Thursday, August 31, 2006

Ten Things You Really Need To Learn

School is starting and we're recruiting volunteers to serve as tutors/mentors at Cabrini Connections and other tutor/mentor programs in Chicago. 

Here's a blog that outlines learning goals that I think would be valuable for all students, and adults, to master. The list is very thoughtful and the comments add additional value. 

If you can find ways to mentor these skills to your own kids, or to kids who you might meet in a tutor/mentor program, it would be a valuable use of your time and talent.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Saving Futures, Saving Dollars: Converging Thinking

At the left is a drawing I made today to illustrate a concept that I've been trying to articulate for a long time. (just double click the image to enlarge it)

The hub of this drawing represents a single youth. Or, it could represent all of the young people in a zip code, or a community.

If the community has high concentrations of poverty, it's likely that the young people are not finishing school, or if they do finish school, they are not as well prepared for jobs, college and careers as are kids who did not live in poverty.

Brian Scales, from Mentors, Inc, based in Washington, DC, sent me an article today titled, Saving Futures, Saving Dollars. You can read it at this link (this is updated 2012 version)

This article illustrates the huge benefit to society if we'd just find more ways to help kids born in poverty be starting jobs and careers by age 25. We're reminded of this problem at least once a day in our local newspapers, either with a story about teens killing teens, or high school test scores. Yet, nothing seems to change.

Maybe one of the problems is that we're all divided into sub groups, based on how we see the problem, who we are, and where we are. My concept map illustrates this. I've heard many people use the term "pipeline to careers", but not many map a strategy that identifies all of the different resources that are available to kids not living in poverty, which need to be made available on an age appropriate, continuous basis, to more of the kids who do live in poverty.

My concept map illustrates that there are many groups of people/organizations who are working to end poverty. However, they are not connected to each other, the way sub contractors are connected to each other in the blueprints that are used to build a house, or a tall building.

Because of the way philanthropy and public attention work, we spend billions to fund lots of different actions, but don't achieve the results we want because the funding does not go to all of the different groups in a zip code who need to be in that zip code, nor stay there on an on-going basis until the neighborhood reaches a "tipping point" in which a majority of kids are headed to school with positive aspirations, the motivation to learn, and a network of adults available, and willing to help them.

The reason I'm so positive about volunteer-based tutoring/mentoring is that out of all of the ideas represented on my map, this is the only one that has the potential of getting large numbers of people who don't live in poverty, personally involved in the lives of young people who do live in poverty.

I know from my own experiences that the longer a person stays involved, the more he/she will understand what the issues are, and the more they will be willing to devote a greater amount of time, talent, dollars and personal involvement to helping a child who is not their own have the same opportunities for college and a career as if they gave birth to that child.

School is starting and all over the country tutor/mentor programs are looking for volunteers. They are looking for donors and leaders, too. I hope that anyone who reads this will get involved, and encourage others to get involved.

However, I also hope that people who are working with social networking, collaboration, e-learning and other concepts that might help people get informed, then involved, will work with me to create a process of convergence that links leaders, volunteers and donors who are represented in the different sub groups on my map, with each other, in a process that leads to more comprehensive, and longer-lasting strategies for helping youth move up the pipeline from poverty to careers.

If you're interested in learning more, or helping me create computerized concept maps, visit the Tutor/Mentor Institute section of to view additional essays that show how maps can help create understanding and shared commitment to building more and better volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs where they are needed.

Dan Bassill
Tutor/Mentor Connection
Cabrini Connections

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Welfare Reform - Next Steps

One of the features in the Perspectives Section of the Chicago Tribune today was on the 10 year anniversary of welfare reform. While giving credit for moving people off the welfare rolls, the story focused on what we need to do to move those people from the working poor to higher income levels. The solution is education.

I use charts to illustrate the time line/opportunity line of preventing poverty or developing future workers. The left end of that line is when a child is born. The Right end stretches to the mid twenties, when that young person should be in the beginning stages of a career. The gray area to the right of this is the rest of a person's life. I use maps to show all of the places where the left end of this time line needs to be reaching kids in specific zip codes. Right now, there are too few of these connections and most don't have long-term career focused vision, nor the funding consistency to provide services for that many years.

Kids grow through pretty well defined stages of preschool, elementary school, middle school and high school. If kids were born in high poverty, they begin to drop out of this system mentally by grade 3 and 4 and physically by 10th grade. Check the high school drop out rates for your city and you can determine how much of a problem this is.

Welfare reform focuses on providing retraining for adults who already did not get the tools they need the first chance they had to go through this pipeline. Thus, the costs are much higher to re-educate a person when they are an adult, and the probability of success much lower. It would be much more cost effective to surround a future adult with a learning support network, like a tutor/mentor program, when he is young, and keep it their as he/she grows up.

If you don't agree, look at some of the cost of poverty studies that show the cost of a person entering a life of crime to be $1.6 million or more. The cost of a youth in a tutor/mentor program for 20 years could be $20,000 - $40,000, depending on the costs of space to operate such a program, the size of the program, and the range of activities.

So where does this money come from? That's the problem. I point you to a couple of discussions where this is being addresses:

a) Read the Non Profit Capacity Conundrum at
- this does a good job of illustrating the problem

b) The Future of Community Foundations ..

These two discussions are linked. Community Foundations are struggling to survive in an environment where others are channeling donors directly to charities, or showing donors ways to hide their money so it doesn't go to anyone but the family tree. In this discussion Phil Cubeta makes a case for leadership. He wrote, "At some point you either step up and represent what is best in this country and our moral and civic traditions, or you may as well pull over and let the financial companies go by you like an 18 wheeler high-balling down the highway with the horn blasting. "

I think this leadership opportunity extends to anyone who is concerned with the future of this country. While I don't expect corporate institutions to change focus on bottom line, I do believe that individuals who lead corporations can, and should provide moral leadership. Last time I looked, many of these people professed to be members of faith communities.

There are many places where people can meet to talk about ways to build an education based pipeline to careers. One is So far, we don't have enough of the right people (foundation, business, faith and university leaders, etc.) using our forum to lead this discussion, so we look for ways we can join in their discussions. Yet, I don't find many places on the internet where this is happening, or where the discussion points to maps of cities like Chicago, and to the places where dollars, volunteers, leaders are needed to fill the pipeline with programs that mentor kids to careers.

You'll find that at the T/MC site. I encourage you to include this in your discussion and deliberation on the next steps of welfare reform, or the ways to make community foundations viable.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Cabrini Green in the news – The Rest of the Story

Today’s Chicago Sun Times front page headline was “ Fake Gun, Real Anger”. The headline was caused by the shooting of a 14-year old boy by Chicago police. The anger was caused by a long-term lack of trust between inner city youth and police, as well as the way residents feel they are being “pushed out of the Cabrini Green area by developers” and gentrification.

On page two, columnist Mark Brown wrote “Emotions run high in constant struggle between residents, cops.” The editors of Mr. Brown’s column highlighted one quote which read, “This was Cabrini in its natural state – raw and untamed as ever, a perpetual battleground between police and residents despite all the changes to the neighborhood.”

On page 14 and 15, the Sun Times devoted two full pages to this story. One part provided the justification by police. A second article talked about the frustration of residents who are being pushed out by the new development in Cabrini Green.

On page 37 the feature editorial headline was “Tension, anger, building up.” The editorial reflected the “air of apprehension” of residents who are not sure where they will be moved to, or if they will be able to return and live in the new, mixed income Cabrini Green. The editorial said, “Police have been taking steps to diffuse the tensions, holding meetings between police and local political, religious and business groups that are intended to reduce the risk of confrontation between citizens and police.”

This is what was in the paper. What comes next is “The Rest of the Story”.
If you want to get involved and change what's happening in inner city neighborhoods, please read on, and encourage your friends and co-workers to also read this message.

With school starting in a few weeks, it would be great if there were two full pages in the Sun Times, Chicago Tribune, Cranes, and other Chicago media focusing on the way volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs can help kids make better life choices, and have better success in schools.

Mr. Brown’s article focused on the sensational history of Cabrini Green. It did not tell the story of kids who have finished school, thanks to volunteers like those who are buying condos in Cabrini Green. The editorial could have suggested that volunteer-based tutoring/mentoring programs like Cabrini Connections, or Cabrini Green Tutoring Program, are places where the people buying these high priced condos, and the kids living in the neighborhood (now or in the future) , might meet to learn more about each other, and to build community and family type bonds centered around helping raise the kids living in this new mixed income village.

The SunTimes story did mention that the father of youth who was shot is a “former gang member with 33 arrests on his rap sheet and a conviction for misdemeanor battery” and that some of the boy’s siblings are ‘bad kids’, according to the father.

The people moving into Cabrini Green condos probably have not spent much time learning about poverty, other than reading news stories like today’s paper. If they did, they’d learn that some of Chicago’s neighborhoods are “dumping grounds for ex-convicts” meaning that the most common role model might be someone who has a rap sheet, or who is currently an active gang member.

If we don’t surround young people with mentors who don’t have “rap sheets” or who have gone to college and work in a variety of honest jobs and careers every day, how can we change the aspirations and expectations for these kids? If we don’t create informal places where inner city kids and people who don’t live in poverty can meet and build bridges of understanding, how can we expect to reduce the tension?

School starts in a few weeks and there are many high poverty neighborhoods of Chicago where kids like Ellis Woodland live. Tutor/Mentor programs in these neighborhoods, and in Cabrini Green are seeking volunteers. They are also seeking donors who will help provide the money to operate these programs.

This is the rest of the Story. It’s not what is in the media. It’s what you can do to change what gets into the media. You can learn more about tutor/mentor programs serving the Cabrini Green area by searching the 60610, 60611 and 60622 zip codes of the Tutor/Mentor Program Locator section of

Monday, August 07, 2006

Hong Kong Student Interns with Chicago Charity

The Tutor/Mentor Connection has been the home of Michael Tam, a 20 year old student from Hong Kong Baptist University, since late June. I encourage you to read Michael's blog, to see how he has come to know and communicate the goals of the T/MC.

We've been enriched by Michael's presence, and greatly aided by his work here this summer. We hope he'll continue to use his blog, and his time, to support the T/MC, even when he returns to Hong Kong.

That's the power of the Internet. It enables people from distant worlds to connect and build a shared commitment to one world.

The people who organize the program that brought Michael to Chicago found Cabrini Connections and the T/MC because of our internet strategy. We hope others will find us and that more students like Michael will intern with us, then take the T/MC ideas back to their own cities, states and countries, where they will continue to work with us, but with a focus on their own geography.

Thank you Michael for the time you have spent with us and for your many contributions.

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

Friday, August 04, 2006

Mayor Mocks Meeks Misses Main Message (today's Chicago SunTimes)

For the past week the Chicago Sun Times has been giving major media space to the way Illinois State Senator James Meeks, who is also pastor of Salem Missionary Baptist Church in the Roseland area of Chicago, delivered a message about the miserable condition of schools and education opportunities for kids living in highly segregated, high poverty neighborhoods. You can follow these stories at the web site.

Since the minister blamed the Mayor, Richard Daley, for the condition of schools, the Mayor has been responding. Since the minister used the N-word, the media are also making this a front page issue.

I think the media, the minister and the mayor are missing an opportunity. The minister wants the mayor and the majority ethnic community, mainly White people, to do more to help improve schools in poor neighborhoods. More money to hire high quality teachers and improve facilities is the goal for the minister. The media and the mayor are responding to the way the minister delivered this message, using the N-word in his sermon last week.

All of this sells lots of papers for the Chicago Sun Times, but does little to change the education opportunities for inner-city kids. No matter how correct the minister may be, nothing will change on the public funding level in the next four weeks. Maybe not in the next four years. Furthermore, if you read the information posted by the UCLA Center for Mental Health in Schools, just pouring more money into teacher pay and facilities is not going to change the outcomes for inner city kids because it does not change the availability of learning supports for kids in these schools.

None of these mega-leaders are talking about learning supports, or the long-term strategies that would lead to more people, or all races, creeds and color, becoming personally involved in efforts to help inner-city kids succeed in school and move to jobs and careers.

Just by putting more money in teachers and facilities won’t change the make-up of the communities where these kids live, which are high poverty, where many of the most prominent role models are adults who are working in illegal trades, have dropped out of school and/or are ex-convicts.

Just writing infrequent, but sensationalist, media stories, making speeches, and marching in the streets, won’t get more people personally involved in helping other people’s kids grow up. The minister, the mayor and the media need to be thinking of new ways to get business people (of all colors, and from the city and suburbs) personally engaged in the lives of economically-disadvantaged kids.

To me, that means they should be talking about volunteer-based tutoring/mentoring, and the places in poor neighborhoods where people who live in the suburbs, but work in the city, could be spending a couple of hours each week as a tutor/mentor instead of fighting the rush hour traffic. These are also places where people who live in the city and in these neighborhoods, could also be involved, as leaders and organizers of tutor/mentor programs.

They should also be talking about how churches, banks, and community health centers in high poverty neighborhoods, and along the routes city workers take in coming and going to work each day, could be hosts to tutor/mentor programs, creating more places where kids and volunteers can meet.

Finally, they should be thinking of ways to encourage people who go to church every Sunday might give 2 to 3% of their wealth each year to support these tutor/mentor programs. There just is a limit to how much public money is available. Non school programs need an infusion of private sector and corporate money. Who better to lead in the giving than people of faith?

If we expand the number of adults connected with kids, we immediately provide learning supports that can change the aspirations kids bring to school. And, we create a strategy that bridges the divides separating rich and poor, and people of different colors from each other. If we increase the number of people engaged in mentoring, and systematically educate them on what they can do to change public policy, we could have a different public funding system in place a few years down the road.

If we don’t think of how to expand the choir, we’ll just keep preaching to a small group of followers. That won’t do much to change the disadvantages that inner city kids face and it won’t make Chicago a better city for everyone to raise their kids.

I encourage the mayor, the minister, the media and the masses to visit the Tutor/Mentor Connection on the http://www.tutormentorconnection web site. Here we all can meet, share information, learn about tutoring/mentoring programs, and find places where people can be a volunteer, a donor, or a leader.

There are still four weeks in August when media, mayors and ministers, as well as leaders from other industries can be encouraging employees, faith members and friends to get involved in tutor/mentor programs.

Through this involvement many will begin to take a personal interest in the things the minister and the mayor are talking about, and this can lead to the changes in public policy and public funding, that will lead to more systemic changes in how we help economically disadvantaged kids get lifelines out of poverty.