Wednesday, December 29, 2021

My Dreams Keep Taking Me Back

How many of you rehash what happens at your workplace in your dreams? Do you have those dreams almost every night?  I do.  

I led a volunteer-based tutor/mentor program in Chicago from 1975 to 1990 as a volunteer, while holding a full time advertising job. We had 100 pairs of 2nd to 6th grade kids attending weekly in 1975 and we grew each year until we had 300 pairs in 1990. I led the conversion of that program to a non-profit in 1990 when I left my job with Montgomery Ward, so I could lead the program full time, and earn a living while doing it.  By June 1992 we were up to 440 kids and 550 volunteers and had began a successful fund raising strategy. 

Every week for 17 years, from 1975 to 1992, I spent time thinking of how to recruit, retain and support the kids and volunteers in that program, and how to get a few volunteers to help me.

In the fall of 1992 I left the first program and with the help of six volunteers, formed a new program to help kids who aged out of the first program after 6th grade move from 7th grade through high school, and hopefully college or vocational school, and then a job.  We started with 5 teens and 7 volunteers in January 1993 and grew each year. By 1998 we were averaging 80 pairs of kids and volunteers weekly, with another 20+ volunteers helping.  

We also built the Tutor/Mentor Connection.

As we started the second program in late 1992 we also decided to fill a void, and build a strategy that would draw attention and needed resources more consistently to every tutor/mentor program in Chicago. During 1993 we developed a 10 part strategy, which we launched in January 1994 with our first survey to identify as many other tutor/mentor programs in Chicago as we could find. Using that information we organized the first Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference in May 1994, published the first printed Directory of programs, and organized a citywide volunteer recruitment campaign in spring 1995.  

We raised $50,000 the first year and $114,000 the second and by 1998 we were raising over $300,000.  Can you imagine how many fund raising letters and requests were involved in raising that money. Most came from donations of less than $5,000.

The 10 point strategy was condensed to 4 steps by 1996 and I've spent the past 25 years finding ways to share that strategy with others and recruiting help to operate our own single program, which I led until 2011.  View this 2010 PDF showing impact of our work. 

We used the walls at the donated space in the Montgomery Ward complex to show the strategies we were following so they were visible to our volunteers when they came to work with our teens, and to potential donors when they visited.

After a while I began to notice that I was overwhelming people when I walked them through the strategy, so I started creating visualizations using PowerPoint and desk-top publishing.  We shared these in printed newsletters that went to 300 people in 1993, and 12,000 by 2003. We put them on websites starting in 1998 and on this blog starring in 2005. I've shared them regularly on social media since 2009.

By 1998 some of our teens were finishing high school and by 2003 some were finishing college. Today I'm connected to many on Facebook and seeing them tell stories of their own kids finishing high school and college. Many offer thanks for the support the tutoring programs provided.

Every day for more than 45 years I've been trying to answer one big question. "What are all the things we need to know and do to assure that all youth born or living in high poverty are entering careers by age 25?"

I wake up many times in the night with these conversations taking place in my dreams.  

I have probably led a single tutor/mentor program for more years than most other people in the world.  There are probably others who have been continuously involved for 20 or more years and they may have the same dreams I have.

However, there are even fewer people who've tried to help mentor-rich programs like I led reach kids in every high poverty area of a big city like Chicago,  by building an information library and communications strategy and trying to motivate leaders from every sector to use it to support their own actions to help kids to careers. 

Many of my dreams are nightmares, rehashing all the things that did not work, or that I did wrong, or that did not do what I hoped they would do.  Many just seem like live reality TV, with me watching scenes from various program activities, or me trying to explain the four part strategy to another person.

I chronicled these activities, like our trips to Great America, in yearbooks I created every spring from 1975 to 1999.  You can find links to these on this page

Here's what kept driving me to do this work. This was a front page story in 1992 after a 7 year old boy in Cabrini Green was shot and killed. The editorial said "it's everyone's responsibility."  

However, another far greater motivation was the love and caring shared by the kids and volunteers I had the honor to get to know over all of these years.  Look at the pictures in the yearbooks from past years (see links here).

Another has been the thank you's I've received from parents, program leaders and others for how the Tutor/Mentor Connection has helped them. 

I keep repeating a phrase Merri Dee of WGN TV told me in the early 1990s.

"If it is to be it is up to me."   and YOU.

I can't do this by myself. Never could. I have tried to enlist  universities for many years. Here's a page on my planning wiki outlining steps for a university to get to know the strategies I've developed and take ownership.  This is not a new invitation. I've been sharing it since the late 1990s.

Imagine if there were a PhD program someplace where students spent 4-6 years learning from my archives, and from hands-on work in different youth serving organizations.  |

Such a program would create leaders for youth programs everywhere, who had the same learning and sharing strategies that I've modeled.  However, it also would create thousands of leaders in business, politics, media, etc. who were proactive in seeking out tutor/mentor and learning programs and helping them grow, using their own time, talent and dollars.

You can see this visualization and how I described it in this article

Would that lead to more people having the same dreams I have?  I hope so.

Thanks for reading my articles. Please share them.  Have a Happy New Year with freedom from Covid19 and with more hope and opportunity for all.

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