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!