Monday, January 22, 2024

30 Years Later. New Year. Same Goals.

On the lower left side of this blog you can see a list of years that I've written this blog, starting in 2005. This shows articles written each month, of each year. Thus, you could look at January in past years and find reflections that I've posted, like this one that says "What the heck am I trying to do?"

I led a volunteer-based tutor/mentor program from 1975 to mid 1992 (while holding full time retail advertising management roles with the Montgomery Ward corporation), which connected 2nd to 6th grade kids from the Cabrini-Green homes with volunteers from Montgomery Ward's corporate headquarters and many other Chicago companies.

We created Cabrini Connections as a strategy to help kids who aged out of the first program after 6th grade have support through high school.

We launched the Cabrini Connections program in January 1993, meeting with 5 teens and 7 volunteers on Saturday mornings in the day room of St. Joseph's Church on North Orleans Street in Chicago.   Our volunteers had backgrounds in video production so our weekly activities centered around improvisation, as a form of relationship-building.

At the same time we started meeting at Wells High School with a small group of high school students who had been part of the first program. 

In July 1993 Montgomery Ward donated space in its corporate office tower for us to operate, and we moved the program there, meeting on Thursday evenings.  That first year we recruited 30 teens. Each year after that we added more 7th and 8th graders until by 1998 we were serving close to 90 teens with over 100 volunteers.  Due to available space, we never grew larger than that over the next 12 years.  I left the program in 2011 and sadly, it is no longer operating.

Last week I received a message from one of the teens who joined us in 1993.  She said, "y'all help me grow in so many ways so I want to say thank y'all for being a great team helping us out in the neighborhood."  

I've received variations of this comment consistently over the past 10 years as I've connected to a growing number of alumni on Facebook who were in elementary school in the 1970s and 1980s and were in middle school and high school in the 1990s and are now adults raising their own kids.

These are an affirmation of the importance of volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs and why I start each January with a new commitment to help such programs grow in more places. 

When I first started leading the tutoring program at Montgomery Ward in 1975 one of the Vice President's said "Dan, you don't know  much about leading a tutor/mentor program. Why don't you find others in Chicago who already lead programs and invite them to lunch. See what you can learn from them."

That began 17 years of informal leadership in building a network of Chicago tutor/mentor programs and drawing them together to share ideas and work jointly in training volunteers.  It's probably one of the main reasons I stayed involved for as long as I did.

Then, in October 1992, after I left the original program (read The Tutor/Mentor Business, by Sara Coover Caldwell), and was working with a small group of volunteers to determine a next step, a 7-year-old boy named Dantrell Davis was shot and killed on his way to school.  The front page of the Chicago Sun-Times had an editorial demanding action.

This inspired me to create the Tutor/Mentor Connection. 

From my previous years of networking with Chicago programs I realized that no one was keeping a master list of all the different volunteer-based tutor and/or mentor programs in Chicago, thus, no one, other than myself, could invite programs to gather regularly.

From my retail advertising career at Montgomery Ward I had learned how the company used weekly advertising to draw millions of potential customers to our 400 stores, spread across 40 states.

I saw a pattern in which media would occasionally give featured attention, and anger, to a tragic shooting, or a poorly performing school, or a street gang, but that the story only focused on one neighborhood of Chicago, and seldom included a "call to action", motivating readers to support existing youth programs in that neighborhood, and all others in the city,  as volunteers or donors.

And, then, those stories went away after a few days, replaced by other stories.   My advertising career taught me that you need to keep your story repeating over-and-over, to reach more people, and to have a frequency that would capture readers attention, and ultimately motivate action.

None of this was happening in Chicago.  So we spent 1993 planning a strategy that we launched in January 1994 as the Tutor/Mentor Connection.

You can read the 1994 Tutor/Mentor Connection Case Statement at this link.

Each year between 1993 and 2011 I used part of the money we raised to support our own Cabrini Connections program. And I used part to build a library of Chicago tutor/mentor programs and lead efforts intended to help each program (including our own) get more consistent attention and a better flow of volunteers and dollars, while sharing ideas that each could use to constantly improve based on what they learned from their own work, and what they learned from others.

While initially we published our list of programs in a printed Directory, and shared ideas via a quarterly printed newsletter, one of our volunteers built our first website in 1998 and by 2000 we had moved our library and list of programs on-line.  That was a needed strategy as we did not have the money to continue our print newsletter strategy and needed to reach more people than the 10-12,000 we were sending that newsletter to.  

This concept map shows highlights of the Tutor/Mentor Connection's growth.   

In mid 2011 after I left the Cabrini Connections program (long story) I created the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC to keep the Tutor/Mentor Connection available to Chicago and to try to help similar intermediaries grow in other cities.

If you read some of my past January articles you'll find more details of what I've been trying to do and the challenges I've faced to do it as well as is needed.    Here are some other articles that show my 30 year history. 

So as we enter 2024, Chicago and other cities still have areas of concentrated poverty and youth in these neighborhoods attend poorly resource schools and a influenced by too few people modeling a wide range of career opportunities and expectations and too many who model negative habits.

Chicago still needs a Tutor/Mentor Connection strategy (even if it's not led by me, or called the Tutor/Mentor Connection). So do other cities.  So I continue doing what I do with whatever resources I can find, just as I started doing in 1993.

Will you help me?

Read some of my past articles, like these about forming a new Tutor/Mentor Connection.

Share my articles with your network.

Help me find a benefactor and/university that will take ownership of my archives and this strategy and teach leaders to do what I've been doing for the past 30 years.

Make a contribution to help me pay the bills. Click here 

Thank you for reading and if you made a contribution in 2023, thank you for continuing to support my efforts.

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