Monday, March 23, 2009

Volunteering: Easy to get to Programs. Small Investment. Big Rewards.

I make maps that show city boundaries, locations of "failing schools," the 2000 Census bureau's poverty tracts... and then overlay these with locations of community assets and known non-school tutoring and mentoring programs.

The feedback I receive on patterns that emerge range from concern to shock to outrage.

But we at Tutor/Mentor Connection don't stop at exposing the clear lack of quality tutoring and mentoring programs - programs that exist as options for students who need a little help to compete for college placement, jobs, and ultimately community/business/political leadership.

We also propose comprehensive solutions.

My maps are free tools that business leaders can use in creating strategies that invigorate the local economy through investment in - and philanthropic funding of tutor/mentor programs.

We propose solutions to the problems that concern communities - strategies that universities, hospitals, places of worship, and concerned parents can use to address issues of crime, violence, and poverty.

We also provide district overviews of resources and assets for politicians to incorporate into the work they do for their constituency...

And we encourage the media to provide tutoring/mentoring-based solutions when discussing problems associated with inadequate school facilities, poverty, and gangs.

But one part of a comprehensive solution to the lack of non-school tutoring/mentoring options... a part that I frequently tend to gloss over... is you and your ability to volunteer as a one-to-one mentor for students at the programs.

Simply, without volunteers, there are no programs.

That's what this is all about: Pairing students with volunteers in long-term relationships whereby the student gains needed help on homework (tutoring) and needed direction in developing a course of action that will put her/him on college and career paths (mentoring). Many of these kids do not receive this guidance at home and are a bit lost on how to get there from here.

You've been there. For an investment of a couple hours each week, you can answer so many questions that seem simple to you but are not for the students. "How do I research schools? How do I fill out an application? Where do I start?"

For this same investment, you get to meet an amazing kid, and grow yourself. The volunteers at a tutor/mentor program like Cabrini Connections almost invariably report personal fulfillment and growth as a primary factor in staying on year after year.

Some of you think this sounds great, but how do I get there? "I commute on train... I don't have a car. I don't have a lot of time!" Not surprisingly, many programs are within seconds of a stop on your Metra line. If you have a monthly pass, as I do, perhaps you might consider jumping off for a few hours and then jumping back on after working with a student on an art or tech project?

Even more programs are within minutes of the route your CTA "el" train takes:

... And if you think outside the box a little bit, you might be able to combine efforts/communter options to make an even easier customized solution to your transport/volunteer concerns.

For instance, many people may be concerned with venturing alone into unknown high-poverty areas of the city. Who wouldn't be? Look at the highways in relation to programs and commuter rail in the maps above. Perhaps a safe, effective, and efficient strategy might involve carpooling to your downtown job with friends/coworkers (saving gas), heading to a program near a Metra stop with one or two members of the carpool, and then using Metra to head home together after a couple hours of tutoring?

I hope you use these maps to find a route that takes you to a program of your choice one night a week. Without your help... without volunteers, programs can't grow. New, needed programs can't start.

Please click on either of the maps above to get larger, detailed maps, to get started.

For details on the specific CTA Stations, please visit the CTA system map. For details about Metra Stations, their website is here.

And for details about the programs that are near stops on your commuter line, visit the Tutor/Mentor Connection's online searchable Program Locator.

For information about volunteering in general , go here.

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