Sunday, January 26, 2020

A call for comprehensive, mentor-rich non-school programs

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A few days ago I was pleased to see an announcement on Lovea Smith's Facebook page showing that she'd been selected to be part of the Chicago Foundation for Women's 2020 Willie’s Warriors Leadership Initiative.

Lovea was part of the Cabrini Connections tutor/mentor program for four years in the 1990s (until her high school graduation) and then went on to college and graduate school and now is Director of Support Services at Housing Opportunities for Women.

She's one of many alumni of the Cabrini Connections program, which I led from 1993 to 2011, and the Montgomery Ward/Cabrini-Green Tutoring Program, which I led from 1975 to fall 1992,  who I'm connected to on Facebook.

Below is a graphic that I created more than 10 years ago to show the goal of programs like Cabrini Connections.  Lovea is shown at the left with program leader Gena Schoen, and another student, Eric Moore, who I'm also connected to on Facebook.

Three time frames where youth need support

This graphic shows that there are three time frames where youth need organized support, which are the school hours, the 3-5pm afterschool hours, and the after 5pm and weekend program hours. I divide the non-school hours into two sections because it's only in the after-work hours when workplace volunteers are able to make consistent and on-going tutor/mentor connections with inner city kids.  (This may only apply to major cities like Chicago, where the time to travel from work to a program site is too far for workplace volunteers to get to a program regularly during the 9am to 5pm hours. In smaller communities this distance may not be as much of an issue.) See versions of the graphic above in this presentation.

Furthermore, it takes organized programs to facilitate these connections, encouraging on-going participation of young people and of volunteers.  Below is another graphic that I created to visualize the design of the tutor/mentor programs I led.

programs with this design needed in many places
In this graphic I show the three time frames and the pre school through high school and into adult lives time line. I show that a youth connects with a primary mentor, but that through the design and activities of the program that youth also connects with a wide range of other volunteers, staff and learning opportunities. View this Total Quality Mentoring presentation.

Below is a PDF showing the strategy we followed at Cabrini Connections. It focuses first on building and sustaining participation for multiple years of both youth and volunteers. Take a look.

While I led a tutor/mentor program prior to 1992 when we formed Cabrini Connections, we created the Tutor/Mentor Connection at the same time, in an effort to help every non-school youth tutor and/or mentor program in Chicago get the ideas and resources needed to build their own versions of a mentor-rich program.  Based on my own experiences I recognized that every programs share the same struggle for consistent resource flows.

All programs have same needs
These included public visibility, operating dollars, volunteers, training and on-going support, leadership, consistent student participation, and ideas to grow from.

We started building a list of programs in January 1993, which I still maintain in 2020.  In addition, we began using maps to show where programs were most needed, based on indicators like high poverty, poorly performing public schools, and incidents of violence. Then we create overlays showing the locations of programs on our maps.

View Program Locator

We began publishing our list of programs in a printed directory in 1994 and were able to send it to 300-400 people each year, including foundations, libraries and many businesses. However it was not until 2004 that we were able to launch a searchable on-line program locator that enabled far more people to find the information we were sharing. 

In 2008 we created a new version of this, with the information plotted on a map, and with indicators data included, so people could zoom into a neighborhood to create a story-map, showing where programs were needed, and what programs were available, sorted by age group served and type of program.

Since launching our first website in 1998 we've been sharing these ideas and strategies with the world since they apply in every major city where poverty is concentrated in small areas surrounded by more affluent and well-connected neighborhoods.

Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC

While we were able to sort programs by age group and type of program we really were not able to dig deeper into program data to create a clear differentiation. If you look at the websites on this list of programs you see great variation. Some include tutoring and/or mentoring as part of a larger organization, and give very little information about program design, goals or history. Others focus totally on tutoring/mentoring as the core part of program design. Few show a long-term strategy as visualized by the charts I've shown above.  Thus, there is much work to be done to create a city with long-term programs reaching youth in every high poverty neighborhood.

Unfortunately the financial meltdown starting in late 2008 destroyed our funding base and led the directors of Cabrini Connections-Tutor/Mentor Connection to make a radical change in 2011, dropping the T/MC strategy to focus only on the youth program.  That led me to leave the organization and form Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC in late 2011 to try to continue to support the Tutor/Mentor Connection strategy, which I've managed to do through 2019, but with a bare minimum of support. Much of the work we were doing in the 2000s is no longer being done and our web sites are now templates for what should be done, more than active resources, although the web library and list of programs is being maintained and updated regularly.

As we enter 2020 the Chicago Tribune has launched a new call to action (see my article) and Mayor Lightfood has launched an EveryYouth Connected initiative (see my article). 

I keep sharing ideas via this blog and social media with two overall goals:

a) leaders will borrow these ideas and incorporate them into their own plans, perhaps even asking me to help them

b) a  university and/or investor/benefactor will step forward and offer support to rebuild the Tutor/Mentor Connection (see these articles) and to provide leadership to carry it forward in future years.

Get to know T/MC and T/MI
A starting point for anyone is to spend time browsing through my blog and web site to begin learning what I've been describing and thinking of ways to incorporate some of the ideas into your own leadership.  Here's a page where you can see how interns working with me between 2006 and 2015 have done that. 

In addition, here's a cMap showing how others have spent time learning about the T/MC and Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC.

We're beginning a new year, and a new decade. Will the ideas and resources still be available in 2030?  Will there be programs in every neighborhood telling stories showing how youth who have been part of organized tutor/mentor programs from elementary school through high school in the past are now being recognized as future leaders, such as Lovea Smith.  

That's my goal. 

If you'd like to connect, post a comment or engage with me on one of these social media platforms.

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