Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Access Community Health

Recently I've been discussing how mentoring at-risk youth and leading them into college and careers rather than jails and the ER should be seen as a major public health issue and thus afforded adequate resources to expand programs in high poverty areas where kids are most at risk. The Tutor/Mentor Hospital Connection (T/MHC) lays out a plan to get community health organizations such as hospitals and clinics to understand how they benefit from the creation and support of mentoring-to-career programs and get them to contribute to the growth and success of these programs. For instance, by hosting 1-1 mentoring programs in community health care facilities, at-risk youth can be exposed to potential careers in the health care field such as physician's assistants, nurses and health care technicians that will be more and more in-demand in the future. Thus, supporting mentoring initiatives will provide these health care providers with a young and talented pool of potential employees in addition to the enhanced external publicity and community recognition for their efforts in helping to keep kids off the street and on the right track.

However, to make maximum impact, in creating these mentoring initiatives we should look to community health organizations that are already respected and making a positive impact in high-poverty communities that otherwise lack ample tutoring/mentoring programs. One such organization is Access Community Health Network.

Access Community Health Network operates over 50 community health centers in underserved, low-income neighborhoods around Chicago, providing over 600,000 primary care visits each year. The stated mission of Access is "to provide high quality, cost effective primary and preventative care without regard to health status or ability to pay." As I mentioned in my previous article about the T/MHC, research shows that education is one of the strongest predictors of health. As a recent report by the Centers for Disease control states: "More formal education is consistently associated with lower death rates (1) while less education predicts earlier death. The less schooling people have, the higher their levels of risky health behaviors such as smoking, being overweight, or having a low level of physical activity (2). High school graduation is a useful measure of educational attainment because its influence on health is well studied, and it is widely recognized as the minimum entry requirement for higher education and well-paid employment."

Therefore, why doesn't Access Health Care, which offers services such as childhood literacy promotion, host or otherwise support volunteer based mentoring programs that keep kids in school and away from risky health behaviors, as well as provide health care providers an opportunity to share preventative health curricula with the kids who could most benefit from it? In the coming months, I will be reaching out to health care providers such as Access, to try to get them to see the relevance of youth mentoring initiatives to their public health mission and get them to invest in the success of such programs around the city.

Have a very happy new year everyone!

(1)Molla M, Madans J, Wagener D. Differentials in adult mortality and activity limiation by years of education in the United States at the end of the 1990s. Popul Dev Rev 2004;30:625-46
(2)Lantz PM, House JS, Lepkowski JM, Williams DR, Mero RP, Chen J. Socioeconomic factors, health behaviors and mortality: results from a nationally representative prospective study of US adults. JAMA 1998; 279(21):1703-8

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

National Mentoring Month is upon us

A few weeks ago I wrote an article framing youth mentoring as a public health issue. Luckily, it seems as if we here at the Tutor/Mentor Connection aren't the only ones who conceive of mentoring in this way. In fact, our very own president-elect Obama is lending his support to a mentoring campaign by Dr. Jay A. Winsten of the Center for Health Communication at the Harvard School of Public Health. In a recent New York Times article Dr. Winsten explained that for this mentoring campaign "the idea is that encouraging mentoring is 'a public health effort', just like substance-abuse prevention or violence prevention." This campaign, run jointly by the Harvard Mentoring Project and is set to run throughout January, which is National Mentoring Month, both in print and online in a variety of media outlets. This idea, that youth mentoring is a public health issue and thus should be supported by community health care providers, is one that I will be addressing at length this winter as Nicole and I attempt to put our Tutor/Mentor Hospital Connection into action.

This mentoring campaign has ten action items for the month of January and I challenge you all to do one or more of the following:

* 1. Become a mentor in your community.
* 2. Learn more about mentoring.
* 3. Partner with a mentoring organization.
* 4. Tell 5 friends about National Mentoring Month.
* 5. Think about the mentors in your life and post a tribute to them online.
* 6. Watch videos of celebrities such as Quincy Jones, Sting, Cal Ripken, Jr., talk about the mentors in their lives.
* 7. Read the latest research and find resources on mentoring.
* 8. Go to YouTube on Thank Your Mentor Day&0153; (January 22nd) and make the National Mentoring Month videos the most popular of the day!
* 9. Serve your community on MLK Day of Service by deciding to become a mentor.
* 10.Make a donation to a mentoring organization in your community.

Keep in mind that you can support youth mentoring initiatives in a wide variety of ways, not just giving monetary donations or volunteering as a mentor (though these are 2 great ways to get involved!) Any skills or passions you have can be utilized by mentoring programs to improve youth outcomes. For example, in my last post I described how 2 girls with a passion for interior design decided to come to Cabrini Connections during their winter break and design and build a "college zone" for our kids. Through their passsion and initiative, students now have a comprehensive resource center for all things college. Let your inspiration be your guide throughout national mentoring month and think about all the different ways YOU can make a difference in a child's life.

CC College Prep Program and College Zone!

In the past 2 months alone, a small band of dedicated individuals, myself, Carla Reyes, Nicole White, Jen Nolan and EL Da'Sheon have been designing and starting to implement a comprehensive college preparatory program for all of our students. This program will ensure that each and every one of our students is on the right track to follow their dreams, gain acceptance to a good school, earn the money to pay for it through scholarships and enter their desired career upon graduation. This program includes a series of biweekly college visits to area schools such as Depaul, UIC, Westwood College, Northwestern and Chicago State University as well as having college representatives from outside of Chicagoland come in and talk to our students about their school and college in general.

The next and most exciting stage of this program will be formally unveiled after winter break when we our Cabrini Connections “college zone”. This area will be staffed each tutoring session by 2 volunteers: Stephanie, who specializes in admissions counseling and Carla, who specializes in financial aid/scholarships. They will work with students, mentors and parents to ensure the kids are college-bound. They will have free reign over an area with: couches, a computer preloaded with college and scholarship applications as well as SAT and ACT test prep programs, as well as a College Prep Library compete with college guides, ACT/SAT test prep books, scholarship manuals and essay guides that can be checked out by students. Another component is a filing cabinet chock full of up to date admissions info from hundreds of schools from around the country, with an emphasis on regional and historically black schools. There will also be a file full of past admissions essays and personal statements from successful applicants so that the kids can get a better idea on how to approach these important but often misunderstood components of the college application.

I have been accumulating resources for our “College Zone” throughout the past few months, and finally, thanks to my sister Rebecca, and her friend Becca, have consolidated many of these resources into one coherent "College Zone". They were kind enough to drive into the city from Rockford IL, last week during their winter vacation and help me design, paint, and construct the space. Considering the picture above is what it looked like before they started, their efforts made a huge difference!

Now that we have such a great space, I am focusing my efforts on trying to accumulate resources for the space: things such as ACT and SAT prep books and CDs, college guides such as those published by Princeton Review, Barrons and Petersons, scholarship and financial aid guides as well as other books relating to the college experience. I am also collecting successful admissions essays, particularly the dreaded "personal statement". Therefore if you or someone you know is willing to donate any of the aforementioned materials, they would be much appreciated and utilized. Just contact me here on the blog or shoot me an email at chris.warrens.mail (at) gmail (dot) com

Monetary donations are also greatly needed and appreciated as we wrap up our holiday fundraising campaign. If you are able, please donate here to help sustain us during these difficult economic times.

Will you help us make this College Zone not only a reality, but a model to be emulated at hundreds of other tutor/mentor programs throughout the city and country? We have a lot of faith in our ability to really make a difference in these kids’ lives through this initiative. In fact, we have already seen some preliminary fruits of our labor.

One of our seniors LaFaye Garth (pictured below) and I have been working together recently on some scholarships, including the Posse and Gates Millennium scholarships. Just last week, LaFaye called me to tell me that she just got word that she is a Posse Scholar. This scholarship provides a full tuition scholarship to the school of her choice. This means she is getting a $141,272 scholarship to attend Pomona College next year to follow her dream of becoming a pediatrician!

I am certain that, once fully implemented, this new College Prep program and “College Zone” will help inspire increasing numbers of students to follow in LaFaye’s footsteps and give them the necessary resources to achieve greatness themselves. 100% of anything you can contribute this holiday season will go directly towards these ends.

Can you help us?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Everyone's in the Spotlight!

Looking back on this 1st quarter, the following exemplary individuals have graced this site and the walls of Cabrini Connections as student and volunteer spotlights.


DeSean Hale
Eboni Rivera
LaFaye Garth
Aarion Woods
Angelene Hemphill
Charles Thomas
Charles Hill
Dijana Smith
Gary Wise
Joshua Vera
Vontesha Stanfield


Alexandria Hill
Carl Hurdlik
Carolyn Grunst
Frances Kwee
Jen King
Joe Alverson
John Knight
Nicole Gordon
Steve Pawlik
Alice Toth
Tami Wielgus
Zak Kustok

Thanks so much for your hard work and dedication! We encourage everyone to read their spotlight articles to understand what makes these individuals so remarkable and worthy of praise. Click their name to read their article or just check out the wall and bulletin board at Cabrini Connections. I guarantee you'll learn something interesting.

However, just because these individuals were mentioned doesn't mean that they are the only people around here who are deserving of recognition. Making this program work is really a team effort between students, volunteers and staff, and we have been happy to see everyone doing their part, from volunteers bringing snacks week after week, to students taking initiative and running for the Youth Leadership Council trying to bring positive change to Cabrini Connections. We are excited to see students and volunteers stepping up and trying to do more to make Cabrini Connections the best possible tutor/mentor program.

So, look out for new student and volunteer spotlights during winter quarter. We're lucky to have such interesting, promising and dedicated volunteers and students and we're happy to brag about them. Have a very happy holiday!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Youth Leadership Council: 1st meeting

Happy Holidays everyone! In the spirit of the holidays I want to share something with you that has filled me with goodwill and cheer, the Cabrini Connections Youth Leadership Council. Cierria, DeSean, LaFaye, Savon, Eboni, Sean and I came together for the first time last Wednesday afternoon to hash out our plans for the upcoming year. These 6 students, ranging from 8th graders Sean and Savon to High School Seniors LaFaye and Eboni will be convening every other Wednesday to weigh in on a wide variety of issues confronting Cabrini Connections. They will be helping myself and EL Da'Sheon in our quest to provide the most comprehensive and beneficial tutoring and mentoring program possible by helping us to plan, coordinate and follow-up on nearly every facet of our program. This first meeting provided the students with a chance to get to know each other better and share their plans and goals for the council in the coming year.

I was excited to see that they see the council as playing two primary roles. The first is to increase student involvement in our programming and in the planning and execution of said
programming. The second goal, which I am very excited about, is that they want to really use the council to develop their own leadership skills. We followed this with a discussion about what it takes to be a good leader, what skills and characteristics they share. The students came to the conclusion that good leaders:

-should want to lead
-are good communicators both in public and private
-are confident
-follow through
-know their weaknesses and work to address them
-know their passions and follow them
-are open-minded
-lead by example
-are dependable
-respect others
-are good goal setters

We all agreed that we are going to work to develop these skills in ourselves, myself included, throughout the year and I have already thought of a number of different activities that we can do as a group and individually to address these skills, which I will elaborate in a later post.

We also were able to hash out some logistical details. For instance, the council decided that, when voting to recommend a particular action, consensus is not necessary and that only a majority of those members in attendence is necessary. In the event of a tie, the council decided that I can cast the deciding vote. I don't have a vote otherwise, which I think is good; It's their council, i'm just the facilitator.

The council also has the opportunity to send one member each month to a district wide council that makes decisions for other youth development organizations across the city. This job comes with a $200/month salary. Therefore the students debated the merits of having one student go each month and keep the salary or having multiple students rotate the position and split the cash, or have everyone rotate the position and use the $200/month as a budget for the council to spend at their descretion. They unanimously agreed upon the last option, sharing the responsibility and using the money as a budget.

Well that's about it for the first week, but needless to say, I'm extremely pumped about the progress that we've made even in the first week and will be happy to keep the public informed via this blog. I am also eager to unveil a very special announcement that the council is keeping secret until mid January. Until then...over and out

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Volunteer Spotlight: Carl Hurdlik

Carl Hurdlik, this week’s volunteer in the spotlight, is a true veteran volunteer. In fact, he’s been with Cabrini Connections longer than any other volunteer or employee except Cabrini Connections Founder and CEO, Dan Bassill! Throughout his past 10 years mentoring Cabrini Green youth, he’s been able to develop mentoring relationships with a handful of youth, helping them avoid common pitfalls and keeping them on the right tracks to success and careers. He’s obviously picked up a few things during his last decade of youth work, and this experience makes him a valuable resource to his fellow mentors. He constantly goes the extra mile to assist Cabrini Connections staff, volunteers and other students by enthusiastically participating in our programming. For example, this past weekend, he not only came out to our holiday benefit concert on Friday night, but was at our center bright and early Saturday morning to help out with our 7th and 8th grade high school information session.

Carl’s dedication to youth extends beyond the walls of Cabrini Connections. He works for the Chicago Public Schools as a Community Relations Coordinator, informing schools, parents, churches and community groups about ways they can collaborate with CPS to create a better, more nurturing learning communities for their children. In fact, he recently put together a community forum at Skinner Elementary, where we were able to get the word out to the local community about our programs and hopefully recruit some new kids! He took this more administrative position after beginning his career as a teacher and originally got involved in mentoring youth to get more direct contact with students he enjoyed so much as a teacher.

Carl has been mentoring Romel Newell, a 9th grader at Noble St. Charter School since he was in the 7th grade. Throughout the past 3 years they have developed a great relationship, seeing each other often outside of tutoring sessions. Carl has also made an effort to reach out to Romel’s family, with whom he talks at least once a week, just to see how things are going. His relationship with Romel’s family began a few years ago when Carl chaperoned a trip to Ireland with Romel’s older sister, Tatianna, who was also a student at Cabrini Connections.

It is clear that Carl takes his mentoring role seriously, he says “I treasure the one-on-one mentoring relationship. I’m not a parent, but it gives me a taste, especially as I’ve moved into the mentoring role.” Working in the Chicago Public School system, Carl knows how at-risk youth from communities like Cabrini Green are used to adults falling in and out of their lives; for this reason he strongly encourages his fellow tutors to “always consider your responsibility and commitment to these kids before starting a relationship because many of these kids already have so little consistency in their lives to begin with.” In the end however, he is hopeful that others find “the satisfaction of volunteering and believing you are making even a small difference” as rewarding as he does and that for this reason, programs like Cabrini Connections will continue to make a difference and flourish despite all adversity!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Student Spotlight: Charles Hill

Charles Hill is a kid with a very bright future. After only being in the program for a few months, Charles has made himself at home and dove right into our programming, attending everything he can to help him prepare for the future. For instance, he was one of 4 winners of our Halloween essay contest, where he won a free trip to FEAR at Navy Pier, an elaborate haunted house right in front of Lake Michigan. Also, despite being an 8th grader, he attended a college visit to DePaul University to start to learn more about area colleges and to help get a better idea of what he wants to do with his life. He also attended an information session this past weekend to learn more about how to gain admission to some of the most prestigious and competitive high schools in Chicago. Not only that, but Charles has had perfect attendance so far this year!

Charles has also been an early adopter of our SVHATS 2.0 student/volunteer history and tracking system. Here he documents each and every one of his interactions with his mentor, Szu-Han Ho and has posted some of his poetry to share with students, mentors and staff. Charles loves to write and is planning on being a writer when he grows up as well, either as an author or as a journalist/reporter. For this reason his favorite class at the Albany Park Multicultural Academy, where he is an 8th grader, is Language Arts. He particularly likes how he can use language and writing to address his emotions and feelings and create works that express certain things that he’s going through in an interesting way. He writes poetry as well as longer-form fiction and short stories. He’s also starting to learn the guitar so he can begin to put some of his poems to music.

When Charles is not asking us what he can do to help out around the center, he can usually be found nose-deep in a huge book. His favorite reads of the last few months have been the Twilight series, a collection of four popular fantasy novels, the first of which was recently made into a full-length movie.

Charles deeply values his relationship with his mentor Szu-Han. With her, he can talk about his life and emotions while sharing his writing and poetry with a very caring individual who has his best interests at heart. In fact, they are so dedicated to building a relationship that they are starting to learn Japanese together!

When asked about Cabrini Connections, Charles’ immediate response is that “It’s kid friendly and a great place to learn!” We’re glad you agree Charles! Keep up the great work and we can’t wait to hear some of your new songs!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Scubas Holiday Benefit Concert Recap

First off I want to thank everyone who came out to our Schubas fundraiser this past Friday. Those who came out were able to see a wide variety of music and people coming together to show their support for what we do here at Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection. Four bands played, including 2 with direct ties to Cabrini Connections. My band, Howling Poppies, headlined and Trakan, our GIS whiz Mike's band played second to last. Everyone was in high spirits, mixing and mingling while dancing to the thumping beats of Black Collar, and the ferocious swing of the East Side Ramblers. Thanks to the generosity of everyone who gave a $30 donation to enter, we raised a good sum of money that will help us to continue and expand the work we do. We are also deeply thankful to Schubas for donating their facilities to us from 6-9pm as well as a free drink for each guest! We could not have had such a fun or lucrative event without their kindness and generosity!

Hopefully we can repeat and expand this event next year in order to bring even more people into the fold, people who will be eager to donate their time and resources as they come to learn more about the impact we make on at-risk youth in the community.

Also, I'd like to point out that anyone, not just employees of Cabrini Connections, can put together events such as this one that benefit Cabrini Connections. Since tutor/mentor organizations are always in need of funds, we are constantly encouraging our volunteers to reach into their networks and support us, by either organizing a fundraising party like the one John Knight threw at Krem 2 wks ago, or by starting workplace fundraising campaigns like our volunteer Mary Catherine Nelson has done at her publishing company Quarasan, Inc. If you have any ideas or know someone who might, please contact us and let us know! Our number is 312-492-9614 or you can email me at chris.warrens.mail (at) gmail(dot)com. Your support is much appreciated!!!

happy holidays

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tutoring/Mentoring at-risk youth IS a public health issue!!!!

The Tutor/Mentor Hospital Connection ( T/MHC)
So, fresh off the heels of Novartis Pharmaceutical rep John Knight's volunteer spotlight article I thought it would be a good time to discuss the expanded role that health care providers such as hospitals and community clinics can play in supporting youth tutoring/mentoring. When discussing this issue my boss Dan Bassill loves to quote an article published last year by the Centers for Disease Control that opens:
"If medical researchers were to discover an elixir that could increase life expectancy, reduce the burden of illness, delay the consequences of aging, decrease risky health behavior, and shrink disparities in health, we would celebrate such a remarkable discovery. Robust epidemiological evidence suggests that education is such an elixir. Yet, health professionals rarely identified improving school graduation rates as a major public health objective, nor have they systematically examined their role in achieving this objective." The full text can be found here.
When seen from this perspective, it is remarkable that hospitals and other health care providers are not doing more to help support youth tutoring/mentoring programs , particularly because there are countless health care facilities located in and around high poverty neighborhoods that could be making a big difference in the lives of local youth. Not only that, but since we all know about the high demand for health care workers, even in today's economy, it's a wonder that more health care facilities haven't gotten involved in supporting youth tutoring/mentoring programs from a workforce development perspective. That is, by supporting youth development through tutoring/mentoring programming, hospitals can nurture an up and coming workforce to fill the diverse and critical staff positions in todays health care providers, while at the same time, making a positive impact in their local community.

A recent research study by the Lewin Group concluded that: "It is clear that sponsoring youth mentoring is beneficial to hospitals". So, if supporting youth mentoring helps hospitals achieve necessary goals, such as: workforce development, positive publicity in the community and chances to expose impressionable youth to the benefits of preventative medicine and healthy living habits which lowers costly emergency room visits down the road, why aren't more hospitals involved in supporting these types of programs? We here at the Tutor/Mentor Connection are trying to change that through our Tutor/Mentor Hospital Connection initiative.

We see hospitals as potential partners with a vested interest in the health and well-being of their communities. They can play a fundamental role in creating spaces for youth mentoring programs as well as drawing resources to these and other pre-existing programs in their neighborhoods. For example, hospitals can use their large educated staffs to lead mobilizations that recruit workplace volunteers, provide healthcare support, and raise operating dollars for dozens of tutor/mentor programs near the hospital! Teaching hospitals can engage alumni and students as volunteers or as researchers to determine what strategies work best. They can also encourage leaders in public health to get behind efforts to get at-risk youth into college and their hospitals as nurses and doctors rather than as gang-related gunshot victims.

To get this initiative off the ground all we need are a few people who are passionate for change and willing to use their networks and talents to improve the futures of countless Chicago-area youth growing up in poverty. Please email me at chris.warrens.mail (at) or call me at 312-492-9614 if you or someone you know would be interested in helping us out with this...and please see the aforementioned Tutor/Mentor Hospital Connection powerpoint for more info.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Volunteer Spotlight: John Knight

This week Cabrini Connections is excited to put our volunteer extraordinaire John Knight, in our volunteer spotlight. Since joining us earlier this year, besides being a fantastic mentor for his student Darius, John has thrown himself 110% behind our organization, helping draw all sorts of necessary resources to our program, volunteers, dollars and even some clocks and mugs that help to keep us both caffeinated and on time! This past Friday, John threw a benefit party at Krem, a Lincoln Park nightspot, that made us a considerable amount of money, while at the same time getting the word out about our organization! In addition, as soon as John started here as a tutor, he brought 2 friends into the fold as well, Mira Miller and Levan Williams, with whom he has started a Monday night tutoring session.

John traces his desire to help develop at-risk youth to his upbringing. Both his parents, growing up in the south, had a deep sense of unity with others and a profound desire to help others in need. From his commitment to his mentee Darius as well as Cabrini Connections, it is clear that he has taken these lessons to heart. In fact, this is not the first time that John has mentored at-risk youth. During his college years at Butler University, where he played Wide Receiver on the football team, his fraternity emphasized 3 core values: brotherhood, scholarship and service. For the service component, John did everything from mentor youth at a local school, Short Ridge Academy, to assisting at a halfway house. However, in determining a particular moment that inspired him to really get involved with youth, he points to a series of weekly reading comprehension sessions he got involved in with the Butler Black Student Union. Here, he met with a single student every Saturday for a half-day to develop both reading and life skills. It was here that he realized the impact of a one-on-one mentoring relationship. He worked with this child, who was very shy and socially isolated from the rest of his classmates, to develop self-confidence along with his reading skills and most importantly, was able to see marked improvement as the weeks went by.

Here at Cabrini Connections, John has been working with his student Darius, a very intelligent individual, to develop similar skills. For instance they have been working on defining short and long term goals and working steadily to achieve them. They have been working together on improving Darius’ reading and writing skills so that Darius will have a better chance to enter Lane Tech College Prep, a competitive area magnet school. As a former college football player and member of the highest ranked flag football team in the country, Sudden Impact, John is also in a unique position to help Darius balance his academic concerns with his desire to play high school football.

When he’s not spending time with Darius, John is a pharmaceutical sales rep for Novartis, where he has worked for the past 4 years. He decided to specialize in hypertension drugs after seeing the impact of high blood pressure on his family members and seeing how certain drugs on the market can greatly improve the quality of life of those who suffer from hypertension. In fact, if everyone were as committed to the success of our youth as John, everyone’s blood pressure around here at Cabrini Connections would probably be significantly lower! Thanks John and keep up the great work!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Student Spotlight: Gary Wise

Jenner Academy 7th grader and Connect Four professional Gary Wise started coming to Cabrini Connections earlier this year and he has already made himself right at home. While his peers are spending hours and hours on Myspace, Tagged and Facebook when they arrive to our center after school, Gary can be found challenging his mentor, Sean Liu, staff and other students to strategy games like Mastermind and Othello. He also has his own private hangar where he keeps his best designed paper airplanes using the art area of Cabrini Connections as an experimental airstrip.

At Jenner, Gary’s 2 favorite classes are social studies and science. In his social studies class he was particularly fascinated with a unit his class recently completed on the Amistad slave ship mutiny. He found it inspiring to learn about the slave trade and African-American History, particularly the Amistad Rebellion wherein slaves were able to take control of their own lives and assert their power over the slavers. In Gary’s science class, he has been most interested in human anatomy and a recent unit on environmental pollution. In fact he considers himself a “nature guy” and told me that 10 years down the road, when he’s 22 years old, he’s going to be “in a forest or jungle taking data on some creatures.” For Gary, “nature is the most fun thing.”

Gary’s passion for the outdoors was stoked by a program he attended in Michigan through the Sunshine Gospel Ministry, which is a non-profit faith-based Chicago organization working to renew under-served communities through teaching, mentoring, life skill development and community advocacy. He has attended their programming in the spring, fall and winter during which they travel to a retreat in Michigan and hike through nature, have sports tournaments, play games and build relationships by the lake.

Gary’s school’s basketball season starts at the beginning of January, which will take up a lot of his time. He has been playing basketball with his friends since he was little and loves it.

When asked about his future, Gary says “for sure I’m going to college.” Though he’s unsure exactly what he wants to study, it will definitely be in the life sciences, perhaps biology. Until then, he’s going to keep working towards his future goals at school and Cabrini Connections, which he describes as “both fun and educational!”

Keep up the great work Gary!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Cabrini Holiday Connections @ Schubas

Happy Holidays everyone! Hope those of you who observed it had a fun and relaxing thanksgiving. But now, back into the thick of it... So right now I'm stressing out about the fact that I've been working with my coworkers Mike and Cassina to put together a benefit concert for Cabrini Connections and am trying to make sure it's a success. Basically the details are as follows, we reserved Schubas, a venerable north side tavern and concert venue, from 6-9pm next Friday, 12/12. So far, we have 3 groups who are going to play without compensation. My band, Howling Poppies , Trakan, my coworker and rock star friend Mike's band, for whom I'm going to play drums, and finally an up and coming local hip-hop group called Black Collar.
The East-Side Ramblers, a drums and sax jazz duo will be opening.

Given the current economic climate, this is a very important fundraiser for us, so we're doing all we can to ensure there's a good turnout, including asking our friends, families and supporters such as you to help us get out the word and make sure that everybody who likes good music, good times, and supporting a very very worthwhile cause is planning on joining us on December 12th. We're asking for a $30 donation at the door, for which partygoers get a complimentary drink and admission to all the festivities.

To publicize this fundraiser my band will be headlining Columbia College's "Holly Jolly Trolly" Holiday Food Drive for the Chicago Food Depository. We'll be playing a handful of mini sets live on WCRX 88.1 FM this Thursday from 10-12pm, interrupted by brief interviews with such notables as the cast of the new Dirty Dancing, the Blue Man Group, and yours truly (talking about Cabrini Connections!).

Also, on Friday from 4pm-6pm I'll be spinning some songs from the album we recorded this summer along with Trakan on WLUW 88.7FM. We'll probably play a few of Trakan's songs and perhaps the rest of my band will join me for a few live cuts in the studio. We'll also be talking about the work we do here at Cabrini Connections and why people should come out and support our youth at our Holiday Benefit on the 12th.

Also, if for some reason you can't make it to the benefit on the 12th but would still like to show your support this holiday season, please take a peek at our donations page here!

The schedule for the event will be as follows:

East Side Ramblers (jazz)- 6:05-6:35
Black Collar (hip-hop)- 6:45-7:15
Trakan (rock)- 7:30-8:05
Howling Poppies (n' roll)- 8:15-8:50

Have a rockin' holiday!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

2008 Cabrini Connections Youth Leadership Council

2008 Cabrini Connections Youth Leadership Council

This week we’d like to congratulate 6 individuals rather than just one for our Student Spotlight. These 6 students will be making up the 2008-2009 Youth Leadership Council! Three students from each tutoring night, Wednesday and Thursday, were elected to the council last week by tutors and students. These students not only got up in front of tutors and their peers to give an election speech two weeks ago, but sat down in front of everyone and fielded questions last week as part of a “New England Town-Hall” style debate. Last week, democracy reigned at Cabrini Connections as everyone lined up at 3 designated polling places to cast their votes for the 3 students who they thought would best represent them on the Youth Leadership Council. Now we are proud to announce that the following individuals will comprise our 2008 YLC:

From Wednesday night:

Eboni Rivera

LaFaye Garth

DeSean Hale

From Thursday Night:

Cierria Tharpe

Sean Mayfield

Savon Clark

We are putting these youth in the spotlight because they are the future of Cabrini Connections. The ideas they bring to the Youth Leadership Council and the decisions that they make will fundamentally affect the way Cabrini Connections operates. These youth will be assisting Cabrini Connections Staff in making decisions pertaining to everything from field trip destinations and the tutoring schedule to coming up with strategies to increase youth involvement and attendance in the Winter months.

One of these 6 students will also be representing Cabrini Connections on a Regional leadership council. This council is comprised of a youth representative from each of the numerous tutor/mentor programs like Cabrini Connections around the Chicagoland area. This representative will not only earn the opportunity to make decisions that affect youth all around Chicago, but he/she will also receive $200/month to reward their leadership.

Congratulations Eboni, LaFaye, DeSean, Cierria, Sean and Savon on your election victories, we’re excited to see the change you bring to Cabrini Connections in the year to come!

On a personal level, I'm super excited to be working with these 6 kids in the coming months, developing their leadership and communication skills and helping them successfully implement their ideas. This is my first big step towards enhancing youth participation at Cabrini Connections, as I discussed in a post last month

Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we work to establish a Youth Leadership Council charter that will determine the nature of the council: i.e. will there be a president, vice president...etc or will everyone's voice have equal sway. Also, must decisions be made by consensus or will a simple or 2/3 majority be enough. We will also be determining recall procedures, should council members fail to follow through with their campaign promises and the exact purview of the council...all very important in getting the kids to really understand both their individual roles in the council as well as the council's role at Cabrini Connections. This is truly an exciting time.

Volunteer Spotlight: Joe Alverson

This week, we’d like to bring some attention to 2nd year tutor/mentor and Senior Electrical Engineer Joe Alverson. He started mentoring at Cabrini Connections last year on the recommendation of a number of friends and immediately threw himself into it. He was matched up with Lincoln Park High School 9th grader and Cabrini Green resident William Gallion right away and has been “really really enjoying it” ever since. William came to the program last year struggling with his math homework and now, one quarter into his freshman year, finds that math is his strongest subject. In speaking with Joe, he expresses how hard a worker William is and is quick to give the credit to William for his dramatic improvement. However, it is obvious that Joe provides William with a great role model, someone who is not afraid to work hard towards a goal and achieve it, inspiring others in the process.

In the past year working with William, Joe has really pushed William to realize his potential. For example, in preparation for the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT), which is very important in Chicago since it’s used to weed out low-performing applicants from the best magnet schools, Joe came to William’s house every day for a week to help him study. In doing this, Joe not only helped William gain enough confidence and skills to ace the ISAT, but he also developed a valuable relationship with William’s family, with whom he ate dinner each night in exchange for his tutoring expertise. Joe has developed a great relationship with William’s family, even going so far as to attend a family reunion, where the rest of William’s family, seeing what a great influence he is on William, strongly encouraged that he stay with William through high school graduation and beyond!

Perhaps the secret to Joe’s strong mentor/mentee relationship with William is that he encourages William to meet with him outside of tutoring to augment the tutoring/mentoring he gets each week at Cabrini Connections. Joe and William frequently go out and grow their mentoring relationship together, going to the movies, talking about politics and even building furniture!

Joe makes it clear that mentoring means a lot to him when he says “it’s nice to give your time back to the community and see that you are having a direct impact on someone else’s life.” We are so glad that we here at Cabrini Connections can facilitate strong and mutually beneficial mentoring relationships like Joe and William's and we’re looking forward to seeing them both grow in the coming years! Congratulations Joe!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Organizational Silos and Effective Collaboration

Hey everyone! So I recently read this article about the dangers about what the author terms, "organizational silos" and how they impede innovation. He approaches it from a very corporate perspective, but I think that this concept of "organizational silos" is very important to understand in order to facilitate the collaboration we're aiming for with the Tutor/Mentor Connection. We here at the Tutor/Mentor Connection agree with this article in stating that "As a system, innovation is collaborative, multidisciplinary and requires diverging viewpoints and experiences. It is also inclusive, and it is about bridging and extending linkages and interactions to build something that is greater than its parts. Organizational silos are barriers to innovation. They impede collaboration and communication outside of an organization and come in a variety of flavors, including:

Geographical Silos- which stem from difficulty in adequately sharing information and collaborating when different parts of an organization are in different geographical locations

Project Silos- which occur when best practice information isn't shared between groups working in similar ways towards similar goals

Functional Silos-
which arise when there is uncertainty about peoples' roles within an organization and lead to redundancy and feelings of underappreciation among members

Technology Silos- which occur when technology isn't or cannot be shared among members of an organization

As you can see from the above graphic (which you should click to view in full), the Tutor/Mentor Connection aims to be a pipeline for ensuring that at-risk youth receive the extra support they need to stay on-track throughout their formative years and enter careers by the age of 25.

We believe that volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs are the bridges that connect volunteers, donors and business leaders with the children, families and schools on the other side of the socioeconomic divide. We hope to connect these stakeholders through an ongoing, dynamic exchange of ideas, and ultimately to improve the availability and quality of tutor/mentor programs throughout the world.

However as you can see, these different groups of people, each of whom plays a role in ensuring these children succeed, are from a diverse set of sectors and organizations, many of whom have very minimal contact with each other. Therefore, one of our largest challenges is to break down the barriers, or organizational silos, that separate these different groups and bring them together under the common umbrella of ensuring these kids' success. Since the tutor/mentor connection is the sum of its constituent members, in discussing how to break-down or avoid the types of silos I just mentioned, it is helpful to conceive of all of these distinct groups and concepts as comprising the Tutor/Mentor Connection itself and not to consider the Tutor/Mentor
Connection a standalone program like Cabrini Connections, our tutor/mentor program, because it is not.

In order to tear down these silos and create an environment where innovation and collaboration can flourish, the author suggests a multi-pronged approach, which I believe we have already been implementing to various degrees. The prongs include:
--Rallying around a shared purpose
--Actively building a culture of collaboration
--Making it easy to connect and share

--Emphasizing values of trust, honesty and communication

--Measuring your impact on important goals

So, let's make this more concrete. This past Friday, we held our annual November Tutor/Mentor Networking and Leadership Conference. It is a very important day for the Tutor/Mentor Connection because it is one of 2 major opportunities each year to get all of our constituent organizations together under one roof for a day of learning, sharing information/resources/best practices, collaboration and networking. Due to the nature of our organization, which is in effect a loose network of hundreds of different programs offering various forms of youth tutoring and/or mentoring, we are constantly struggling with the aforementioned organizational silos and use these conferences as a means to dismantle these silos and encourage more effective communication and collaboration between the various programs. I will now take on each type of organizational silo in turn and explain how last Friday's conference is helping us to tear down these barriers to collaboration and innovation.

Geographical Silos
By bringing over 100 leaders in tutoring/mentoring from all over Chicagoland and the midwest, together under one roof, we're encouraging geographically distant members of our organization to interact and collaboration face to face We believe the internet has the potential to make geographical silos irrelevant because it has such a wealth of resources for collaboration: email, online forums like, SVHATS, google documents,, and the list goes on. Relationships between programs that begin at our Tutor/Mentor Conferences can be developed via the internet, which makes it so easy for people to connect and share through interactive online learning communities, such as those being developed by our eLearning and Technology Coordinator Vjekoslave Hlede.

Project Silos
Because one of the explicit goals of the tutor/mentor connection is to foster collaboration between tutor/mentor programs, there were countless discussions at our conference, both during panels and workshops as well as between sessions about the best ways to implement various programs and improve outcomes for our youth. The links library on has thousands of relevant links and forums addressing every possible aspect of a tutor/mentor program and effective strategies. Additionally, our tutor/mentor institute discusses strategies and concepts we use to try to expand our reach and effectiveness, to help more kids in more neighborhoods stay in school and succeed. Because everyone at the conference was there because they believe in the importance and effectiveness in tutoring/mentoring at-risk youth, we were able to delve deeply into specific aspects of tutoring/mentoring right off the bat and share strategies and best practices.

Functional Silos
A main goal of the Tutor/Mentor Conference is to get people to understand the unique role they can play as a change agent and leader in youth tutoring/mentoring. We make it clear that any person or organization can help connect their networks with other tutor/mentor programs in other parts of Chicago, helping to increase resources for all programs. We want individuals and programs alike to realize that there is no hierarchy in the tutor/mentor connection, that it is a network of professional and volunteer leaders who work together to bring more and better resources to tutor/mentor programs aiming to help disadvantaged youth succeed. We think anyone can fill in the red oval below, and that they don't have to sit around and wait for a leader to delegate responsibility to them, that they can take their own initiative, supported by the resources of the Tutor/Mentor Connection, to help give disadvantaged youth a chance to realize their dreams.
Technology Silos
Finally, we aim to use technology to bring people together, bridging gaps that are not only geographical, but educational. We host the Chicagoland Tutor/Mentor Program Locator
, which is an online directory of every known program in Chicagoland that offers some form of youth tutoring/mentoring. We give leaders at each program the resources to update or otherwise edit their profiles, which are used to recruit youth and adult volunteers alike. Our eLearning and Technology Coordinator Vjeko is also working to share his Student and Volunteer web portal/history and tracking system SVHATS with other programs around Chicago such as Good News Partners, which do great work in the Howard Area Community of North Rogers Park. This recent conference was a great opportunity for him to share some of our technology ideas, which can be found on our wiki and how they can be implemented to improve youth outcomes and strengthen grant proposals by allowing organizations to both qualitatively and quantitatively measure their impact on youth.

In sum, we are doing quite a bit to prevent organizational silos from inhibiting the innovation and collaboration that are so necessary in a decentralized organization like the Tutor/Mentor Connection to succeed (for more info about decentralized organizations see this post). However, obviously we still have room to improve. Any suggestions?

Student Spotlight: Joshua Vera

Joshua Vera, 7th grader at Oscar Mayer Magnet, is in his first year here at Cabrini Connections. However, he’s been benefiting from a mentoring relationship with George Matyas since he was in 4th grade. They were matched up as mentor/mentee at our sister program, Cabrini Green Tutoring Program, where they worked together for 3 years until graduating into our program here at Cabrini Connections. Joshua is a good fit with our program, as he strives to make himself well-rounded and achieve his goals with the help of his mentor, George.

One of Joshua’s favorite things to do is play basketball, which he has been doing since as early as he can remember. In fact, he plays center and power forward on the 7th grade team at his school and is planning to play basketball in high school and hopefully college. Speaking of high school, because Joshua lives on the south side and doesn’t want to attend his low-achieving neighborhood high school, he is driven to gain acceptance into one of Chicago’s elite public schools, Whitney Young or Lincoln Park High School, so that he can develop skills and knowledge in an engaging environment that will adequately prepare him for the challenges ahead.

Besides basketball, Joshua also plays the drums and enjoys art. He enjoys making collages, painting pictures and writing poems in his various classes and clubs. He also has a passion for technology, spurred by the fact that every child in his school has access to their own laptop computer, which they can take home to work on projects and assignments. Joshua appreciates the impact that technology has had on our lives and often thinks that he might want to pursue something in a technology related field as an eventual career. Though he’s only in the 7th grade, he’s already thinking that he might want to open up his own business some day, perhaps his own line of athletic apparel uniquely tailored to the needs of certain types of athletes. Luckily he’s got plenty of time to get his business plan together!

It’s inspiring to hear Joshua talk about how he is happy to be involved with Cabrini Connections. For him Cabrini Connections is “a way to help me with my schoolwork and to get good grades,” while it also “helps me develop skills.” Congratulations Joshua! We’re glad you’re with us and excited to help you on your path to success!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Volunteer Spotlight: Jen King

Three years ago Jen King, along with her friends Megan and Shannon, came to Cabrini Connections with open hearts and a great idea—to start a writing club where our youth could come and learn techniques for personal expression in a comfortable, supportive environment. Now, with Megan and Shannon having taken jobs outside of the city, Jen leads the Cabrini Connections Writing Club solo, but with enough passion and dedication to fill 3 pairs of heels. Week after week her students come together before Wednesday tutoring to share their experiences, both positive and negative, with Jen and each other. Gradually realizing that it’s ok to talk about their feelings and that personal growth comes often from connecting with those around you. Jen put it best when she said: “Here, they’re connecting with me, each other, and themselves.”

However it wasn’t always this easy for Jen to connect with her students, in fact, she ran into huge challenges right off the bat. One of the first big challenges was to convince the students that she and her other friends weren’t there for “extra credit” but actually were choosing to be there because they wanted to be there. This has been accomplished slowly but surely, as the kids start to identify her not by what makes her different: her race, her age, but by what they share: friendship, trust and a deep sense of understanding as she helps her kids plumb the depths of their own feelings, beliefs and experiences.

Since Writing Club has primarily attracted our female students, Jen has really worked to explore issues of femininity with her students. Our students are lucky to have such a strong, successful and positive female role-model engaging and challenging them each week to assert their rights as young women and not conform to negative stereotypes! Jen is so happy to see her girls consistently referring to themselves as strong and sexy females in their writing, asserting their competence in a world that doesn’t always encourage women to hold such views.

Jen seems most proud of the way her students have really come to love the weekly “purging” exercises that comprise the first 15 minutes of each session. Here, students write about whatever is on their mind in a private journal that is shared only with Jen. This serves as a warm-up, getting the kids to feel more comfortable using writing as a means of personal expression while also serving as a much-needed catharsis in the middle of a stressful week. She has found that her students come to treat this exercise as a diary entry, trusting Jen with some of their most personal thoughts.

Asking Jen what keeps her coming back to Cabrini Connections’ Writing Club, her face lights up as she tells me, “At this point, I’ve gotten to know each of them so well and for an hour or so each week, they’re mine!
I’ve learned so much and can really pick their brains. I’m not going anywhere!”

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Chicago State University and Illinois Institute of Technology Visits

Last Friday, a handful of Cabrini Connections youth joined me for a day of college visits across the city of Chicago. Rather than relaxing at home during a Chicago Public School holiday, the students met me at Cabrini Connections at 8:45am and we made our way down to the end of the Red Line at 95th, where we hopped a bus to Chicago State University, a historically African-American State College. We spent the morning learning about their various programs, exploring the campus and meeting students so that the kids could get a better idea of what it would be like to be a student at Chicago State. We visited everything from the dorms, to the dining halls and workout facilities so that it was easy for the students to look into the not-so-distant future, and imagine themselves going to class, studying in the library, and relaxing in the dorm cafeteria with their friends and classmates. Tashara and Tiffany, both of whom are High School Freshman, were particularly interested in learning more about their pre-med programs, as they both want to go into the medical profession, either as nurses or physician’s assistants or as full-fledged M.Ds. It was especially beneficial for them to be visiting schools so early in their High School Career, since for them, High School is a blank slate, and if they have something to work for, like admission to a particular college, they can work with their mentors to develop short and medium-term goals that will help them achieve that end goal.

After checking out everything Chicago State has to offer, we again jumped on the Red Line and made our way down to 35th, where we found themselves in the midst of the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Bronzeville Campus. We enjoyed lunch and an in-depth explanation of IIT’s many programs and how technology permeates all of their course offerings. Manley Career Academy Junior, Melissa Hale was very interested by their “Business and Technology” offerings, as she is in a special business track in her high school that emphasizes information technology.

We were then taken on a tour of campus, where the students noticed many differences from Chicago State. Since it is a private school, parts of the campus are very opulent, such as some of the newer dormitories that we visited and their new student center, complete with a Rem Koolhaas designed elevated train tunnel that muffles the sound of the green line as it whizzes mere yards above. The kids also picked up on the diversity of the student body, which is much more international than Chicago State’s predominantly African-American student body. This was immediately apparent since as soon as the students walked into the student union, they were inundated with the sights and smells from the nearly 100 countries represented on campus; It was the day of one of IIT’s multicultural festivals.

One thing that impressed the students at IIT was that, though tuition and fees are more expensive at IIT, being that it is a private school, they have a special scholarship for CPS students that pays for full tuition, books and fees! This caught the students’ interest in a big way. Hopefully this will encourage the kids to keep their grades up and study hard for the ACT, as the average student at IIT had a high school GPA of 3.89 and scored between a 25 and 30 on their ACT.

As the students returned to Cabrini Connections, cold and exhausted from the rapidly declining temperatures and a full day of college tours, one couldn’t help but detect a spark of possibility being lit in the students’ minds, one we at Cabrini Connections help fuel and guide, until they can light their own way.

Volunteer Spotlight: Frances Kwee

Frances Kwee, this week’s volunteer spotlight, is truly an asset to Cabrini Connections. A recent graduate from McMaster Universiy, Frances is now working for Motorola as a Senior Electrical Engineer in their cell phones division. She found out about our program through a pair of coworkers who were each 3 year veteran volunteers of our program. This is her second year with the program and working with her second student as well. Last year she was paired up with Imani Hawkins, with whom she developed a great mentoring relationship. She felt like she, as a successful female engineer with a positive attitude, was really serving as an inspiration for Imani, who was also interested in science and math. Unfortunately, Imani lives a very long way from Cabrini Connections and found herself less and less able to make the trip, so she was not able to stay with us this year. However, Frances has continued to reach out to her, trying to still support her and be that role model, despite the fact that she is no longer affiliated with the program.

This year, Frances has floated around, assisting various students as needed, lending her math and science expertise. A few weeks ago, Frances was finally paired up with Ashanti Anderson, one of our 7th graders who is pretty disenchanted with her school and classwork. Since then, Frances has really tried to connect with her, working slowly but surely on small, achievable goals such as trying to get Ashanti to be more engaged in a couple of her classes and even enjoy them a bit, knowing that the knowledge will be useful to her down the road as she starts thinking about entering a career.

Though being a tutor can sometimes feel like a thankless task, Frances says assuredly, “I like being her tutor and would never want to dump her.” She knows that this year, as with all first year matches, is about building a solid foundation for a mutually beneficial relationship that will grow in the coming years. For now, Frances just takes it one week at a time, knowing that she’s not only helping her student, but serving as a role model for other young female students who need to see young ambitious females like herself achieving success in traditionally male-dominated disciplines like electrical engineering. Thanks so much Frances for all your hard work! We’re so happy to put you in our Volunteer Spotlight!