Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Helping others help themselves

So for the past few weeks I've been contacting every tutor/mentor program in Chicagoland to make sure that we have the most up to date information in our Tutor/Mentor Program Locator, a website that we host that has information about every organization offering youth tutoring and/or mentoring in Chicagoland. This website serves as a resource for parents and students looking for particular programs in their neighborhood, as it maps the locations of all the programs using an easy-to-use interface. Each organization has their own profile that we have encouraged them to update themselves. One section of each profile consists of a series of survey questions about the specifics of their organization, the difficulties they face and the strategies they use to surmount these challenges. However, as the interface is not very intuitive from an organizational standpoint, the grand majority of these profiles haven't been completely updated in a while. As you can imagine, it has been a bit of a struggle to get in touch with the right people at each organization, given the peculiarities of the non-profit world and how nobody ever seems to answer the phone when you need them to. Anyway, the most important aspect of this recent round of phone calls that I've been making is that I've been forming or rekindling relationships between the Tutor/Mentor Connection and the program coordinators at the various organizations and informing them as to the mutual benefit of keeping their profile updated to reflect their current offerings. Fortunately, one of our volunteers, Ganeesh, has been working on a way to make the program locator interface much more robust and easy to use, which will encourage more organizations to keep their profiles updated.

If more organizations keep their profiles updated, not only will they receive more inquiries about programming, because our site already receives hundreds of visits each month, but they will also encourage more people to use the site, raising the overall profile of tutoring/mentoring programs in Chicagoland and contributing, via the organizational surveys, to an increased shared knowledge base of successful strategies from which all programs can benefit.

This strategy, to provide a resource and then empower others to take advantage of that resource, make it their own, and use it to accomplish shared goals, is one that we utilize a lot here at Cabrini Connections and Tutor/Mentor Connection and is a necessary one in the non-profit world where we simply lack the resources to do everything ourselves. For example, with our various clubs, such as art club, tech club or the upcoming African Drum and Dance Club, we (Cabrini Connections) provide the space and other resources, (supplies, computers, snacks...etc) , while we empower volunteers to run and organize the clubs with relatively minimal oversight.

Same with our two annual conferences, we offer a space to meet and schedule speakers and workshop facilitators, but it is the participants of the conference that really create the content and the positive results of the conference. It is through their networking and exchange of ideas, that tutor/mentor programs are founded, improved or supported to a greater degree both financially and in terms of volunteers, all outcomes that lead to our goal of making effective tutor/mentor programs available to all youth who could potentially benefit.

Since our program is entirely voluntary for the youth who participate, this model, of providing opportunities for people to help themselves, is at the core of our mission as a tutor/mentor organization. Youth are attracted to our program because they see it as something that will help them succeed, yet it is through their willingness to enter into a one on one mentoring relationship and their active engagement with their tutor/mentor that they achieve the best possible outcomes. When these youth do end up succeeding, staying out of trouble, going to college, and entering the workforce, our organization stands to benefit as well because their success attests to our effectiveness, which we can use to secure more funding, greater volunteer involvement...etc to continue this cycle of increasingly positive outcomes. Seems to me like a win-win situation- helping at-risk youth help themselves, while helping our organization further its own goals at the same time. Not a bad model, eh?


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