Monday, February 28, 2011

They Brought Their "A" Essays!!!

We officially wrapped up our Black History Month festivities in our last two sessions of the month of February on a very high note. After weeks of promoting the "Bring Your A Essay" contest for Black History Month, we were honored to announce the names of the students that received the Runner Up Prize and the Grand Prizes.

The essays that we received were very well done and definitely reflected that the students not only were focused during the documentary, but it also showed how the documentary directly affected them and those around them. And that is exactly what we were looking for in this essay, we were looking for students to observe the "Bring Your A Game" documentary and reflect on the film and how it relates to the their life.

During our Wednesday Night session we had the pleasure to present freshman student, Arden Harris, with the Grand Prize of $50 and she was also presented with an additional special prize. Wednesday Night mentors Matt and Barbara Barnes donated 2 televisions the previous week, and Arden was able to take her pick out of which tv she would like to take home as well! Before receiving her prizes, Arden shared with the group a little about her essay and said, "be sure to get your education because no matter what you want to do in life you will need an education." And that statement holds true to not only the students that were present, but the adults in the room understand her point as well.

On Thursday Night we were able to provide a runner up prize as well. Wells High School, Whitney Hemphill, received recognition and the runner up prize of the 2nd donated tv. Whitney's essay was well done also and displayed how important her education is to putting her in a position to obtain the career she is looking for and providing for her own family.

We congratulate all of the students that entered the contest this year and encourage all of the Cabrini Connections' students to take advantage of opportunities like these. Not only are there usually prizes attached to these contests, but they also provide other valuable lessons that can be utilized in and outside of the program.

Arden Harris' "A" Essay:

Many young African Americans grow up doing things they see others do. They grow up thinking that it is ok to stand on street corners all day and not want to do anything or be anything in life. According to the film Bring Your A Game, what most young people do not see is that in order to become a famous rapper, an NBA basketball player, or a politician, you have to get an education. The young African Americans who do not want to do anything in life are the same ones who taunt others who try their best in school, so that they can get ahead. What many young people do not realize is that a good work ethic and a good education will help them in the future but they have to do the rest.

No matter what profession young people choose it’s important that they stay in school. However, Bring Your A Game shows that 25% of Caucasians, 30% of Asians, and 50% of African Americans drop out of high school each year. To many young African Americans it is cool to get bad grades, act defiantly, and get into trouble. Those same young people aspire to become NBA basketball players or even rappers; what they do not realize is that education is important for success. In the movie people from different professions like rappers, authors, and mayors come together and show that no matter what they wanted to become, education came first.

Putting education first is not always easy. These young people cannot do it alone; they need guidance from people who are willing to help them achieve their short-term, as well as their lifetime goals. Young people need to learn that in order to get ahead that may have to make many sacrifices, but in the end it will be worth it. Instead of going to the biggest party of the year, they may have to be at home studying for that big physics test because that is going to get them to places that they want to be in life, but that party won’t. As a community, everyone needs to step up to help young African Americans because, just like a ripple effect, every action that a person in the community makes affects someone else around them. In the words of Robert Francis Kennedy, “It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.”

By: Arden Harris

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Cabrini Madness. Cabrini Future.

I’d like to share a few thoughts with readers about the importance of the current Cabrini Madness Fund Raising Campaign.

Cabrini Connections is a volunteer-based organization. I’ve led it since 1993 after leading the Montgomery Ward/Cabrini-Green Tutoring Program from 1975 to 1992. *see timeline.

Until 1990 I was a volunteer myself, with a full time advertising job. Every year for the past 35 years I’ve made an effort to enlist other people to share the responsibility for helping inner-city youth and workplace volunteers connect in a meaningful and life-transforming process.

When we became a non-profit in 1990 this meant we also had to recruit volunteers to serve on a Board of Directors, which is required for non profit status, We also had to find volunteers to help with raising the funds needed to operate. Our first Directors were people who had been tutors/mentors. Over the years others have come as a result of relationships with incumbent board members. Some still have started out as tutors/mentors, such as Ray Dowdle, Victor Trotter, Mike Hayes and Mike Ozmeral.

Our Directors are no different than any of the volunteers with Cabrini Connections. We don’t have people who come from wealthy families or who lead big companies and can control donor decisions. We’ve relied on advertising and network-building to tell our story and find new donors every year. Yet we know that good fund raising is a result of good relationships and family ties.

Over the years we’ve had the bad luck to loose some of our strongest supporters, such as the Montgomery Ward Company and HSBC North America due to their own business conditions. That means instead of growing revenue each year we’re often struggling just to replace money that won’t repeat from the previous year. This year for instance, we will need to replace $20,000 given by HSBC North America in 2010 which won’t repeat in 2011.

It’s this inability to keep major donors involved from year-to-year that makes philanthropy such a difficult model for building long-term organizational success. Read more about challenges facing non profits.

I’ve had many people help me in my 35 years of leadership. In 1978 one adviser said “If you don’t write your plan on paper, you don’t have a plan.” Thus, I’ve written down the reasons we offer tutoring/mentoring, the strategy, and what it takes to be successful. However the number of people who actually read this each year was pretty small because of limited ability to make copies available to a large network of people (and lack of time/interest). With the Internet I’ve put many of my ideas and the annual plan on the Internet so anyone can look at it, with the goal that more people will share ownership and responsibility for our success. We still don’t have many people reading this, but it is now available to anyone who is interested.

What does this have to do with Cabrini Madness? Everything.

This event has enlisted more students, volunteers and alumni in telling friends, coworkers and family about what we do and asking for donations than any other event we have offered. As a result, more people are beginning to look for information to show why a program like this is needed and how we show that donors should support us when there are so many other causes in the world demanding donor attention and investments.

I hope that means more people will read the articles I write at and more people will take time to review this animated map showing the information we share on our web sites. As you build your own understanding, you’re better prepared to tell others.

However, asking people for money is only the first reason that Cabrini Madness is important.

We need to be building a network of volunteer and alumni leaders who can support any future staff who join the program. While El and Bradley are doing a great job, they may choose to go to other jobs and careers (especially if we can’t find the money to pay them or provide adequate working conditions and support for their efforts.)

In the past when we’ve had leadership transition, I’ve been here to help recruit and train new staff. I’ve drawn from the annual plan that I’ve written to provide a structure that new people could use as they grew their own understanding of their role as a leader.

However, I’m 64 and can’t be counted on to be here for more than a few more years…if that long. Thus if we are to continue to provide a safe and supportive place where volunteers and teens can connect, and that continues this connection into alumni years, we not only need to find secure funding that can attract and keep people like El and Bradley with us, but we also need to build a volunteer leadership corps that will provide us with program coordinators, group leaders, fund raisers, and Directors who can work together and who have a history with the program and a passion for what we do, and who have a deep understanding of the strategy and resources of the organization.

This volunteer leadership will continue the traditions of Cabrini Connections and make the hiring decisions that give us new staff and Directors in the future.

I feel my role is to coach a new generation of leaders who will support the continued operations of Cabrini Connections, and who will help make sure that programs like Cabrini Connections are available in all poverty areas of Chicago and other urban areas. The ideas I share on the Tutor/Mentor Institute serve that purpose.

As you brainstorm ways to motivate friends to provide donations to your Cabrini Madness team, realize that the cost of space, insurance, technology and utilities alone is more than $100,000 each year. We must find grant makers and benefactors who will provide major gifts each year--as well as continually growing the list of people who made donations of $5.00 to $2500--from among the people we talk with as we compete for Cabrini Madness Donations.

Use this chart to develop your outreach strategy and prioritize who you try to share information with. It shows that the people in your immediate network are connected to other people in their own network. And some of these people may be connected to people who can make major gifts. These are the people we need to be reaching. We need to find ways to show them why we are important and why they should invest.

This is an on-going process of learning, network-building and relationship building. It requires the involvement of many people, including our alumni and their families, not just myself and our small paid staff or the volunteers on our Board of Directors.

Cabrini Madness and events like this will determine what Cabrini Connections will be in the future....or if it will still exist 10 years from now.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The 2011 Cabrini Madness Season is Underway!!!

The 2011 Pre-Season of Cabrini Madness ended last Thursday and the regular season has gotten off to a pretty nice start. We have a total of 13 teams (same as last year) that have entered the season and all are looking forward to an opportunity to be the 2011 Cabrini Madness Champions come April 4th!!!

Returning champions, The Dream Team (formally known as Guaranteed Victory) entered the season as the fan favorites and held the 1st place ranking nearly the entire pre-season before the returning Changemakers took the 1st place position and moving The Dream Team into 2nd place. Team Captain, Shannyn Nellett (Writing Club Coordinator) is confident that her squad can make a run for the title this season.

Here is a complete list of the 2011 Cabrini Madness Team:

1. $970 ... Change Makers
2. $683 ... The Dream Team
3. $140 ... Team High5ive
Tie 4. $50 ....... Cabrini Allstars and The Green Team
6. $45 ..... The Blue Chips
7. $35 ..... Boom Goes the Dynamite
Tie 8. $30 ..... Running for Cabrini and Cabrini Loyalty
10. $10 ..... The Kids Are All Bright
11. $0 ....... Team 5Dragons
12. $0 ....... The Free Agents
13. $0 ....... The Golden Stars

Here is where you can view the official 2011 Cabrini Madness Bracket and follow your team as they navigate themselves through the tournament and to keep up with all of the latest Cabrini Madness news and updates check our our version of here

If you are not on a Cabrini Madness team, but would like to support the program you can either select one of the current teams and become a "Fan" of their team or you can donate to the overall program here. We sincerely thank all for their effort, advocacy, and support.


Friday, February 04, 2011

Black History Month at Cabrini Connections

Each year in the Cabrini Connections' program we come up with some type of Black History Month project/contest that looks to bring out and/or enhance the skill set of our youth. We provide projects that cause the students to do research, work on their writing skills, test their creativity, and assist them with their public speaking skills. We feel that these skills can and will be helpful not just for the Black History Month project here at Cabrini Connections, but in everyday life in the present and in the future.

This year the project comes from a short documentary that Cabrini Connections' staff members EL Da' Sheon Nix and Bradley Troast observed last year, and we have been brainstorming ways in which we could incorporate the documentary into the Cabrini Connections' program. 'The Twenty-First Century Foundation (21CF) has partnered with actor–director Mario Van Peebles and producer Karen Williams to create BRING YOUR A GAME. The film that will use screenings accompanied by community discussions as a catalyst to transform the lives of urban youth. Using a cinematic style influenced by popular culture and employing innovative technologies, the film details strategies that have improved the lives of Black men and boys. It underscores how essential educational achievement and high school graduation are to survival and success in today’s world.'

Not only is the documentary a powerful tool that many people, both old and young, could use, but the documentary is an audio and visual example of what we try to demonstrate on a weekly basis here at Cabrini Connections. We want all of our youth to understand the pros and cons of the decisions they make, to take advantage of any and all resources made available to them, to network, and to continue to strive for all of the many goals they set even through adverse conditions.

With that being said, we used the documentary as our inspiration for the 2011 Black History Month Project here at Cabrini Connections. The project is titled "Bring Your A Essay." The students will have to first view the documentary and then take the time out to complete a one-page reflective essay. The students have the opportunity to use the documentary to reflect on their life in general, the life of someone they know, or how the documentary compares to the society as a whole. The essays will be due before the last sessions of the month, and we will take time out the very last sessions of the month to allow the participating students to showcase their essay. We will also reward the student that has the winning essay with a $50 cash prize.
The value of the students participating in this project is much more than a cash prize of $50. This project will create an opportunity for the students to observe a great documentary that they can and will hopefully share with others, will provide an opportunity to enhance their writing skills and public speaking skills, and will simply be more information they can use in their everyday lives.

In 2009 Whitney Hemphill, now a senior in the program, took home first place in the Black History Month Project contest by putting together an amazing powerpoint presentation that was directed toward President Barack Obama and his Administration. The project called for students to find creative ways to communicate to President Obama about their lives and the changes they hoped that he could provide in their lives, schools, homes, and community.