Wednesday, January 05, 2022

Where it began. Tutor/Mentor Connection

 When I and six other volunteers met in November 1992 and launched a new organization that would provide tutor/mentor support to 7th grade kids aging out of the program I led from 1975 to Oct 1992, we had many years of previous experience to draw upon. However, when we also decided to create a strategy that would help volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs grow in all high poverty areas of Chicago, we did not have many examples to follow. 

I became a volunteer with the Tutoring Program at the Montgomery Ward corporate headquarters in Chicago in the fall of 1993. Two years later I was made the leader of that program. For the next 15 years, while my retail advertising jobs at Montgomery Ward grew in responsibility, the tutoring program also grew, from 100 pairs of kids and volunteers meeting weekly in 1975 to more than 300 pairs by June 1990.  

At that point we turned the program in to a non-profit and I took a full-time job leading the program. We grew from 300 pairs in 1990 to more than 440 kids and 550 volunteers by June 1992. 

This growth was the result of building a team of volunteers, drawn from many different Chicago area companies, who helped recruit and train other volunteers and lead the weekly tutor/mentor sessions.  

However, it also was a result of my reaching out to find leaders of other tutor/mentor programs in Chicago, to learn from them and to share my own strategies.  These included programs at 4th Presbyterian Church, Continental Bank, the Blue Gargoyle at the University of Chicago, the CYCLE program at the LaSalle Street Church, a program at Quaker Oats company and a few others.

Recognizing that we all recruited and trained volunteers in August-September we decided to pool our efforts and do joint training events. As we did, we tried to reach out and invite other programs to participate. However, no one had a master list, so we had difficulty finding other programs. The only one in Chicago who seemed to be building a list was myself. 

It was this networking with other leaders, and trying to locate other programs, that planted the seed for the Tutor/Mentor Connection (which in 2011 became Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC). 

However, it also was this constant flow of stories about violence in Chicago that inspired the T/MC.  In my advertising roles at Montgomery Ward we created weekly print ads that reached 20 million people in 40 states, telling them that we had merchandise and services at a store near them that they were looking for, and that this week, they were on sale.  This constant call to action, pointing to each of our stores, was missing from media coverage of violence.

This concept map shows the 1965-1992 growth of the tutoring program at Wards. 

The program that existed in 1992 was the result of incremental, year-to-year growth, starting in 1965 when a few employees from Montgomery Ward started meeting with elementary school kids living in the Cabrini-Green neighborhood.  By 1978 we were attracting national attention. This letter shows a confirmation for me to speak at the National Right to Read ConferenceThis PDF shares a 1988 study by the Center for Early Adolescence at the University of North Carolina, that cited the Montgomery Ward/Cabrini-Green literacy program as "one of the best in the nation."

Thus, when we decided to launch the Tutor/Mentor Connection we had many years of experience to share to help other programs grow.  

While we launched the first Kids' Connection meetings with youth in January 1994 we spent all of 1993 planning the strategy for what became the Tutor/Mentor Connection.  Originally we called this "Chicago Youth Connection".  You can see from the chart below that we had people from universities, a public relations firm, and MCIC, a Chicago information research organization, involved with the planning. 

We changed the name to Tutor/Mentor Connection in the fall of 1993 after hearing from Chicago Youth Centers (CYC) that they hoped we would not use the same CYC name.  

The result of our planning was a 10-point strategy intended to build an information base, with a comprehensive list of tutor/mentor programs serving Chicago, and a public information strategy that drew more consistent attention, and resources, to every program.  That strategy is described in the graphic below, and in this Case Statement from 1994. 

We launched the strategy in January 1994 with a survey sent to 500 people in the Chicago region asking if they led a volunteer-based tutor/mentor program and, if yes, to provide details.  120 programs responded and told us that they had little contact with peers, would like more contact, and would come to a conference if offered at low, or no, cost.  So in May 1994 we organized the first Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference. 70 people attended and feedback was positive. So we organized a second conference in November 1994 and 200 people attended.  We continued that conference every six months until May 2015.

We also published our list of programs in a printed directory.  You can now find this list of programs here

By 1996 we had added an August/September Chicagoland Volunteer Recruitment Campaign, a November Tutor/Mentor Week, and a partnership with the Lend A Hand Program at the Chicago Bar Foundation.  Here's an article in the 1996 CBA Report newsletter about Tutor/Mentor Week. 

We condensed the 10 steps to four, which are visualized in this concept map.

We had no money, only a few volunteers and a vision when we launched the Tutor/Mentor Connection and the Cabrini Connections program. We had to raise the money to pay for our work each year.  We reinvested what we learned from what worked, and what did not work, and what we were learning from others, in constant year-to-year efforts that aimed at helping volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs grow in more places, and helping those programs improve their impact on the lives of kids and volunteers each year.

This concept map timeline shows 1992 to 2022 growth of the T/MC (1993 to present) and Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC (2011-present) and milestones in this on-going growth.

Keep in mind as you view this that while we were building and leading the Tutor/Mentor Connection to help ALL programs in Chicago, we were also building our own Cabrini Connections program. Here's another concept map that shows this two-part strategy from 1993 to 2011. The first priority of our Board and volunteers was keeping the kids' program working, thus, when the Montgomery Ward company went out of business in 2000 we made a decision to rent expensive space near Cabrini-Green to continue supporting our kids, rather than move to less expensive space elsewhere, where we could continue the Tutor/Mentor Connection.  

While our timelines show consistent growth over time, the reality was that growth was inconsistent. The graphic below shows dips in funding in 2000, 2001, 2008-10 caused by man-made and natural disasters.  Each time funding was reduced we had to prioritize attention on the kids' program, yet continue to operate the Tutor/Mentor Connection.  If this graphic were extended to post 2011 it would show a decade-long dip in funding, almost down to zero.

Every action taken over the past 45 years has aimed at connecting a youth from a high poverty area with an adult who would serve as a tutor, mentor, coach, friend and extended family, in an on-going effort to help each child overcome the challenges of high poverty as they move through school and into adult lives, with jobs that enable them to raise their own kids free from the grips of poverty.

For many kids it has worked. I'm connected on Facebook at many students from the 1970s till 2000s and see them posting stories showing their own kids finishing high school and college.  I see similar stories from a few other tutor/mentor programs in Chicago and around the country.

But not enough.

We started using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to plot locations of tutor/mentor programs on maps in 1993. By 2004 we had an interactive search page on the Internet that enabled people to search for programs in specific zip codes, based on age group served and type of program. In 2008 we launched an interactive map directory that enabled leaders to look at the entire city, or specific sections.

Unfortunately, since 2011 I've not found the money, or the volunteers to keep these services available and updated and they are only available as archives in 2022.  

I urge you to view map stories on this blog, and the MappingforJustice blog. See how I've tried to use maps as part of planning and resource development to support existing programs, or help new programs form where more are needed.  

I turned 75 last December.  While I will spend this year and future years continuing to invest time, talent and ideas in this effort, every city in the US and the world would benefit from a map-based strategy based on what I've piloted since 1993.  

Thus, while I'm still available to help, why not form a team and make a commitment to build your own Tutor/Mentor Connection type strategy.  

Take a tour of the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC website. Use it as a text book for learning about the work done since 1993 that you and others could build on in the next decade. If you launch such a strategy, I can make my Google Drive archives fully available, to help  you learn from my own efforts. 

Remember, the goal is not one, or a few, great programs, but a city filled with great birth-to-work programs in EVERY high poverty zip code.

If you'd like my help, connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram (see links here). 

If you'd like to help me pay the bills, visit this page and make a contribution. 

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