Sunday, November 03, 2013

40th Conference in 20 Years. Tomorrow.

Back in 1993 and 1994 when we were working with volunteers and partners like Public Communications, Inc, a public relations firm in Chicago, I was encouraged to "host a conference" to connect the programs I was learning about in the Tutor/Mentor Connection Program Survey, which we launched in January 1994.

I had no idea that I'd be doing these for 20 consecutive years.

The idea of an intermediary collecting information about tutor/mentor programs throughout the Chicago region, and using this information to support the growth of every program, was something that began in 1975 when I first began leading the volunteer-based program at the Montgomery Ward Headquarters in Chicago. One of the VPs suggested that I should seek out other programs in the city, invite them to lunch, and see what I could learn from them.

I started doing that and soon realized that no one had a master list of programs, and the one who did have a list was the only one who could be consistently inviting people to gather and share ideas. They also were the only ones who could provide reliable information about the range of programs in Chicago.

During the 1975-1990 period I held full time advertising management jobs, thus my leadership of the tutoring program at Wards, which grew from 100 pairs to 300 pairs of kids and volunteers by 1990, took up most of my volunteer leadership capacity. It was not until I left Wards and began to lead the tutoring program in a non-profit structure that I began to have the time, and resources, to think of formalizing this information gathering/networking process.

We started the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993 with no money and a huge vision.
One of our first partners was PCI where a VP said "We've worked with organizations like yours before. We'll help you develop a plan and get it launched, then as you raise money, you can pay us part of our costs for helping".

With the help of PCI we built this Case Statement, launched the first program survey, started sharing information through a printed newsletter, and then organized a first tutor/mentor conference, held in May 1994.
With the first conference we distributed the first printed version of the Chicago Tutor/Mentor Program Directory. We also launched a partnership with the Lend A Hand Program that is now the Lawyers Lend A Hand to Youth Program.

While the first conference attracted 70 people the second held at the Shedd Aquarium, attracted 200.

In 1995 we added an August/September Volunteer Recruitment Campaign to our strategy, working with Chicago Access TV and several partners to promote tutoring/mentoring during August when every program was looking for volunteers.

By 1997 we were recognized well enough to be invited to host a "Teaching Example" booth at the President's Summit for America's Future, held in Philadelphia. I was one of 10 people representing Chicago at the event. We had developed a year-round strategy for supporting tutor/mentor programs throughout the region, which is described in this video.

Unfortunately, this strategy was never embraced by city leaders nor consistently funded.
We have never had more than $150,000 in a single year to support everything the Tutor/Mentor Connection has been doing, which is an insignificant amount of money in the third largest city in the country. The T/MC depended on volunteers and organizational partners doing what they could, when they could.

This list of "helpers" was compiled in late 2000 to show people who helped in the first decade. In 1999 our major sponsor, the Montgomery Ward Corporation, began to down size and we were forced to move from donated space in the corporate headquarters to rented space in the Cabrini Green area. In 2000 when Wards went out of business we also lost their $40-$50,000 per year financial support. The dot-com financial bust in the 1999-2001 period was followed by the 9/11 attack, and a decade of financial challenges that led in 2011 to the Tutor/Mentor Connection separating from the Cabrini Connections program.

Despite these challenges, I've continued to try to provide regular attention to the needs of youth and the potential offered by well-organized non-school tutor/mentor programs. I've continued to invite people to gather in spring and fall conferences, and in on-line forums or face to face conversations.

The chart below shows attendance from 2001-2010. Since then conference attendance has ranged from 75 to 100 per conference, and around 150 total participants each year. At the same time web site traffic has continued to grow, with more than 150,000 visitors to our various web sites each year.

Visit this page on the Tutor/Mentor Conference web site and view videos showing what participants of past conferences had to say about the conference.

If you browse through the articles I've posted on this blog, or the pages of the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC web site, you'll see that I have been consistent to the goals we established when we created the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993 and launched the first conference in May 1994.

The next conference is tomorrow, November 4, at the Metcalfe Federal Building. Pr-registration is close to 100 but we hope a few more will attend.

We'll be focusing on the same question I've been focusing on since 1975. What are all of the things we need to do to make constantly improving tutor/mentor programs available to youth in all high poverty neighborhoods, and to engage more people in figuring out ways to assure that every child born in Chicago today is starting a job/career in 25-30 years.

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