Thursday, July 31, 2008

Get into the game! Be a mentor!

With these inspirational words, Kevin O'Donnel, or O'Donnell and Associates, ended his Mentor of the Year acceptance comments at the July 30, 5th Annual My Hero Awards banquet, held at the Standard Club of Chicago.

The event, hosted by the SunTimes, Judge Marovitz Lawyers Lend-A-Hand to Youth Program, was attended by more than 200 lawyers, judges, friends and representatives of volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs in Chicago.

I attended in my role as a member of the Executive Board of the Lend A Hand Program, and in my role as President of Cabrini Connections and the Tutor/Mentor Connection.

I've attended this event in previous years and wrote about it here and here. This year was another love fest for mentoring. Each award winner gave a personal testimony, and personal message of encouragement, hoping that others would become involved. Here are some of the quotes that inspired me.

Mentor of the Year, Kevin O'Donnel, is a mentor with The Bridge, located in the far North suburb of Palatine. He said, "Get into the game. You get more out of mentoring than what you put into it. It's fun."

Law Firm Program of the Year. Colleen Karabetsos, Butler Rubin Salterelli & Boyd's Director of Human Resources told of how she first was encouraged to start a company-based program when she attended the MY HERO event four years ago. Now, after four years working with the Centro Comunitario Jaun Diego Center, a grassroots organization on the South Side of Chicago, she says, "These are my babies." Colleen ended her comments by saying "Every one of us has power to change lives. I'm here to inspire you. Please take time to help others."

Making a Difference Award. Thomas A. Staunton, a partner at Miller Shakman & Beem, LLP, was one recipient of this award. Tom joined the Cabrini Green Tutoring Program as a mentor in 1996 and grew into other roles over the past 10 years. He's now Chairman of the CGTP board of directors. Tom said of his experience, "It's been tremendous for me personally. It's given me a chance to participate in strategic discussions and growth of a program." As he described his six year relationship with a student who now is part of the Cabrini Connections program (7th grade to 12th grade), he said "He has had a very positive impact on me." Tom ended his comments by saying "Hopefully this lunch will convince some additional people to do the same."

Making a Difference Award. Lupe Garcia,General Counsel, Chicago Park District, became a volunteer at the Midtown Education Foundation in 1995 and has grown her involvement every year since then. She has served in many roles and now is part of the Board of Directors. Lupe said, "I am an inner-city girl. Mentors helped me. " She concluded, "I get more out of this experience than the girls. Volunteer your time. Don't look back (at the end of your life) and say WOW, what did I do with my life."

My Hero Award. George Mann, a former attorney with the law firm of McDermott, Will & Emory, has been a volunteer with the Jewish Child and Family Services mentoring program for the past seven years. George was nominated for this award by his mentee, and the boy's mother presented the award to George. This was one of the more tearful parts of the day's ceremony. She told how much George has helped her son, and George said, "I can't believe it's been seven years. This has meant at least as much to me as to Elijah, because in giving, you receive. Spread the word."

In my own leadership of a volunteer-based tutor/mentor program since 1975, I've seen dozens of volunteers transformed by their involvement with a youth. Through this transformation I've seen many become more personally involved with the family of the youth they mentored, and more personally involved with the leadership of the organization they served, just like Thomas and Lupe.

Thus, the strategy of the Tutor/Mentor Connection is to encourage business volunteers to become volunteers at tutor/mentor programs all over the Chicago region, and in other cities, and to help these programs support that volunteer involvement so that more volunteers will take this leadership path.

While each individual program has their own vision of tutoring/mentoring and their own structure, we created the Tutor/Mentor Library and the Conferences, as a resource volunteers and leaders could turn to when they could not find answers to day-to-day problems from their own programs. As more and more volunteers use the T/MC web site for their own immediate needs, we hope they begin to benchmark their programs with other models that they can look at by browsing the program links. As they see ideas working in other programs, our hope is that they will become leaders and resource builders to help make these ideas available to the youth in their own programs.

Thus, this hub of information can provide inspiration for constant improvement in every tutor/mentor program in the city, with volunteers taking a lead role to find the resources a program needs to add new ideas and innovate new ways to encourage youth and adults to participate.

Ultimately, we hope that enough volunteers from different programs use the T/MC web site for meeting and sharing ideas and that we can begin to encourage groups of volunteers with common backgrounds, such as working in the same industry, or attending the same college, to form and share ideas about "what works" and "what could work better" with each other. If encouraged, such groups can begin to take on role like the Lend A Hand, mobilizing resources from their industry to support tutor/mentor programs throughout the Chicago region, or in other cities.

When this happens tutor/mentor programs will have more diverse streams of support, and a more diverse base of volunteers who can model jobs in any industry, and open doors to career opportunities for more kids. Such support can cover a higher percent of the operating and innovation expenses of every program in the region, than can the grants from a single donor like the Lend A Hand Program.

When we reach this level of support the distribution of excellent programs will improve, and the impact on youth moving through school and into careers will improve.

As Kevin said, "Get into the Game!" Help us make this vision a reality.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Interesting posts. This is a common issue in almost all major cities. One good solution I saw in Boston was a community tech center where kids can get together and enroll in some kind of online program to keep them away from the streets and partake in a meaningful and effective exercise.

A good example is to help kids out of school with supplemental education like online math tutoring from outsourced organizations which make personal tutoring affordable. Companies like do an excellent job in providing affordable online math tutoring services to children in grades 3-12 at very affordable prices. The biggest advantage being that students can study from anywhere- even a public library.