Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A New Google-based Tutor/Mentor Program Locator!

The Tutor/Mentor Connection (T/MC) is excited to launch a new version of its online Tutor/Mentor Program Locator.

Since 1993 the T/MC has been piloting the use of a mapping technology – GIS (Geographic Information Systems) – to create tools that help build and sustain comprehensive mentoring-to-career programs in every high-poverty neighborhood in the Chicago area, while providing resources that excite volunteers, donors, and community leadership about their roles in supporting this process.

(Click on the map to see an enlarged version.)

In May 1994 the T/MC first published a printed Directory of volunteer-based tutoring and/or mentoring programs serving Chicago, and operating in non school hours. The Directory was sent to about 3000 business, foundations, schools, libraries each year until 2001. The T/MC began to put its strategy on the Internet in 1998, and posted the Directory in a searchable on-line Program Locator in 2004. Its web sites recorded more than 100,000 visitors and one million page views in 2008. A search of Google for "tutor mentor" brings the website up first among thousands of listings. The new Program Locator is the next logical step in this technological evolution.

While the original Program Locator could be searched for type of program, age group served, and zip code, with the results plotted on a Google map, the new Program Locator takes advantage of Google technologies to provide interactive access to all poverty, asset, and boundary data – the same map layers used by the T/MC mapping department when we make the maps featured in stories at and elsewhere on the Internet.

For those new to the concept of tutoring and mentoring, tutor/mentor programs are nonprofit facilities that offer one-to-one volunteer-student tutoring and mentoring services during non-school hours. The programs are vital to the success of college-minded and career-oriented students who are a little behind the curve due to inadequate school facilities and the challenges of high-poverty.

(Please note: There is a wide variety of organizations that offer volunteer-based tutoring and/or mentoring in the Chicago region. The role of the T/MC Directory is to help people know where they are, and how to contact them, rather than to judge which program is better than any other. Through other services of the T/MC, we seek to help each program get ideas, volunteers and resources to constantly improve and expand the quality and impact of their services. See more about this at )

Thanks to a generous donation received in November 2007, the T/MC hired me, Mike Trakan, in January 2008 to rebuild its desktop mapping capacity. If you scroll through the links on the side you can see the maps I’ve created since then, and articles that I’ve written to show people how they can use maps.

In each article, I use several different map images to illustrate my message. Each map shows different “layers” of information I have collected and mapped over the past year, using desktop ArcGIS software donated by ESRI. (Just a note: ESRI has been donating software to the T/MC since 1995. We would not have this capacity if these donations had not been provided.)

What’s special about the new Interactive Program Locator is that you are now able to create your own maps, very similar to the ones I make at the Chicago office of the Tutor/Mentor Connection.

In addition to plotting program locations, the new Program Locator offers a visual Google-style representation of T/MC data, highlighting relationships among existing programs, poverty, and available community resources.

With a T/MC mapping tool like the new Program Locator in hand, any community leader – from businesses, universities, hospitals, or churches for starters – can quickly zoom to a high-poverty neighborhood to see where programs are needed or missing completely. Leaders can then find geographic relationships among programs, themselves, and potential partners – and ultimately organize alliances that support existing programs or build new ones if needed.

You can review the features of the new Program Locator at

You can also review this animated presentation to learn more about the features of the new Program Locator:

Of course, important features that were a part of the original Program Locator remain. Browse program locations to find addresses, phone numbers, contact names, hours of operation, age-group served, and website links. The new Program Locator simply offers you – the volunteers, donors, parents and youth – new depth, and an additional understanding of where support for tutor/mentor programs is most needed.

How are these maps to be used?

The articles I’ve written for the past year show how the maps can be used. I encourage you to read these. I also encourage you to read the articles Dan Bassill, President of the T/MC writes, at

We’re illustrating how maps can be used by business, religious, political and education leaders to mobilize resources that make constantly improving, volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs available to more of the children living in high poverty neighborhoods of the Chicago region. We’re demonstrating how leaders in other communities can use maps for the same purpose.

We’ll keep writing articles and creating new maps so please bookmark or subscribe to our blogs and use them as a training course for your own staff and community leaders. As you look at these maps, and articles, ask yourself these questions:

“What are the actions I or my organization can take to assure that every youth born in poverty today is starting a job and career by age 25?”

“How do we assure that there are great tutor/mentor programs in all of the neighborhoods where they are needed, rather than a few great programs in a few locations?”

“How do we help all of these programs have the resources and ideas that enable them to have a growing impact on helping kids move through school and into 21st century jobs and careers?”

To help get the creative juices flowing, Dan has collected and/or designed a bunch of strategy templates and documents which he shares in the Tutor/Mentor Institute at

Please take a look at the new Program Locator and build your own understanding. Then please let us know what you think.

We want to know from you how you are using this tool. We also want to know what might work better.

Since we’re a non profit and have built this service with the help of volunteers and a few donors, we’re also looking for other people who will provide money needed to manage this service, and make the improvements that many of you will want as you begin to use the site.

Again, please post your comments below. And thank you for supporting tutoring and mentoring programs in Chicago!

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