Tuesday, July 29, 2008

African Drum and Dance Club at Cabrini Connections

Hello all! So during my time here at Cabrini Connections I've been thinking about ways to improve the after school programming. We currently have a number of clubs meeting including art club, tech club and writing club, which bring students together with dedicated volunteers to work on ongoing projects that develop particular talents and skills. However, as there is currently no music related after-school programming (and from the ubiquity of Lil Wayne around here these kids clearly like listening to music) I've been trying to organize some type of music club that we can start when tutoring begins in the fall. Since I had such a great time in the NU African Drum and Dance Ensemble during the last 2 years, I've been trying to find a group of dedicated volunteers that could help me coordinate an African Drumming and Dancing club here
at Cabrini Connections.

Yesterday, I got in touch with a man by the name of Youssou Diatta who is a Senegalese drummer. He is really excited to share his love of drumming and knowledge of Wolof culture with the kids beginning this fall. The particular style of drumming that he will be teaching is known as Sabar. If you're interested, here's a good video on youtube where you can learn about Sabar, see some of the amazing dances and listen to the rhythms. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RTDC7hJEqT4&feature=related

I'm still trying to find a couple more dedicated volunteers who have some knowledge of African dance to help teach the dancing side of things, so if you or anyone you know might be interested in volunteering a couple hours every week down at Chicago and Halsted engaging these youth with music and dance and other aspects of African culture, please let me know!

The continuous presence of a dynamic african drum and dance club should be a great opportunity to get more kids involved with the program and perhaps introduce some of them to new forms of artistic expression or spark an interest in learning a bit more about their cultural heritage. At the very least this should provide a positive outlet for for kids once every week. As a drummer, I can vouch for the cathartic power of whacking drums at maximum volume for an hour or so (which is probably what Sabar drumming appears to be at first glance!) Additionally, I'm hoping that the kids will be dedicated enough to eventually put together a show, or at least a couple dances, that we can use as an outreach tool. We could even eventually have the tech club, art club and writing club collaborate with us on a big event that brings together the whole community! If you can't already tell, I'm really excited to be involved with this and hope that I am currently planting the seeds for something that will grow to be an active and sustainable club with committed students and volunteers. What exact shape it will end up taking is anybody's guess, but I promise I'll keep you informed.

Be benen yoon!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Cabrini Connections Six Flags Trip!!!

So this past weekend I was presented with the task of chaperoning a trip that took 35+ students with excellent attendance during the past quarter of tutoring/mentoring to Six Flags. The trip was a way to reward the kids for coming in regularly each week and to give them an additional reason to come in and develop a relationship with their dedicated tutor/mentor. Besides encouraging the kids to stay engaged in the program and giving them a fun way to enjoy their Saturday, the trip was a great opportunity for me to get to know some of the kids that I hadn't yet got the opportunity to meet. Since I was hanging out with the kids all day from 7:45am until about 9pm, I was able to spend some time with the grand majority of the students at some point during the day.

When we reached the park we broke up into smaller groups. Mine included Romel, an incoming freshman who loves football and talking about anything and everything. He often hangs out around Cabrini Connections during the day because his mother works at a nearby print shop and is constantly chatting me up during the day, cracking jokes and otherwise providing me with excuses to take a break from my current task and shoot the breeze for a bit. His friend from the football team, Akeim, joined us as well, who despite his tough-guy demeanor is deathly afraid of roller-coasters! Savon is an incoming 8th grader and is extremely intelligent. In fact, despite not being enrolled in school this summer, he studies algebra each week with his tutor to make sure that he will test into the accelerated math program and excel. Our first ride of the day on the Raging Bull was his first roller-coaster experience and he absolutely loved it! The look of sheer terror on his face during the in-ride picture was nearly worth the ridiculous sum of money that Six Flags was charging for photos. Rounding our our crew was Sean, an incoming freshman who was the only one of us who actually planned ahead and brought his swim trunks, enabling him to take advantage of Hurricane Harbor, the new waterpark at Six Flags. He split off from us about 2/3 of the way through the day to enjoy the waterpark, and told us that he had a great time riding an enormous toilet bowl shaped water ride about a dozen times in a row.

Upon reconvening at the bus at the end of a long day at the park, it was clear that everyone had a great time. Nobody got into any trouble and the trip was well organized, with Subway providing free lunch and dinner for all of us so that we could avoid wasting our money on the absurdly priced food in the park. The various chaperones, staff and volunteers alike, were able to get to know the kids better during the myriad hours spent in close proximity waiting in line and the kids were also able to get to know each other. By the end of the day, the 4 kids in my group and I were sharing in-jokes and lots of good-natured ribbing, which will undoubtedly continue throughout the coming year. All in all, I think it was a great day for everyone involved and served to strengthen the bonds between staff, volunteers and the kids a considerable deal as well as give many of the kids an opportunity to go to Six Flags for the first time. I'm certain that each kid who went this year will want to go again next year and will probably relate their experiences with other friends and family members who are also involved with the program (or could be!), giving them another incentive to stay involved with the program in the coming year and reap the many benefits of engaging directly in a tutoring/mentoring relationship!

hasta la proxima!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Headlines, communication and collaboration

Hello all! Chicago area tutoring/mentoring programs have recently been receiving some unintended publicity as a result of a Tribune story about the lack of oversight of $20,000 "tutor grants". In fact, today's Chicago Tribune lead with the headline "Illinois to scrutinize wasted 'tutor' grants" http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/content/education/chi-afterschool-folojul22,0,49961.story. The fact that certain lawmakers chose to support their political backers and not one of the hundreds of well run, legitimate tutor/mentor programs in the area is unfortunate. However, this gives advocates of tutoring/mentoring an opportunity to inform the public as to the necessity of effective programs and how such programs differ from the questionable programs currently being discussed in the press.

In the article, the author mentions a church on Chicago's West Side that was empty and dark during after-school hours, even though it was supposed to house a tutoring center. Another alleged program coordinator was quoted as saying his "Children at Risk" program was "in flux" and "I run it when I can". Even if these programs are legitimate, when doors are closed and the programming is inconsistent, even for a short time, it is difficult to retain both students and volunteers. Why should they be investing their energy and resources in the program if its organizers are not demonstrating the same committment? For this reason (among others) tutor/mentor programs that lead to the most positive outcomes for their participants are those which are best organized to train and empower dedicated volunteers to take on responsibility for administering and organizing various programs. The most effective programs, as the results of a meta-analytic review of 55 controlled studies recently argued, have various methods of regularly engaging volunteers and youth, ensuring their continual involvement and dedication to positive outcomes. These methods include coordinating: "ongoing training for mentors, structured activities for mentors and youth as well as expectations for frequency of contact, mechanisms for support and involvement of parents, and monitoring of overall program implementation" (Dubois, Holloway, Valentine and Cooper 2002). Essentially, these methods ensure that youth and their tutor/mentors are provided with adequate support so that their mentor-mentee relationship can grow.

However, these types of engagement with volunteers to maximize positive outcomes in youth can stretch an underfunded and/or staffed organization. Things like volunteer recruitment, training, screening and program monitoring can all be drains on a tutor/mentor organization. However, at tutor/mentor connection we realize that there are many organizations attempting to do these things effectively in relative isolation, and that through the formation of collaborative relationships amongst our various programs and that if we share strategies as well as some of the legwork, (especially in volunteer recrutiment and training) everyone can benefit. In our view, more collaboration= a higher profile for all tutoring/mentoring programs and thus hopefully more funding to provide more at-risk youth with the benefits of a dedicated relationship with a tutor/mentor vis a vis one of our programs. Find out more at http://www.tutormentorconnection.org/ .

David L. DuBois, D.L., Holloway, B.E., Valentine, J.C.,
and Cooper, H. (2002). Effectiveness of Mentoring Programs for Youth:A Meta-Analytic Review American Journal of Community Psychology, (30)2.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The role of Northwestern University

So my boss, Dan Bassill, just wrote a piece in his blog (which can be found here: http://tutormentor.blogspot.com/2008/07/role-of-engaged-universities.html) about the role that engaged universities should play in their surrounding communities, so I thought I would opine about how this relates to Northwestern University in particular. As anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in Evanston can attest, town-gown relations have been strained for quite some time. This stems from, among other things, the fact that NU, as it predates the founding of the city of Evanston, is exempt from paying property taxes. Its continuing expansion into Evanston's tax base through the recent purchase of office buildings like 1800 Sherman Ave has also exacerbated things. Anyway, there is a clear sentiment among Evanston residents, particularly those living in less affluent areas of South and West Evanston, that Northwestern does not do enough to give back to the local community. This is particularly visible when the many multi-million dolllar construction projects in and immediately around the university are compared with the fact that in central west evanston, the percentage of residents living below the poverty line approaches 20%. A quick search on the tutormentorprogram locator found that there are 8 different tutor/mentor programs serving the youth of this area, however, like nearly all tutor/mentor programs, these tend to lack valuable resources such as, space, funding and volunteers. Imagine what would happen if NU decided to support tutor/mentor programs in Evanston by encouraging its nearly 3000 faculty and 15,000 students to engage with and inspire local youth through preexisting tutor/mentor programs. Or if alumni, instead of donating tens of millions of dollars at a time to strictly fund research and construction projects, they allocated a few $40,000 to $80,000 grants as well to tutor/mentor programs in order to empower the local community, one at-risk youth at a time.

In investing in area youth, Northwestern stands not only to improve town-gown relations, but to benefit in other, tangible ways as well. For instance, research has shown that students who are not positively engaged by adults and other role models such as those they find in a dedicated tutor/mentor program, are more likely to affiliate with gangs and other criminal elements that pose a threat to safety at the university. In fact, last year my roommate Alex was attacked in a gang initiation right outside of the movie theater and Chili's in Evanston, a popular student hangout merely one block from university property. He was knocked unconscious, kicked and beaten in the middle of the street by a group of teenagers until a woman dining at Chili's intervened. He learned in the court proceedings that followed that he was not the first student to be beaten within inches of his life in similar gang-initiations specifically targeting NU students. Therefore, Northwestern has a direct stake in the positive engagement of Evanston youth, not only for their well-being, but for the safety and security of their own student body.

During my tenure here at Cabrini Connections, I will try to form partnerships with student organizations such as the Northwestern Community Development Corps and the African American Student association FMO to get the Northwestern University community more engaged in combating poverty and injustice through active support and engagement with at-risk youth via tutor/mentor programs. I just started a social network called NU tutor/mentor connection which i will be constantly updating to serve as a hub and forum for the Northwestern University community to get involved with tutor/mentor programs both in Evanston and around Chicago. You can find it at nututormentor.ning.com Please join us!

hasta la victoria...siempre

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Reflections on week 1

Hello again! So I'm in the midst of my second week of work at Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection and I'm still feeling really good about things. After my first 3 days where Cabrini Connections was bustling with nonstop activity, it has been an interesting change of pace to see the center with just its 6 employees. For one thing, it's a whole lot quieter! But despite the relative absence of kids running around, I've still managed to avoid sitting at a desk for 8+ hrs a day. For example, since our tutor/mentor program starts back up in full swing by the middle of September, this means that we need to recruit enough volunteer tutor/mentors so that each child can have a qualified and dedicated tutor/mentor to follow them through the academic year...and beyond. As you can imagine, this is quite an undertaking and thus, to help ourselves and other related programs recruit enough quality volunteers, we organize collaborative volunteer recruitment strategy meetings with other organizations. I attended one of these last week with Dan Bassill, our CEO/founder and Nicole, a former NU student who is our current Research and Networking Coordinator.

The 3 of us took the L into the loop to meet at the main office of Literacy Volunteers of Illinois, there we met with members of a number of other Chicago area NGOs involved in tutoring/mentoring and had a round table (which was actually rectangular) discussion about how we can best help each other with volunteer recruitment issues, sharing strategies and past successes and failures. It was interesting to hear the various methods employed by each group beyond the standard on and offline classified listings and flyering. As a newcomer to the non-profit world, I was encouraged by the sense of camraderie between the different organizations and the various collaborative ideas, such as pooling advertising funds and buying ad space on public transit or creating joint flyers and splitting the legwork of posting them. It was really cool to see groups with disparate aims and resources finding common ground and trying to work out some mutually benificial strategies.

Throughout the meeting I think Dan made a strong case for the importance of maintaining a significant and regularly updated online presence, something we have benefited from in terms of volunteer recruitment, but also for public relations and fundraising aims. Honestly, the amount of information that Cabrini Connections and particularly Tutor/Mentor Connection make available online is staggering.

In addition to a comprehensive website for each organization, the staff here keep a number of blogs which you should now be able to access from the blogroll on the right side of my blog homepage. These blogs run the gamut from Dan's tutor/mentor blog wherein he discusses the importance of tutor/mentor programs and how to expand them and improve their impact... to Mike's mapping for justice blog, where he applies his GIS know-how to offer a new perspective on complex issues like urban poverty, crime and the failings of Chicago's public schools. Please check them out as they each offer a different lens through which to view the issues we address on a daily basis at Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection as well as the various ways in which we are addressing them.

Besides websites and blogs, we maintain an active presence on facebook as well as another social networking site: ning.com. If you're active in either one of these communities, please consider joining us at the cabrini connection, tutor/mentor connection facebook group or our ning at http://tutormentorconnection.ning.com/ The more the merrier. Hasta la proxima!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Edgewood College Visit/ First days on the job

Looking back on my first three days at Cabrini Connections, I can say with confidence that I am going to really enjoy working here, with the staff, the volunteers and most importantly the kids! So, to recap- Every summer for the past 10 years, a contingent of graduate students, professors and volunteers from Edgewood College has come to engage the kids for 3 days with various activities designed to intellectually stimulate the kids, boost their self confidence, get them thinking about the future and otherwise excite them about being involved with an organization as dynamic as Cabrini Connections.

Throughout the past 3 days, I was able to meet many of the kids with whom I will be working in the coming year as well as a number of dedicated professors and volunteers who are interested in the tutor/mentor model and what we are doing here at Cabrini. I was overwhelmed by the receptiveness of the kids to all these new friends and faces, including my own, and beamed as many of them expressed excitement at my new involvement with the organization.
During the visit, I wore numerous hats: that of a seasoned public transit user and Chicago expert, tour guide, group facilitator, participant, student, and museum security guard as I attempted to keep the younger kids from unwittingly stumbling upon enormous and explicit pictures of artist Jeff Koons' sexual exploits at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
I was able to get to know the kids and what the availability of programming at Cabrini Connections means to them via chats under the infamous bean in Millennium Park, on the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier, while wandering the North Side on a scavenger hunt and during the myriad activities organized by the Edgewood crew back at our center.
Throughout all this I was impressed by not only the kids' encyclopedic knowledge of Chicago, but the way they opened up to us all regardless of the differences in age and background, allowing us activists to gain a better understanding of their unique situations and struggles so that we might, through our individual interactions, gain a more comprehensive view of urban poverty and its many manifestations.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Welcome to the blogosphere

Hello world! My name is Chris Warren and I'm a recent graduate of Northwestern University, where I studied cognitive science and psychology... among other, perhaps more important things. However, for the next year, I am fortunate to have been selected to be a Northwestern University Public Interest Program fellow and will be helping to coordinate a related pair of Chicago NGOs known as Cabrini Connections and Tutor/Mentor Connection. These sister organizations believe in the power and effectiveness of tutor/mentor programs to help inner-city youth expand their professional networks so that they can enter careers by the age of 25. Cabrini Connections is itself a tutor/mentor program that serves Cabrini Green youth in the 6th-12th grades whereas Tutor/Mentor Connection has the aim of helping well-organized and successful programs like Cabrini Connections, which only serves one small area of Chicago, flourish throughout the city in every high-poverty area of Chicago.
Throughout the year I'll be relating my experiences working as a PIP fellow and more generally as a recent college graduate new to the non-profit sector. My only prior experience working with non-profits came during my 5 month stint studying abroad in Buenos Aires last year where I interned with the Central de Trabajadores Argentinos, an NGO that fights in various capacities for worker's rights including the right of un- or underemployed workers to a job. There I was able to conduct independent research on the recuperated factory movement that is so unique to the region. Therefore, with that lone experience under my belt I'm venturing forth into my succinct new role as "Tutor/Mentor Coordinator/Communicator/Resource Builder". Please stay tuned!