Tuesday, June 06, 2023

Youth Tutor/Mentor Programs Need Time and Resources to become Great

The idea for this article came to me over the past week.  Since May/June is the time of each year when most tutor/mentor programs are shutting down activities for the current school year, my focus is on helping with their planning so they are even better when they start again in the coming year.

I led one volunteer-based tutor/mentor program in Chicago from 1975 to 1992, then with the help of six other volunteers, started a new program in November 1992, which I led until June 2011.  These were hosted at the Montgomery Ward Corporate Headquarters until 1999.  

When I say "volunteer-based" I'm not just talking about the adults who serve as tutors and mentors, but those who do more, helping to organize and operate the program.  

The program I started leading in 1975 was already 9 years old when I became its leader. It had 100 pairs of volunteers and elementary school-age youth participating by the fall of 1975, after starting in 1965 with just a small group of corporate volunteers.

I had started as a volunteer in 1973, then joined the leadership committee in 1974. I took over when the previous leader decided to take off for Europe, saying "Dan should lead, since he talks the most!"  

The graphics below illustrate the growth of the program from 1974 to 1992. 

The committee in 1974-75 had nine members. It was led by Roger Kennedy, a copywriter in the MW Catalog Advertising Department.

By 1976-77 I had increased the committee to 13 people.  I was a retail advertising copywriter. 

By 1987 the program had grown to over 250 pairs of kids and volunteers. 33 volunteers, including students in grades 7 through 12 who were graduates of the program, were offering time and talent to lead the program.  We had a part-time paid staff, of three students from Moody Bible Institute.  My own jobs had grown and I was now a divisional advertising manager. 

In the spring of 1990 I left my corporate job with Montgomery Ward and we converted the program to a non-profit, named Cabrini-Green Tutoring Program, Inc.  This enabled me to raise money to pay myself a salary to continue leading the program and to hire others to help.  The 1991-92 volunteer leadership structure reflects the growth of the program to 440 kids and 550 volunteers by June 1992. More than 60 volunteers, including student alumni, were involved in planning and operating the program.  I was the only full-time employee.  We had three part timers helping. 

As we ended every school-year, starting in 1975 I had to recruit new volunteers to take on leadership roles. While this was a year-round process it peaked in April-May.  My year-end speech always included a "help me" message. We spent the first part of every summer teaching new committee members about the work involved in operating the program and then the rest doing the work of starting the next year's program. 

I starting a written annual plan in the late 1970s and rather than starting each new year from scratch, we built on what we'd done before, getting better, adding new elements, discarding what was not working. Here's an example of this annual plan. This is from 1984-85.  

That's one of the secrets of growing a tutor/mentor program from "good to great" over many years. 

My departure from the CGTP was painful, and the result of a lack of agreement on how the program should operate and what its future growth would be, between myself and the volunteers who I had recruited to be our Board of Directors in 1990 when we created the non-profit.

It was during this timeframe that 7-year-old Dantrell Davis was killed in Cabrini-Green.  While Chicago media were "demanding action" I remember driving down the highway and saying to myself, "I don't need to lead an under funded, under supported program with over 900 participants, to share what I've learned to help similar programs grow in all parts of Chicago."

I immediately began to focus on what had divided myself and the other program. First was the decision to expand and serve 7th to 12th grade kids who had graduated from the original program at the end of 6th grade.  Second was to help similar programs grow in all high poverty areas of Chicago.

We created Cabrini Connections to help kids from the original program go from 7th grade through high school. Starting with 5 teens and 7 volunteers in January 1993 we grew to 80 teens and 100 volunteers by 1998 and due to the limited space we had, we stayed around that number until I left in 2011.  We used our first grant in 1993 to hire two part time staff (veteran volunteers from the original program).  As we raised more money in 1994 I began to draw a salary. We never had more than 3-4 full time staff members and 3-4 part time staff and interns between then and 2011. 

We spent all of 1993 planning what became the Tutor/Mentor Connection and launched it in January 1994.  In 2011 I created the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC to continue to operate the T/MC in Chicago and help similar intermediaries grow in other cities.

In both versions we drew upon volunteers to help.  

In both cases we applied the "Good to Great" principles that Jim Collins made famous in his book, "Good to Great and the Social Sector".  

I first used the graphic at the right in the late 2000s, then in a 2011 article, which I updated in 2022.  If you have read this far, I urge you to visit the 2022 article and read more about "Good to Great" and what it takes to build constantly improving tutor/mentor programs. 

Then read this article about re-thinking philanthropy.  If we don't change how programs are funded there will be too few great programs and far to few programs of any kind reaching K-12 kids in high poverty areas of Chicago and other places.

This 1994 Chicago Sun-Times article shows how I traded my advertising job at Montgomery Ward to build Cabrini Connections and the Tutor/Mentor Connection.

I've shared much of what I learned over those years in the articles on this blog and in the information I share on the www.tutormentorexchange.net site.

However, the details of what I learned and how I did this are in my archives.  I hope that someone who reads this will recognize the potential value of this history and will recruit a university to take ownership, so students can learn from what I've learned and more systematically share it to help "good to great" youth programs grow in more places, reaching more kids. 

You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Mastodon and a few other places (see links here).

If you want to help me pay the bills, please visit this page and make a small contribution.  

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