Saturday, February 17, 2007

Helping Inner-city Teens Reach Careers

During the past week I've been contacted by two of the students who started with Cabrini Connections between 1994 and 1996, when they were in 7th and 8th grade.

One graduated from Syracuse University last spring, and is now starting an acting career in New York City. He told me that he had a small part in a new Barbershop film, which filmed recently in Toronto. He got his start in acting as part of our youth video group.

The other graduated from St. Mary's University, near Notre Dame. She's also involved in the film industry, but from a production side. She now lives in London, but works in Chicago when she's not involved in projects. We met at a volunteer recruitment event hosted by Women On Call, a new organization that is helping professional women find ways to volunteer.

In the photo above we show a group of our teens and a group of graduate students from Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin. This group met in the summer of 2006 at our Chicago location. This was the 7th year that students from Edgewood have hosted a summer workshop with our teens. The goal is to help our teens build skills and aspirations that help them succeed in school and move to college, while also helping the students at Edgewood connect with inner city youth and expand the choices they might make for where they become teachers.

If you look at these photos and read stories on the Cabrini Blog, or web site, it begs the question: Just what is a tutor/mentor program? Is it tutoring? Is it mentoring? How do we define it? How do we create metrics that others might use to value it, or invest in it?

In the Tutor/Mentor Institute I provide an essay titled Defining Terms: Tutoring. Mentoring. Same words. Different Meanings. In another essay I show the use of maps. My goal is to define what a tutor/mentor program is in terms of what the need for a tutor/mentor program is, based on demographics such as poverty or concentrations of poorly performing schools.

As you look at these maps, it's rapidly clear, that one single tutor/mentor program in one neighborhood, serving a growing number of teens and alumni -- a total of 490 since 1993, as of Sept. 2007--is not enough in a city where there are more than 400,000 kids in the school system, more than 200,000 living in high concentrations of poverty, and more than 135,000 attending poorly performing schools.

What's needed is leadership that would make such programs available in more places. That's what the Tutor/Mentor Connections seeks to build. But then, how do you defined the metrics, or valuations, of this role of catalyst, information center, net-worker?

I just read a book describing the work of the Ashoka organization, titled How to Change the World. Before that I read The Starfish and the Spider. You can find links to both books in the T/MC Links library. These describe work that unfolds over a lifetime, and is only successful because of the passion and persistence of a few individuals with a vision that others don't see.

Our vision is helping youth born in neighborhoods of highly concentrated big city poverty get the help they need to be starting jobs and careers by their mid twenties. We hope you'll help us define the metrics, or the values, in way that investors and business leaders will be willing to risk their own involvement. If this moves you, we hope you'll give your support.

No comments: