Monday, September 8, 2008

Collaboration

Welcome back readers! Thanks to Dan, my boss for commenting on my last post, indeed we are constantly trying to stimulate increased involvement in the Tutor/Mentor Connection, not just sit back and wait for organizations to contact us or each other. We need to be proactive in building relationships both between Cabrini Connections and other organizations/institutions but also in fostering more collaboration amongst all the tutor/mentor programs operating in Chicagoland and beyond (each of which is represented by a dot in the above map). Our strategy for accomplishing this can be seen here. Given the fact that most tutor/mentor programs have the same general needs, the potential benefits from increased collaboration among organizations is huge. These shared needs include the following:

--volunteers

--public visibility

--operating dollars

--technology

--training/learning

--leadership

Therefore, by working together with other programs on volunteer recruitment drives, advertising campaigns and volunteer trainings, as we are doing, we can raise both the quality of our programs and the collective public visibility of the need for comprehensive tutor/mentor programs in all high-poverty neighborhoods, not just those that are already being served by a program or two. Much as the success of a student depends on a myriad of factors, including parental involvement, schooling, engagement in faith communities, and their friends, the success of a tutor/mentor program in helping these students is dependent on a convergence of the 6 factors listed above: recruiting quality volunteers, obtaining public visibility, finding operating dollars, utilization of technology to achieve goals, training volunteers and encouraging them to continue learning and perfecting the art of mentoring, as well as effective leadership to deal with the numerous challenges that arise doing the work we do.

To help ensure that Chicago-area tutor/mentor programs maintain momentum throughout the year and have the resources necessary to offer high-quality services to their kids, we have an ongoing year-to-year leadership strategy that we try to share with other organizations and use to foster collaboration.As you can see here, we have a yearlong strategy that keeps momentum going all year long with evenly paced events that bring visibility to our program as well as tutoring/mentoring programs in general. Each year the Tutor/Mentor Connection (T/MC) helps programs recruit volunteers in Aug/Sept. and helps programs train those volunteers and convert them into leaders as each program moves through the School year. As each program ends the year it has more people helping it build capacity and quality for the following year. In blue, you can see how one of our partner organizations, Lawyers Lend a Hand, has planned their events to augment our yearly events planning so that we can build off each others' successes and promote public awareness of youth tutoring/mentoring all year long. To learn about our unique partnership with Lawyers Lend a Hand, click here to read a post by my boss, Dan Bassill about it or here to see their website.

Programs involved in the Tutor/Mentor Connection help each other advertise in part by raising awareness about our tutor/mentor program locator which we host online. As I've mentioned in previous posts, this is an online directory with easy to find information about all the different organizations offering youth tutoring and/or mentoring in Chicago, sorted by geography and a number of other factors. So, when a tutor/mentor advocate talks about one of these programs (be it in the news, on a blog/website, at a conference or at a networking event) we encourage them to mention the Tutor/Mentor Program Locator as well, so that they can draw attention to all other tutor/mentor programs in the Chicago region too. The same goes for when we are discussing our own program, we try to end our presentations about tutoring/mentoring by pointing to a map of Chicago and saying: "We need good programs in every poverty area, not just Cabrini-Green". We also refer potential clients to other programs that can also accomodate their needs but may be closer to where they live geographically, or easier to reach via public transit. It is our belief that empowering at-risk youth such that they can successfully enter the workforce by the age of 25 is such a tremendous undertaking, that it can only be accomplished through collaboration between numerous people, programs and organizations working together to give these kids a chance. To form these networks, tutor/mentor organizations need to reach out to non-traditional partners, such as health-care providers, faith communities, universities...etc, to help them not only to see that they have a stake in these kids' futures, but to empower these institutions to do something about it and share their unique assets and resources with organizations such as ours.

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