Thursday, April 30, 2009

Social Networking for Nonprofits 101

In the past I've posted about the importance of social networks in youth development and explained what we do at Cabrini Connections in terms of bridging social capital. Today I want to discuss another very important aspect of social networks, how to utilize them to bring much needed resources to non-profits like Cabrini Connections. As I've said in previous posts, we all have social networks, whether we like it or not. We have people in our lives who care about us and what we do, as a result of the personal relationships we maintain, the groups we choose to affiliate ourselves with or merely by the virtue of us having met them in the past.

As someone who helps coordinate a volunteer-based non-profit, I am constantly working through my social networks to channel resources to our organization. In fact, I'm coming to understand that access to a large, resource-rich personal network is incredibly beneficial to non-profits like Cabrini Connections, whose business model depends on engaging individuals and encouraging them to support us with their time, talents and funds. Beyond the folks I know personally however, lies an even more vast, comparatively untapped network of resource-rich potential supporters. These are the people in my friends networks whom I don't know personally, but am connected to via this mutual friend. Social capital and networking theory state that due to the fact that we share a mutual friend, we are more subject to reciprocity norms that would lead us to support each other to a greater degree than we would if we weren't connected via a mutual friend. When utilized systematically and intentionally, these reciprocity norms can be utilized to the benefit of an organization to draw a variety of resources to them.
For example, I have been working with the Youth Leadership Council to determine a constructive capstone project for them to engage in that will build their leadership skills and self-esteem while also accomplishing an organizational objective of Cabrini Connections. After some discussion, the students decided that it would be good to film a short documentary about the long history of our program. Once that was decided, the next step was for me to find volunteers to assist the 6 students with completing their project.

Not knowing anybody in my immediate network who would have either the time or the skills to volunteer for this task, I thought about the people in my network who might know someone who would be willing to take on this project. So, I ended up reaching out to a woman, Rebecca Parrish, whom I met at the Cabrini Connections Art and Film Festival through her prior involvement with youth filmmakers. Therefore I asked her if anyone in her network might be interested in such a project. She immediately connected me with her friend Matt, who based on nothing except our mutual relationship with Rebecca, trusted me enough to volunteer his skills, time and eqipment to help our youth leadership council film this documentary in time to premiere it at the June 4th Year end Dinner. Check out the above graphic to see a visual representation of how this process played out.

Stories like this unfold every day at Cabrini Connections and effective organizations around the globe as we intentionally utilize our social networks to pull necessary resources towards our non-profits and the causes that we care so passionately about. That's why we try to turn everyone involved with our program, from our interns to our mentors, volunteers and students, into evangelists for our organization. The book "Forces for Good: The 6 Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits" argues that successful organizations "create ways for many people to engage with their organization...and convert them into evangelists who will spread the word among their social networks." Moreover, they argue that the very best non-profits "are particularly strategic about indentifying, converting and cultivating powerful individuals, or super-evangelists." They argue, as we do, that over time this process of identifying and intentionally engaging an ever growing community of potential supporters through social network analysis "can create a powerful community of individual supporters that is ever expanding."

Luckily, social networking tools such as facebook and LinkedIn make identifying and engaging these individuals as easy as typing their names into a search bar or perusing lists of individuals aligned with a given cause and finding mutual friends who can serve as a bridge to connect you. Therefore we encourage everyone interested in helping to pull at-risk youth off the streets and into college and careers to think critically about not only how they can support tutor/mentor programs addressing these issues, but how the people in their networks can help as well using their unique talents and resources.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Engaging Faith Communites

So this post comes fresh on the heels of a very enlightening PIP seminar at Interfaith Youth Core. For those unfamiliar with the PIP program, each Wednesday a couple dozen of us PIP fellows from Northwestern, University of Chicago, Princeton and Colorado College convene at some remarkable organizations office to learn more about what is being done to address issues of social justice around Chicago. This morning we had the unique opportunity to meet with Eboo Patel who has built an organization around the idea of interfaith service--that is, bringing together young leaders of different faith backgrounds to work together, develop skills and mutual understanding through common social justice projects. They work to spread ideas of religious pluralism in the public sphere while at the same time equipping future interfaith leaders to build a movement that promotes mutual respect and understanding on matters of faith while empowering youth to serve others.

For us here at the Tutor/Mentor Connection, we are also concerned with mobilizing people of faith to give back to their communities through structured programs that bring together people of different backgrounds, promoting mutual respect and understanding. Though our primary focus is developing at-risk youth through connecting them with a caring mentor, our pairs do come from unique backgrounds, be they socioeconomic, racial or faith, and through building a relationship, mentors and mentees do often come to understand and respect the other person's background. In fact, when interviewing our volunteers to write my volunteer spotlight articles, they often claim that they get as much or more out of the relationship than the kid due to the fact that through our program, and the structured relationships we facilitate, the volunteers come to understand the unique struggles their students face growing up in a public housing development like Cabrini-Green, in a different socio-economic situation and with a different history and perspective due to their status as young African-Americans in the inner-city. So, it's clear that volunteers value this cultural exchange and that this is a motivating factor for their involvement.

Given that the 4 religions with the most adherents in the US: Christianity, Judiasm, Buddhism and Islam all have strong social justice components, it would make sense for communities of faith to rally around a cause like tutoring/mentoring at-risk youth. In fact, many have already done so, for example, youth programs operate out of churches and synagoges across the city. However, given the strength, resources and organization of these faith communities, many of them are equipped to be doing much more to increase their impact and strenghthen their communities. This short document, hashes out a strategy for faith communities to lead volunteer mobilization for tutor/mentor programs. Yet this is but one way that faith communities can get involved. They can host their own community mentoring programs, welcoming youth from the community into their space and connecting them with caring volunteers through structured tutoring/mentoring programs, they can also use their significant human and financial resources to support and build capacity for pre-existing programs. So if you are a member of a faith community, please think about what you and your church/synagoge/mosque/temple...etc can be doing to support efforts around the city to give at-risk youth a chance to succeed. Find programs at or call us at 312-492-9614.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Student Spotlight: Arden Harris

Don't be surprised if you start hearing a lot more about seventh grader Arden Harris in the coming years. She's got the talent, the passion and the dedication to make it big in whatever she applies herself to accomplish. She's friendly, mature and not afraid to put herself in unfamiliar situations so she can grow as a person. For instance, for the past 2 years she has attended a three week long sleep-away camp in Carthage, Wisconsin. Kids of all ages come to this camp to work on developing their theater skills with other students. At the end, they put on elaborate productions such as "You Can't Take It With You" starring Arden herself.

Arden also attends Camp Pinewood, which is a little more rustic. At Camp Pinewood, Arden and a group of other kids rough it in the middle of the woods, building their own fires, practicing their archery and rock climbing while also working on their dance skills and other talents.

As you can probably tell, Arden has a passion for the arts. In fact, she has her own hip hop group, where she sings and dances with 2 friends. Inspired by her favorite artist Ciara, she wants to make it as a performer. To accomplish this goal she practices singing and dancing every single day as well as practices the piano multiple times a week!

Arden also works on her dance skills on the Cheerleading team, which is a lot of work, particularly when they are preparing for competitions as they are now. She'll stay in performing shape this spring by playing soccer for her school team for the second year in a row!

Arden and her mentor Fran Fritzmann work together to ensure Arden's grades stay high and never go below the A's and B's she knows she can work to achieve. She and Fran have been working together for years. They were paired up at Cabrini Green Tutoring Program and have been working together ever since. This stability has permitted Fran to get to know Arden's family and work with her mom to ensure Arden's success in the coming years

Discussing her drive to succeed Arden says: "I've seen what happens when you don't push yourself to success, and if I don't push myself, who's gonna push me? I wanna have a great future and it's never too early to worry about your future.” Congratulations Arden, your student spotlight feature is long overdue!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Volunteer Spotlight: Allen Tyson

This week’s volunteer in the spotlight is long overdue for the honor, in fact, he’s been mentoring youth since the early 1970’s, before most of our mentors were born! Allen (AJ) Tyson first started mentoring youth, when Cabrini Connections was just a gleam in Montgomery Wards’ young advertising director, Dan Bassill’s eye. At the time Dan was a volunteer at the Montgomery Ward Tutor/Mentor Program which served 2nd through 6th grade youth in the Cabrini-Green neighbourhood, which he took over as a full-time coordinator in 1975. They hit it off instantly and Mr. Tyson knew that this was somewhere where he could make a real difference without volunteering full-time and sacrificing his promising business career. Since that day, 29 years ago, he has mentored 13 youth, including his current mentee, Sean Mayfield, whom he describes as one of the most promising students he’s mentored.

During these past 29 years, Allen has done much to sustain and grow our organization beyond his role as a mentor, he continue to support the program financially as can be seen by his current 1st place status in our Fundraising for Quarters volunteer fundraising campaign. If he is able to retain his position on top, he will receive 2 free round-trip airline tickets to anywhere in the United States! In that case, perhaps he’ll decide to fly to one of the coasts with his wife to pursue their shared love of sailing or maybe back to Philadelphia to visit his alma mater, Philadelphia University, where through his fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon, he cultivated the “volunteer gene” that he got from his mother early in life by, volunteering at orphanages, baseball games, and coordinating reading seminars to promote literacy among underprivileged youth.

Through his extensive mentoring experience he’s picked up a few simple but effective mentoring techniques, one important one being that: “you always have to put demands on your student, they gotta bring their homework, if not, I buy books for the kids I tutor, so when they don’t have homework, we can build vocabulary by reading together.” It’s obvious that Mr. Tyson takes great joy in building relationships with each and every one of his students and helping them achieve to their highest potential. In fact, he’s contemplating becoming a substitute teacher, in addition to the 2 jobs he has already, his import-export button business and his job as a realtor for Caldwell Banker (his fun job). Regardless, it’s certain that Allen is a true asset to both the students he mentors, and Cabrini Connections. Thanks and congratulations!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Call to Action: Help Protect Our Youth!

Friends and youth advocates around Illinois we have a problem,

It has just been announced that Governer Quinn's Fiscal Year 2010 budget axes the state budget for necessary youth services by 15%. I, along with The Chicago Area Project (CAP) the Illinois Collaboration on Youth (ICOY), and Illinois Council of Area Projects (CAP), together representing a coalition of more than one hundred (100) community-based agencies and organizations throughout the State, believe cuts in Youth Services, as proposed in the Governor’s FY 2010 Budget, will seriously erode the ability of community-based agencies to have a meaningful impact on the lives of young people in high-risk situations. With a proposed reduction of 14.80% (higher than in other areas of DHS) the system of community-based youth services is shouldering a disproportionate share of the burden. These programs represent a coordinated continuum that intervenes in the lives of youth in high-risk situations – many of whom are involved in, or about to enter, the juvenile justice or child welfare systems – making our communities safer places in which to live.

Call your legislators attention to the budget pages and “grants” lines that are listed below and asking them to restore funding to youth services.

Youth services programs are less costly and less restrictive forms of support, and are now seriously at-risk due to chronic under-funding. In our current economic condition, budget cuts may be necessary, but disproportionate cuts targeted at youth services are unfair to vulnerable youth and more expensive to taxpayers in the long term.

Community Services: Budget Page 7-26,
Under “Grants” Line “Community Services” Proposed CUT: $893,500

The product of 70 years of cooperation between the State and Chicago Area Project, this program prevents juvenile crime and violence, and diverts youth from the criminal justice system through the development, organization, and operation of grass-roots community organizations that manage programs for youth and families, plan and implement community betterment and development programs, and allow youth to safely pursue constructive and productive activities in economically disadvantaged communities.

Comprehensive Community Services: Budget Page 7-26, Under “Grants”, Line “Comprehensive Community Services” Proposed CUT: $1,661,000

These programs provide shelter and family reunification services to runaway and homeless youth, and accepts 24 hour, seven day a week referral from police and DCFS Child Welfare and Protective staff for youth and families in crisis situations. This program focuses on youth age 10 to 17 that are in danger of entering the Child Welfare System. It seeks family reunification, or the development of independent living capacity for affected youth.

Unified Delinquency Intervention Services: Budget Page 7-27 Line “Unified Delinquency Intervention Services” Proposed Cut: $459,900

UDIS programs provide the last hope for youth about to be committed to the Department of Corrections. Results over the past 28 years have indicated that intensive intervention at this final state has succeeded in redirecting large numbers of youth, and saving the state huge amounts in incarceration costs.

Teen REACH: Budget page 7-27 Line “Youth Programs” Proposed CUT: $2,450,000

This program funds intensive educational assistance programs for at-risk youth in danger of failing or dropping out of school. Programs are provided after school and during other out-of-school times, thus giving youth alternatives to gangs, violence and the risk of substance abuse.

Juvenile Justice Reform: Budget Page 7-27 Line “Juvenile Justice Reform” Proposed CUT: $550,800

These programs divert youth from the Juvenile Court, and refer them to intensive counseling and other psychological services, support services, and community advocacy and basic community support activities. Juvenile Court Judges and State’s Attorneys in number counties have recognized the effectiveness of these efforts as opposed to traditional involvement of identified youth in the juvenile justice system.

Since youth cannot vote and can't afford to make generous campaign contributions to those in power to influence policy, those of us with some political power need to advocate on their behalf. Please stand up for our at-risk youth by calling or writing your Legislators in the Illinois House and Senate. Thanks for your support.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Student Spotlight: Cazimir (Cazzy) Ozuruigbo, Kaylin Patton, Donald Stewart and Elijah Wilson

This year, the Cabrini Connections tech club has benefited from the influx of some young and enthusiastic students, 6th and 7th graders Cazimir (Cazzy) Ozuruigbo, Kaylin Patton, Donald Stewart and Elijah Wilson. Though Kaylin heard out about our program first, he quickly spread the word to his friends and soon all 4 had joined and have had nearly 100% attendance at Tech club ever since. Over the past few months since the boys first started here at Cabrini Connections, they have learned enough HTML, which is a language used to describe web pages that web browsers such as Internet Explorer or Firefox can understand, to build their own personal websites from scratch. That is, through working with Steve and Vjeko they are learning to read and write this complex markup language used by web designers all around the world.

Though they have only been at it a few months, they have already used their knowledge to build functional websites, which contain everything from Cazzy’s Views and Rates, which allows users to watch and rate a wide variety of videos, to Donald’s site which contains videogame ratings and movie clips. At this point Elijah is working on a chatting website that is inspired by facebook. Kaylin on the other hand is more concerned with having a one-stop-shop for the best and most up-to-date videogame cheat codes. Regardless of the content, it’s clear that through their participation in our tech club, these youth are engaging with technology in a way that few other inner-city youth can. In tech club, students are closely advised by professional video game developer Steve Pawlick and our expert eLearning and Technology Coordinator Vjeko Hlede, who through one-on-one and group instruction, work with the youth to build their skills and familiarize them with principles of web design and content management systems, such as the ones used at colleges around the world. All the students agree that if it weren’t for their participation in tech club, they would not be designing their own websites or thinking about future careers in web design, a growing and very lucrative career field.

Now the students are putting their skills to use by creating a website to advertise our Annual Year-End Dinner, which will be held on June 4th at 1111 N Wells. This website will help us to maximize attendance at our year end culminating event that brings together past, present and future students, volunteers and staff along with their families for an evening of celebration and entertainment. Thanks Cazzy, Kaylin, Donald and Elijah for all your hard work and your help in making this year’s Year-End Dinner the best yet!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Volunteer Spotlight: Michael Abers

22 year old Michael Abers is our youngest mentor at Cabrini Connections, he’s also been one of our most motivated and enthusiastic. Coming to Northwestern University from sunny Ft Lauderdale, Florida, he knew immediately that he wanted to get involved in the lives of at-risk inner city youth. He had participated in a youth tutoring program through his high school, Pinecrest School, known as Breakthrough. During his involvement with this program he tutored/mentored a middle schooler named Jessie, which turned him on to the idea of making a difference in a child’s life through youth tutoring and mentoring. Thus when he came to Chicago to study biochemistry, he also got involved in a handful of community service groups on Northwestern’s campus. In fact, upon arrival to Chicago he had the idea of starting a youth tutoring program in Cabrini-Green, which he had heard was a very high need area, and after doing a little research, Michael was pleased to discover that there were already organizations like ours putting his idea into action.

Seeking to make a difference, Michael spread the word about our organization at the fall activities fair and sought to put together a vanload of students who would volunteer weekly at Cabrini Connections. After a couple months of frustration, being matched up with a student with very erratic attendance, he was paired up with Aarion Woods, who attends Von Steuben Magnet School. They have been working together ever since, building a trusting and supportive relationship. Recently they have been focusing on ACT prep, since Aarion is a Junior and will be taking the ACT in less than a month. Michael has been making his own worksheets and creating lesson plans to work on with Aarion to introduce new concepts and review old ones, always giving Aarion something to take home and work on between sessions. Working with Michael has inspired Aarion to enroll in a free supplemental ACT prep course led by Cabrini Connections Volunteer Thomas Reuter. Michael is convinced that Aarion will be well-prepared come test-time and that his primary obstacle will be his lack of confidence, which they are working to address.

By the way Michael and Aarion have been able to get to know each other and quickly build a constructive mentoring relationship, it’s clear that Michael has a knack for working with youth. Fortunately, his postgraduate plans involve going to medical school to study pediatric neurology. In the meantime we’re glad that he’s decided to share his talents with Cabrini Connections, which he calls “is a great program with great facilities, good resources, good mentors and tutors, good people running the program and good students.” Thanks Michael for all you do and keep up the great work!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Cabrini Connections Career Week

As you may have realized by the number of school-age kids running around the city last week, it was Chicago Public Schools' spring break. Coinciding with this was a week of career oriented activities focused on getting our students thinking critically about their futures and what they need to be doing now to make sure they are on track for postgraduate success! The first half of career week was focused on getting kids out in workplaces around the city, exploring careers and learning more about the day to day work of some of our generous and thoughtful volunteers. To accomplish this, we set up three job visit experiences around the city:
1) A non-profit law firm "Business and Professional People for the Public Interest" that works on affordable and public housing as well as education reform
2) A "Global Experiential Marketing Agency", Jack Morton Worldwide, which aims to create brand awareness through creating interactive marketing experiences
3) A graduate student in school psychology at DePaul University who also coordinates a student tutoring program on campus

Through these three experiences, students had the chance to find out more about what these jobs entail as well as the unique career paths of these 3 volunteers, Kate Pomper, Shannon Murphey and Brea Adams and how they ended up in their current careers.

On Monday I took a group of students to visit Kate Pomper's workplace, which was conveniently located right in the middle of the loop on the 15th floor of a very nice office building steps away from Millenium Park. We were seated in their conference room with a great view of the north loop and began to discuss various careers in Law. After finding that most of our youth had a very narrow conception of what lawyers do (i.e. trial lawyers who argue cases before a jury) Kate made sure our students understood the wide variety of things that lawyers can do on a daily basis and the 3 main sectors of law: private practice, government and non-profit.

Since Kate works for a non-profit public interest law and policy center that addresses issues of social justice and quality of life in the Chicago region, she discussed the nature of her public housing work and how she ended up in the non-profit sector working to promote fair policies for residents during the Chicago Housing Authority's "revitalization" of public housing communities. Throughout Kate's presentation it was clear that she is passionate about her work and happy with the impact she is able to have thanks to her law degree. Though perhaps none of the students will end up studying law, at least now they are more knowledgeable about the process of becoming a lawyer and the unique impact lawyers can have on helping defend both individuals and communities from injustice, however it might manifest itself. We are so happy to have such engaged and excited volunteers like Kate who are willing to go the extra mile to help our kids explore potential careers during Cabrini Connections Career Week. Thanks again!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Student Spotlight: Dominique Dobbs

Dominique is a Senior at Lincoln Park High School and is in her third year with Cabrini Connections. For as long as she can remember, people have been coming to her seeking advice. She has always enjoyed helping her friends and acquaintances work through difficult relationships, family situations or other problems. For this reason, among others, she has known since she entered high school that she wanted to be a psychologist. Since she has a profound desire to help others, particularly those like herself who have had to deal with difficult family situations such as paternal abandonment, she wants to continue her schooling and be trained to do marriage and family counseling. This desire to work with families also stems from the fact that she grew up as the second oldest of 8 children...all of whom are girls! Therefore she has lots of experience negotiating complex family dynamics which will undoubtedly be of assistance in her future career.

Recently, she’s been working with her mentor, Christine Nielsen, to figure out her postgraduate plans. Right now she is completing her personal statements and finishing up her college applications with help from our College Assistance Program counselors, Carla and Stephanie.

This year has marked a turning point for Dominique as she’s really been buckling down and concentrating on her studies so that she’s the most attractive possible applicant for college. In fact, her last report card was the first time she’d ever received all B’s, which is a testament to how hard she and her mentor have been working lately! She also was the first student to bring in a large number of report cards for our recent effort to get all our students to bring in their grade cards so we can examine the impact that involvement with our program is having on our students’ academic performance. Bringing in a whopping 7 cumulative report cards, she earned over $60 dollars for her Cabrini Connections scholarship fund as well as a free bicycle, complete with a lock and safety helmet! Because she was the first of our students to bring in her report cards, we used her example to encourage other students to do likewise.

To cope with the struggles she faces she turns to writing poetry and song lyrics as well as art, her favorite subject at school. She also enjoys going to the movies. Dominique is definitely a ‘people-person’ and for this reason, she says “The best thing about Cabrini Connections is that it’s a place to meet new people with many different personalities. At Cabrini Connections everybody connects in their own way.” Congratulations Dominique, we are glad to see that you are so motivated to succeed and we will do our best to help ensure that you achieve your goals!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Volunteer Spotlight: Christine Nielsen

This week we’d like to highlight the involvement of one of our first-year volunteers, Assistant Attorney General for the State of Illinois, Christine Nielsen. A Michigan native, Christine came to Chicago in 2005 right after finishing law school at the University of Michigan. After passing the Illinois Bar Exam, she got right to work in the consumer fraud department of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office. There, she works on identity theft and data privacy issues, which she enjoys a great deal. However, before law school, she was a professional dancer, having received her BFA in dance at Western Michigan University along with a BA in Political Science and a Minor in Journalism. She recently discussed her unique career path with students as part of our Career Week programming which coincided with CPS students’ spring break.

Christine got involved here at Cabrini Connections through her friend and fellow lawyer Susan Garver, who had done a lot of research on places to volunteer with at-risk youth. They had heard about Cabrini-Green through the media and decided they wanted to see for themselves what the situation was on the ground by getting involved in the lives of its young residents. After visiting the program, Susan was paired up with Schiller 7th grader Olivia Williams and Christine was paired up with Lincoln Park High School Senior Dominique Dobbs. Throughout the year, according to Christine they have built a “good dialogue. She feels comfortable talking to me about school stuff as well as personal stuff.” Since Dominique is a senior, they have been spending a lot of their time together researching colleges and filling out college applications. Right now, they’re working on Dominique’s personal statement essays.

Since Dominique hasn’t always put as much effort into her education as she is presently with Christine’s encouragement and support, she is frustrated that her High School grades aren’t better. However, Christine has been helping Dominique address this by working with her to figure out the most effective way to explain her recent change of attitude towards school and newfound dedication to her studies in her college application essays. Fortunately, Dominique is determined to make it to college and Christine has been working with our College Zone Counselors Carla and Stephanie to ensure that Dominique puts her best foot forward with her applications.

Another thing that Christine and Dominique have been working on is organizational skills. Being a lawyer, Christine has to constantly navigate a wide array of documents, books and other resources, while ensuring that she makes it to all of her myriad meetings and appointments. Therefore, Christine is trying to impart some of her organizational prowess on Dominique and is working with her to improve her habits. This is currently taking the form of helping Dominique organize her college applications so she knows what needs to be included and when they need to be submitted.

Since Dominique will be graduating this year and hopefully moving on to college, Christine will definitely try to stay engaged in her life however possible. If she decides to remain in Chicago for a while she is considering mentoring Olivia Williams’ little sister, who will be a 7th grader next year.

Thanks so much for all your hard work and dedication to the program Christine! We’re so glad you’re a part of Cabrini Connections!

Intern Spotlight: Meagan Hermanowicz

This week I'd like to draw attention to a volunteer who's not a mentor here at Cabrini Connections. Her name is Meagan Hermanowicz and she's a DePaul University Senior who is currently serving as our Media Outreach Intern. Meagan grew up in Northbrook and ended up going to DePaul University for a number of reasons: it was close to home, her sister was a student there when she applied and it is a well-rounded school, which was particularly important since she didn't know quite what she wanted to study while she was applying. In fact, she started off as a psychology major and eventually switched to business, with a particular focus on marketing and advertising. When asked how she got into business and public relations she laughs and tells me, "I actually started off planning parties for my friends. I'm the kind of person who's very persistent with people, so that's what really got me into it." Needless to say, she threw some great parties.

She got involved here at Cabrini Connections by responding to a flyer that I put up, looking for someone to help fill the vacuum created when our former development and media outreach coordinator left. When asked what in particular piqued her interest about the position, she says "It definitely just seemed like a good thing to do. Most internships I was finding weren't anything I'd really enjoy. I like the fact that I can work on my own time, socializing and networking, meeting lots of new people. I like making connections with people and I like what Cabrini Connections is doing. It's really beneficial for the community."

Since she came on board roughly 2 months ago, Meagan has thrown herself into her role, doing everything from researching reporters and sending out press releases about our recent Art and Film Festival, to securing raffle prize donations and negotiating free poster printing at a fantastic local print shop Document Technologies (DTI). She arranged for some artists in her personal network to donate artwork to the Art Festival and has been doing everything she can to get out the word and secure sponsorship dollars for both our upcoming Year-End Dinner and Golf Benefit, which will take place on June 4th and July 16th respectively. She is also currently helping us find volunteers to work with our kids to help them prepare entertainment for the Year-End Dinner. We are so happy to have such a kind, passionate and enthusiastic youth advocate interning for us and want to make sure that all her hard work doesn't go unrecognized. So, thanks so much for all your help thus far, we wish all college students were so willing to get involved and use their talents to help bring positive social change to students and communities who need our help!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

College Program Guest Blogger: Stephanie

I have been working with the college zone within the last couple of months and it has been awesome. I enjoy talking with the students as well as their mentors and I am happy to be one of the individuals who assists student in their colege search. Many of these students have a lot of potential, ideas, and dreams. They want a life and they want success. Listening to these students talk about how they want to go to college to study music, become a mortician, do animation, having their own business and so many other careers just brings a smile to my face :) This shows that if you just sit down and ask questions they will be answered. Tutors and students who are here at Cabrini Connections and have any questions or would like assistance in finding information about a college please do not hesitate to ask. I am available on Wednesday nights along with Carla who is the wednesday night college coordinator and I am also available on Thursday nights as well and we will be more than happy to help you out.

College is not only about getting your education so that you can better you life in the long run it is about enjoying the experience while you have it. Choose something that you would be willing to do for the rest of your life because wouldn't you want a job that you are going to enjoy suppose to not enjoying? Imagine waking up everyday knowing you have to go to work and you know that you hate every minute of your job...not very fun!!! Yes we all want a job that is going to pay well so we can enjoy the life that we have. I know the ladies would love some extra money to go shopping and every guy could enjoy some extra cash to go to a sporting event. you see I don't think that the money we make should always be about the bills. I mean yes the bills are the first thing I will dish out money to simply because they need to be paid, but I would also like to spend my money in other ways like a nice vacation. You choose your life, the career that you want and I will be happy to help out and share my ideas as well as listen to yours.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Student Spotlight: Akeim Phipps

This week we’d like to draw some attention to one of our Freshmen students, Akeim Phipps, who is in his second year with the program. Akeim originally came to us last year after his friend Deral Willis recommended the program to him. Unfortunately his first two tutors, Kyle and Jeremy were forced to end their involvement with the program after moving due to their careers. This year, Akeim has been working with first year Mike Ozmeral, Vice President of Reyes Holdings. Over the past few months, Mike and Akeim (pictured above) have spent a lot of time together working on homework, usually a mix of algebra and work from his computing class. They also play Scrabble and Upwords as a vocabulary building exercise, though Akeim prefers that they play Chicago, which is the best version of monopoly ever played, using famous landmarks from his hometown.

Akeim currently attends Prosser Career Academy where his favorite class is Spanish. He chose to enroll in Spanish because he finds it to be a far more useful language for his day to day life, certainly more so than French, his other option. Since his school is a career academy, he has the option of entering one of six selective career clusters, each with numerous specialties. He chose graphic design and will soon find out whether he is accepted or not. Akeim thinks that this will be useful for his dream career of video game designer/programmer. In fact, Akeim hopes to attend a technical school such as DeVry University upon high school graduation to further pursue his studies. Since he has been passionate about video games for a while, and is constantly thinking about new games or ways to improve games that are currently on the market, Akeim is very interested in potentially exploring this passion as a career. If he were to gain some video game development skills he has been working on some ideas for potential games that he’d like to design, including some improvements on the current Dragonball Z game and a brand new game based on a Japanese Anime series called Fighting Foodons.

Despite keeping a low profile at tutoring, Akeim had over 90% attendance last quarter. Akeim’s dedication to the program week-in and week-out resulted in a free trip to Six Flags this past summer where Akeim joined other students with excellent attendance last year for a full day of roller coasters, waterslides and arcade games last July. If he keeps up his great attendance this year, he’ll be able to attend our yearly trip once again. He has also taken advantage of additional enrichment opportunities such as a recent job shadowing day with Lawyer, Kate Pomper at her non-profit firm: Business and Professional People for the Public Interest. With this type of commitment to his future, we have no doubts Akeim is destined for excellence! Congratulations!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Volunteer Spotlight: Tony Carozza

Veteran volunteer Tony Carozza has been with our program for longer than 6 of our 7 staff! In fact, during the time that he’s been working with his student, CICS Northtown Academy senior Charles Thomas, Tony has both gotten married and had a child! He started way back in 2003 when another lawyer at his firm, Cabrini Connections board member and tutor Mike Hayes, sent out an email to all the young associates at Pretzel & Stouffer, the law firm where they were working at the time. In the email, Mike explained his involvement at Cabrini Connections and encouraged Tony to join him for a tutoring session so he too could get involved. When Tony eventually accompanied Mike to tutoring he liked what he saw and soon found himself matched up with Charles, then a 7th grader at CICS Washington Park. They hit it off right off the bat and got to work getting to know each other and building a mutually beneficial mentoring relationship.

In Tony’s words “It’s been awesome growing up with him for the last 6 years. Charles has gone from a kid to a man! He’s 18 years old. He has his driver’s license now!” Living out in the western suburbs, Tony isn’t able to see Charles as much as he might like to, but he treasures his time with him and has been working with Charles and his mother, with whom he stays connected, to figure out his post-high school plans.

Since Tony himself utilized community college as a stepping stone to Illinois State University, DePaul University College of Law and eventually a successful career as a defense lawyer at Bollinger, Ruberry & Garvey, he has been trying to encourage Charles to do the same in order to prepare him for a 4 year college education. Luckily, since he has been working to build good repoire and trust between him and Charles over the past 6 years, Charles knows that Tony is looking out for him. In fact, for Tony, their relationship is not just a tutor/mentor thing…they’re buddies! They’re comfortable together and can speak honestly, saying what’s on their minds without mincing words.

For Tony, who has spent most of his life in the western suburbs, volunteering at Cabrini Connections has been an eye-opening experience. Working with kids from Cabrini Green he’s been introduced to a whole new world seeing the sorts of social marginalization, gang violence and other struggles that our kids face on a daily basis. However, he’s also come away inspired by the dedication of our numerous volunteers and staff who are willing to dedicate their time and talents to address these issues and help these kids develop into successful adults. Thanks Tony for being one of these generous individuals and using your skills and passion to make a difference in a child’s life. Keep up the great work!