Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Building and Sustaining Youth Support Networks

It's been a difficult 2020 in many ways for people all over the world. Let's hope 2021 will be better.  One thing Covid19 has highlighted is the different levels of opportunity available in America to poor people and people of color. That was forcefully brought home with the George Floyd murder and the protests that spread around the world this past summer.

While there are many things that might be done to reduce these inequalities and reform the justice system I've been focusing on building mentor-rich systems of support for inner city kids since 1993 and will do so again in 2021.   

The graphic shown below visualizes this goal, using the map of Chicago to emphasize all the places where youth serving organizations are needed, and where they need to provide many types of support for many years.  I'll explain this more in the following paragraphs.

Since forming the Tutor/Mentor Connection (T/MC) in 1993 my goal has been to help volunteer-based, mentor-rich, non-school tutoring and learning centers be available in a growing number of high poverty neighborhoods. Rather than start new programs, the strategy has been to identify existing organizations who already do some form of tutoring and/or mentoring and help them get a consistent flow of ideas, talent, operating dollars and other resources needed to build constantly improving programs.

When you look at the "oil well" images on the map I want you to think of the 12 years it takes for a youth to go from first grade to 12th grade, and the four to eight years after that to go through secondary education and find a job and/or be starting a career.

Since no program starts out as "the best" the flow of resources needs to help programs launch, then grow, then build and sustain multiple year connections with youth.

It takes a lot of different talents and skills to make this happen. I use the "it takes a village" graphic to visualize this.  In addition, I've created some concept maps that show the range of talent and community networks who need to be involved in supporting each program operating in each neighborhood.

Here's one of the maps in my library, showing supports kids need as they move through school.

Mentoring Kids to Careers - map

At each age level, from elementary school, through middle school, then high school, and post high school, all youth need a variety of supports. Kids in poverty areas have fewer of these naturally occurring through family and community, thus organized programs are needed to make as many of these available as possible.

IMPORTANT: It's through these organized programs, operating in various places, during non-school hours (often after 5pm as volunteers are leaving work), that people who don't live in poverty are able to become personally involved. If these are well-supported and stay involved for multiple years, many can be people who help solve some of the other complex problems kids and families face.

The concept map below visualizes a process that should be taking place in hundreds of locations, in the Chicago region, and in other cities, to help programs grow in places where they are most needed, and to help them become great at what they do to transform the lives of kids, families, volunteers and anyone who is involved.

See map at http://tinyurl.com/TMI-PlanningCycle-cmap

When I started leading a tutor/mentor program in 1975 I had a full time advertising job with the Montgomery Ward Corporate HQ in Chicago. Our employee led tutoring program had no paid staff, and we already had 100 pairs of elementary school kids and volunteers involved. That number grew to 300 pairs by 1990 (with about 30 hours per week of part time college student staff, beginning in 1980).  

I recognized that I could never touch and train every volunteer to know all they needed to know about why we were offering the program and what they could do to be effective tutors/mentors and program participants.  Thus I began to collect information that they could read and draw from to support their own efforts.

I started to create a "learning organization" well before this term was coined in business schools and trade magazines. This is one of many articles I've written to explain that idea.

In all my communications I was asking my volunteers to look for ways to help the kids we work with move through school. I was offering a library of articles (which was put on the internet starting in 1998) that they could read, share, discuss and learn from.  I focused on a process of improvement, or  how do we get from "here to there'.  I organized social events, such as getting together for food and drinks after a tutoring session, or field trip, so that volunteers could form bonds with other volunteers and we could build an informal, on-going, discussion of what we were doing, and how they could help.

In 1990 we converted the company sponsored program at the Montgomery Ward headquarters into a non profit organization. From that point till today, my goal has been to bring donors, policy makers, media and other leaders into this same learning process.

Do a Google search for "tutor mentor" then look at the images. You'll find many graphics like this.

Chicago SunTimes, Oct. 1992
In November 1992 six volunteers and myself left the original program and decided to form a new program to serve 7th to 12th grade teens who had aged out of the original program.  At the same time a 7-year old boy from Cabrini-Green had been shot and killed on his way to school.

The media were once again putting the "it's everyone's responsibility" message on the front page and in editorial stories, as they did on the front page of the October 15, 1992 ChicagoSunTimes

However, there was no master database of Chicago tutor/mentor programs so no leader could offer a strategy to fill neighborhoods with great programs that could provide greater hope and opportunity and combat the violence.

So we decided to also create the Tutor/Mentor Connection to fill the void.

In the years since then we have created a huge library of information, including a list of Chicago area tutoring and/or mentoring programs,  that anyone can draw from to understand where kids need extra help, who is already trying to offer that help, and what volunteers, donors and businesses could do to help programs grow.

Between 1994 and 2015 I hosted Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conferences to bring people together to share ideas for starting or building effective programs. I also developed a public awareness strategy to try to draw more attention to the web library and the list of Chicago tutor/mentor programs that I had been developing.

However, I was only reaching a few of the people who needed to be reached, and the system was not effective in connecting people (the village) from different programs with others within a single program, or with volunteers, donors, leaders, parents and students from other programs in Chicago......or with similar people from other cities who were doing the same work.

In the early 2000s I connected with a group of ESL educators (Webheads) who were located in different countries, and who were meeting weekly via the Internet, to share ideas and build relationships.

Over the past few years I've connected with another network of educators via Connected Learning MOOC formats, where people from many different places are sharing ideas and building relationships with each other.

I point to these in various blog articles because they are examples of how people can connect and learn from each other in virtual communities.

Most of my ideas for leading a single tutor/mentor program, or for helping build a city of great programs, have come from others who I've met over the past 40 years.  One entire section of the Tutor/Mentor web library is focused on "innovation, process improvement, mapping, knowledge management, etc" which are ideas anyone can use to build strong non-profits, or build strong businesses.

Look at the graphic at the top of the page once more.

The lines on this graphic illustrate how programs within a city need to be connecting with each other using on-line libraries, communities, blogs, annotation, Twitter, Facebook and other learning tools to constantly innovate ways to increase their impact on the lives of  program participants.  The small map in the lower left corner illustrates that people in big cities all over the country need to be talking to each other in the same way.

When you look at web sites of youth serving organizations in the future, hopefully you'll see evidence that shows a program is bringing together a "village" of support for it's participants, and that the community surrounding each program is proactive in offering the time, talent and dollars each program needs to be great at what it does.

At some point in the future you should find maps of Chicago and other cities, with icons on the map showing places where "the village" or "networks of people" are working to help kids grow up, or help communities solve complex problems.  The Tutor/Mentor Program Locator interactive map can serve as a model for others to develop such maps.

However, we must find a way to draw flexible operating dollars more consistently to every program in every neighborhood. The competition for public and private sector grant funding leads to a few winners every year and many losers. It does not lead to consistent funding needed to build and sustain great programs.

Throughout my blog and websites you'll see a use of GIS maps, which began in 1993 as we were trying to figure ways to share information about the various programs in Chicago.  

This is one of many maps you'll find on this blog and on this website and the MappingForJustice blog.  Using the Tutor/Mentor Program Locator, created in 2008, we're able to zoom into a Chicago neighborhood, create a map view, and tell a story of "why" kids and families need more help, "what" help is already in that area, if any, in the form of organized volunteer based tutor and/or mentor programs; and "what assets" and leaders share the geography and could be doing much more to help change the conditions and improve the lives of people who live there.

This map is part of a larger article posted in 2019 to show the vision of using a map-platform to not only share information and draw attention to tutor/mentor programs in each part of the Chicago region, but to also raise money to fund these programs.  I hope you'll read it.

Since the economic meltdown of 2008-2011 I've not had the funds to update the program locator and we never had the funds to build into it all of the features we had on our drawing boards. These are still needed.  

Here's a post I put on Twitter a couple of weeks ago following news that MacKenzie Scott had given millions of dollars to universities and charities throughout the world during 2020.
Maybe in 2021 she or someone like her will take some time to read this and other articles on my blog and will reach out to ask "how can I help?"
2020 showed that there are many complex problems that  need to be solved to make the world a better, safer, healthier place for everyone.  Each one of these challenges needs people like MacKenzie Scott making consistent contributions to support long-term problem solving. 

However, I'm focused on helping youth via organized non-school tutor, mentor and learning programs. 

I'm now connected on Facebook to many former students from the tutor/mentor programs I led and based on the pictures and stories they post showing their own success and that of the children they have raised, I know that the work we did had a positive impact on a few lives.

I see success stories posted by other programs, showing their long-term impact.  

That's enough to keep me trying to help such programs reach more k-12 youth in more places. I take a step every day and know these add  up to mountains of impact over a lifetime.

Thank you to everyone who made contributions to my 74th birthday campaign, and my Fund T/MI campaign, to help me continue doing this work.

1 comment:

tellio said...

First, redefine wealth.
Second, help people produce that wealth.
Third, value that wealth appropriately.

I think mentorship is part of that wealth formula, the part that helps folk create networks of mutual aid.