Thursday, March 28, 2024

What motivates me

If you've read any of the articles posted on this blog since 2005 you'll see that I'm constantly advocating for the growth of comprehensive, long-term, volunteer-based tutor, mentor and learning programs that operate in non-school hours and connect k-12 kids living in high poverty areas with adults who work in a wide range of industries and have many different backgrounds.

What drives this passion?  Experience.

I led one volunteer-based program from 1975 to 1992. It served 2nd to 6th grade kids. I led it as a volunteer while holding a full-time retail advertising job until 1990, then became the first paid executive director when we turned it into a non-profit organization in mid 1990.

Below are two of the yearbooks that I created for that program.

The first if the 1976-77 yearbook.   View at this link. About 100 pairs of kids and volunteers were involved.

The second is the 1988-89 yearbook.  View at this link.  Over 280 2nd to 6th grade kids and 300 workplace volunteers were involved that year. 

When I joined as a volunteer tutor in 1973 the program was already eight-years-old.  I became its leader in the 10th year.  We grew over the next 15 years because of the organization I brought to the program and the way we engaged volunteers as leaders, not just tutors and mentors.  

I left that program in October 1992 and with the help of six other volunteers we formed a new program, called Cabrini Connections, to help kids who aged out of the first program after 6th grade have continued support all the way through high school.

Below is the 1994-1995 annual report for Cabrini Connections. View at this link

Below is the annual report for 2008-09.  We stopped doing print versions around 2000 and did PPT reports through 2010.  Here is the link.

Here's a folder with Cabrini Connections-Tutor/Mentor Connection Annual Reports from 1995 to 2010. Each report shows the activities that we offered to support student and volunteer involvement.  If you lead a program you might duplicate some of this work in your own program.

We held the first sessions of the Cabrini Connections program in January 1993, meeting with some teens monthly at Wells High School and others every Saturday morning at St. Joseph's Church on the North side of Cabrini-Green.  We were reaching 42 kids by June of 1993.

Then in the fall of 1993 Montgomery Ward gave us an entire floor of their corporate tower, over 20,000 sq ft of space, and we began expanding. 

If you view page 6 of the 1994-95 annual report you'll see how the number of students enrolled grew from 42 in June 1993 to 90 in the fall of 1995.  Page 7 of the report shows similar growth in the number of volunteers, from 30 in spring 1993 to 103 in the fall of 1995.

By 1998 our graduating class of high school seniors included five teens.  In 1999 it was nine. Thus the size of the program did not grow much since seniors were graduating each spring. 

In 1999 everything changed. Montgomery Ward was sold and we had to move to rented space in Cabrini Green to continue operating.  We lost Wards as our major donor in 2000 after they went out of business. And we lost many more donors in 2001 and 2002 due to the financial crisis after the 9/11 attack and the Dot-Com melt-down. 

Our move to rented space meant we had a much smaller facility for two years. Then we moved to a bit larger space on Huron, near the intersection of Halsted and Chicago Avenue. Our average enrollment from 2000 to 2010 remained at about 80 teens and 100 volunteers.   Open this PDF and see photos showing the 10 years from 1993 to 2003. 

In 2010, I created a report showing a decade of work. On page 10, I show HS graduates each year from 1997 to 2010. View that report at this link

We did all of this while also building the Tutor/Mentor Connection, to help similar  programs grow in all high poverty areas of Chicago. 

In November 1992 when we decided to form Cabrini Connections we realized that one more small non profit could be life changing for a few teens, but would have little impact on the more than 200,000 kids living in high poverty areas of Chicago. So we decided to split our resources and create an intermediary that could help tutor/mentor programs grow in many places.  We spent all of 1993 doing research and planning and launched in January 1994 with our first survey to learn about other tutor/mentor programs in the city and suburbs.  That led to our first published Directory of Programs and first Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference in May 1994, and first citywide Tutor/Mentor Volunteer Recruitment Campaign in August/September 1995.

In each of the annual reports from 1995 through 2010 you can see work done to help tutor/mentor programs, including our own, get the resources they need.  If  you look through the articles I've tagged with "history" and "archives" you can see more evidence of what we were doing.

Then browse through the sections of and see everything that is available to help tutor/mentor programs start and grow and to help leaders be more consistent and strategic in supporting them.  

I often said that I was an effective leader of the Tutor/Mentor Connection because I also led a single tutor/mentor program. I knew how hard it was to attract kids and volunteers and keep them coming week-to-week and year-to-year. I knew how difficult and frustrating it was to attract and keep donors.  

Yet I've often heard from parents and alumni how important our program was to them.  I often heard from people in other places how much they appreciated what the Tutor/Mentor Connection was doing.

In all these years I've really only had one mentee, which was Leo Hall, who I was matched with in the fall of 1973, when he was entering 4th grade. We met weekly during the school year for the  next 3 years.  After 6th grade Leo continued to volunteer to help the program as one of the Junior Assistants who passed out milk and coffee. So we stayed connected.

I did not take another single youth as a mentee because as leader of the program, they ALL were my mentees.

I received a call from Leo this morning. He spotted a scam on Instagram, where someone had set up a duplicate account, using my profile picture. I reported it, and so did a couple of other people and that account has been removed.  I'm at on Instagram. 

As we talked Leo told me to expect a call from an event organizer who was putting together his 60th birthday celebration. He wanted me to be there, or to record a video, if I could not be there.

Thus, my own experiences leading a single tutor/mentor program drive my passion and make me a credible advocate for cities building and sustaining  volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs.

The other thing driving my work is this front page from the October 15, 1992 Chicago SunTimes, following the shooting death of a 7-year-old boy in Cabrini Green.   The headline says "7-Year-Old's Death at Cabrini Requires Action".

If you open this folder you'll see many similar stories that I've collected over the past 30 years. They "Demand Action" but very few follow that with the type of on-going effort I have modeled.

Which is not enough.

As I talked to Leo today I again encourage him to use his own talents to amplify my "call to action" and to encourage other alumni to do the same.  As I write my blog articles I encourage you to share them and get other people involved.

Be like Dan.

You can't just say "ENOUGH". 

You need to act regularly to draw people to information they can use to be better informed and to be motivated to use their time, talent, dollars and votes to build and sustain volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs in more places and to help remove the structural racism that has roots extending back over 300 years in America.

I think I've written enough for today.  Please connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and other platforms and share my posts with your network.  

And, if you can spare a dime, please visit this page and make a contribution to help me keep these archives and my library available to you and others. 

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