Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Who's in your network?

When it comes down to getting jobs and career opportunities, it's all about who you know. We've heard it a million times. Regardless of work experience, schooling and commitment, when the job market is tough and there are lots of qualified applicants searching for fewer and fewer jobs, the personal connections you cultivate can often make a world of difference in determining your career options. Recognizing this, and the fact that kids growing up in high-poverty neighborhoods like Cabrini-Green don't often have networks of successful professionals willing to lend a hand to write a letter of recommendation, vouch as a personal reference, or introduce them to successful professionals in their chosen career track who can share valuable advice and experiences.

All too often, kids in high-poverty areas are surrounded by folks who, rather than pulling them towards college and careers, serve to push them into lives of crime, delinquency and squandered potential. Therefore, in our mentoring program, we bring volunteers, most of whom are successful professionals working in sectors such as law, finance, education...etc, together with at-risk kids, so that the kids can not only benefit from their relation with their mentor, but from their mentors' networks as well. For instance, if a student such as DeSean Hale is interested in becoming an architect, but his mentor isn't in the field, his mentor can reach into his own network and introduce DeSean to civil engineers, architects and draftsmen that he knows, giving DeSean access to valuable contacts and information that he wouldn't otherwise have.
So take a moment and think about your networks and what they could do to help a kid growing up in Cabrini-Green without such an extensive network of support and resources. A facebook app called Touchgraph photos can help you visualize your network as a series of nodes and find connections you never knew you had. Many people are also using programs like LinkedIn to map their own social networks or to trace the connections between newsmaking figures and the people and organizations that are in their networks.

For example, I've been trying to organize college visits to some regional colleges and universities. Clicking on a given college on my TouchGraph map shows me who I know that is affiliated with a given College, such as the University of Illinois. Therefore, I can easily identify friends who I can reach out to by email/phone/facebook msg to see if they would help me put together a visit. Since you can set touchgraph to sort your network by any number of different criteria, it is a powerful tool for visualizing your relations to other people you know.
Since social networking sites such as myspace and facebook are so popular, both among young professionals and the kids we serve at Cabrini Connections, it has never been easier to connect, online and in person, and be the bridge that these kids so desparately need to networks of greater power and influence.

Cabrini Connections can help you be that bridge!


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