Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Role of Leaders - Making Connections

This image shows teens an volunteers at a typical Cabrini Connections tutor/mentor. Throughout each school year this program serves as a safe place in non-school hours where volunteers who don't live in poverty, but do have jobs and college degrees, can meet with 7th to 12th grade teens who do live in high poverty neighborhoods. These teens are not surrounded by family and community residents with college educations or who work in business and professional careers. That's what poverty is all about.

These kids also don't have many places in non-school hours where they can use computers and participate in college and career readiness activities, or get extra help with homework. That happens at Cabrini Connections every week.

As Mayor Emanuel's strategic planning teams begin to look at violence, education, safety, workforce development and other issues, we hope they use the maps and other ideas we share to build an understanding of what places in the non-school hours are connecting youth and volunteers with learning and technology the way we try to at Cabrini Connections. The map below is from the Program Locator that the Tutor/Mentor Connection has created. You can zoom into neighborhoods and click on the green stars to get contact information, or even web site links.

While much emphasis is on making schools better by improving teacher and principal quality, I feel a parallel effort must be make to make more and better mentor-rich non-school programs available for k-12 kids in high poverty neighborhoods. Such programs need to be on-going, not project based. Mayor Daley helped set up the AfterSchool Matters program a few years ago and it does a great job of helping existing programs have short term learning programs. However, this does not address the infrastructure needed to make a program a great program, and that would make great non school programs available in every part of the city and suburbs.

This graphic illustrates our challenge. What most people see when they look at a non-school tutor/mentor program is the youth and volunteer connecting with each other. They don't look at what goes on at the agency to ensure that this is happening and that it is well supported on an on-going basis. We have over 200 programs in our database and each one needs a strong infrastructure which is only possible if there is consistent donor support.

This is the role the Mayor and other highly visible leaders should be taking. Connect the people you know with the programs in the city that are already working with kids. Help each program build the operating infrastructure needed tohttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif sustain long-term involvement of youth and volunteers. If this is happening on a parallel pace to efforts to improve schools we may send more kids to school more motivated to learn and that can have a greater impact on education than all the billions spent on teachers.

The Tutor/Mentor Connection has been aggregating this information for 18 years with an inconsistent base of philanthropic support. We're hosting our 35th Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference on May 19 and 20 in Matteson, Il because we could not find a donor/sponsor to help us rent space in the city.

If the new Mayor and those who support him will provide financial support to the Tutor/Mentor we can help build this parallel support system. You don't need to reinvent the wheel. You need to grease the one you already have.

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