Thursday, December 24, 2009

Mapping for Justice

At Tutor/Mentor Connection, Mike Trakan creates maps that look at the relationship among poverty, community resources, school performance, and locations of non-school tutoring/mentoring facilities for K-12 students. The maps help community, business, and political leadership visualize these relationships when working toward strategies and partnerships that offer much-needed support for these non-profit programs. The maps are also made available to journalists or anyone who wishes to include "tutoring and mentoring" in published discussions of social problems (crime, poverty, failing schools, etc.) and the search for comprehensive solutions.

Recently, Mike has been blogging about how faith communities can support tutor/mentor programs. "I think you might conclude when looking at our maps that, while many people are already working to help bridge gaps in support structures needed for kids in impoverished neighborhoods to have a shot at meaningful careers and futures... there is a lot of work needed," says Mike. "Faith groups that are already hard at work and generous just might be perfect leaders for new multiple-congregation alliances that promote and support new and existing programs." Recognizing the sheer number of churches in Chicago, and that most share common values of charity and service, Tutor/Mentor Connection believes that faith-based volunteers and donors can play a significant role in the establishment of more tutor/mentor programs and in supporting those which already exist.

If you are interested in this topic, please head over to Mike's blog to find out more. Post a comment or send him an e-mail. I know he would love to hear from you.

P.S. Mike is also a talented singer/songwriter. He put together a free song for this holiday season to thank his fans for support over the years. He describes it as "a spirited Christmas story straight from the streets of an economically-riddled North Pole." Give it listen here.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Listening to the Stars

On Monday, I posted an interview with Dan Bassill about leadership. He talks about the need for more leaders - in all sectors - to support tutor/mentor programs. He also talks about information-sharing and collaboration between programs. Dan, along with other founders, started the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993 to support the growth of tutor/mentor programs throughout the Chicago region. They have followed through with that mission over the years by maintaining a database of programs and by sharing ideas and concepts related to tutoring and mentoring.

Tutor/Mentor Connection offers a plethora of resources, but how can we get more people involved? How can we get more program leaders to contribute their ideas and work together to improve their own programs, or help start new ones? Though we are all united by a desire to help youth rise out of poverty and into successful careers, we tend to work in silos. Each program raises funds, recruits volunteers, and runs day-to-day on its own. How can we come together for the better of us all?

In comes The Constellation Model of Collaborative Social Change. In 2000, a small group of Canadian NGOs were worried about the issue of children's environmental health, but no group on its own had the mandate or resources to deal with such a complex issue. In response, the 'constellation model' of partnering was developed in order to bring together groups from multiple sectors to work toward a joint outcome. I encourage you to read this 6-page article detailing the model. Authors Mark and Tonya Surman say "it is helpful for organisations that want to solve concrete problems within the context of a rapidly changing, complex ecosystem." Sounds like us! Here are more excerpts to help you better understand the idea...
Two elements are needed to create a constellation: a need or opportunity, and energetic leadership by one or more partner.
Like the stars in the sky, constellations are 'loosely coupled' together to create a rough and chaotic whole. Partners come together based on their own interests and assets, which usually ensures that the 'right' partners are at the table. This element of self-interest also makes it more likely that there are high levels of contribution and participation.
More importantly, because of reduced competition, partners are able to raise considerably more money ... together than they would have individually. ... Also, funders readily appreciated the strategic benefits of working with all of the partners together.
I think this is a great idea and I would love to see it adopted by tutor/mentor programs in Chicago. Imagine if we were all working as one - sharing ideas and resources - toward an overarching goal of keeping kids in school and preparing them for 21st century jobs and careers by the time they are adults. We could accomplish a lot. Would you join a team?

Monday, December 21, 2009


Last week I sat down with Dan Bassill, President and CEO of Tutor/Mentor Connection, to discuss leadership, the most frequently tagged subject on his blog. I hope you enjoy listening to Dan's insights on the topic and much more. Helpful links can be found at the bottom.

Part 1 [3:59] - What does a leadership strategy for a tutor/mentor program look like? Our goal is that instead of there being one leader saying 'follow me,' there be many leaders saying follow me and that each leader is working to empower other people to take on that same role.

Part 2 [1:34] - When you're talking about so many different people and different levels, how do you get them to buy into that greater mission? 'We don't choose the lives that we're given. It's what we do with those lives that makes a difference.'

Part 3 [4:09] - What are some of the examples of the different sectors of business and life that have a stake in this? If I were the leader of a faith community, I would be every week saying to the people I'm talking to, 'Let's read a few chapters of scripture; let's talk about it; and let's think about how we live this in our lives.'

Part 4 [4:04] - What does it take to get a program started? There's a path that you can take to get better at what you do, and that path starts out with, 'Where's the information that I can learn from?'

Part 5 [4:09] - Finding a place and designing a program. It takes a core group of people who make a commitment: 'I'm going to make that place available.'

Part 6 [3:49] - Attracting donors and sharing best practices. By collecting information about who's doing good and what that means, you're providing a inspiration and a motivation, hopefully, that each resource provider is getting better at what they are doing with their resources to help tutor/mentor programs be in poor neighborhoods...

Helpful links:
If you have thoughts or questions of you're own, please post a comment or send me an e-mail. I would love to discuss and discover more about tutor/mentor program and nonprofit leadership.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

2009 Holiday Party

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Youth Leadership Council Meeting 12/4/09

The 2009-2010 Youth Leadership Council held its third meeting on Friday, December 4th. Their first order of business was to determine guidelines for the Winter Clothes Drive. The project seems simple on the surface, but a lot of details had to be discussed. For example: is it best to sort by type (hats, gloves, coats, etc.), size (small, medium, large, etc.), or gender?

After a heated debate, four categories were determined: 1) hats, gloves, scarves, and facemasks, 2) coats and jackets, 3) shirts and sweaters, and 4) jeans and pants. Other stipulations: donated items must be clean, in good condition, and neatly folded into a collection box. Also, when it comes to taking: "take what you need and be considerate of others," says Israel.

Two weeks later, we now have overflowing boxes of winter clothes in our center. Thanks, volunteers, for donating so many items! Our students truly appreciate your generosity.

Stay tuned for more news from the Youth Leadership Council in 2010, when they will begin work on a fund raiser and a lounge.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Student Spotlight: Brittany Murphy

7th grader Brittany Murphy, who just celebrated her 13th birthday on December 14th, lives in Lincoln Park and attends Oscar Mayer Magnet School. Her favorite subject is math because she likes to work with numbers and she anticipates counting a lot of money in the future. Her least favorite subject is reading, but she's starting to like it. When she doesn't understand a passage, she will look up words, re-read, or ask for help. She used to sit back and stay silent, but now she ask questions when she's confused.

Brittany is on the cheerleading team and this year they made it to the city championships. They could have gone even further, but state was canceled, so, in actuality, they made it all the way to the top! At the competition, Brittany was very impressed by the dance team from Northside College Prep. After looking it up on the Internet, she is interested in attending high school there because they have good academics.

After high school, Brittany has her sights set on International Academy of Design and Technology in Tampa, Florida, where her mom studied design and marketing. Brittany wants to be a fashion designer when she grows up. "Don't dress based on other people," she recommends. "Dress based on how you feel... You should be bright, but not too out there." Thanks for the advice!

Eventually, Brittany wants to live and work in the fashion capitals of the world, New York and Paris, but, for now, she is happy in Chicago and expects to move back here after getting noticed around the world. She likes Chicago because you're never bored. There's always something to do.

Brittany's other dream job is to be a teacher. She likes little kids. ("I'm addicted to them.") She has a few baby cousins who she loves to spend time with. "They are so energetic," she says. "They never keep you sitting around." Brittany enjoys dancing, watching TV, and playing games with her family. She's not shy at all; she's open minded; and she likes to meet new people. I think you'd make a great teacher, Brittany!

At Cabrini Connections, Brittany is a member of Video & Filmmakers Club. She wants to record her own fashion show one day. She attends tutoring sessions on Thursday nights with her mentor, Sonali Murthy. "I like her a lot," says Brittany. "It's easy to talk to her... Some mentors are strict and buckle down, but we can goof off and stay focused." Brittany and Sonali met a few times off-site this summer to get to know each other. Since then, they've opened up and are getting along well. We're happy to hear that!

This holiday season, Brittany's extended family will spend the night with her on Christmas Eve. When they all wake up the next morning, they give gifts to each other. Sounds like a great time! As a New Year's resolution, Brittany simply plans to "do the best I can in all subjects." Good luck, Brittany! Congratulations on being in the spotlight!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Volunteer Spotlight: Sonali Murthy

Sonali Murthy grew up in India before coming to the United States about 13 years ago. Her undergraduate degree is in economics and she received a Masters in Accounting and Information Systems from The University of Kansas in 1999. For most of the 2000s, Sonali worked as a consultant for Deloitte. Consultants are people who are sent out to companies around the country with problems in need of solving. Sonali helped telecomm clients with billing, customer service, and the implementation of IT systems. She would often be away from home for most of the week, flying out on a Monday and returning on a Thursday or Friday.

After awhile, Sonali got bored with work, but there was still one day that she loved. Deloitte employees have one day a year dedicated to community service, and Sonali always chose to work in a school. She is very passionate about the cause of education... so much so that she wants to be a teacher! Last year, she transitioned out of her consulting job and she is now pursuing a Masters in Education at Northwestern University and volunteering at the Academy for Urban School Leadership in her spare time. Her goal is to become a middle school math teacher in an urban school.

Sonali wants to give something back because she remembers how important her teenage years were. "In India, everyone has an 'it takes a village' mentality," she says. "You felt like you had to answer to everyone around you." She is also inspired by her grandfather who came to America on a ship and ended up going to Harvard. She realizes the importance of individual determination, but, also, the necessity of a support network. We at Cabrini Connections believe in the same necessities. We believe each youth has the ability to succeed, but 'it takes a village' to maximize his or her potential.

Sonali found out about us by Googling 'tutoring programs in the City of Chicago.' She started with her mentee, 7th grader Brittany Murphy, in August and is "absolutely loving it." She compliments our program on having great infrastructure, enthusiasm, organization, and commitment, and she says that she is very encouraged every time she comes to tutor. She and Brittany started off by talking about high school selection. Brittany identified the schools she wants to go to, all of which are challenging, and they are now focused on what needs to be done to get into them.

Away from tutoring and studying, Sonali is learning to play guitar. She will also be taking voice lessons soon. She loves jazz and the harmonica, and she also loves animals. She had a dog while in India that's 17 years old! For the holidays, Sonali is going to Florida for three weeks with her husband. Safe travels, Sonali. We look forward to your continued presence in 2010. Thanks for setting a great example!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Student Spotlight: Marquise Cook

7th grader Marquise Cook goes to Andersen Academy in Wicker Park. His favorite subject is science because it's hands-on, which makes it fun. He recently participated in an experiment with needles where he had to poke his own hand to explore sense of touch. Now that's how you get students to pay attention! His least favorite subject is math, which has become a priority for him and his mentor, James West, during Wednesday night tutoring sessions. Furthermore, Marquise is on two sports teams at Andersen; he plays middle linebacker for the football team and power forward for the basketball team.

In a couple years, it will be time for Marquise to enter high school. He has been on the A-B honor roll since Kindergarten so he should be on track to get into a good school. He would like to go to Whitney Young, Lane Tech, Walter Payton, or Schurz High School. Marquise says he cares about school because "it gets you a good life." Once he gets through school he says he wants to reach out to other kids like him that need an education. It takes leaders like Marquise to uplift a community and with that mind state he's well on his way to being a great one.

For college, Marquise would like to study engineering at Tuskegee University, a school some of his family members have attended. Marquise already knows a lot about college with the help of our College Zone. He has been on every college trip this fall. "I like them because you see what college life is like before you get there," he says. "You might not think you want to go somewhere, but you can find out about it." I'm glad you have enjoyed the visits, Marquise. Maybe you'll be the one showing us around some day!

In addition to coming on field trips, Marquise is a member of Video and Filmmakers Club, which meets on Monday night, and Tech Club, which meets on Tuesday night. He joined Video Club to make a movie, be in the movie, and present it to people. His favorite types of movies are horror, comedy, and, sometimes, "meaningful" films. In Tech Club, Marquise has worked on a Cabrini Connections video game and logos for our 2009 Holiday Fund. In fact, his work (below) is featured on the outside of the mailing envelope! He says he likes technology because it's come so far. "A little thing can become so big," he says. "In 50 years, everything will be automatic." Well, let's hope we can at least keep creativity like yours, Marquise. Great job!

Marquise has lived in Cabrini Green his whole life. He likes Chicago because the seasons change; you get a little bit of everything. He dreams of living in a big condominium in downtown Chicago and traveling to a tropical place to get a break. He also dreams of owning his own business because he wants to be his own boss. The holiday season kicked off well for Marquise with two Thanksgiving meals. His favorite part was mac 'n' cheese with dressing and cranberry sauce. Now he's looking forward to Christmas and New Year's Day. His resolutions for 2010 are: ignore ignorance, do well in math, and "stay on the top." Good luck, Marquise! I know you'll have a great year.

Volunteer Spotlight: James West

First year mentor James West graduated from Northwestern University in 2008 with a degree in computer science. He chose NU because of its great engineering school and its proximity to Chicago. He thought it would be a different, interesting experience. Before moving to the area, James lived in Dothan, Alabama. Both of his parents were doctors and his older sister, who went to Auburn University, is a nurse. James says the best part about Alabama is the warmer weather. He loves the outdoors, but he'll take fishing and water sports over ice skating and skiing any day.

James works as a software engineer for Trading Technologies. He develops internal software for the company which, as a whole, develops software for trading futures (part of financial markets). He would like to go to graduate school at some point and possibly move to a smaller city in a warmer climate. He loves school because you are constantly with people. In college, as a member of the fraternity Pi Kappa Alpha, he lived with several close friends in one big house.

James also dreams of working in another country for a year. After graduating high school, he went backpacking in Europe for five weeks with a friend and absolutely loved it. He studied abroad in Rome, Italy, for a summer during college, too.

Like so many other people, James found out about Cabrini Connections through the Internet. He was looking for an opportunity to volunteer and ours looked good because he has always done well in school, thus making him a good tutor, and our location is convenient. James lives just a few blocks from our center. He is proud to be working with kids from his neighborhood.

But, though it was a good fit on paper, James knew this opportunity would be challenging. He had never worked with children before. Luckily, he was paired up with a fantastic young man, 7th grader Marquise Cook. "We've developed a pretty good relationship," says James. "We've become closer... Before, he would give me the shortest possible answer to my questions, but now he'll go into it." All relationships take time, but because James and Marquise have had almost perfect attendance, they've been able to make good progress.

Marquise usually brings homework, but even when he doesn't have any, he and James manage to make good use of their time together. James will make up math problems or ask questions about grammar. Both in this case and when they're doing regular homework, James has been able to assess what levels Marquise is at in different subjects. Therefore, when they do have extra time, he is able to focus on those areas. "We rarely play games," says James. "Just schoolwork. Start that way and it's what they expect." That's all great advice, James! You're new to tutoring, but I already think you could lead a training workshop. Keep up the good work. We appreciate it!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Volunteer Spotlight: Brian Wallace

Brian Wallace is originally from Charlotte, North Carolina. He has an undergraduate degree in business administration from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a master's degree in business administration (MBA) from The University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is a very proud Tar Heel. Their men's basketball team has won five NCAA tournament championships including 2009.

Brian presently works as a Senior Manager for Allstate Insurance Company. He has worked with them for 13 years, but he just moved to an office in Northbrook, IL, in July 2008. His job has a lot to do with finance, measurement, and analytics. He essentially analyzes how effective and profitable their business is. Right now he is in a Leadership Rotational Program which rotates him through three different work areas. Within the next five years, he hopes to move up to the director level of management in the area of direct sales and service.

What keeps Brian committed to his job after so many years is the relationships. "I have people I've worked with that I'm still in contact with 10 years later," says Brian, "and some I met two or three years ago who I work with a lot now." He has the opportunity to move around within the company and work with a lot of different people which is a gratifying experience often absent in big companies.

Outside of work, Brian likes to travel, read, and work out. His favorite U.S. cities are Miami and New York; he's a big fan of John Grisham; and he ran the Chicago Marathon this year (all 26.2 miles!). Since coming to Chicago, his favorite thing to do is explore and discover new restaurants. He recommends Carnivale on Fulton Market and Sticky Rice on North Western.

Brian found out about Cabrini Connections through his job's volunteer site. He works with 7th grader and Youth Leadership Council Member Israel Dosie. "It has been a very rewarding experience," says Brian. "I look forward to it every week." He says he and Israel get along very well because they have mutual respect for each other. To get to know your student, he suggests being open and approachable. "Share information about yourself," he says. "Make them feel at ease." A lot of tutors have found openness to be beneficial to relationship-building. We're glad it's working for you!

For the holidays, Brian plans to spend Christmas with his family. He has a younger brother and a younger sister and his parents still live in Charlotte. For New Year's Eve, he will be in New York for a function with his fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi. Have fun, Brian! You deserve it. Thanks for being a great mentor.

Student Spotlight: Israel Dosie

Israel Dosie is a 7th grader at Andersen Academy. He has been on the A-B Honor Roll since Pre-K and his favorite subjects are social science and social studies. He recently learned the science behind headaches - how they occur and how to prevent them - so if you need advice on how to get rid of a headache, talk to Israel. He also plays shooting guard for the school's basketball team, so he can teach you a thing or two about jump shots as well. He has been a starter for three years and Andersen has won three citywide championships.

For high school, Israel wants to go to Whitney Young, Lane Tech, or Lincoln Park, and for college, he wants to go to University of North Carolina (UNC). "I told my tutor that," says Israel, "and he said, 'What? I went to UNC.'" That's right. Israel's mentor, Brian Wallace, graduated from UNC. He knows exactly what it takes to get there and succeed, and Israel is starting to figure it out, too. He has been on all of our college trips this year; to Northwestern, DePaul, and UIC. He knows what college is like and he knows what kind of grades and test scores he will need to get into the college of his choice.

Brian and Israel have been a great match since starting in September. Israel says they talked a lot when they first met which helped them get to know each other. Israel brings his homework to each tutoring session and if he doesn't have any, Brian will make up problems or test him on words. For example, he'll have him spell out words and give their definitions. Great idea, Brian!

Israel wants to be an architect when he grows up because he loves to draw and measure. ("Give me a picture and I can draw it.") This is one of the reasons why he joined Art Club on Monday nights. He made a bracelet this week and his previous project was a brick wall with a fist made of wires going through it. He is also in Tech Club on Tuesday nights, in which he has been working on Cabrini Connections holiday logos (below). Lastly, Israel is the youngest and only first-year student member of the Youth Leadership Council. He joined so that he could help out around the center and plan fun activities. Right now he is in charge of publicity for our winter clothes drive, so look out for an announcement from him soon.

Israel has six brothers and five sisters. He got to see a lot of his family last week for Thanksgiving. He had two Thanksgiving meals, each at a different house. (He's still feeling the effects.) His favorite dish is ham and dressing with stuffing. His favorite meal overall is pork chops and chicken. For the rest of the holidays, he has no big plans but to relax once school is out. For Christmas, he hopes to get some new clothes and an iPod.

To explain how he's maintained such good grades over the years, Israel says he always thinks, "What would my oldest brother do?" His oldest brother, who lives in Minnesota and attends community college, is a major role model in his life. Israel also studies a lot. "I keep reading until I get it," he says. "I write more and more notes so then it's easy on the test." You sound like you're in college already, Israel! Thanks for your continued participation in everything at Cabrini Connections. We look forward to seeing you around for a long time to come.