Monday, April 26, 2010

Volunteer Spotlight: Tonya Myers

4/27 update: I received tragic news this morning that Cierria Thomas, pictured above, passed away in a house fire on Sunday. Please keep her family and friends in your thoughts and prayers. This is a sad moment for the entire Cabrini Connections family. Cierria's mentor, Tonya, is in the spotlight this week because they had been doing a great job lately. I was thinking about them as I wrote this story yesterday, and now, a day later, I hear that Cierria has passed away. It is a somber reminder to cherish every moment. Again, please pray for the Thomas family today. Cierria, you will be missed.
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Second-year mentor Tonya Myers grew up in a rural area in Rockford, IL, 90 miles west of Chicago. At her high school in Winnebago, IL, there were only 90 people in her graduating class. Thinking back to those days, Tonya’s tip for current high schoolers is, “Don’t be too concerned with what others think about you… Be true to yourself.” Great tip!

Tonya went on to study music education at Millikin University, a small, private school in Decatur, IL. She had a “work hard, play hard” mentality, which means she took a lot of classes and did well in them, but she also had a lot of fun. For example, she joined a sorority (Alpha Chi Omega) and sang in multiple choirs. Tonya says to “get as many different experiences as you can” while in college. It is a unique time in your life, so take advantage of it!

After graduation, Tonya taught junior high and high school for two years, she worked at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier, and then she went into marketing, which is where she still works today. Tonya writes marketing proposals for a financial services firm. They help mostly corporations invest or reinvest money and most of her time is spent responding to requests for proposals.

Tonya has lived in Chicago for 13 years. “I love the city. I love the energy,” she says. “There are so many things to do, see, and appreciate.” In her free time, you might find Tonya at a small concert, a musical, or an opera. She is also loves arts and crafts. She enjoys knitting, stamping, and she makes announcements, invitations, and even programs such as the one she designed for our 2009 Year-End Dinner.

Tonya heard about Cabrini Connections through someone she knew at Cabrini Green Tutoring Program, our sister program for grades one through six. Since joining our program in spring 2008, Tonya has worked with 10th grader Cierria Thomas. Due to a scheduling conflict, they meet on Tuesday nights. Tonya has appreciated meeting on a non-tutoring night because it is quieter and more personal.

She says Cabrini Connections is a great program and she really likes the 1-on-1 setup. Her tip for mentors is, “Don’t get too caught up in improving grades.” Often times it is the intangibles which really make a difference: learning responsibility, study skills, leadership, etc. Lastly, she says, “The most important thing is showing up and being there on time every week.” We couldn’t agree more, Tonya! Thank you!

Student Spotlight: Diamond Clark-McQueen

18-year-old Diamond Clark-McQueen describes herself as “funny, nice, and intelligent.” She likes to laugh and she takes care of her friends and family. Sounds like a pretty good person! At Cabrini Connections, she works with her mentor, Alison Bullock, on Wednesday nights. Diamond says Alison has been great and has helped her through hard times with writing.

Overall, though, the subject she struggles with most is math. Diamond takes AP Calculus at Al Raby High School, where she is in the 12th grade. Al Raby is a small school (550 students) on the west side. Students get a lot of support from teachers, principals, and their classmates. Diamond’s favorite subject is biology – “the study of life!” – because she is curious about what goes on in the body.

So curious, in fact, that she wants to be an OB/GYN doctor. (Obstetrics and Gynaecology are the two surgical specialties dealing with the female reproductive organs.) Diamond will be on a pre-medical track when she enters college in the fall. She has decided to attend Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Florida. It is a small, private, Christian college. Congratulations on your acceptance and decision!

Though medical school can seem daunting, Diamond is excited to begin her journey. She thinks it will be fun and she looks forward to working with different medicines. While in the high school, she took a college course in biochemistry at National-Louis University, which gives her the confidence to take similarly challenging courses next year. Diamond plans to take advantage of extracurricular activities, too, including sororities, cheerleading, and volleyball.

In the future, she dreams of living in Atlanta and starting her own medical practice for women and babies. We admire your goals, Diamond, and we wish you the best. I hope you live by our 2010-2011 theme: “My Dreams are My Reality!” Good luck!

What's Up?

A lot is going on this spring at Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection. Thanks as always for reading my blog. Hopefully these positive stories are heartwarming and inspiring and give a different perspective to inner-city neighborhoods than your typical nightly news broadcast. We have bright kids with bright futures, and I'm committed to seeing their dreams come true.

Just to catch you up, here are some recent and upcoming happenings around CC, TMC...

Cabrini Connections

Tutor/Mentor Connection
  • Our 31st biannual Tutor/Mentor Leadership & Networking Conference will be held on Thursday and Friday, May 27th and 28th, at Loyola University Chicago's Lake Shore Campus in Rogers Park. Much of the schedule is beginning to take shape as workshops, panels, and keynotes are confirmed. Read Nicole White's blog posts here and here for a complete list and visit our conference web site to officially register.
  • Our GIS Mapping Coordinator Mike Trakan has been doing a great job of keeping up with current events and highlighting their interconnectedness to the quality and availability of non-school programs for youth. On his blog, you can read about the role of Tutor/Mentor Connection and what you can do to help. Mike is looking for a consistent flow of investment in our maps and someone to help market our mapping technology. He asks that you please consider a donation, sponsorship, or referral to someone with similar interests and a philanthropic budget.
Thanks for catching up! Stay tuned for more as we close out yet another successful year of tutoring and mentoring at Cabrini Connections!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Volunteer Spotlight: Jen Jozwik

Sixth year mentor Jen Jozwik grew up in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. She went to Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois. She originally wanted to study biology, but she graduated with a degree in psychology. In college, she says, “there are a lot of unique opportunities that are not as available when you start working.” You have time to go join multiple clubs and sports teams, attend events, and meet new people, so make the most of it.

In May of her junior year at IWU, Jen took a trip to countries in Southeast Asia, and, in her senior year, she had fun “meeting our primitive cousins” at a chimpanzee sanctuary in Florida. Simply find interesting things to do, she says. Most schools offer financial aid for studying abroad. Don’t be afraid to try it.

Back here in Chicago, Jen works for ADP. Her team implements human resources (HR) software. As team lead, she provides support, assistance, and troubleshooting. In her spare time, Jen loves to read, travel, and exercise. She competes in a triathlon every few years and she always watches the Chicago Marathon. “It is energizing to see so many people. It is an amazing experience.” Perhaps she saw our own Nicole White, who ran the marathon last year to benefit Cabrini Connections.

Jen got involved in our program through her husband, Mike Jozwik. Eight years ago, at Cabrini Green Tutoring Program, she was paired up with 5th grader Vontesha Stanfield and they have been together ever since. “I feel lucky that we’re together,” she says. “[Vontesha] has always been smart. She easily grasps concepts… She knew she wanted to go to college… she’s a really good role model”… the list goes on.

Vontesha, now a senior in high school, was pretty much set on going to Indiana State University, but she recently got accepted to Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. She may still choose to stay in the Midwest because she has a lot of family here, but it is a great accomplishment nonetheless. Congratulations, Vontesha!

Jen says that tutoring and mentoring at Cabrini Connections is “an amazing thing to provide kids.” We do a good job of welcoming students, providing leadership opportunities, access to computers, and more. Her tip for new mentors is to find things in common like a TV show, music, sports, or a book. Thank you for the appreciation, and thank you for your commitment. You’re a shining star in the spotlight this week!

Student Spotlight: Yahshua Caldwell

13-year-old Yahshua Caldwell is a 7th grader at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School. He attends tutoring on Thursday nights with his mentor, Anupam Basu. He says Cabrini Connections is “a place where I can go to talk to my mentor, or anyone, about problems I might have.” As for Nupe, “he’s pretty funny.” They have a similar sense of humor and he is good in subjects that Yahshua needs help with (mostly math).

His favorite subjects are social studies and gym: social studies because it’s fun; gym because it’s an easy A. His least favorite subject is language arts. “I learn,” he says, “but I’m bored. I wish it was more entertaining.” Yahshua certainly knows a thing or two about entertainment. Before tutoring, he can undoubtedly be found playing racing games online or watching comedy videos on YouTube.

As Yahshua thinks ahead to high school, he is excited to be one step closer to a career. He wants to be a musician when he grows up (he plays guitar), but if that doesn’t work out, he wants to be a mechanic. “People I know get free check-ups,” he says. Count me in! He also wants to be a part-time stuntman exclusively with cars. “You can do really amazing stuff, but it has to be perfect.” I’m sure that will be fun, but please be safe!

When he opens his own business, it will be called “Yahshua’s Florida Repair Shop.” He wants to move to Florida so he can sit back and relax on the beach during the summer. He has always lived in Chicago, and he likes it, except for the winter. His favorite places to go are the Museum of Science and Industry, The Field Museum, Navy Pier, and the riverwalk.

At Cabrini Connections, Yahshua is also a member of Video & Filmmakers Club, which he says is “amazing!” He has learned how to handle expensive equipment and how to conduct professional interviews. His next idea for a video is Cabrini Connections bloopers, so be careful not to trip or you might just end up on tape!

Lastly, Yahshua says he has a very colorful personality. “People may think I’m weird, but I have something that not many people have. I may be down once or twice, but I’m always going to be there.” That’s a great attitude to have, Yahshua. Congratulations on being in the spotlight!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Black Star Project presents Men II Boys

Last Friday, Cabrini Connections was invited by The Black Star Project to attend a mentoring fair to follow a screening of Men II Boys, a powerful documentary about Black Male identity that I was fortunate to see about a month prior. I set up in the basement of Saint Sabina Church as the film played in the main sanctuary. There were about 40 other programs present - youth organizations, mentoring programs, state agencies, etc. - a lot of whom I was able to meet before the fair started. I told them about the Tutor/Mentor Connection: the resources on our site, the program locator, and our upcoming conference in May. I hope they connect with us in the near future.

Once the film was over, hundreds of people poured down into the basement. It was a joy to see a mass of adults genuinely interested in helping young people. I had so many great conversations with community members who are looking to get involved as volunteers. Hopefully they commit to help a tutor/mentor program in their area.

This is not what you see on the news. This is not violence. This is love and hope and connections. I have faith that we can make a difference, but it depends on you. Please consider getting involved directly as a volunteer or donor or indirectly by pointing others to our web links. Thank you!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Student Spotlight: William Gallion

16-year-old William Gallion is a sophomore at Lincoln Park High School. He has always lived in Chicago – a city he loves – but he says it could be better if we “cut down on the violence” and “clean up the budget.” After traveling to places in the south like Mississippi, Arkansas, and Georgia, he looks forward to moving out eventually.

In school, William’s favorite subjects are Spanish and U.S. History. He has studied Spanish for more than five years! His least favorite subject is music. He plans to get better by finding someone to tutor him. (Any musicians in the house?) At school, he is also on the football team. He plays on the offensive and defensive lines and sometimes running back. In sports, he says, “you learn teamwork, sportsmanship, courage, and leadership.” He hopes to continue playing sports in college.

William wants to major in business at Georgetown University, the alma mater of one of his favorite basketball players, Allen Iverson. He would like to pursue a career in the professional sports world either in football or pro wrestling.

A friend’s mom recommended Cabrini Connections to William a few years ago and he has been with us ever since. He likes our program and he says that his mentor, Joe Alverson, who he works with on Thursday nights, is “great.” They usually work on math and his tip for mentors is to “keep a positive attitude.”

William has two brothers, which he says is horrible. (“I have no freedom.”) He listens to mostly rap and his favorite afterschool spot is 7-Eleven. Did I mention he has a good sense of humor? He is also a huge sports fan. His predictions for the NBA quarterfinals are Orlando, Cleveland, Denver, and Dallas, and he will be rooting for the east in the finals. As for the Bulls? “I don’t think they make it past the first round.”

We’ll see, William. Thanks for the predictions and thanks for being a great mentee.

Volunteer Spotlight: Matt Barnes

Wednesday night mentor Matt Barnes is from Cincinnati, Ohio. He grew up in two homes within 100 yards of each other, and, until college, he never went more than 90 miles from home. He chose to attend Purdue University because it was far enough away that he didn’t have to live at home, but close enough that he could go home for the holidays.

At Purdue, Matt was involved in a lot of extracurricular activities including yearbook and class ring sales and he worked in a hospital as a dishwasher. It was a fun gig because he wore all white and a lot of people thought he was studying medicine. In actuality, he started in engineering, but he couldn’t handle calculus. He switched to a major in business because he liked the idea of meeting and working with people outside of the United States.

He eventually realized that idea with a career in technology. He has been to Brazil, China, all over Europe, Singapore, and more. For the past 12 years, Matt has worked in business development for Cisco Systems. Cisco sells the equipment that powers the Internet. In fact, the Internet is built primarily on Cisco systems. Matt matches Cisco products with mobile phones. You can see some of their technology on television shows such a 24. (“We pay big money for that.”)

Matt, whose wife is an artist, discovered Cabrini Connections at our 2009 Art Festival. This year’s festival is Friday, April 16th, at the Palette & Chisel art gallery (1012 N. Dearborn) from 6-10pm. Since joining our program in Fall 2009, Matt has “liked it an awful lot.” He works with De’Jour Stewart on Wednesday nights. “It’s nice to put yourself in the shoes of a 7th grader,” he says. “It’s a complete break from my adult life.”

When De’Jour doesn’t have homework, sometimes he and Matt will look up facts and events on the Internet, such as “what is a meteor?” Matt’s tip for students is: “Never be afraid of failing. Failure is a big part of life.” Moving forward, Matt hopes to live overseas in a few years, but we’re happy to have him now. Thanks for your dedication to the program, Matt!

Monday, April 12, 2010

On To The Next One



Last week, Cabrini Madness came to a close in dramatic fashion as Guaranteed Victory beat Team Impeccable by a score of $6402 to $6120. Overall, the tournament raised $23,109.89 and my team, The Green Team, raised $1865 (third place). I want to thank each and every person who donated to and/or spread the word about our cause. You have made a difference for Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection and I truly appreciate it. Thank you!

Now, with the adrenaline of Cabrini Madness behind us, we shift focus to our annual Art Festival. This year's festival (free and open to the public) will be held at the Palette & Chisel art gallery (1012 N Dearborn) on Friday, April 16th, from 6-10pm. Original works created by members of our Art Club will be on display and up for auction. Bidding closes at 9pm and the artwork will remain on display through April 27th.

My birthday is on Tuesday, April 20th, but I'm encouraging all my friends to come celebrate with me on Friday at the Art Festival. I would love to see you there! Come meet students, volunteers, and staff, enjoy complimentary food and drinks, and check out some awesome artwork! What better way to spend a Friday night?

RSVP on Facebook here. Make a donation to support the club here. Thank you!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Student Spotlight: Dyron Woods

Dyron Woods, Jr., (pictured with College Zone Coordinator Stephanie Rogers) is a 16-year-old sophomore at Lincoln Park High School. He likes to keep his grades high (right now he has a 4.0 GPA) by doing work on a regular basis, paying attention in class, and studying at home. His least favorite subject is art because he struggles with drawing, but he plans to get better by taking drawing classes outside of school which were recommended by his teacher. His favorite subject is geometry, which he used to hate, but he’s getting better thanks to his mentor, Nate Schmid.

Nate and Dyron have been working together at Cabrini Connections since October 2009. Nate spoke to Dyron and his mother on the phone before meeting in-person a few days later. When asked what Nate did to facilitate their relationship early on, Dyron says, “He went straight to geometry. He loves that stuff.”

Outside of class, Dyron plays baseball and basketball and he serves on a peer jury for the 18th District. He, along with other “judges,” decides consequences for young people who have done something wrong, like steal. Youth may have to perform community service hours or write a letter to the person they hurt. “Our job is to make them think about what they did,” says Dyron, “…Kids come in selfish, but after the program, they start to understand what they did and how they can changes their lives.” Great work!

For Lincoln Park’s basketball team, Dyron plays center and power forward. He says he has good abilities (He’s super tall!), but really he just likes to have fun. He hopes to eventually join an AAU team and play basketball in college. Right now his top choices are Southern Illinois University or The University of Texas. He visited UT last summer and is interested in their computer science program.

Dyron is considering a career in emergency services either as a policeman or a firefighter. Soon he will become a cadet in a youth training program. He says it’s a tough job, but he wants to give back to his community. Dyron lives on the Near North Side and he has a sister in third grade. (“She’s fun at times, sometimes annoying.”)

This summer, Dyron wants to get a business job so that he can see what it’s like to work in an office. If you have any connections, please let him know. They’ll be getting a bright young man!

Volunteer Spotlight: Torquil Carlisle

First year mentor Torquil Carlisle is from London, England. Torquil says his adolescent years were “the same as growing up anywhere else,” but after living in the United States for two years now, he has noticed differences between the two countries. “In the U.S., everything is much bigger – buildings, restaurants, portions,” he says, “…there is an emphasis on size.” However, London is bigger, busier, and more international than Chicago. He also says things in the U.S. are much newer and Americans are “very friendly” and “very positive.”

After graduating from high school, Torquil took a “gap year” off before starting college. This is common in Europe and the time is often spent working and/or traveling; Torquil did both! He worked in a pub for six months and then he traveled around the world. He went to the west coast of the U.S., New Zealand, and countries in Asia. He spent the majority of his time in Austrailia where he drove around the entire perimeter of the continent (about 3000 miles). Just before finishing, his car crashed into a kangaroo, which is a common occurrence in Austraila. There are more kangaroos than people. Interesting fact: the bars attached to the front of vehicles for protection are sometimes called “roo bars”… as in kanga-roo.

At The University of Oxford, Torquil studied German and Czech languages. Straight out of school, he got a job in international tax with Grant Thornton, an accounting firm which he still works for to this day. In the same way that individuals have to pay tax, companies have to pay tax. Therefore, if a company has operations in more than one country, it has to pay tax in more than one place.

Last week, Torquil welcomed Christian Palacios and Nicole White to his office for Career Week. As a tip for high schoolers, he says, “You really can’t start thinking too soon about a career. Take small steps now to slowly get an idea of what you’re interested in. Things like work shadowing are a great opportunity.”

A benefit to working for an international company is that you may have a chance to work abroad. Two years ago, Torquil transferred to Washington, D.C., before moving again, six months later, to Chicago. He lives in Lakeview and loves to play soccer, ski, and run. In the fall, he will begin a two-year, full-time master’s in business administration program at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.

At Cabrini Connections, Torquil works with 7th grader Donald Stewart on Wednesday nights. He says Donald is “bright and conscientious,” and, though he often is without homework, they always find something constructive to do, like reading short stories or President Obama’s speeches. He likes that we are organized and structured and he especially appreciates the one-on-one format.

Thanks for the high praise, Torquil. The program wouldn’t be what it is without mentors like you. For those interested in learning more about Torquil and his home country, he will be giving a short presentation toward the end of next week’s session (Wednesday, April 14th). He hopes to see you there!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Say a Prayer

As Easter Sunday comes to a close, say a prayer for Chicago.










My colleague Mike Trakan is writing about the recent violence on his blog.
... no one I know maps the crime data in relation to indicators of "at-risk" behavior, like poverty and poorly-performing schools... potential predictors of anger, gangs, and future violence.

It also seems that few news sources direct concerned residents to groups and community assets near the crime... places that are specifically working to make sure kids who see this violence from their front window today become future leaders, instead of new tax-payer burdens on our economy later...

By the way, while you're looking at the map, note there are virtually no mentor programs near the shootings.
To help make sense of his and learn more about the issues, visit Tutor/Mentor Exchange for reports, strategies, and links to useful information. Think about how you and people in your network can support tutor/mentor programs and other resources that help educate - and simply save - our young people. Thank you.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Cabrini Madness Episodes 6 and 7

A few weeks ago, Big Ten Network Studio Analyst (and Cabrini Madness Bracketologist) Tim Doyle predicted that TEMS and Give Hope would miss the first cut. They proved him wrong...



This week's video features an interview with Anupam Basu, Captain of The LeBrons, who were, in fact, eliminated at the first cut.



Just like the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, Cabrini Madness' Final Four is this weekend. Guaranteed Victory, Team Impeccable, Give Hope, and my team, The Green Team, are still in it. Our "championship game" between the top two fundraising teams will be set on Saturday night at 11:59pm. A winner will be crowned on Monday night at the same time. 

Visit http://www.cabriniconnections.net/cabrini-madness/ for complete information, including tournament updates, rosters, a bracket, and more - and pick a team to support! (such as, The Green Team!) It should be a fun weekend of competition. Good luck to you all.