Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tutor-Mentor Conference

This past Friday I went to the Tutor-Mentor Conference. There was an outstanding turnout from various different education and mentor programs from across the Chicago area. I don't think I fully realized the impact and breadth of education non-profits throughout the Chicago area until Friday.

On the surface, the scene looked like a group of regular people, sleepy eyed, and pounding back cups of coffee as the 8a.m conference began. But, throughout the day people slowly removed their shell and opened up about their projects: executive directors, media relation managers, tutors, and people with projects so new, they hadn't even started yet. The level of enthusiasm was unending.

I know that before I became directly affiliated and invested in a non-profit, all these efforts seemed the same. It appeared that everyone was trying to end poverty or fix the public school system. The conglomerate of good natured, human rights activists had it all handled. Isn't it easier to sit back and let those bright smiling Greenpeace canvassers do all the work? Aren't there, like, people who eat this kind of thing for breakfast, never growing tired?

The answer is no! We are all so tired! It is so hard to be a non-profit, especially in the current financial situation (a phrase that can be applied to anything! What if your business or company solely relied on the kindness of others? What kind of business model is that you might ask? The non-profit kind!)

A big theme of the conference was unity among non-profits; lending a hand to multiple causes instead of just trying to pursue your own organization's best interest. In learning to become a community we can form an umbrella of service to Chicago. 

So here's the main point: there are individuals in this world that actually change things. The rhetoric of "impact" and "social consciousness" does not come close to doing justice to the back-breaking, tiring work it takes to make a non-profit run. We do not operate on a massive corporate level. There are individuals in the totally American sense of the word, seeking out other individuals and offering a hand. Sometimes that hand is not graceful. Often it is overworked and underpaid.
The non-profit worker does not explode into inspirational song, with Cinderella's animated birds tweeting over their shoulder as they save lives and "make a difference."
Often they just talk to the community. Or read to a fourth-grader whose mom can't. Or take someone out to lunch for the day. And sometimes they embark on those life-affirming missions. It all takes time.

I thought I'd post a list of some of the organizations I learned about to better promote this sense of community, and recognize the stunning individuals who are helping make Chicago dynamic, safer, and bewitching in its contradictions and beauty:
The Black Star Project
The East Village Youth Program
Becoming We The People
And of course there's always our organization Femi Memorial Outreach.

And here is a little picture of Dan Bassill, the progenitor of it all, with one of his first mentee's Tramaine Ford. Tremaine grew up in Chicago's infamous Cabrini Green. Mr. Bassill worked with Cabrini Connections at the time. A video-making program initiative at Cabrini Connections handed Tramaine the camera that led to his career on Broadway, TV, and now his one-man show that is touring across the country at university campuses.

Get involved today! Comment and let me know what you think!

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