Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thank you for reading my blog! I've had more than 500 unique visitors since I started in July which is both remarkable and humbling. I care so much about the youth in our program and I do my best to transfer that feeling through my writing. I appreciate every click of the mouse and so do our kids (like Kierre Halbert who created this image in our Tech Club). Far too often, no one is listening, but I can say with confidence that a lot are.

Our holiday theme is 'Tis the Season and CC/TMC is the Reason. Please spread the word. Thank you again, and have a blessed holiday!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Youth Leadership Council Meeting 11/18/09

The 2009-2010 Youth Leadership Council held its second meeting on Wednesday, November 18th. The primary purpose of this meeting was to follow-up with ideas presented at the first meeting and to work toward those which are most promising. The Council has chosen to pursue three projects:
  • Each year Cabrini Connections holds a winter clothes drive so that students who may otherwise find it difficult to get to our program can receive some thermal assistance. Savon Clark and Israel Dosie will take the lead on this project. Savon is in charge of logistics (bins, rules, sign-in/out sheets) while Israel is in charge of publicity (flyers, announcements, etc.).
  • Inspired by Melissa Young's Halloween Bake Sale, De'Sean Hale (pictured above during announcements) and Ashaunti Roby are going to arrange a fund raiser for Cabrini Connections. De'Sean would like students to sell candy over the holidays. He and Ashaunti are going to research ideas and present them at the next meeting.
  • Sean Mayfield and Victoria Rivera will take the lead on arranging a lounge somewhere in our center. Sean will design the layout and Victoria will figure out what furniture is needed. At the next tutoring session, they will ask around for student input.
Please be on the lookout for further news regarding these projects. Savon, Israel, De'Sean, Ashaunti, Sean, and Victoria are going above and beyond, and we want to support their endeavors as best we can. By donating clothes, money, or furniture, you will not just be reinforcing the work of these six council members; you support 76 students, 88 volunteers, and six staff who use our facilities on a weekly basis. We greatly appreciate your generosity. Thank you.

The Tutor/Mentor Conference (Net)Worked!

Last week's Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference was a tremendous success. More than 30 presentations connected 155 people who want to help inner city youth have brighter futures. You can see the list of speakers and attendees on the conference web site. Because we keep this list published, the networking started at the conference can continue indefinitely.

Here's an example of how the conference (net)worked for me. At 9am on Day One, I met Heidi Massey while I was out in the cold selling parking tickets. She was sympathetic, encouraging, and just plain friendly. Four hours later, we met at lunch and learned about each other's work. Heidi wants to start a nonprofit organization that networks other NPOs together.

12 hours after our first encounter, Heidi and I were following each other on Twitter. 30 hours after, at the close of the conference, she left me with a personal compliment that made my day. As a recent graduate, still with a lot to learn about nonprofits, I consider Heidi an asset as I move forth. I look forward to keeping in touch with her.

To extend the example... Heidi (center) introduced me to Oliver Miller (right), Community Engaged Scholarship Coordinator and AmeriCorps VISTA at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. In Winter 2009, I interned at the organization that placed him, Illinois Campus Compact, so it turns out we know some of the same people. Oliver is looking to start an e-mentoring program at The Chicago School, so I pointed him to David Neils, Director of the International Telementor Program, whom I had met the previous day. It turns out Oliver had already spoken extensively with David and gleaned a lot of advice from him. Like Jean Russell said in her keynote speech on Friday, you can accomplish a lot once you have the right people in the room!

Well, with the Internet, we can always have the right people in the room! ... or at least on the same web sites. Please check out the Tutor/Mentor blog (which has links to all of our blogs) and comment. You can also become a fan of Tutor/Mentor Connection on Facebook and join the Tutor/Mentor Ning Network. Let's continue to collaborate and share ideas just like we did last Thursday and Friday, and let's begin to think about how we will plan, promote, and fund the May 2010 Conference. Thank you!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Student Spotlight: Alexandra Barcenas

Alexandra Barcenas is a 7th grader at Newberry Academy. She has always lived in Chicago and likes it a lot. The most recent fun she had in the city was seeing Jersey Boys at The Bank of America Theatre downtown. Alex lives in Logan Square with one sister and two brothers, but she has a lot of extended family in the area. For Thanksgiving they are gathering at her aunt's house and for Christmas they will be at her godfather's house. She is definitely looking forward to the holidays.

In school, Alex's favorite subject is math because "it's easy." Her most challenging subject is social studies because it's hard to understand. She plans to get better by listening in class and doing her homework. She also has the help of her mentor, Liz Jandrain. Liz and Alex are both new to Cabrini Connections this year, but you'd think they've known each other for years. Alex is shy by nature, but Liz made jokes when they first met to get through to her. Now Liz helps Alex with her homework and their goal is to get an A in social studies. Good luck!

In a few years, it will be time for Alex to go to high school. She would like to attend Homewood-Flossmoor Community High School in the south suburbs. After that it's on to college. She would like to attend DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, which is where one of her cousins went. She wants to study Spanish because Mexican culture is very important to her.

Alex's ultimate goal is to be a singer when she grows up. She dreams of becoming a star and meeting Zac Efron of the High School Musical film series. (I'm sure he would love to meet you!) She is also a fan of the Twilight series, part two of which came out last weekend (New Moon). In her spare time, Alex likes to play sports, read and volunteer. She plays shortstop in baseball, she recommends The Spiderwick Chronicles, and she volunteers at the library.

We are very thankful to have Alex in the program and we wish her all the best!

Volunteer Spotlight: Liz Jandrain

Liz Jandrain graduated from Loyola University Chicago in May 2008 with a Bachelor's Degree in Human Resources (HR). Since then, she has been working as an HR Assistant at Quarasan, a full service conceptual developer of content for publishers of educational materials and products. They work with their clients to create products that help kids learn and teachers teach.

Liz's job is to help with anything that needs to get done. She helps the Vice President and Director of HR; she recruits and hires new talent; she handles orientations and paperwork; she runs the holiday committee and wellness program - the list goes on. "I love to work with people," says Liz. "I help people do what they do better." In HR, you help the employees, which means Liz helps new, current, and former employees with their needs. She credits getting her job to the internship she had at Quarasan while still in school. "It's important to build your resume up," she says. "Any activity that will set you apart from anybody else is good."

Liz is happy with her current job, but she does dream of having her own boutique hotel or candy store in the future. She also wants to start a family. Right now she has no family in Chicago, but she does have a boyfriend and a cat to keep her company. She is going home, though, to spend Thanksgiving with her family. Liz grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but she moved to Columbus, Ohio, when she was seven, which is where her parents still live. Her sister is a teacher in Phoenix, Arizona, she has a brother in the Navy in Washington, D.C., and she has another brother who goes to school in Dayton, Ohio. Liz is looking forward to Thanksgiving because she loves to eat. She is the self-proclaimed "Queen of Thanksgiving." Her favorite dishes are sweet potatoes and cranberry relish.

Liz heard about Cabrini Connections from fellow volunteer MC Nelson, who is also an employee at Quarasan. MC set up Cabrini Connections as the beneficiary to a gift basket raffle at their company last year. Liz works with 7th grader Alexandra Barcenas on Wednesday nights and loves coming to tutor her. "I think I get as much from going as [Alex] does," she says. "To hear the students' hopes and dreams and positivity... to have that, personally, is great."

In addition to social studies, Liz has been helping Alex with her shyness. Her tips for mentors faced with shyness are to keep asking questions and, if you get no answer, talk about yourself. Also, "try and be funny," she says. "Get some emotion out of them. Kids are silly." Great advice, Liz! We're happy to see that you and Alex are getting along well. Thanks for setting a great example!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

One day away

The Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference is just one day away! (Tomorrow!) I've been counting down for a week now and we're almost there! Here is some of what's in store for Day One:
You could attend all of these workshops in succession tomorrow, but there are plenty more to choose from (at least four in each of four workshop time slots). See the agenda for a complete breakdown with descriptions. For more details on the conference and to register, visit Thank you.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Two days away

The Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference is just two days away! Here is some of what's happening on Day Two:
  • Former Cabrini Green Tutoring Program student Isaiah Brooms, now the Director of Admissions at Westwood College - Virginia Ballston Campus, will give the opening keynote.
  • Bill Curry, COO of Breakthrough Urban Ministries, who I met this summer, will lead a workshop about his organization's innovative approach to growing mentoring relationships among a community of students and a community of volunteers.
  • EL Da' Sheon Nix, former Northwestern University football player and current Administrative Coordinator at Cabrini Connections, will discuss how to engage athletes, business leaders and celebrities as advocates for volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs.
  • Valdis Krebs and Jean Russell will explore, explain, and empower thrivable communities in the afternoon keynote address, "Understanding Social Networks."
  • Sandra Garest, Senior Dream Manager at Floyd Consulting, will help participants find and pursue their passions in her afternoon workshop, "Inspiring others to Dream Big."
For more details on the conference and to register, visit or call 312-492-9614. Thank you.

Volunteer Spotlight: Sandra Lee

Sandra Lee is a sophomore English major at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), the same college her mom went to and the same college we visited last weekend. She grew up in Northbook, IL, a northern suburb of Chicago, and chose to attend UIC because it's close to home, she has friends there, and being close to an urban area offers a lot of opportunities. Sandra has found herself learning more in college than she did in high school. "The best thing about college is that you can pick your classes," she says. "You can learn what you want to learn." Sandra's goal is to become a high school English teacher. She wants to go straight into teaching after college.

Sandra is in her first year as a mentor at Cabrini Connections. She works with Northtown Academy Senior Alexis Montgomery, a five year veteran in the program, and they've hit it off extremely well. Sandra has tutored really young kids before, but she wanted to get hands-on experience at a place like Cabrini Connections to confirm that teaching in high school is what she wants to do. "To work with someone in high school inspired me to stick with education," says Sandra. "I love Alexis. I feel lucky to have her."

In her spare time, Sandra loves to shop, read, and spend time with family and friends. She has a large extended family and is looking forward to big family parties over the holidays. Her favorite time of year is Christmas time in Chicago with the big Christmas tree in Daley Plaza and ice skating in Millennium Park. Though she may go to New York to teach for a few years, ultimately Sandra wants to stay around Chicago and start a family in the suburbs.

At present, Sandra is assisting Alexis with her college search and applications for admission. "[Alexis] has so much to offer," says Sandra. "She's such a bright girl... She can make a whole room smile." With that kind of support, I know Alexis is bound for great things. Thanks, Sandra, for being such a great mentor right off the bat.

Student Spotlight: Kierre Halbert

Kierre Halbert is a 7th grader at James B. McPherson School. His favorite subjects are math and social studies because he gets good grades in those classes. After graduating from elementary school in 2011, Kierre would like to attend Walter Payton College Prep, Amundsen High School, or Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Center.

Kierre is a native Chicagoan who currently resides in Cabrini Green. He loves Chicago (one of his favorite events is Bike the Drive), but if he were to live anywhere else, it would be Atlanta, New York, or Toronto, Canada. He has already visited Florida, Washington, D.C., and Las Vegas, and if he could go anywhere in the world it would be Tokyo, Japan. I think Kierre is going to collect a lot of frequent flyer miles in his future!

This is Kierre's first year at Cabrini Connections and, like his cousin, NyShanell Freeman, he has already established himself as a model student. He does an exit and entry page in SVHATS every time he comes to our center which has earned him a Top 5 spot on our leader board. He attends tutoring on Thursday night with his mentor Alex James who is also in his first year. They primarily work on math, spelling, and science. Kierre says, "he's great!"

Kierre is not here just one night of the week, though. He comes on Monday for Video and Filmmakers Club and on Tuesday for Tech Club. He joined Video Club to learn about directing movies so that one day he can make his own comedy film. In Tech Club he learns to animate graphics and design logos. Right now club members are designing a logo for Cabrini Connections' holiday mailing. Here is one of Kierre's mockups:

When Kierre grows up he would like to be an engineer, a photographer, or a movie director. In college he would like to study technology and science as an engineer, hopefully at Columbia College or Clark Atlanta University. Kierre has been on all three college visits this quarter, so he's starting to get a good sense of what college is like. For now he's just enjoying life as a 13-year-old. #1 on his wish list for the holidays is an Xbox 360. Maybe if Santa reads this spotlight, he'll grant your wish! Thanks, Kierre, for taking advantage of everything we have to offer!

Monday, November 16, 2009

UIC College Visit

On Saturday, November 14th, I accompanied nine Cabrini Connections students to University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) for a college visit. At the start of this quarter, our objective was to offer one college visit per month and so far we've followed through with that goal. In September we visited Northwestern University and in October we visited DePaul University. All of these trips are part of our College Application Assistance Program (a.k.a. the College Zone) which provides learning opportunities and support related to college admissions.

Once again, our trip began in a dining hall. Thanks to UIC Dining Services and Sodexo, we were treated to "All-You-Care-To-Eat" breakfast in the East Cafe of UIC Student Center East, and we all left satisfied. (There was even a competition to see who could make the best Belgian waffle. Kierre won.) Special thanks to Roslyn Pitts, Director of UIC Meetings, Conferences, and Dining Services, for helping arrange our visit. We like to instill positive associations with college and buffet-style dining halls are a great way to do so!

After lunch we went to an information session. We ran late because of some confusion regarding its location, but we made it in time for a Q&A session with current students which was informative. Soon it was time for our campus tour led by the wonderful Ana. Our group was comprised almost entirely of high school students (one parent) which relaxed her and allowed for a more casual tour. She prompted our students with questions throughout the tour and they always replied promptly. "What do you want to study?" got answers like architecture, English, chemistry, and computer engineering. For each answer, she was able to connect it to an actual area of study at UIC. It was a great way to show that in college you can study whatever you want!

Ana led us through most of East Campus, including The Quad, a classroom in Douglas Hall, and the Student Recreation Facility. We ended in Student Residence & Commons South where we got to tour three different types of dorm rooms with actual students living in them. UIC is one of the most diverse schools in the country. There is not a single racial/ethnic group which represents a majority. It's nice for our students to see people that look like them at a university. Ana herself, a first-generation college student, was a good model for what it takes and what it's like to attend college.

Now, usually, our visit would end here, but UIC invited us to a Flames basketball game! Volunteers, students, and their friends met at Cabrini Connections to board a bus for a free ride to the game. At UIC Pavilion, those of us who went on the college visit met them to witness the UIC Flames defeat the University of Illinois at Springfield (UIS) Prairie Stars 72-59. UIC held a commanding lead throughout in their first game of the 2009-2010 season. Thank you to Megan Sparks of UIC Community Assist Program for providing this exciting experience. A lot of our youth currently play sports at school, so I'm sure it is was a pleasure for them to witness competition at the next level.

Your donations to Cabrini Connections make visits like this possible. Please consider making a small donation on our web site. Thank you!

Three purposes

The Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference, which is just three days away, serves three purposes:
  • It connects leaders and supporters of volunteer-based tutoring, mentoring and education-to-career programs with each other.
  • It builds visibility so that more volunteers and donors will choose to support tutor/mentor programs in the Chicago region.
  • It helps Tutor/Mentor Connection maintain its Chicago Area Programs List of area tutor/mentor programs.
We hope you'll join us for two days of information-sharing and learning. Please review the agenda, workshop descriptions, and speaker bios to find out more about what you'll be experiencing. For more details on the conference and to register, visit or call 312-492-9614. Thank you.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Four part strategy

We have four days left until the 2009 November Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference. The mission of the Tutor/Mentor Connection is to provide an organized framework that empowers and encourages adult volunteers to contribute their time, effort, ideas and advocacy toward creating life-changing solutions for children in educationally and economically disadvantaged areas. This mission is accomplished through a four part strategy:
  1. Collect knowledge from key stakeholders about volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs: how programs succeed, where programs are located, and where more programs and resources are needed.
  2. Aggressively share this knowledge through marketing and public awareness campaigns, capitalizing on the Internet as a chief vehicle of communication.
  3. Strengthen involvement of community and industry leaders to increase essential resources to tutor/mentor programs.
  4. Facilitate understanding and collaboration among stakeholders to develop the long-term, integrated actions needed to help youths move from birth in poverty to a job or career by age 25.

We will do all of these things at next week's conference. You can view a concept map of this strategy here. For more details on the conference and to register, visit or call 312-492-9614. Thank you.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Five minute video

With five days left until the conference, I would like to share with you this five minute video. In 2007, we asked four members of the Tutor/Mentor Connection why they do what they do. Fast forward to the last minute and a half for great testimonials about the conference! "It might just be a conversation that you have with someone," says Mark Duhon, Executive Director of HighSight, "or it might be a workshop that you go to that gets you thinking about something that can make a difference."

For more details on the 2009 November Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference, and to register, visit or call 312-492-9614. Thank you.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Six degrees of separation

With six days to go, I would like to play six degrees of separation (the theory that everyone is at most six steps away from any other person on Earth). I'm going to get from myself to President Barack Obama, but it's only going to take two steps!

I work with Dan Bassill, President of Tutor/Mentor Connection, and he met Obama at the May 1999 Tutor/Mentor Leadership & Networking Conference. As Senator of Illinois at the time, Obama attended the conference and presented the Thomas A. Demetrio Lend-A-Hand Award to Horizons for Youth. So think about it... at next week's conference you could meet a future president!

OK, that may be a stretch, but it does highlight the fact that this is a conference for leadership and networking. You will meet leaders in the nonprofit world who may better your organization now and lead to further support and opportunities in the future. For more details on the conference and to register, visit or call 312-492-9614. Thank you.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Countdown to Conference

The 15th Annual November Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference starts a week from today and in anticipation I will be counting down the days by reference to resources and interesting information related to the conference. With seven days to go, I invite you to check out Cabrini Connections' Theory of Change, outlined in the Seven Success Steps shown on this page.

Tutor/mentor programs from across Chicago will be sharing their strategies at the conference next week. For more details and to register, visit or call 312-492-9614. Thank you.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Volunteer Spotlight: Kate Pomper

Wednesday night mentor Kate Pomper found out about Cabrini Connections through a friend at work and signed up in January 2009. She has been with her mentee, Ah'Queen James, since May and adores working with her. They got to know each other over the summer by meeting a few times off-site, first at The Art Institute of Chicago and later at a cafe to read To Kill a Mockingbird. Kate says it was very helpful to do some non-tutoring first in order for them to connect on a more personal level. Of Cabrini Connections, she says it is "amazing [and] all-around fantastic... Of all the tutor/mentor programs I've worked with, it's my favorite one." We're glad you like it here, Kate. Thanks for being a great mentor!

You can read the rest of Kate's spotlight in our center at 800 W Huron.

Student Spotlight: Alexis Montgomery

Alexis Montgomery is in her FIFTH year at Cabrini Connections. She and her brother, Darren Forest, joined us in September 2004 and their sister, Aiesha, who now attends Southern Illinois University, is an alumnus of the program. I guess Cabrini Connections runs in the family.

Alexis is matched up with first year mentor Sandra Lee, a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "She's cool," says Alexis. "She keeps it fun... I want her to be my tutor for the rest of my life." We're glad to hear that you like Sandra, Alexis. Our vision is that every child who joins a tutor/mentor program in 7th or 8th grade is starting a job or career of his or her choice by age 25, so we will do our best to facilitate your continued relationship beyond this year.

Alexis is a senior at Chicago International Charter School Northtown Academy. Her favorite subject is Western civilization. In her recent studies of Greek mythology, which has a tremendous influence on Western culture, Alexis was surprised to read that Oedipus, the son of the king and queen of Thebes, was abandoned on the side of a mountain because it was prophesied that he would kill his father and marry his mother. The prophecy did come true, but in any case, Alexis cannot imagine deserting a child.

Outside of school, Alexis' favorite thing to do is dance. She also loves to play basketball and violin or viola. She is on the girl's basketball team at Northtown and she has been taking music lessons at Old Town School of Folk Music for more than six years. When she grows up she would like to be a professional basketball player or a photographer.

In order to get into a career of her choice, Alexis plans to attend college next year. She has applied to Wright College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago, and is working on an application to Southern Illinois University. She wants to study technology and fulfill a personal goal of building her own computer. After basketball season, she might join Tech Club to begin her training.

As for an artistic side, Alexis has been nurturing hers in Art Club for almost a year now. She recently completed a wire sculpture of break dancers which is now on display in the back of our center. We look forward to showcasing more of her work at Cabrini Connections Annual Art Festival in April. Until then Alexis simply offers her sense of humor. "I like to see people smile," she says. We certainly are, Alexis. Good luck with applying to college. You're going to love it!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Youth Leadership Council Meeting 11/4/09

The 2009-2010 Youth Leadership Council held its first meeting on Wednesday, November 4th. To start off the meeting, expectations, rules, and roles were discussed. Council members will essentially function as junior staff on tutoring nights - enforcing rules, helping with announcements, and being aware upcoming events' details. Several returning members recounted the accomplishments of last year's council, including the production of videos for National Mentoring Month. It was acknowledged that they often worked behind-the-scenes and needed to do a better job this year of making their presence known.

The bulk of the meeting consisted of a brainstorming session for new ideas. The council discussed center improvements and potential fundraisers to support them, such as a bike-a-thon, a candy sale, and a car wash (or bash). As for additions to Cabrini Connections' space, the council would like to pursue the arrangement of a lounge in the back of the center for more relaxed mentor-mentee time. This will involve reorganizing what's already there and collecting donated furniture. Stay tuned for more details as this project develops.

The last part of our discussion had to do with activity in the center. Members insisted that students need to bring homework for each tutoring session. If they don't have homework, their tutors need to get creative: look up math problems on the Internet, go over courses for next semester, read a book, etc. Members recommend that games be kept locked up for the first half of tutoring sessions in order to facilitate more constructive work. I favor this recommendation and we are looking to enact it after Thanksgiving break.

As you can see, the council is already having an effect on rules and regulations at Cabrini Connections. We as staff appreciate their direct input and look forward to hearing more from them as the year goes on. Thank you.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Student Spotlight: NyShanell Freeman

NyShanell Freeman is a 7th grader at Newberry Academy. This is her first year with Cabrini Connections, but her second with mentor Jessica Bearden. (They met at Cabrini Green Tutoring Program.) In school, NyShanell's favorite subjects are science and social studies because they are "easy" and "fun." That's a great combination!

In a couple years, NyShanell will be entering high school, and she would like to attend one of the best schools in the city: Walter Payton, Lane Tech, or Whitney Young. Ultimately she wants to be a fashion designer when she grows up, so, in college, she imagines herself studying business and art.

Indeed she has already begun to study art as a member of Cabrini Connections' Art Club, which is led by Jacqueline Shay and meets on Monday nights from 5:45-7:15. NyShanell likes Art Club because it gives her a chance to express herself. Art is her favorite hobby, but, unfortunately, it is not offered as a class or club at her school, so we're happy to fill the void. That's what our learning and enrichment activities are all about. You can keep up with the Art Club on their blog. Right now NyShanell is working on a wire sculpture of an octopus!

Art Club is not the only club NyShanell is in. She is also in Tech Club. People always tell her she's good with computers and in Tech Club she gets to strengthen that talent. Recently she learned how to use Photoshop, an advanced editing software for photographs. Check out the Tech Club blog to see what else they've accomplished.

NyShanell does her SVHATS every time she comes to tutoring and clubs, which has put her in the Top 5 on our leader board. We view SVHATS as a great behind-the-scenes communications tool and we are thankful to NyShanell for using it so frequently. She earns points with each entry, so down the line she will definitely be seeing some rewards for her commitment.

She also earns points for being on time to tutoring and bringing homework, which she almost always does. Jessica helps explain to her how to do her homework and breaks it down so it isn't as difficult to understand. In one of NyShanell's most challenging subjects, math, Jessica uses real life examples to aid with comprehension.

NyShanell has lived in Chicago all her life, but she would love to live in Los Angeles, New York, and/or Miami at some point. She has three little sisters, which means she has to be a role model and a mentor in her own household. Well, she certainly has a good example in Jessica and many of the other mentors at Cabrini Connections. Good luck with your studies, NyShanell. You're going to accomplish great things!

Volunteer Spotlight: Sarah Randag

Mentor Sarah Randag is in her third year at Cabrini Connections. She works with Ashaunti Roby, a 9th grader at Providence St. Mel School. Sarah heard about our program through a friend of hers, Wednesday night mentor Heather Coleman. Sarah volunteered for six years at Cabrini Green Tutoring Program while it was at the YMCA, but when they tore that building down and the program moved north, it no longer worked with her schedule. Cabrini Connections does, though, and we are glad to have her.

Sarah is teaming up with the owner of Cellar Rat Wine Shop to host a wine-tasting fundraiser at the shop's location on Sunday, November 22nd, from 5:30-7:30pm. We are happy to see a volunteer take the initiative to raise much-needed funds for our program. Tickets are $25 for wine and appetizers. Owner Dean Schlabowske is donating the wine and use of his space, so 100 percent of your admission fee will go to Cabrini Connections. Dean will choose six wines for guests to try and the theme is (just in time for Thanksgiving): wines that pair well with turkey.

Sarah is originally from Springfield, the capital of Illinois. She currently resides in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood of Chicago. She received her Bachelor of Science degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and now works as a web producer for American Bar Association (ABA) Journal. She primarily works as an editor on the magazine's web site. After college and before working for the ABA Journal, Sarah worked at three newspapers; two of them in Florida (Key West and Naples).

One of Sarah's favorite activities is swimming. She was on the swim team at Northwestern; she's in an adult recreation swim league; and she regularly participates in a 5k open water swim. She is also an avid runner; running in at least one half marathon a year. Maybe next year we can convince her to run a full one with Nicole :)

Last but not least, Sarah has some very simple tips for being a good mentor: pay attention, keep track, and follow up - very good advice from someone who's been doing this for almost 10 years. Thanks, Sarah!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Student Spotlight: Malina Tate

Malina Tate is a 9th grader at Muchin College Prep, a campus of Noble Street Charter School. Her favorite subject is nonfiction literature, but, at the moment, her favorite book, Monster, by Walter Dean Myers, is a work of fiction. Monster is the story of a 16-year-old on trial for murder who recounts his experiences in the form of a movie screenplay. With its unusual style and courtroom setting, it's no surprise that Monster caught Malina's attention. She wants to be a lawyer when she grows up; something her teachers have been encouraging for years.

Malina likes to debate a lot, which used to mean she had an attitude problem. She was worried that she wasn't going to make it at Muchin because of their strict rules. But Malina gives Cabrini Connections credit for helping curb her attitude problem and channel it into talent. She likes to argue about serious topics in school now because she doesn't get in trouble like she would in an argument about meaningless things with her friends. She learns how to construct a good argument and she is more comfortable as a public speaker. At Cabrini Connections, Malina sometimes helps with announcements and, recently, she was part of a panel - The Changing Faces of Cabrini Green - at our Tutor Training Conference. All of this is great preparation for her career as a lawyer.

Now, in order to become a lawyer, Malina needs a good role model to show her what it takes. Well, in true Cabrini Connections style, she has that directly in her mentor, Carolyn Grunst, who is an attorney at K&L Gates LLP. (Carolyn's fiance, fellow Cabrini Connections mentor Mitch Holzrichter, is also a lawyer.) Carolyn took Malina to a White Sox game the first time they met and they have been a great match ever since. "She cares more than I thought a tutor could care," says Malina of Carolyn. "She's like a second mother." Carolyn is always checking up on her to make sure she is OK and that her work is done.

If Malina decides not to be a lawyer, she may turn out to be a doctor instead. She would like to study medicine in college (somewhere in the south, like Spelman) and eventually become a gynecologist because there are not a lot of African American women in that position. Malina is on track to make it into college, so she has plenty of time to explore career options. It's great to see that she is already giving it so much thought, though. You will be successful, Malina!

In her spare time, Malina likes to dance, write, and cook. She is a member of the hip hop dance group MCP Dance Company and she likes to write poetry. Her biggest dream is to buy her mother a house. "I want to try to help her as much as she has helped me," says Malina. Your mother must be very proud. Keep up the good work!

Volunteer Spotlight: Katie Nolan

Katie Nolan grew up in Glen Ellyn, IL, a western suburb of Chicago, before moving to Rock Island, IL, in 1999 to attend Augustana College. Katie spent a lot of time in the library studying for her English and French majors, so much time, in fact, that she became interested in librarianship. After two years of graduate study at The University of Maryland, Katie earned a Master of Library and Information Science degree, providing her with the foundation for a professional career in information activities. She now works at Morton Grove Public Library as an Adult Reference Librarian. She sits at the reference desk and answers any questions that people may have. She also teaches beginner level computer classes to senior citizens.

As you might suspect, Katie reads a lot in her spare time. She is really into young adult books, which means that she is up-to-date with the Twilight series and is looking forward to New Moon later this month. She has two cats (Sonya and Criton) and one husband (Scott) who asked her out on her last day of work at Borders Bookstore Cafe. I guess good things happen when she's around books!

At Cabrini Connections, Katie is a College Zone Coordinator on Wednesday nights. She heard about our program from her sister, third-year mentor Jen Nolan. So far, Katie describes her time as "fantastic" and appreciates the added benefit of weekly time with her sister. She meets with different students each week to assess their plans for getting into college (or high school). For 10th graders it may mean discussing test-taking strategies for the ACT. For 12th graders it means reviewing college applications and searching for financial aid.

Overall, Katie is very impressed by the motivation of our students ("I'm very impressed that they're willing to talk to me, and I'm impresed that they have clear visions of their future."), but she wants to make sure she reaches those students who may be ambivalent ("I wish I heard from more kids that are waffling."). She would like to remind everyone that the College Zone has an open door policy. "We don't expect you to know what you want to do," she says. "You can just talk to us for 10 minutes if you'd like." So if you're interested in high school, college, and/or a career (I know you are), set up an appointment with Katie, Carla or Stephanie in the College Zone today!