Monday, December 20, 2010

Generals, Leaders and Maps

This is the third in a series of decade-ending articles I’m posting to show the work we’ve done in the past decade and the challenges we’ve overcome.

Our aim is to connect inner city youth with volunteers in structured, non-school tutor/mentor programs. When we started Cabrini Connections in 1993 we realized that one more small program would be a great benefit to the youth it served, but would not make much impact in a city with more than 200,000 youth living in poverty. We also recognized that small non-profits have a difficult time attracting volunteers and dollars which are continuously needed to grow from good to great, and then stay great for many years.

We decided to try to address this need in order to help our own Cabrini Connections program succeed. We created the Tutor/Mentor Connection.

We began to see the value of using maps to show where tutor/mentor programs are located in 1993 when we were initially researching the feasibility of offering the Tutor/Mentor Connection. With the help of Metro Chicago Information Center (MCIC) we launched the first tutor/mentor program survey in January 1994. Then with help from IBM, ESRI and various volunteers we were able to launch a system to produce maps in 1994 showing the distribution of tutor/mentor programs in Chicago. We published our list of Chicago non-school tutoring and/or mentoring programs as a printed Directory in May 1994 when we launched the first Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference.

We continued to print and distribute a Chicago tutor/mentor programs directory until 2001, when we had to discontinue this due to lack of funds. At its peak in 1997-98 we were sending a print newsletter three times a year to 12,000 people and the printed directory once each year to about 400 organizations, foundations, media and business leaders.

With each directory we used maps showing where poverty was most concentrated and where existing tutor/mentor programs are located. From 1996 to 2003 we built a variety of maps and shared them via our newsletters with a growing number of people.

Our intent was to use maps like this to help business with building strategies that encouraged volunteer involvement near where they do business, or where customers live.

We also wanted to help individual tutor/mentor programs build strategies that would attract volunteers and donors to their own locations.

In addition, we wanted to use maps to follow high profile media stories with “map stories” that drew volunteers and donors to neighborhoods made visible by negative news reporting. We don’t have the money to buy the front page of the Chicago SunTimes, but when they feature negative news on the front page, it is worth over $250,000 in advertising costs. By creating “rest of the news” map stories, like the one below on a consistent basis, we hope to draw more consistent attention, and volunteer/donor support to the tutor/mentor programs operating in these neighborhoods, or to help new programs form where there are voids.

Unfortunately we entered the past decade without funding to support T/MC research and map making. Yet we made some significant strides in the past decade.

Jim Cory, from Horizon Mapping, based in Madison, Wisconsin produced maps for us several times a year between 2000 and 2005 and built the first map based directory.

In 2004 we launched the first searchable Program Locator that enabled programs to add/edit their own information and enabled parents, volunteers, donors and social workers to search by type of program and zip code.

In 2007 an anonymous donor provided a $50,000 gift which enabled us to hire Mike Trakan on a part time basis, starting in Jan. 2008. Mike rebuilt the desk-top GIS so that we could consistently produce high quality maps like these shown in the Map Gallery.

In mid 2008 we used part of that $50,000 gift to hire a company based in India to build an interactive program locator, based on the desktop version Mike had created. This went live in early 2009 and can now be used by anyone to create map stories like the one below. Visit this
MAP link to see dozens of map stories created using this program locator.

We've never had much month to offer the Tutor/Mentor Connection to Chicago. The chart below illustrates that we had less than $150,000 per year between 2002 and 2007. However, as we finish the decade we are right where we were at the start. We don’t have money to keep the map making and program locator on-line, and to continue to keep the tutor/mentor program data current. We don’t have advertising dollars to tell more people about the maps and how they can be used.

In his State of the City address in 1994 Mayor Richard Daley said “We all need to take more responsibility. In the weeks and months ahead, I want this entire city mobilized and committed to a citywide crusade for children. Nothing else we do will ever be as important.”

We’ve shared this commitment, and offered the T/MC strategy and resources to the Mayor and other leaders since 1994. We’re still doing that and hope the next Mayor reaches out to embrace these ideas more consistently.

Read more about T/MC strategies and use of maps at

Review T/MC resources that are now available on line to any user.

In my final article next week I’ll show how funding for the Tutor/Mentor Connection in Chicago is far lower than for different city and state mentoring-support groups operating around the country. Without raising the level of funding for the Tutor/Mentor Connection to at least the middle of this group, we cannot support the growth of tutor/mentor programs in all the places where we need to do this.

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