Thursday, June 28, 2012

Empowering Young People

I attended a Chicago Media & Youth Organization event this morning hosted by Community Media Workshop and Strengthening Chicago's Youth (SCY). The event introduced about 24 youth serving organizations, researchers and intermediaries like myself to about 100 youth and professional journalists.

This was sort of a speed dating thing where every five minutes I'd talk to two or three different people. I gave out business cards and hope some will visit this blog to get more information.

The newspapers are talking about murder in Chicago and the editorial writers are demanding new solutions and greater involvement from everyone. As I talked to the youth and professional journalist I encouraged them to think of ways the stories they write could pull potential volunteers and donors to their neighborhoods to support the constant improvement of youth tutoring, mentoring and learning organizations.

I've written a few essays in the past talking about ways young people can unleash their personal power, ways they can follow bad news media stories with "rest of the story" articles that draw attention to tutor/mentor programs (or the lack of them) in specific zip codes, and ways they can use the Program Locator to create their own neighborhood maps and include these in their stories.

Think of the power that might be unleashed if students from hundreds of high schools and colleges were doing this. Follow this logic.

The graphic below if from an essay I wrote showing how we need to expand the number of people using our information in order to influence growth and availability of volunteer-based tutoring and/or mentoring programs in more places.

I started the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1992 with the help of six other volunteers. By 1998 we had more than 80 pairs of teens and volunteers participating each year in the Cabrini Connections program. We had more than 200 people attending each of our May and November conferences. We had more than 12,000 people on our database and receiving our newsletters.

However we did not have a good way to show the growth of this network or show the diversity of its members. Over the past few years I've been looking at Social Network Analysis tools and articles showing the value of mapping and knowing your network. You can read some of these here.

I've been trying to harness this technology but have not had consistent volunteer or intern support and no financial support. Thus, it's been a slow process. However, over the past six weeks interns from IIT have made some progress.

Chul Wan Park learned to use software and did some maps showing the growth of the network on our Tutor/Mentor Connection forum from 2007 till 2012.

Since these maps are based on who is still in the network as of May 2012 they do not reflect people who may have joined but later left the group. However, this map shows three people in the group at the end of 2007.

This map shows that 58 additional people joined in 2008. The map below shows the network at the end of 2009. You can see that there are several people who have formed sub-networks within the forum.

The map below shows the network at the end of May 2012. By then there were 417 people in the group. You can see at least 9 sub groups within this map.

You can see the report Chul created at

This forum is just one of the places I connect with people. Yet, imagine if 50 groups of students duplicated the network-building that I do over the next five years. If their networks grew at the same pace, they would be connecting more than 20,000 (50 x 400 = 20,000) people to stories they write about ways people in the Chicago region can help make tutor/mentor programs available in high poverty neighborhoods.

I use the graphic below to show that if we write about the same thing at key times each year, such as mobilizing volunteers to support tutor/mentor programs in August as school is getting set to start, or mobilizing donors in December before the year-end charity season, we can increase the flow of needed resources to every tutor/mentor program in the city, as long as every writer is pointing to the Program Locator directory that shows programs in all parts of the city.

If more people are looking at this information more young people and volunteers will take on other roles, such as the interns working with me, creating new ways to understand how our networks are growing and new ways to hold adults, business and political leaders accountable for what they do to help kids have the support they need to thrive in life.

This is not rocket science. It is advertising. It's what businesses do every day to draw customers to their stores. If youth and adult journalist can write stories talking about ways people can be involved in making programs available to help kids stay in school and move to jobs and careers, they can influence what others in business, entertainment politics and religion do.

If enough people do this we change the flow of resources and the availability of constantly improving programs in neighborhoods where too many kids are dropping out of school, affected by violence, and failing to reach their full potential. We do more to solve the problems that have plagued our city for decades. We do much to reduce the high costs of poverty which is a burden to all of us.

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