Friday, September 26, 2008

Volunteer Spotlight: Tami Wielgus

This week, we're proud to put Tami Wielgus, a 3 year veteran volunteer, in our volunteer spotlight. After moving to Chicago in 2004, Tami jumped into a leadership role here at Cabrini Connections-taking charge of Wednesday night tutoring sessions as one of our volunteer coordinators. However, this was not her first foray into youth tutoring/mentoring; in fact before her move she was an active mentor in the Appleton, Wisconsin Big Brothers/Big Sisters program for over 6 years. Even today she continues to stay in contact with her mentee, Gisel, helping her to navigate the road to college and a career.

When not volunteering her time and energy here at Cabrini Connections, Tami serves as Controller/Asset Manager and corporate Treasurer for the Community Reinvestment Fund (CRF), a not-for-profit syndicator of equity investments in various types of real estate projects, that, like Cabrini Connections, aims to help change the lives of people living in economically disadvantaged communities by assisting to strengthen those communities. CRF's invested capital helps revitalize dilapidated neighborhood retail areas which help provide amenities for area residents and generate employment opportunities. Furthermore, CRF's invested funds in For-Sale housing help provide homeownership opportunities that are affordable to households with lower incomes.

Though Tami is clearly good with numbers and data - she is a Certified Public Accountant with a master's degree in real estate finance and investment from NYU -she absolutely shines when interacting with our students and volunteers here at Cabrini Connections. Her years of mentoring experience combined with her knack for putting people at ease, makes her perfect for the volunteer coordinator's primary task, that of fostering a comfortable, collaborative mentoring environment at the center and offering the necessary support to both mentors and mentees so that their relationships can grow. Thanks Tami for your leadership! Volunteers like you allow Cabrini Connections to make such a difference in the lives of our youth!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Students in the Spotlight: LaFaye Garth

This week’s Student in the Spotlight is none other than LaFaye Garth, a senior at Sullivan High and one of our most hardworking students. Since she started here with her tutor four years ago she has known she wants to be a doctor. As a freshman she was selected for and enrolled in the Medical and Health Career Academy, a special program at her high school that helps dedicated students prepare for the long and difficult road to becoming a practicing physician. She is currently taking coursework that will make her a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) by January 2009. Throughout high school she has worked and volunteered at a number of Chicago hospitals such as Northwestern Memorial, Mercy and Prentice Women’s hospitals.

While running between her full load of classes, which includes AP Calculus, AP English and a college biology course at Northwestern University, working at Jewel and preparing for her promising future, LaFaye is always singing, sharing her beautiful voice with everyone around her. Since she is committed to leaving Chicago for college- her top two choices for schools are the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana and Pomona College- she has also been applying for numerous scholarships that will give her the financial support she needs during her college years. In fact, she will find out soon whether she will receive the prestigious Posse Foundation Scholarship, which would provide full-tuition for either of her top 2 schools. Once at school, she wants to study either biology or psychology, both of which she thinks will help her in her quest to become the best possible doctor. Speaking about the role Cabrini Connections has played in her life thus far, she says: “Cabrini Connections has provided me a motivating, positive environment that helps keep me focused on the future.” We are so proud of LaFaye’s accomplishments and are excited to be involved in the life of such a motivated and talented young woman!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Volunteer Spotlight: Jen Nolan and Carla Reyes

As a counterpart to our Student Spotlight, which I discussed in my last post, I'm also going to be focusing on one or two volunteers each week to put in our "Volunteer Spotlight." The volunteer spotlight will hopefully get volunteers more engaged with the program by spotlighting their involvement with Cabrini Connections as well as some interesting biographical info.

Cabrini Connections is proud to put Carla Reyes and Genevieve (Jen) Nolan in the first Volunteer Spotlight! Carla and Jen both work at the Civic Federation, a non-partisan government research organization working to maximize the quality and cost-effectiveness of government services here in Chicago. Carla just graduated this spring from Northwestern University; it’s her first year here as a tutor. Jen is back at Cabrini Connections after taking a few years off to go to law school and get her masters in public policy. However she helped a number of Cabrini Connections students last year in the college search, application and admission process. This year, together with the Cabrini Connections staff, Carla and Jen are upping the ante. They are currently helping me to organize college visits, college counseling, application workshops and more…all to help ensure that every student at Cabrini Connections can find and attend the college, university or trade school that is right for them. Jen tutors on Wednesday nights and Carla tutors on Thursday nights, so students can reserve college/career counseling sessions with them during these times where kids can find out about and discuss the wide variety of post-secondary options that they can choose from.

Thanks Carla and Jen, for showing leadership and acting on your beliefs that every child has not only the right to a good education, but access to mentors who will nurture and inspire them.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Student Spotlight: DeSean Hale

So one project that I'm spearheading here at Cabrini Connections is bringing attention to one outstanding student each week through a Student Spotlight that will be featured on our website, newsletter and on a poster in our center. I'm hoping this will accomplish a number of objectives:

1) increase the readership of our newsletter among the students by having content that they see as relevant

2) show off our high achieving kids to funders, volunteers, other readers of our newsletter

3) give the kids an additional incentive to brag about their accomplishments and serve as role models to the other kids in the program

Therefore, I'm proud to bring attention to soft-spoken De'Sean Hale with our first student spotlight of the 2008-2009 year. De’Sean is starting his 5th year with the program, is a junior at Wells High and was the only student with perfect attendance at Cabrini Connections last year! De’Sean has loved drawing and building things since he was little and has known since the age of 13 that he wants to be an architect. Inspired by architects such as Frank Gehry (millennium park) and Santiago Calatrava (the mastermind behind the Chicago Spire, which when completed in 2011 will be the tallest structure in the Americas), De’Sean will keep burying his head in math texts as he is committed to gaining admission to the University of Illinois: Champaign-Urbana’s elite School of Architecture next year. He is also continuing to hone his drawing skills though his involvement in the Cabrini Connections art club. Props to De’Sean for his drive and commitment to both his future success and Cabrini Connections. He is truly deserving of our Student Spotlight!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tutor/Mentor Programs as Workforce Development

As promised in my last post, this post is dedicated to the idea that companies should be promoting volunteering at tutor/mentor programs among their employees as a form of workforce development. At first, it may not seem logical why businesses should have any interest in promoting volunteerism among their employees, particularly when it has no relation to the mission of their company or is outside their sector. However, recent joint research report by the Points of Light Foundation and the Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College argues that employee volunteer programs (EVPs) if implemented strategically, can actually produce positive returns on corporate investment, while providing sorely-needed resources to the organizations and causes that they are partnered with.

For instance, benefits include improvements in these following areas:

:: Employee morale, which can lead to greater company loyalty. An EVP brings about more face-to-face interaction among colleagues, leading to deeper relationships between employees. EVPs can also keep employees engaged by breaking the monotony and isolation of many low-skilled jobs and help employees to see themselves as more than another cog in the machine.

:: Recruiting tools--company support for employee volunteering involvement provides an additional incentive for strong candidates to accept job offers and helps increase the company's access to the best available people.

:: Employee skills development--participation in volunteer activities helps employees develop new skills and leverage their current skills in addressing community needs An EVP provides an opportunity for employees to: demonstrate an ability in taking on new and different responsibilities, broaden skill sets, get noticed by management and become "promotable" and build competencies through an employment-related volunteer activity.

:: Company image within the community, which can help to differentiate a company from its competition. EVPs provide opportunities for companies to: improve brand recognition, maintain positive perceptions, be a "good neighbor" in the community and meet expectations that the company is involved in communities where the employees live and work

:: Reputation among investors and consumers as a responsible corporate citizen

Each of the aforementioned areas have been investigated empirically through various research inititatives by groups at Walker Information Inc., the Corporate Citizenship Company, Consulting Network and the Institue for Volunteer Research.

As you can see, both employers and employees have much to gain through participation in Employee Volunteer Programs. Additionally, when employers take the responsibility of recruiting high-quality volunteers, tutor/mentor programs like Cabrini Connections do not need to expend so much effort and resources in our yearly volunteer recruitment campaigns. One of our goals is to encourage volunteerism among professionals as part of workforce development. We want leaders within companies and organizations to encourage employees, customers and vendors to participate in volunteer based tutor/mentor programs and to support this involvement with actions that encourage information sharing, process improvement, and employee growth.

We acknowledge that there are numerous companies that are already promoting Employee Volunteer Programs within their internal networks, or intranets. We also want to link those networks to web sites that connect volunteers with resources that are avaliable all over the web, such as those at our tutor/mentor institute or tutor/mentor connection so that they can benefit from the wealth of information that can develop them as tutors and/or mentors and perhaps direct them to further engagement with tutoring/mentoring in the future.

Public Service and the Election

In the midst of a presidential campaign that seems to be increasingly mired in issues further and further removed from the lives and cares of most Americans it was encouraging to see both major party candidates on the cover of TIME magazine this week discussing the importance of public service. The feature article discusses how the number of volunteers in civic organizations has grown by over a million Americans in the last 5 years and that this new wave of volunteerism is bringing together the 2 largest generations in American history: baby boomers and the so-called "millenials" through civic engagement. In fact the National Conference on Citizenship's 2008 Civic Report Card, which will be unveiled this month, will show that "Americans overwhelmingly support policy changes to increase service incentives and opportunities". When these recent findings are combined with those of a new study by the AARP that found that boomers ranked "making a difference by helping others" as one of their most important goals, it is clear that Americans want to increase their service and feel that they should be asked to to more. Riding this wave is Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy who is introducing a bipartisan national service bill, the "Serve America Act", before congress with Republican Orrin Hatch that aims to recruit 175,000 Americans of all ages to tackle national problems such as health care, poverty, education, energy and the environment. He will announce more details about the bill this Friday, which will hopefully ignite debate and discussion about the issue of civic engagement.

So far we know that the new bill "would provide an estimated $5 billion over five years to encourage citizens from kindergarteners to retirees to get involved in community organizations, including faith-based groups, on a series of programs targeted at national problems.
The new corps members would be paid modest salaries to spend a year working on specific national problems. Employers would be eligible for tax cuts for giving workers time off to do community service, while a new venture capital fund would also be created to boost the creation of new service organizations."

To address on aspect of the proposed bill: giving tax incentives to employers to allow their employees time off to participate in public service would potentially be a great way to encourage corporations to engage in this unique yet proven method of workforce development (which I will discuss in a coming post). That is, helping to develop and enhance professional and organizational skills such as teamwork, outside-the-box thinking and problem-solving while at the same time building morale, increased employee retainment and boosting the public image and community relations of the company.

If the "Serve America Act" is passed, it would indeed bring about an impressive expansion of former national service initiatives undertaken under the presidencies of JFK, the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. However, let us keep in mind that the 1 billion dollars a year that this bill proposes would fund roughly 3 DAYS of our current occupation of Iraq (according to recent estimates by Joseph Stiglitz and the Congressional Research Service) OR five C130 Specter Gunships (the planes responsible for the continual bombardment and deaths of Afghan civilians in our escalating war in Afghanistan). Given that Iraq and Afghanistan are just two of the countries where the Pentagon admints to maintaining some of their 761 admitted military bases, (according to the Pentagon's declassified 2008 "Base Structure Report) and that neither Obama nor McCain have seriously discussed closing a single one during the 2008 campaign, it is assured that no matter who is elected, we will continue to spend outragous sums of money to maintain our military presence across the globe that will dwarf spending on much needed social programs such as the ones that will benefit from the Kennedy-Hatch Bill if it is enacted.

That said, regardless of whom is elected this November, it will remain of the utmost importance to maintain pressure on our elected leaders to support programs such as those offered here at Cabrini Connections throughout their stints in office and not only around election time. We need to take note of the campaign promises that the candidates are making about public service and the importance of civic engagement and hold them to supporting these programs with not only their rhetoric, but government funds and other necessary resources. This will ensure that the "new era of service" and "call to service" promised by McCain and Obama, respectively, will provide potential volunteers and their communities with more than one way tickets to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Helping Cabrini Connections with iGive

Hey everyone. I just wanted to share something that I just found out about, it's called Basically it's a way to have a certain percentage of the money you spend online donated to a charity or organization of your choice. By using, which is super easy to set up (i just did it in just a couple min), you can donate somewhere between 1 and 6 percent of your total bill to Cabrini Connections. The great thing is that it doesn't add a single cent to the amount you spend because has already negotiated partnerships with thousands of different online retailers. Also, though you can certainly search for goods and services directly from their website, has a small downloadable online shopping window that pops up when you're on a website of one of these companies that have relationships with, so you don't miss the opportunity to safely and easily complete your transaction through igive to ensure that part of your money goes towards helping a charitable organization such as Cabrini Connections do good.

So, next time you're about to buy something on Amazon, reserve a hotel room or buy an airline ticket, be sure to do it through igive so that a percentage of your purchase will go somewhere where it will really make a difference.

Monday, September 8, 2008


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:


--public visibility

--operating dollars




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.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Decentralized Organizations

So in my last post I touched on how, through hosting conferences and otherwise compiling strategies and information about tutoring/mentoring, The Tutor/Mentor Connection aims to be a hub that provide resources for other organizations supporting youth tutoring/mentoring. The T/MC was founded to empower others through the creation of loose networks of people all interested in a common goal, providing opportunities to help at-risk youth. Via our conferences, our tutor/mentor program locator and our online tutor/mentor institute and other resources, we wish to be the catalyst that brings people together around tutoring/mentoring and mobilize them to contribute in various ways towards improving the availability and quality of comprehensive, long-term, volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs in high-poverty areas.

In fact, a recent book entitled "The Starfish and the Spider" has made waves in managerial circles by documenting the recent rise of decentralized organizations such as wikipedia and craigslist as well as older, more established organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous. The idea is that, if you cut off a spider's head, it dies; however, if you cut off a starfish's leg it grows a new one, and that leg can grow into an entirely new starfish. Traditional, hierarchical organizations are like spiders, but now starfish organizations are changing the face of business and the world.

Much like these organizations, The Tutor/Mentor Connection is also decentralized, with its users providing the bulk of the content and practice after we, the catalysts, have helped to give the organization form, ideas, value, focus, and meaning from the get-go. However, now that we have roughly established the aforementioned aspects of the organization, we wish to cede power over to its members to grow the network and achieve our collective goals.

In 1995 Craig Newmark founded the website Craigslist to serve as an online classifieds for the San Francisco bay area, offering nothing more than a website for users to buy and sell goods. Now over 30 million different people use the site each month in over 450 world cities, exchanging goods and information in communities. The beauty of Craigslist is that it is merely a platform where its users provide the content. There are active discussion boards swapping information about a variety of topics and active marketplaces selling everything under the sun. However, all communication and sales are between users; there is no middleman or need to deal directly with administrators of the organization, the network is already there. This allows a staff of 24 people to administer an online marketplace receiving over 9 BILLION pageviews per month!

This is what the Tutor/Mentor Connection is trying to do. We have built a decentralized network, a "starfish organization", that tries to engage diverse sectors and bring them together in support of tutoring/mentoring. For instance, as you can see in the figure below, we are trying to serve as a hub to mobilize businesses, faith communities, schools, community leaders, technology specialists, athletes/celebrities, universities and other people/insititutions to to help end poverty, improve education, and make life brighter for youth born in poverty. As leaders in these various areas begin to involve members of their networks to volunteer at tutor/mentor programs or otherwise support them with donations of time, money and expertise, these volunteers will similarly bring new leaders into the tutor/mentor fold by telling them about their experiences. The idea is that, once provided this space, these volunteers who come from similar backgrounds will start to network amongst themselves, sharing ideas and strategies, leading to their increased and more creative involvement in tutor/mentor programs all around Chicago. We are merely the catalyst.