programs get started, and then help them get a steady flow of volunteers, operating dollars, training, tech support, etc. Such leadership needs to be sustained even when the spotlight is pointing in a different direction. Tutor/Mentor Programs need to be sustained from year to year if they are to create strong bonds between youth and adults.

We're starting school now. Yesterday the Tutor/Mentor Connection hosted a volunteer recruitment fair at the James Thompson Center in Chicago. 13 programs were there to recruit volunteers. Many more can be found at a CAN CALL TV 42 bulleting board, or in the Program Locator section of . I did not see any articles in the major Chicago papers this week encouraging adults to seek out tutor/mentor programs, as volunteers or as donors. Does this mean I did a poor job of marketing this campaign , or that there are too few leaders in Chicago who care?

The Program locator at can be searched by zip code, type of program, age group served and time of day service is provided to determine if there are any organizations that offer services for specific age groups in specific neighborhoods. I doubt that such a service exists in any other major city, yet the lessons of New Orleans is that we are a nation where many people live in poverty and isolation and too few people think about this unless they are forced to. Building a database of existing programs and helping those programs get volunteers and dollars is the first step toward making such programs available to more children in more places.

Getting an adult to be a volunteer is just the first step in the journey of helping that adult become a coach, mentor or change-agent in the life of a teen. Getting a youth into a tutor/mentor program and matched with a volunteer is just the first step of a 10 or 15 year process that must repeat year after year if the goal of the program is that the youth is in a job and able to take care of himself and his family by age 25.

Making this type of program available in all of the places where they are needed should be a priority of many of the people who are now in the blame game, or who are outraged by the sudden discovery of poverty and racism in America.

I've been working at this for more than 30 years yet I'm still just a whisper in the wilderness. I hope that in the 2005-06 school year some of you will take ownership and become leaders of the Tutor/Mentor Connection's vision, so our whisper can become a roar that leads to more bridges connecting youth living in poverty with adults from the other side of this economic and social divide

Dan Bassill
Tutor/Mentor Connection

Friday, September 02, 2005

Disaster challenges all of us

I'm as riveted to the TV and the newspapers as probably every one of you are. This is the Tsunami, but it's in our back yard. Of course, in scope it's not the Tsunami, where the death toll was over 175,000 people. But for each person affected, it's the same thing.

For the next few weeks there will be a tremendous outpouring of charitable donations to support relief efforts, just as there was in the weeks following the Tsunami. However, following this there will be a need for donations to continue for a decade or more.

However, in six months or a year there will be another disaster that will mobilize public attention. Then the people who need Tsunami aid, and the people who need Katrina aid, will be off the front page and struggling to find the dollars needed to continue rebuilding their communities.

I understand this struggle all too well. At Cabrini Connections we're building lives. It takes 12 years for one of our 7th graders to reach age 25. Marquita Hall will be a volunteer with us this year. She is still only 24. Yet she has finished college and has a job helping other people. She first joined us when she was in 8th grade, after being part of the Cabrini-Green Tutoring Program since elementary school. She's still connected to some of the volunteers she first met more than 10 years ago.

Our small charity and the many other large and small charities that have been created throughout the Tsunami region, and will be created along the Gulf Coast, will need a constant flow of charity dollars for the next 10 years if today's 7th graders are to become the Marquita's of a decade from now, or if all of the people who have lost everything do to the forces of nature are to have their lives rebuilt.

We created the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993 because we recognized the problem charities have of consistently attracting donors. While a few programs are great at getting funds, not every program is as good, thus there is a poor distribution of good programs in all places where they are needed.

I spent 17 years doing corporate advertising for a large retail store. We sent out 3 waves of advertising to 20 million people in 40 states telling potential customers that we had stoves, clothes, tires and other merchandise they wanted in one of 400 stores that we operated. We also spent millions of dollars in making sure we had the right merchandise in those stores, well trained people, and that the stores were in the right locations.

Each store had a responsibility to do its own advertising and training but because of the support from the national advertising and training, each store was able to attract customers on a regular basis, at a fraction of what it would cost if each had to create their own advertising campaign.

We've created a master database of tutor/mentor programs serving Chicago, and we are working to build a powerful advertising/evangelism that encourages people who have been blessed to look at the database once or twice a month and determine where and how they can help a charity like Cabrini Connections get the resources (volunteers, dollars, technology, training) it consistently needs to help kids to careers. The Program Locator at is the portal that people can search to locate charities who need their help.

I had a conversation with a friend in Texas yesterday and suggested that this same type of thinking and technology needs to be put in place in many cities, and to support many causes so that when the spotlight has moved to another tragedy there is still a way to draw dollars, volunteers and public attention to all of the places where rebuilding takes years. She's a friend of the Mayor of New Orleans and will be sharing that information.

If we can continue to get the help we need to fully develop the Program Locator, and integrate it with GIS maps that visually show where need is greatest in a geographic area, we can offer it to people in the South, or in the Tsunami area, or where ever the next disaster hits, at no cost, and they can be using it in a few months to connect those who can help with the millions who will need help.

If you'd like to help us, email

Daniel F. Bassill
President, Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Invitation to Universities any where in the world

As school is starting for another year, millions of people are starting another round of conversations that loosely could be titled "How do we motivate kids to learn?", or, "What role does my organization have in helping kids from poverty reach jobs and careers?"

If you're one of those people, or if you know someone who is thinking about these questions, please consider my introduction and invitation:

I am president of the Tutor/Mentor Connection (T/MC), based in Chicago. The T/MC was started by a small non profit called Cabrini Connection, back in 1993. I've provided web links below that I hope you'll visit to learn more about our work and our history.

I'm also a Commissioner on the Illinois Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service, so while my primary focus is increasing volunteer based tutoring/mentoring in Illinois, my ideas apply to increasing effective volunteerism and service in all parts of Illinois.

For the past 30 years I've been accumulating knowledge and experience about how to connect workplace volunteers and inner city kids in long-term mentoring relationships that transform the lives of both youth and adults. Since I learned how to put information on the Internet in 1998, I've been putting my knowledge on T/MC web sites, so that others could learn from me. I've also been building a library of web links, that connect visitors to the knowledge of other people who are concerned with poverty and workforce development, and education and diversity. Thus, visitors to our web site can learn from many people, not just from me.

I've been reaching out all over the world looking for colleges that might take a role in helping to facilitate the use of this knowledge among students and alumni.

The goal of such programs is teach students and graduates to be leaders of programs that connect workplace adults with, knowledge, with peers, with resources, and with inner-city kids in long-term tutoring/mentoring strategies that lead kids into jobs/careers by age 25.

While we lead one program with this strategy (Cabrini Connections), we formed the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993 to help every tutor/mentor program in the Chicago region get the resources (volunteers, leaders, dollars, training, technology, etc.) that would enable them to grow in their ability to mentor kids to careers. Through the Internet, this now helps people all over the world.

In the Tutor/Mentor Connection portal (http:/ the navigation bar will lead you to a variety of sections that help you understand this strategy and that help people connect with programs, with information, and with each other in an on-going process aimed at helping every youth born in poverty today be starting a job/career by age 25.

I encourage you to visit the Program Locator section and see how we're using GIS maps and a searchable database to help people understand where programs are needed, and where existing programs are located.

I also encourage you to visit the Tutor/Mentor Institute section and read some of the power point essays. They not only illustrate our role, but they illustrate the role that companies or business associations can take to lead strategies that engage their employees in volunteerism, and in strategies that create future employees and customers.

Among the power point essays you can see a few that show how this might take shape in a university, in a hospital, and in the legal community.

You'll see that our web sites have a ton of information and that some sections focus on elearning, collaboration and innovation. If you think of our web sites as our Bible, or a Curriculum, then our goal is to help groups of people read and reflect on sections of this information on a weekly basis.

If learners tie this reading and reflection into their volunteerism, philanthropy and direct service, then each time they meet with a youth in a volunteer program, the information in the T/MC portal will become more relevant and important to them. As they become an advocate for the kids they personally get to know, some will use their talent, leadership, and wealth (obtained as they grow older) to build the infrastructure needed to help every kid in the Chicago region (or any other city) get more of the support they need to go up the pipeline into a career.

The reason I am looking for university partners is that this information needs to be packaged in a 4 to 6 year curriculum where students learn through regular classwork, and through a variety of internships, service-learning, work-study and volunteer activities. I believe that if a university adopted this as a curriculum, its graduates would soon be in demand from volunteer based programs in all parts of the country.

Furthermore, I believe that alumni who don't go into direct service, but go into industry and professions, would become leaders in workplace and government strategies that PULL kids to careers, using their employees, dollars and jobs as resources. If we can teach people to take that leadership role, we can make a huge impact on how successful non profits are in getting the resources they need to successfully do their work.

My organization is too small to do this. Universities are already doing some of this, but I've not found one who expresses the mentoring-to-career strategy, or the citywide support strategy, that we outline at the Tutor/Mentor Connection. Thus, this offers a teaching opportunity for anyone who might want to take this on.

While we host an Internet strategy, we also host a November and May Leadership and Networking Conference ( to share these ideas and to enable other tutor/mentor leaders to network and share their own vision for how to help kids to careers. Colleges have provided space for these conferences since 1994, which has enabled us to keep the costs low.

I'm looking for a host for the November 2005 conference. If you're interested in talking about the Tutor/Mentor Connection as a strategic partner, you also might want to consider hosting the conference.

Once you've had a chance to browse the web site, I hope you'll want to meet to learn more about what we're doing and ways we might integrate what we're doing with some of the goals of your university. Furthermore, I hope you'll want to discuss how the strategies of the T/MC could increase support for all steams of volunteerism, not just tutoring/mentoring.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope you'll forward it to others who might be interested.

Daniel F. Bassill
Cabrini Connections (1992-2011)
Tutor/Mentor Connection (1992-present)

Illinois Commission on Volunteerism
and Community Service

(2016 note: this blog has been edited to  update web sites to current locations)

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Missing the Tutor Connection, guest message from Rey Carr, Ph.D.

From Rey Carr, Ph.D. hosts a comprehensive peer mentoring and coaching resource at

Below is the Letter to Editor that Rey sent to the Chicago Tribune following a story and editorial about the No Child Left Behind tutoring in Chicago. Rey sent this to the T/MC with the note, "They didn't contact me to verify, so I suppose it did not get accepted." I offered to post the letter here, as I do with many of my own letters that do not get printed in the Chicago papers.

Thanks Ray, for sharing this.


While is was disappointing to learn about the meager results of the
Chicago Public Schools tutoring efforts ("Has tutoring worked?"
August 12, 2005), it was also predictable. The No Child Left Behind
law is wreaking havoc for students across the Nation. It clearly
fails to address root causes of low or poor academic achievement and
gives for-profit businesses an opportunity to skim money from

Poverty is the primary cause for poor school achievement. And I mean
both financial and relationship poverty. The Chicago Public Schools
study of tutoring might have shown different results had they
compared their No Child Left Behind Act tutoring ventures with the
non-profit, community-based, city-wide tutoring relationship services
facilitated by the Tutor/Mentor Connection. This organization
recognizes that building a relationship with a young person is
essential to the success of tutoring. By combining academic
assignments with social and interpersonal support, this kind of
tutoring has much greater success.

By agreeing with the Federal government to restrict teacher
involvement in tutoring, the Chicago Public Schools is cutting out
those individuals who recognize the importance of
relationship-building as an antidote to the power of poverty to limit
academic achievement. In addition, the schools need to build and
strengthen student-to-student peer tutoring as a way to add further
support for achievement. Without attending to relationship poverty,
the tutoring services of the CPS will continue to show dismal results.

Rey Carr, Ph.D.
Peer Resources
Navigation Tools for the Heart, Mind and Soul

Tel: (250) 595-3503
Fax: (250) 595-3504