Sunday, February 26, 2006

Mentoring. A Personal Testimony. A Life Journey.

In previous messages, I've talked about what people and organizations need to do to strengthen the infrastructure of comprehensive, volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs in this country.

I draw my passion from 30 years of leading a tutor/mentor program in Chicago. I first got involved as a volunteer in a program hosted by the Montgomery Ward Corporation. That was 1973.

This morning I received an email from the boy that I first tutored back in 1973 when he was in 4th grade and I was in my first year as a volunteer. He's 43 now. I've been to every one of his graduations. Grade School. High School. College. Wedding.

He's in Nashville now. I had not heard from him for a few years, so today's message was a pleasant surprise.

He wrote, " I cannot believe that is has been over 30 years since we've met. When I look back over the years, you were always there for me. My next trip to Chicago is planned for July 2006. I will make it a top priority to find you, and tell you thanks again. You have really been a great inspiration to me. Thank you."

I wrote to him that I felt lucky to be part of his life and that my involvement with thousands of youth and volunteers in the years since has enriched my life in probably more ways than I was able to change his.

We both benefited and that's why I want to find ways to make it possible for more youth and adults to connect in this type of mentoring. That's the reason for the Tutor/Mentor Connection.

If your life has been touched by a mentor, or by a student that you have mentored, please share your story.

Dan Bassill

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

"the difficulty of success does not relieve one of the obligation to try"

Yesterday at the funeral of Corretta Scott King dozens of high profile people gave inspirational speeches calling for service to this nation and this world.

(NOTE: while this was posted in 2006 I've updated some of the links to point to current (2014) web sites)

I heard President Clinton while driving home. He said, "the difficulty of success does not relieve one of the obligation to try"

That resonated with me. For the past 30 years I've been trying to connect volunteers and inner city kids in a process that transforms the lives of the adult and the youth. For the youth we're trying to show that there are many career opportunities beyond those modeled in high poverty inner-city neighborhoods. They are available to anyone who works hard enough and takes advantage of the support offered by volunteer based tutor/mentor programs. To the volunteer's I've tried to teach concepts of service and leadership that go beyond "giving back" or "random acts of kindness". A youth in 5th grade needs volunteer support for many years and without the help of volunteers who become leaders and help improve the capacity of a tutor/mentor program, we'll never maintain our appeal long enough to ensure that our kids reach careers. Each year, this seems like an impossible task, yet, "the difficulty of success does not relieve me of the obligation to try."

I formed the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993 because I realized that no one had a master database of volunteer based tutor/mentor programs serving Chicago, and no one was leading a day-to-day effort to help each program that was already operating get the help and encouragement it needs to be successful at connecting kids and adults in long-term, career oriented mentoring. By not knowing what programs exist and where they were located, the city did not have a way to identify neighborhoods or age groups where there were no programs, or build a strategy to add new programs to fill these voids.

I've been trying to get leaders of tutor/mentor programs, researchers, funders, business leaders, etc. to come together in on-going learning that leads to the growth of volunteer-based mentoring-to-career programs in every poverty neighborhood of Chicago and other major cities.

I describe this process in a Theory of Change presentation that can be found in the Tutor/Mentor Institute library.

I participate in a variety of email forums, and issue a monthly email newsletter. Our web sites receive 4,000 visits a month. Through these I reach more than 10,000 people a month with invitations to connect with the Tutor/Mentor Connection. We receive a trickle of responses which are the people we've worked with since 1993 to build the Tutor/Mentor Connection. I'm disappointed that we don't have greater response, or that we've not found a major benefactor to support our work, but in the spirit of President Clinton's message, "it does not relieve me of the obligation to try".

I use power point essays to describe a multidimensional process that shows a sequence of services that start at birth and lead kids through school and into jobs and careers 25 years later, and that are available in thousands of neighborhoods, and supported by dozens of different types of organizations, and every industry segment, all with the same goals, but all working in silos to do their work.

Connecting these groups and teaching business and philanthropy to distribute funds based on where tutor/mentor programs are needed and which programs already operate in those areas is an almost impossible task. Yet, "the difficulty of the challenge does not relieve me of the obligation to try"

I am beginning to organize workshops for the May 25 and 26, 2006 Tutor/Mentor Leadership Conference that will be held at the Northwestern University Law School in Chicago. I'm also looking for colleges and universities who will host internet based discussions of conference topics, enabling more people to connect, network and learn from each other than who normally can attend a face to face conference. I'm also looking for a host college for the November 2006 conference. While it's difficult finding people to donate time or space or money needed to bring program leaders together, "the difficulty of the challenge does not relieve me of the obligation to try."

I encourage anyone who listened to Al Sharpton or the Rev. Joseph Lowery, or Bill Clinton's words in honor of the memory of Coretta Scott King to connect with the Tutor/Mentor Connection through the May or November Conferences or social media sites or the the Tutor/Mentor Connection on-line forum. You can offer workshops to share what you are learning and to help other programs find ways to connect adult and kids in ways that transform lives. Or, you can help sponsor the conference.

I you are interested in participating, please visit for details or email me at

Daniel F. Bassill
Cabrini Connections (1993-2011)
Tutor/Mentor Connection
Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC (2011-2014)

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

2006 State of the Union Response: There's A Better Way

Last night in the Democratic response to President George W. Bush's State of the Union Address, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine said "There's got to be a better way" to manage the affairs of government.

I agree, but my message is to leaders of both parties on the national and local level. My message is also to business leaders who are worrying about how to stay competitive with foreign competition over the next 20-30 years.

For many years I've been trying to draw attention to what I think is a better way to help inner city kids succeed in school and move to careers.

You can find my ideas in the Tutor/Mentor Institute Library.

I've created a variety of short power point essays illustrating the role business should be taking to PULL kids through school and into jobs, using their employees, jobs, technology, leadership and dollars.

I've also created power point essays showing how maps could be used to build a better distribution of resources, and programs, in all poverty neighborhoods of a big city like Chicago. Read the one titled "No General Would Go to War without a Map"

So far I've had many people say "great idea" but few leaders come and say, "let me help you".

In fact, the opposite seems to be happening. The Tutor/Mentor Connection has been building and maintaining a database of non-school tutor/mentor programs since 1994. We use this to send invitations for programs to come together for networking and collaboration, and to draw donors and volunteers to the various tutor/mentor programs in different neighborhoods of the city .

We've had to build this with a patchwork of inconsistent donor help and a variety of volunteers because we cannot find donors who would invest in this. Yet every year some city or state organization spends scarce money to build a database of non school youth serving organizations. I just received a fax from Chicago Public Schools asking for information for the database they are building.

It would be a lot cheaper for CPS and other public agencies to give money to the T/MC to help us update the database we've already created, not just because we have a database, but because we're using the database to draw private sector resources to these programs. We're using the database to help existing programs survive and get better. We're using it to help identify the neighborhoods without programs so that businesses, churches, hospitals and community groups can fill these voids, borrowing from the ideas of programs that already provide services.

I cannot imagine the Mayor, or the CEO of Chicago Public Schools saying to all of their business friends, "look in our database and make a contribution to tutor/mentor programs near where your employees live or near where you sell merchandise or in neighborhoods with poorly performing schools". This would possibly reduce donations to the School Partners Program or to the Chicago Matters Program. Yet, maybe the schools would need less money if more kids were coming to school better prepared to learn and with greater aspirations to have a career beyond those modeled in their neighborhoods by ex-convicts and gangbangers.

In the Tutor/Mentor Institute is a section titled Theory of Change. It shows how important it is for someone to maintain this database, not just create it. It shows what can result if we help programs get the resources they need to do good work of mentoring kids to make healthy choices. It also shows that this is a long term process and that if you don't maintain the database on an ongoing basis, it is worthless and the benefit of having a database will be reduced.

There is a better way. If Democrats and Republicans would begin to use maps to show where they need to provide better services, and if voters would begin to use maps to determine where in their district an elected person has helped a community organization get a donation, or a volunteer, we could be more objective in fighting our wars.

That's how generals use maps.

Daniel F. Bassill
Tutor/Mentor Connection
Cabrini Connections (1993-2011)
Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC (2011-present)

NOTE: this article was edited in 2015 to update links referred to in the article and to show changes in my organizational affiliation.