Thursday, January 14, 2021

Social Bonding - Lost Due to Covid19

This photo shows myself and a few volunteers from the tutor/mentor program I led from 1975-1992 as we gathered at a local Chicago tavern following one of our field trips to Indiana Dunes.

I thought of this photo today, and many like it from my archives, and was reminded of how we used social gatherings and field trips to help build social bonds between our volunteers, myself and other program leaders.  It was this bonding that led many volunteers to stay longer with the program and led a few to become leaders who helped operate the program, which from 1975 to 1992 grew from 100 pairs of 2nd to 6th grade Cabrini-Green area youth and volunteers to more than 400 pairs.  Up until 1990 most of the leadership, including myself, were volunteers.

Below is another photo from those years, showing myself and a group of youth and volunteers at a bowling field trip.

We used field trips to encourage high attendance among students and to help build bonds between youth and volunteers, and among volunteers.  We held events on-site such as the annual holiday party and year end celebration, and a break-dancing contest, to further support this social bonding.  This  helped us keep kids coming back year-after-year until they graduated after 6th grade and helped keep many volunteers for five years and longer.  

We started Cabrini Connections in 1993 to provide continued support from 7th grade through high school for the kids who aged out of the original program.  

We met in a huge space at the Montgomery Ward headquarters in Chicago until 1999 then moved to much smaller space at St. Josephs Church for two years, then to the space shown above from 2002 till sometime after 2011 (I left the program in mid 2011).   While this space looks crowded it encouraged interaction among kids and volunteers. Youth met many mentors, not just the primary volunteer who was their 1-on-1 mentor.

I've used this graphic since 1990 to visualize the type of programs I led. With the youth as the focus we tried to surround them with volunteers and experiences representing a wide range of  opportunities. As kids grew older many volunteers helped them find part time jobs and fill out applications for colleges.

At the same time we tried to motivate volunteers to stay with us for multiple years so that many would begin to become advocates encouraging others to get involved.

So how well is this happening during Covid-19? Since last March few site-based tutor/mentor programs have had youth and volunteers meeting weekly at their sites and I don't imagine many have had after-hours social bonding events, or have been able to  hold many field trips, if any.  

While many are using on-line meeting spaces like ZOOM, where kids or volunteers are at one table looking at a screen, everyone else is at a table some place else.  It is far too early to know how well this does, or does not, help build social capital, and how well it will support multi-year retention of youth and volunteers.

If the pandemic restrictions stretch into 2022 what will the negative (or positive) impacts be?  Will the social ties be weakened in a few programs, many programs, or all?  

I've posted articles about social capital often in the past.  As you celebrate #Mentoring Month or #MLKDay2021 I encourage you to spend some time at your computer reading some of these, then continue each month through the coming year.

I host a list of Chicago area tutor/mentor programs on Twitter and Facebook and on my website. I've been trying for many years to engage leaders and volunteers in discussions around issues like this, but too few are on-line in these spaces.  You can see remote learning goals that I first developed in the early 2000s at this site

If you are also thinking about social capital and the impact of Covid-19 on site based programs please share links to your articles and connect with me in one of these social media spaces

Thanks for reading. Good luck to you as you move through 2021.

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