Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Better Boys Foundation


Today Nicole and I got to visit another great organization on the west side of Chicago: Better Boys Foundation in North Lawndale. BBF has two main arms. Their family services program provides crisis intervention and counseling services to troubled youth while their out-of-school programs offer academic, social and recreational engagement year-round. Project LEAD (Leadership, Education, Academic Development) is BBF’s signature out-of-school time program and serves more than 80 elementary school children from five to 12 years old. BBF's After School Program serves teens and offers homework help, subject-specific tutoring, and college planning and preparation.

In addition to simply visiting BBF's new home (which is beautiful, by the way), our main goals for this visit were to learn about BBF's summer programming and strategize ways to improve their volunteer recruitment for the upcoming academic year. Our point person, Director of Agency Advancement Mary Visconti, was a wonderful host. She embodies the passion that is responsible for BBF's success. They are lucky to have such a great leader!

BBF is open 8:30am-5:30pm during the summer and runs a wide range of programming. Most notable is their Summer Apprenticeship Program, supported by After School Matters, which Mary calls a "brilliant model." Kids sign up for one of six 6-week workshops and earn a stipend for participating. Workshops include BBFTV, a group that creates PSAs for and about BBF, Community Spokespeople, a group that fixes and sells bikes, and Mural Works, a group that is currently creating a mural for the BBF Community Center courtyard.

BBF's most popular groups are tapping and film. We got the chance to visit tapping practice and they put on a show for us! Check out the video below.

video

The film group is working on a short film to be played before a screening of Hoop Dreams, a 1994 documentary about two Black high school students in Chicago who want to become professional basketball players. In honor of the 15th anniversary of its release, Kartemquin Films is partnering with BBF to host a community screening. Like the tapping group, the film groups does not just operate during the summer. They meet three times a week during the year, too. They work with flip video cameras and they edit on Macs (BBF has more than 60 of them!). I look forward to learning more about their film group as Cabrini Connections prepares to start its new Video and Filmmakers Club on August 10th.

As successful as some of BBF's extracurricular programming is, they still need help with academic assistance. In particular, they are desperately seeking algebra tutors. They also need more mentors for their on-site Big Brothers Big Sisters program for which there are 15 kids on the waiting list. Hopefully, with some Tutor/Mentor Connection insight, Mary will be able to get more volunteers. We've already suggested that she get in touch with students at the University of Illinois at Chicago. It's very close to North Lawndale and we know their engineering students are good at algebra!

"Once we get them here, I know they will fall in love," says Mary. As a first-time visitor, I can totally relate. The students and staff at BBF are all very warm and welcoming. They're ready for you. Will you answer the call?

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