Saturday, July 16, 2011

Not "Goodbye" but "See you later"

On July 6th, 2009, my first day at Cabrini Connections, the first day of the 2009 Edgewood College Experience, I was greeted by three students: Savon Clark, Sean Mayfield, and Charles Hill. They welcomed me with open arms and we clicked right away. At that point, I had no idea how great of an experience working at Cabrini Connections would be and how much I would get to know these three young men and so many others over the course of 132 tutoring sessions, 19 Youth Leadership Council meetings, eight college visits, and more.

Two years later, here I am again with Savon, Sean, and Charles (above) at the 2011 Edgewood College Experience. They are juniors in high school now. Sadly, however, where they once welcomed me in, they are now seeing me off. Yesterday, July 15th, 2011, was my last day at Cabrini Connections. I was laid off due to the organization's continued financial struggles. Over the last 20 pay periods dating back to September 2010, the staff has been paid in-full and on-time only six times. Next week's Golf Benefit could make or break the organization.

While it has been a tough year and I am sad to see it end like this, I am proud of our accomplishments and I know I personally have learned a lot from everyone I worked with at Cabrini Connections - especially my "partner in crime" EL Da' Sheon Nix. Together, we led a program that won awards from the Department of Family & Support Services Youth Division in 2009 and 2010 for being the best mentoring program funded by the City of Chicago and we had five seniors graduate this year who are all headed to college in the fall. Not too bad, eh?

Thank you all for keeping track of the program on my blog (I had 5228 absolute unique visitors!) and thank you for reading all of my stories (This is my 217th blog post!). I hope they made you smile, and laugh, and think, and reflect. Major cities like Chicago will always have thousands of youth in need of educational and financial assistance. A tutoring and mentoring program like Cabrini Connections can change a young person's life. I've seen it happen. Please continue to support nonprofits like this one with your time and dollars. We are all a part of the solution. One love.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

2011 Year-End Dinner

Last Thursday, Cabrini Connections celebrated the end of the 2010-2011 tutoring and mentoring year with its 18th Annual Year-End Dinner. About 250 students, parents, volunteers, alumni, staff, and board members crowded the Cornerstone Academy in Chicago to recognize each other for great accomplishments - the greatest of which is that all five of our seniors graduated from high school and are headed to college in the fall. This video shows the presentation of Graduation Dollars and yearbooks to our seniors, with a special surprise at the end ;-)

Spoil the surprise =>

I would like to personally thank all of my friends and family members who made this such a successful year. A year ago I felt lucky to have the opportunity to remain a staff member at Cabrini Connections, and I look back a year later proud of all that we accomplished. Congratulations!

Bonus video: Video & Filmmakers Club's spring quarter project

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Groupon Deal of the Day

We are live on - the greatest deals site in the world! Please take a moment to check out our page at

For every $10 you donate, Cabrini Connections gets $15 thanks to matching sponsor ContextMedia. With 36 hours to go, we are just 22 donations away from reaching the "tipping point" and locking in $2000+ for the program!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Cabrini Connections to be featured on Groupon!

In January, EL Da' Sheon and I had the opportunity to visit Groupon's headquarters at 600 West Chicago Avenue, just across the river from Cabrini Connections. Groupon is a popular daily deals site founded by fellow Northwestern University alumnus Andrew Mason.

Since speaking to a group of about 50 employees there, we have recruited six as mentors (including Cat, above) with several others on the waiting list. In January, I also met with a woman who organizes most of the nonprofit initiatives for Groupon. We talked about many possibilities and have kept in touch since.

Today, I am pleased to announce that Cabrini Connections is going to be featured on with a G-Team campaign during the week of June 6th! G-Team is a community outreach initiative within Groupon that brings communities together to do good, have fun, and make an impact.

This is a tremendous opportunity for Cabrini Connections to gain exposure in the Chicago area and to grant our seniors extra support for college. Our campaign seeks to raise $2000 to double this year's "Graduation Dollars" - our form of scholarships, to be awarded at the Year-End Dinner.

I will post again on Tuesday with specific details on how to get involved. Until then, please share this blog post via email, Facebook, and Twitter, to let everyone in your network know to expect us on next week! Thank you!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Student Spotlight: Whitney Hemphill

Whitney Hemphill is a senior at Wells Community Academy High School who is completing her SIXTH year at Cabrini Connections. Whitney was born and raised in Cabrini Green but she is moving to the south side next month. “It’s time for something new,” she says. She enjoyed growing up in Cabrini Green because a lot of people were around and she made a lot of friends, but now a lot of those people have moved away.

Whitney is the youngest of five children. “I used to get anything I wanted,” she says. Her older sister, Angelene, graduated from Cabrini Connections in 2009. She now attends Harold Washington College. Whitney and Angelene were in the Art Club together for several years. That is one of the activities that first hooked Whitney into the program.

Volunteer Spotlight: Jessica Bearden

Jessica Bearden was born in South Carolina and moved to Texas at the age of 5 where she stayed through high school. She is from a south Texas town named McAllen just 10 minutes from the Mexican border. She was very active as a kid, playing soccer and tennis mostly, but also volleyball, softball, and track and field. Much of her free time as a teenager was spent practicing for, training for, and participating in organized sports. She is still very active to this day.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Student Spotlight: Marcus Burks

Marcus Burks is the second student to be featured in the student spotlight for a second time (Melissa Young). He was originally featured as an 8th grader at Wells Prep in March 2009. Two years later, he is a rising junior at King College Prep. Marcus is from the far south side of Chicago and has four siblings.

He has three younger sisters who “make me feel like a leader” and an older brother who he’s close with. Marcus aims to be a positive influence in his sisters’ lives because “I wouldn’t want to see them doing anything negative.” What personally keeps him going while he’s looking out for others? “Hopes and dreams of going to college,” he says.

Volunteer Spotlight: Melanie Munsey

Melanie Munsey grew up on the East Coast but has spent the majority of her life in Illinois. She went to middle and high school in McHenry and she has lived in Chicago for the past six years. As a kid, she always liked school, especially history, reading, and writing. Her dad is a retired naval officer, so her family moved around a lot when she was young. She switched schools often, which was always an adjustment, but she always tried to look at the bright side of things: “I got to meet a lot of new people.”

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Student Spotlight: Jerman Beathea

8th grader Jerman Beathea was born in Cabrini Green and lives there now, but in between, he moved around a lot. Jerman has lived on the west side of Chicago, on the south side twice, and in Minnesota for two years! If you think Chicago’s cold, Minnesota is worse. Jerman says it was fun at times, but mostly he’s glad to be back in Chi-town.

Volunteer Spotlight: David Kim

Wednesday night mentor David Kim (right) is a lifelong resident of Illinois. He was born in Rogers Park, grew up in Skokie, and attended college at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As a child, he was very shy, quiet, and studious. It was not until college that David became extroverted. He suggests moving out on your own to a campus environment after high school. “It is on your own that you learn to mature socially,” he says. “You develop as a person, begin to relate with others, and make lots of new friends.” David says that living on his own in college helped him break out of his shell and build self-confidence.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Career Week 2011

Looking at babies

Looking at pastries

Looking at video games

Each year during Chicago Public Schools' Spring Break, Cabrini Connections organizes "Career Week" - a week full of trips to visit mentors in their workplaces. This year Jerman Beathea, Marcus Burks, Justin Fields, Dionte Herron, and Ana Tate visited a hospital, a grocery store, a scientific and educational association, and a university.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Student Spotlight: Javon Gordon

Javon Gordon is a 7th grader at Manierre Elementary School. He lived in the Cabrini Green area until a couple years ago when his family moved to the west side. He says the move was tough because he left a lot of his friends, but participating in Cabrini Connections gives him the opportunity to come back. Javon’s older brother, William Gallion, who is an 11th grader at Lincoln Park High School, has been a member of the program since 2007.

Volunteer Spotlight: Gabe Chapman

Gabriel (“Gabe”) Chapman moved around a lot as a child, but he was born in Atlanta, Georgia and went to high school and college there. Atlanta is a "sprawling city" at the "foothills of the Appalachian Mountains." When Gabe thinks of Atlanta, he thinks of “trees… peaches… music!” You can tell he’s passionate about music as he rattles off all the bands from Atlanta: Indigo Girls, The B-52s, R.E.M., Collective Soul, Outkast, Ludacris, and Usher. Not bad! Gabe is an amateur musician who recently performed guitar at “Cabrini’s Got Talent!”

Monday, April 4, 2011

Live feed of Cabrini-Green demolition and lights

Project Cabrini Green’s live feed video component, coming from the demolition site, can be watched here 24/7, for the duration of the demolition. The light installation is visible every day, from 7pm to 1am CDT.
Click on the image above to be taken to the Project Cabrini Green web site. Once you are there, click the Home tab to find students' actual audio and text which become the lights. Below are two videos about the project.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"Cabrini's Got Talent" for real!

Thank you to all of the performers and audience members who came out to the first ever Cabrini Connections Talent Show presented by the Youth Leadership Council on Saturday. All six members of the council worked the entire quarter to make their dream of this show a reality and it paid off... literally! $115.50 was raised from 32 attendees and will go towards the Council's next event (TBA).

After all of the performances were done, we had everyone vote on their top three and we said that the "winners" would be invited to perform at the Year-End Dinner. No one knew this beforehand or during the show because we didn't want it to feel like a competition.

The top three students are:
  1. Marquita Fisher & Dominique Curtis (poem)
  2. Mylana Williams (singing)
  3. Ana Tate (singing)
We would also like to invite Gabe Chapman (guitar) who was the highest vote-getter among the volunteers who performed. You can see all five of these performers live at the Year-End Dinner on Thursday, June 9th, at Cornerstone (1111 N Wells St).

GLC gives back

Hip hop artist GLC from Chicago visited Cabrini Connections on March 2nd, 2011 to speak about "love, life, and loyalty" - from growing up on the south side of Chicago to becoming a successful artist, working with legends, and winning two Grammies.
We all suffer losses and we take losses in our life, but from those losses we should just use those as motivation in order to win and become a winner and become successful, because if I did it, you definitely can. Church!
Previously: Rhymefest Gives Back

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I'm quoted in the Chicago Tribune!

You can read the article at either of these links:,0,3604457.story

It is about Project Cabrini Green which will light up the last high-rise building of Cabrini-Green beginning next week. In January, Cabrini Connections students took part in a public light art workshop with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. They created stories and poems which, based on the rhythms of their recordings, were turned into blinking LED lights. Their lights will be among those placed in each of the 134 windows of the building.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Student Spotlight: Elisabet Ortiz

First year student Elisabet Ortiz was born in St. Anthony Hospital in Chicago on Mexican Independence Day (September 16th). She attends Lincoln Park High School where she is in the double honors program. Her favorite subject right now is chemistry but she understands the math component and she enjoys doing experiments. “I love playing with fire,” she says, literally.

Elisabet says school is important because, “I need to go to school to be what I want to be. I’d die if I didn’t go to school. You have to work for your long-term goals,” and she does just that! Elisabet’s goal is to graduate high school with a 4.5 GPA. She plans to join the military (noncombat) after school, come back and go to Harvard, get a Ph.D. in Law, become governor, and become the first female president of the United States!

Volunteer Spotlight: Natalie Durda

First year mentor Natalie Durda was born in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, a southwest suburb of Minneapolis. “Things move a little bit slower [in Minnesota],” she says. “Everyone is really nice,” and even though it is north of Chicago, the winters are not as bad because it is not as windy.

In school she loved English, Spanish, and social studies, and, “Soccer was my sport.” Natalie’s parents instilled a strong work ethic in her, so she has always worked hard. She was already working 20 hours a week in high school!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

And the Oscar goes to...

For the second year in a row, Cabrini Connections is hosting a fundraising tournament called Cabrini Madness, and for the second year in a row, I am co-producing weekly videos to promote the campaign and its teams. Above, you can watch "Maybe" - the original Michael Jordan commercial and the EL Da' Sheon Nix remake. Below, you can watch "The Decision" - mimicking LeBron James' ESPN special - and "Training Days" - showing teams, including my Green Team, preparing for the 2011 Cabrini Madness season.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Are we a match?

Cabrini Connections' second annual Cabrini Madness fundraising tournament is officially underway. Last year, my team, The Green Team, advanced to the Final Four and finished in 3rd place with $1865 raised. This year I am excited to announce that The Green Team is back! Our goal is to break $2000 and contend for the title.

Team members:
Sundi Brewer-Griffin (vol.)
Mark Colwell (non-CC)
Marquise Cook (student)
Dan DeGreef (volunteer)
Israel Dosie (student)
Kaitlin Kalaway (non-CC)
Chris Kelly (volunteer)
Jamie Neuberger (volunteer)
Jordan Stephens (student)
Bradley Troast (staff)

In honor of Valentine's Day, I am matching donations up to $50 total for the next 24 hours, which means, for example, two $15 donations and a $20 donation will become $100, or one $50 donation will become $100. I would appreciate your contribution to get this campaign started. You can click on the screenshot above to access our fundraising page. Thank you very much!

Friday, February 4, 2011

2010 Holiday Appeal a success!

On December 1st, I began a letter writing campaign that would see $1495 raised for Cabrini Connections by mid-January. The day before, on November 30th, we met as staff to discuss plans for the 2010 Holiday Appeal. Each year we send letters out to our database of past donors and volunteers. An official letter was written up, but our president, Dan Bassill, encouraged us to add a personal touch. I decided to kick it up a notch.

In the envelopes that I sent out in December and early January, I included a full-page, personalized, hand-written letter, at least one photo print, a link to my fundraising page, the standard Holiday Appeal letter, a donation form, and a return envelope. This was a great opportunity to catch up with family and friends, both on a personal and professional level. I really enjoyed the process.

Council plans Talent Show, serves mentors

On December 16th, the Youth Leadership Council met for the last time in 2010 to decide on a group assignment for winter quarter. Each quarter, the Council is expected to complete one group assignment and each member is expected to complete one individual assignment. After debating several options, the decision came down to a lock-in or a talent show. The group decided to go with a talent show because, given our financial situation, they felt it would be helpful if their assignment had a fundraising element. The lock-in will most likely be saved for spring or summer as a celebration of the year.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Volunteer Spotlight: Catherine Mugeria

Catherine Mugeria grew up in Nairobi, Kenya. She says it is a great country with better (than Chicago) weather and beautiful scenery. Her parents still live there while her sister lives in the United Kingdom and her brother lives in Florida.

After high school, Catherine moved to the United States to attend college. She chose DePaul University because it has a good program in her area of interest (math). She ended up graduating with a double major in finance and economics.

What made her undergraduate experience interesting is that Catherine went to school full-time and worked full-time. Because of financial reasons, she had to do this in order to pay her tuition. She worked for GE until she graduated in 2005.

Student Spotlight: Justin Fields

Justin Fields was born outside of the United States in Kingston, Jamaica. He moved to Chicago when he was 12 months old and he has been here ever since. Justin likes Chicago because most of his family lives here and the summers are great. He does love to travel, though. He has been to Mississippi and Virginia and he even thinks that Virginia might be better than Chicago. If Justin could go anywhere right now, he would go back to Jamaica or visit California.

As a child, Justin was shy, but he got over it thanks to people who introduced him to their friends. He was the beneficiary of networking just like we hope you all are here at Cabrini Connections.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Volunteer Spotlight: Jennifer O'Rourke

First year mentor Jennifer O’Rourke was born in the Chicago suburb of Wheaton. She had a great childhood with her two younger brothers – playing outside a lot and going on road trips. Her favorite trip was a six week excursion out west to see Mount Rushmore, the Redwood Forests, and the Grand Canyon.

“What I love the most is to travel,” says Jennifer. Out of high school, she went to College of DuPage, a community college, for two years. There she was able to study abroad in London and Canterbury, England. After transferring to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she went back to London and also to Australia.

Student Spotlight: Kevin Stanfield

Cabrini Connections alumnus Kevin Stanfield moved to Cabrini Green at the age of 3. He says it was hard growing up in the area because he had trouble fitting in with people from his building. It was like a competition to see who had the nicest things. But this is something a lot of young people struggle with and Kevin made his way through.

At the age of 13, Kevin’s mom took a chance and moved with him (her only child) to California. That didn’t last long, though, as they came back after just a year. They missed their family too much, most of which is in or near Chicago. Kevin loves Chicago because it has activities for every season. “This city is like a never-ending event,” he says. Whether it’s the beach during the summer or hay rides during autumn, there’s always something to do.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Volunteer Spotlight: Tim and Jessica Minton

Tim and Jessica Minton joined Cabrini Connections in January 2010. (At that point they were engaged, but they have since gotten married. Congratulations!) Tim was born and raised outside of Boston, Mass. He describes it as “the perfect place for a die-hard sports fan,” which he is. He also says Boston is known for aggressive personalities and its fast-paced lifestyle. “You grow up fast,” he says. At the age of 15, Tim moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, with his dad to attend high school. He went from a diverse, fast-paced city to a non-diverse, Midwestern city. It was a “big shock,” but “the best decision for me,” says Tim.

Student Spotlight: Dionte Herron

Second-year student Dionte Herron was born in Chicago but moved to Milwaukee at the age of 3. He says it was a “quiet place” where “people didn’t come outside.” He himself didn’t go far and stayed inside to read most of the time. Also, there weren’t a lot of trees, and Dionte loves to climb trees.

10 years later, at the age of 13, he moved back to Chicago. Currently he lives with two of his sisters. He has seven siblings total; five of them older. Dionte is happy to be back in Chicago. “More fun, more friends, more people,” he says. Most of his family is in the area, too.

Volunteer Spotlight: Brian Kamajian

First year mentor Brian Kamajian grew up as a “70s suburban kid” in Skokie, Illinois, a northern suburb of Chicago. He has two brothers, his dad was a school teacher in the city, and his mom was a secretary. His dad was a gym teacher and coach at Kelvyn Park High School for 35 years.

In high school, Brian was a good student who loved math and science (in fact, he craves it). He also wrote for the school newspaper and was the captain of the football team. When you think about what you want to be when you grow up, Brian says it is important to find the things you like to do and the things you are good at; then find a combination of both and do your best at it.

Student Spotlight: Paris Lockett

Paris Lockett has always lived in Chicago and has always been a “good gal.” She’s outgoing and has a lot of friends; a personality she says she got from her father and grandmother. She has a large family: three sisters, one brother, two nieces, and one nephew. All her siblings are older, so she gets to learn from their mistakes, and her nieces and nephews are younger, so she constantly has somebody to play with.

Paris is a junior at Phoenix Military Academy. Going into high school, she thought it would be all segregated by groups, but, instead, she says, “We’re all like one big family.” She is in three clubs: acting club, book club, and the sisterhood program, which is an all-girls program designed to help teens support each other.