Saturday, November 19, 2011

Moving on

I have moved my blogging activities to my wordpress site. So if you want to follow me, please go to

Hope to see you there!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

CarePoint: Serving Our Forgotten Populations

113 Custer Avenue
Evanston, IL 60202

It is difficult in any economy for a nonprofit start-up to survive.  Financial struggles today are paramount as grant and foundation money becomes scarcer and the pool of potential individual donors shrinks due to high unemployment numbers.  Organizations that do survive tend to be led by visionary and driven individuals who are somehow able to keep things going.  So it is with the highest admiration that I write about CarePoint, whose founder Vincent Gillon, died suddenly of a heart attack two years ago.  Gillon, who suffered for years as a heroin addict, turned his life around after his sister died of an overdose.  He began working with agencies that served substance abusers, the homeless and people with HIV/AIDS.  He created CarePoint in 1998 to fill the gap in services he observed for underprivileged and marginalized populations.

CarePoint works with a number of populations on the north side of Chicago and in Cook County’s northern suburbs.  The major issues they deal with in the population they serve are:
·      Poverty
·      Mental Illness
·      Homelessness
·      Substance Abuse
·      HIV/AIDS
·      Viral Hepatitis
·      Incarceration

CarePoint’s philosophy is strongly rooted in an understanding that clients are not just navigating the struggles of one area.  They almost always have multiple issues to deal with at the same time.  This unique perspective allows them to be stronger and more effective allies for their clients.  They understand that many who are homeless also have substance abuse issues-and they very likely need job searching skills.  As a part of their comprehensive approach to client services, CarePoint collaborates with a number of social service agencies to help clients overcome obstacles.  They serve as an access point into the system of social service agencies for their clients and then provide assistance navigating that system.  Additionally, they also provide direct service to clients.  Here is the list of programs that CarePoint offers to clients:

·      Access to Recovery
o   Substance Abuse
o   Incarceration
·      Connections (to obtain social services)
·      HIV Testing and Prevention
·      Harm Reduction (i.e. syringe exchange, safer sex supplies, hepatitis/HIV testing/risk reduction counseling-offered on site and through outreach)
·      Hepatitis C Testing and Prevention
·      Job Center
o   Computer Access
o   Phone Access (with voicemail)
o   Job Search Skills Training
·      Youth at Risk
o   Academic Tutoring
o   Drug prevention Education
o   Safer Sex Education
o   Sponsored Enrollment in Chicago Park District Sports Programs
o   Referrals for Other Services

CarePoint provides extraordinarily important services to people who may otherwise be forgotten.  However, important funding has been cut from the State of Illinois budget; the organization hopes to be able to avoid cutting services.  Stephen Radler, former president of CarePoint’s board of directors, took over as the Executive Director following Gillon’s death.  Fortunately for CarePoint, Radler’s background includes experience in business and finance. Radler has worked to establish relationships with grant administrators and to stabilize the agency financially, aiming toward sustainable growth. 

If you are interested in helping CarePoint, the “How You Can Help” page on their website includes a request for monetary donations as well as a request for basic office supplies.  Additionally, there is a comprehensive list of volunteer opportunities.  The organization is having a profound impact on the lives of its clients.  By getting involved through donations or volunteering, I am certain CarePoint will have a profound impact on your life as well.      

Monday, January 4, 2010

Colin Beavan: No Impact Man-A Green Revolution! (Colin's blog) (For action plans/suggestions/links)

I started hearing rumblings about Colin Beavan at the end of the summer and was immediately interested to learn more.  The premise of his book, No Impact Man (and subsequent documentary of the same name) was living a zero waste/zero carbon footprint lifestyle in Manhattan.  It seemed to be an extraordinary concept.  How could anyone even consider going off the grid in New York City?  I discovered that Colin Beavan would be speaking at my local library.  As the head of an aspiring green family, I certainly was not going to miss the opportunity to meet him in person.  So I checked the book out of the library and began reading, hoping to finish in time to hear him speak.

Reading No Impact Man provided me with a wealth of ideas about minimizing my family’s carbon footprint.  I learned about buying from local area farmers and reusing containers for everything from coffee at Starbucks to food at a farmers market.  But what truly surprised me about the story Colin wrote was what surprised him as well.  His commitment to live a greener lifestyle didn’t just help the planet-it made his family happier.  And this to me is the biggest selling point for going green.  It doesn’t have to be about sacrifice.  Doing better for the planet may actually improve your life!

Consistently, Colin’s message in his book, in person and when he graciously agreed to let me interview him is that we must make a choice about negatively impacting the planet.  Sometimes we may decide that the negative impact is worth the benefit.  We may want to travel to visit family or use a washing machine for laundry.  Certainly some choices are reasonable.  But so much of the harm we are causing the planet does not improve our lives or make us any happier.  At those times, we are trashing the planet for nothing.  The challenge then, is for each of us to do a cost/benefit analysis.  However, we are so conditioned to thinking we need things that are not necessary, we may not be able to do an honest appraisal of the costs and benefits of the choices we currently make.  Therefore, I believe it is worth a good look for all of us at Colin Beavan’s family as they got by with less. 

Colin began No Impact Man as an attempt to bring attention to our planet’s environmental crisis and to engage a broader audience.  As he was thinking about the project, he began to feel as though it was hypocritical to publicly criticize what everyone else was doing unless he was willing to do things differently.  The project provided him with a more authentic podium from which to speak about environmental issues.  There were some significant challenges with the project, including ascertaining the real facts about issues such as choosing cloth versus disposable diapers and learning how to create enticing meals while utilizing locally grown in season food.  Colin discovered websites and resources for virtually every challenge in addition to crafting some of his own solutions.  One of my favorite scenes in the documentary, when Colin, his two year old daughter and at first skeptical wife, were gleefully washing clothes in the bathtub, reminded me of owners of a vineyard stomping on grapes in their effort to make wine.  The simplicity of the moment and the joy the activity provided for all three was astounding.  As they eliminated activities that negatively impacted the planet, the family increased the occurrence of these moments of connection with each other. 

Creating broad based awareness, as Colin set out to do, is a daunting task.  My 16 year old daughter, a driving force for social justice in our home, is frequently frustrated with the total lack of commitment among her peers to lessening their impact on the environment.  The younger generation is the audience most likely to participate.  How then, do we drive this message out to those less involved in environmental issues?  Colin told me he believes it is key to promote the idea of personal responsibility; it isn’t just for the corporate world to change.  We as individuals can make a difference as well.

So here is my individual contribution.  I have written this blog post and will promote it on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and via email.  I will tell everyone I know what I know.  I ask that anyone reading this blog do what you can as well.  It may be a small revolution, but a revolution just the same.  We may not save the entire planet, but we will certainly save a small piece of it.  And if enough folks decide that individual choices matter, a lot of little actions may add up to something big.  Those who know me, know that I believe in the power of each of us to have an impact.  So now, I am becoming a believer in our power to lessen our impact on the planet. 

To help you get started, below are some tips that our family has easily added. If you have others, I STRONGLY encourage you to add them in the comments section.  And if you are really motivated, join the No Impact Project on January 10, 2010 for a carbon cleansing:     

Tips for Lessening Your Carbon Footprint

Walk or ride your bike when possible-great for you AND the planet

Never idle your car at drive thru windows-you’ll save gas AND the planet

Eliminate taking bags of any kind from any store-always have reusable bags

Lower your thermostat to 68 degrees in the winter and raise it to 76 degrees in the summer

Store leftovers and pack lunches in reusable containers instead of using foil or plastic wrap.

Ask restaurants for wax paper or foil instead of styrofoam for leftovers-or better yet, bring your own containers.

STOP purchasing water bottles and use refillable stainless steel water bottles.

We purchased and are trying to use hankies-not easy for a family of chronic allergy sufferers, but we are trying!

Put a jar filled with rocks in your toilet tank to reduce water usage.

Buy cloth napkins.  We got 2 packages at Target and love the colors!

Unplug anything electric you are not using-otherwise, it still draws a charge.

Replace regular light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs-they last longer and use less energy.

Let me know what tips you have.  Thanks for being part of the green revolution!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Gift Giving: There IS a Better Way!

When something comes across your path often enough, it is a good idea to pay attention.  Over the past week, three different people have drawn my attention to alternative giving ideas for the holidays.  (Special thanks to @JoanneFritz @TheRoyalOrder and @OKL on twitter who inspired this blog posting.)  This has been on my mind this year for a number of reasons.  First, my children are older teens so they don’t expect a deluge of gifts. Second, I am not earning an income, so I knew I had to be creative. And third, the amount of garbage our household could potentially generate from holiday gift giving was starting to give me an anxiety attack!  So I have embraced these nudges to do things differently this year.  Here are many discoveries either sent to me or found via a quick google search:

Joanne’s Nonprofits Blog, included a terrific list of alternative gifts.  My favorite idea from Network for Good is The Good Card:   The Good Card allows you to purchase a gift card to give to someone that will become a donation to a nonprofit organization.  You purchase The Good Card for whatever amount you want and the recipient chooses where the money is donated.  I just purchased 3 of them!  FYI, they charge a $5.00 fee per card, which is also tax deductable, to cover the processing costs.

For those of you on Twitter, check out @okl ‘s #igivetwice.  This campaign was set up as a searchable item to encourage the sharing of information on gifts that give back.  The website explaining this to Tweeters in more detail is:

Here are some great sites for alternative gift giving: (The name says it all-terrific list!)

(Although some of these are actual gifts, it is an incredibly creative list with very different ideas.  I especially loved the first one on the list-seed wrapping paper that can be planted instead of thrown away!)

(List of nine categories that include projects you can donate to in someone’s honor.  Great list!)

(Homemade gifts-even choices like local and recycled)

(Fair trade gifts from Africa, Asia and Latin America)

(Conscious Consuming’s ecologically friendly and very creative gift ideas)

Please add to this list in the comments section.  It is by no means exhaustive.  And have a very happy alternative, sustainable, give back holiday season!

One more thing.  Do NOT miss out on my twitter buddy @amycarolwolff 's wonderful and inspiring video of a song she wrote.  I cry every time I watch it!   And send it to every idealist you know!!!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Tutor/Mentor Programs: The Key to End the Cycle of Poverty

Tutor/Mentor Connection                 
800 West Huron
Chicago, IL  60642
Founder Daniel Bassill                 

When I first began networking to learn more about Chicago nonprofit organizations, I frequently came across Tutor Mentor Connection (T/MC) and founder Daniel Bassill.  T/MC was involved in some exciting work so I decided to reach out to Daniel to learn more about the organization.  Daniel’s circuitous route to his current position began when he was asked to participate as a volunteer in what was then called the Cabrini Green Tutoring Project while a marketing/communications employee at Montgomery Wards.  (For those too young to remember, Montgomery Wards was a department store, not unlike Sears or J.C. Penney.)  This involvement as a volunteer eventually led to Daniel leaving Montgomery Wards to create T/MC. 

The organization serves as an umbrella for a large number of more localized volunteer tutoring and mentoring programs throughout the Greater Chicago area.  As described on its website:

“The Tutor/Mentor Connection (T/MC) is dedicated to improving the availability and quality of comprehensive, long-term, volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs in high-poverty areas of the Chicago region and other large US cities through an ongoing, dynamic exchange of ideas.”

Cabrini Connections, the program for the local neighborhood is run out of the same building.  There are programs throughout Chicago that are associated with T/MC.  The goal of T/MC is to help students in low-income communities navigate from birth through high school and college and into successful careers.  T/MC works to get business leaders involved, and owning, the question of, “What are all the things we need to do to assure that every youth born in poverty today is starting a job/career by age 25?"  According to Daniel, “The student and mentor are the CEO’s of their relationship.  They decide what will happen.”  In other words, the organizations are there to support the relationship, but each relationship is different and allowed to grow and develop in its own direction. 

The T/MC website is overwhelming at first glance.  There is so much information it is difficult to know where to look first.  But in the “About” section, there is a detailed guide that helps navigate the site.  There is information about tutoring programs, what has worked, what has not, philosophy about tutoring and working in low-income communities, and an ongoing commentary about the lack of commitment from many of our community leaders to take real steps to combat poverty in the United States.  There is even a special section on the steps to take to attract diverse volunteers to organizations.  This is one of the greatest challenges on the horizon for nonprofit organizations and has been tackled effectively by T/MC.  The site is an invaluable resource for anyone involved in education and/or youth in any kind of community, but is particularly useful for those who work with our neediest populations.  There are also countless links to other programs and resources and users can uploaded as well.  Daniel frequently expressed to me that he didn’t want to run everything.  He just wanted to provide a platform and the resources for the entire community to work together to help disadvantaged youth.

Daniel is a prolific writer, posting on the T/MC blog as often as three or four times a week.  Anyone who writes a blog knows just how difficult that can be.  He frequently incorporates current events into his commentary, particularly when there is some sort of youth involvement.  After working in Chicago with low-income youth for so many years, you can almost feel his outrage as the local media reports on yet another act of violence involving those under 18 years of age.  His extensive mapping of where programs exist and of where violence occurs and his references to studies that show education to be the best route out of poverty convey his frustration.  Financial support is inconsistent so he is required to spend valuable time fundraising.  However, despite feeling discouraged by feelings that he is only heard by a small minority, Daniel continues to be vigilant in is work.  He believes that by promoting these programs and recruiting a strong volunteer force, we truly can have a profound impact on poverty by ending the cycle. 

If you are interested in volunteering for a tutor/mentor program, you can find many opportunities on the T/MC website.  Additionally, for a more in-depth look at the issues related to poverty and youth, you can attend T/MC’s extraordinary bi-yearly conference this Thursday and Friday, November 19-20, 2009 at Northwestern University.  The conference is aimed at anyone interested in at-risk children and provides a wonderful opportunity to network.  Here is the link for the conference:  Excellent presenters are lined up for the event.  I will be presenting on Twitter and other social media for nonprofit professionals.  For a complete list of presenters: 

I encourage you to visit the T/MC website and find a location that would welcome your service.  It is truly an opportunity to have a profound impact on someone who needs help.  And be prepared to be surprised about how much you actually gain by giving to someone else! 

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

City Year Chicago: Not Your Mother's Volunteer Program

City Year Chicago

36 South Wabash, Suite 1500
Chicago, IL 60603
312-464-9899 and

The first thing I saw as I walked into the City Year Chicago office was a sign that welcomed me personally. What a great way to start! I was greeted by Joe Choinski, a second year City Year corps member, who is a leader of one of the City Year Chicago teams. Joe began by giving me a tour of the City Year Chicago office. He proudly showed me a photograph of then Senator Barack Obama beaming while wearing a bright red City Year Chicago jacket. Joe also allowed me to observe an energetic and enthusiastic group of corps members planning upcoming events and activities. I later learned this group was one of 13 different City Year Chicago teams. City Year is a national AmeriCorps program that began in Boston in 1988 and Chicago in 1994. The program is open to 17-24 year olds. Those chosen commit to ten months of service while receiving a stipend as well as scholarship money for college. City Year Chicago works to create teams that are diverse. The corps members on these diverse teams are then able to act as role models by working together successfully with those who are different. This year, (2009-2010) City Year Chicago has 125 corps members.

After the tour, Joe and I were joined by Johnny Barr, Director of External Relations for City Year Chicago. During our conversation we covered everything from specific details about the program to relationships between the corps members to concerns about the safety of corps members. Johnny and Joe were incredibly engaging, their passion for the organization clearly fueling their enthusiasm. By the end of our conversation, I was truly sorry that I had long passed the age where I could sign up to be a corps member.

City Year is in 20 U.S. communities, including newly added Milwaukee, which will be fully functional for the 2010-2011 school year. City Year is also in Johannesburg, South Africa. City Year is an organization that provides public schools with an ongoing presence of near peer role models-service providers who are near in age to the students. They are eager to create a presence in a community so that City Year Chicago corps members become established as good and important figures in the community. (That certainly explains the red jackets. They are VERY easy to spot in the community.) Corps members establish meaningful relationships with members of a community, particularly youth, and are then able to be role models of positive behavior. Programs are currently aimed at students in elementary school through high school, and include one on one literacy tutoring, after school/spring break programs, youth leadership and community transformation. Their new initiative, “In School and On Track” is aimed at critical ages in students’ academic lives, to help lessen the drop out rate. Programs are during the school day, after school and on weekends, depending on the age of the students and which program.

City Year Chicago is currently partnered with 12 schools in Chicago, including seven that are part of the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL.) These AUSL schools are called schools of excellence and are showing great promise for turning around the Chicago Public School system. The City Year program is holistic, utilizing The Whole School, Whole Child service model created by City Year in collaboration with education leaders. This means they deal with the whole child, working on attendance, behavior and academics.

Corps members engage in significant training before beginning their time in the community. They are even taught how to stay safe in the neighborhoods they serve. There are frequent opportunities to connect with other corps members and staff throughout the day. And as a testament to the impact of participation on corps members, there is a very active City Year alumni group

Like every other person and organization, City Year Chicago has been affected by the economy. Fundraising and attracting corporate and foundation sponsors is certainly more challenging in this financial climate. However, a positive effect of this economic downturn has been a dramatic increase in the number of applicants to the program. Jobs are scarce and so AmeriCorps programs provide wonderful opportunities for younger job hunters. Before the economy plunged, City Year Chicago received twice as many applicants as they accepted. This past year they received 5 times as many applicants as they accepted. That may be one of the few silver linings to this economic cloud.

Fun facts about City Year Chicago: (Actually, this stuff is pretty extraordinary for a bunch of 17-24 year olds to accomplish.)

• 876 corps members have graduated from the program, providing 1.5 million hours of service to Chicago. (WOW!!!)

• Literacy tutoring has been provided for 2,856 students, with average students in 2009 advancing their reading skills by a complete grade level.

• 77.3% of teachers in 2009 stated that corps members increased their students’ time spent learning.

• 95% of 2009 Young Heroes (leadership and service program for 6th-8th graders) say they made friends with people from different backgrounds.

City Year Chicago is truly in the trenches making the world a better place for large numbers of Chicago’s children. The work they do is making a measurable difference for so many.

President Barack Obama described City Year this way:

“Who’s the next generation that is going to lead us and inspire us and build an America we can all be proud of? When I look out at all of the City Year corps members who have been giving so much of themselves for a cause that is so much larger than themselves, I think I have an answer to that question.”

If you are interested in volunteering with City Year Chicago, check out their events calendar:

If you are interested in supporting the work of City Year Chicago, check out their ways to give:

And if you know anyone young enough to participate in this extraordinary experience, tell them to apply right away. And if they hesitate, tell them they are doing it for entire generations that were born a few years too early to participate. Although unfortunately, I cannot speak from experience, I am sure they will never regret their decision to participate!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Better Information Produces Better Decisions-So Contact MCIC!

Metro Chicago Information Center (MCIC)

17 North State Street Suite 1600
Chicago, IL 60602-3294

Several months ago I was exploring the internet for organizations in the nonprofit world when I came across the site for the Metro Chicago Information Center (MCIC.) Although I was a strong math student as a kid, I was never one for the structure of statistics and processing different kinds of data. But as I read the description of MCIC, I did a little happy dance. (Well, not really-figuratively!) Here was an organization that gathered data, analyzed that data and provided all kinds of useful information and it was a nonprofit organization. At this point, I began to understand just how expansive the world of nonprofit organizations had become.

As I began to explore the website I developed a profound appreciation for MCIC and their value as an extraordinary resource. The website includes information that is difficult to find anyplace else without great effort. Additionally, I would have a deep concern about the accuracy of what I might find through other sources. On the home page of the site, there are links to maps, strategic planning resources, data on topics such as population, models on topics such as economic change in neighborhoods and a long list of publications and reports on a variety of topics. Much of the information requires membership but there is no charge to be a member.

I definitely wanted to learn more about MCIC. I contacted the organization and soon met with Joan Frankel, MCIC’s Senior Consultant for Health and Human Services. Joan told me that MCIC has 15 full time staff, but depending on the number of projects they are working on, their numbers can grow to 20-22 staff with the addition of consultants. MCIC generally works on projects that are either very quickly completed or span 18-24 months. They work with 75-80 organizations each year. Although the economic downturn has had some impact, many nonprofits are now applying for foundation and grant money to pay for MCIC services. The organization does no advertising and has survived for 20 years through word of mouth.

Whether looking at the website, their printed materials or speaking to Joan, the message comes through that MCIC is working to help organizations collect and utilize information to optimize their work. The organization was created in 1990 from a nucleus of an idea at the Commercial Club of Chicago. This statement on the MCIC website briefly summarizes the mission of the organization, “…MCIC works from a fundamental philosophy that better information produces better decisions.”  In other words, MCIC is able to collect and analyze information that provides a clearer picture of what is actually occurring. How often do nonprofit organizations make decisions based on what they think is probably happening or create strategies based on conventional wisdom, which may or may not be correct? Through data collection (qualitative and quantitative) and analysis, focus groups and creating maps, MCIC is able to create a complete picture of what is happening in the field, within a topic or neighborhood. MCIC staff are also skilled at taking that information and creating a strategic plan for the future.

MCIC works with organizations and institutions that primarily focus on the following five areas:

1. Arts, Culture and Tourism

2. Community and Economic Development

3. Financial Institutions

4. Government and Education

5. Health and Human Services

I found the list on their website labeled “Custom Research and Consulting Services” particularly helpful. Below is that list, some of which are commonly understood.  I have provided examples for any that are not:

Policy Analysis/Quality of Life Studies
From the website, “…to benchmark, track, and evaluate the effect of existing services and/or recently implemented social policy.”

Community and Regional Studies
To learn about the external market at the neighborhood, regional or national level

Organizational Studies
To strengthen organizations

Database Development
Identifying, compiling and analyzing

Key Informant Interviews
People with special knowledge in the area of interest

Face-to-Face Interviews


Focus Groups

Community Building Forums

MCIC is one of those community treasures that doesn’t sit in the spotlight of nonprofit innovation. But they are clearly a resource that is of extraordinary value to people working to make our community better. They are doing the work that allows the rest of us to be even more successful at what we do, whether we are at a nonprofit organization, a governmental agency or affiliate, or an individual trying to do our part. Their skills at data collection and analysis in a variety of forms and their ability to help an organization utilize strategic planning certainly
strengthen any organization’s impact. And their website is a tool that is an invaluable resource. I strongly encourage you to pass their information on to anyone who might have need for MCIC’s services.