Monday, November 02, 2020

Why Non-School Volunteer-Based Programs?

Below is a graphic I've used since mid 1990s to visualize the design of a volunteer-based tutor, mentor and learning program.
In programs like this volunteers from different work, life, education, age, race and religious backgrounds become connected to inner city kids, through organized k-12 youth-serving programs.  Over time, multiple years, many of those volunteers build strong bonds, and many take multiple actions that help the youth they are matched with.  Such programs are a form of bridging social capital.

I focus on non-school programs, or those that hold sessions after 5pm, or the weekends, or via the Internet, because in a big city like Chicago, poverty and segregated neighborhoods are measured by miles, making it very difficult for people working full-time day jobs to leave work and go to a school during the school day, or right after school, to serve as a tutor, mentor, coach, etc. The distances are too far and too much time would be taken from the work day. A few might do this, but too few can do it weekly for multiple years.

Yet, as this map shows Chicago has expressways cutting through every poverty neighborhood, linking people to jobs in the city to homes in the suburbs, or the opposite.  These can be access lines enabling workers to connect with kids on their way home from work, in organized tutor, mentor and learning programs....if they are available.

My thinking has been influenced by my own leadership of such a program, from 1975 to 2011, where several thousand workplace volunteers, from more than 100 different companies, spent time weekly with kids living in the Cabrini-Green neighborhood, who came to our program sites in the Montgomery Ward Corporate Headquarters (until 1999) and neighborhood locations after that.

I've built a huge research library over the past 40 years but two writers stand out as influence on my thinking. One is Robert D. Putnam, who started writing about social capital in the late 1990s.  Then a few years ago he wrote the book "Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis".  View some of the articles I wrote about Dr. Putnam and social capital.

I was influenced by an earlier book that I read in the mid 1990s , titled American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass, by Douglas Massey.  This book emphasized how disconnected people living in highly segregated, high poverty, neighborhoods were from the resources that might make lives in those communities better for residents.

If you look at the graphic I posted at the top of this article, imagine places around Chicago or other cities where volunteers and kids might be sitting at a computer, looking for homework help, job opportunities, college information or just fun activities.  Volunteers in such programs can become people who build a deeper understanding of poverty from their experiences and from the kids they mentor and tutor. They can become advocates for the programs they are part of, helping draw other volunteers and donors.  I visualize this process here

They can also become advocates for greater changes, through their civic engagement and their votes.  During this week's election, how many of the volunteers will be people who have connected with high poverty through organized tutor/mentor programs?  I call this a form of "adult service learning" which is visualized in this video.

Below is a PDF that I created in 1990s to describe the idea of a "Total Quality Mentoring" program, where volunteers from different backgrounds connect with youth in long-term programs.  

Many programs support long-term connections though I find few who use PPT essays and graphics they way I do to communicate purpose and program design.  I share these ideas with the goal that others are influenced, including donors and policy-makers, so more programs with this purpose do grow in Chicago and other places.

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