Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I need help for this operation to be successful

Well, they asked me to perform brain surgery the other day. I’m not a surgeon mind you; actually, I’m not even a doctor. However, I’m a pretty bright guy and I know where the brain is, I even know anecdotally the areas of the brain; frontal, parietal, temporal, occipital lobes and cerebellum. Still that wasn’t enough information to actually perform the surgery, so I decided to do some research and reading. I started with reading up on basic surgery procedures, turns out every surgery has its on modality and methodology.
Still undaunted, I went on; a cut, here a slice there I really felt like I could do this. After my general research I decided it was time to concentrate on the brain. Here to I found there were various manners in which to proceed depending on the reason for the procedure. So I thought it was time to ask, what the specific reason for the operation was. Turns out it was to change the behavior and expectations of the patient. This helped a lot because now I knew I was to operate on the frontal lobe. So, based on my reading, I would have to remove a large section of the front of the scull. Well, with my new found knowledge and vicarious experience I was ready to move forward. I assembled an expert team of other non-medical personal who just happened to be really, really bright and set about to perform the surgery.
Unfortunately, the operations weren’t a success and the outcomes not what I expected. Of the patients some seemed to have no change, some became vegetative and the others turned into monsters of a sort, acting out in ways I would never have imagined possible. It turns out, I didn’t have enough information about the nature of the patient or the problem, I wasn’t sufficiently trained to alleviate the suffering of the patient or the problem and none of the people I enlisted to help were really interested in the patient or the problem; they just wanted to be able to say they assisted in a major surgery.
It turns out you have to be a dedicated, trained surgeon in order to have any chance of performing a successful operation. You need to fully understand the patient and the problem and how to garner your expected outcomes. Your colleagues have to be an equally dedicated, well informed group of people whose goals are to accomplish the same outcome and not just bask in the limelight of being on the scene.
This same notion holds true for performing the necessary operation to change the outcomes of our underserved, economically distressed youth. It’s not enough to have an idea of the problem facing those of us living in poverty, attending our failing schools. We all have anecdotal evidence of the cause and potential cure for what ails them but without the fundamental research and understanding the real life person whose outcome we wish to change, we only set ourselves up for unintended consequences and little or no effect on change. Even more important, it’s not enough to just show up or just show up once. To affect a change in the life of a person one has to make a decision to be there for the long haul to be there when no one is watching with a hands on approach to working with the person whose life you’re trying to effect.
Currently at Cabrini Connections we are in our Volunteer Recruitment phase for the new school year. Anyone with the time and inclination is welcome to come to our location and become a volunteer tutor, mentor or leader. Or, you may want to consider volunteering at a location that is closer to you or back in your old neighborhood or anywhere that you know of a need. We have a Program Locator on our website that can direct you to entities in many of the areas throughout Chicago. We even ask for people who know of a program that’s not listed to reach out to us so we can add them to our database, there is no fee or charge associate with utilizing or being listed on our system. If time is a problem we, like any non-profit, are always in need of donations, whether it’s equipment, dollars or even advice we look forward to any and all participation.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Get in where you fit in

“There is no possibility to solve it before we are brave enough to face it.” That quote is from my colleague at Cabrini Connection, Paul Wei’s blog. He was talking about his experiences here in Chicago and comparing the things he’s seen and places he’s been to what goes on in his country, China. In one excerpt, he talked about visiting the Tribune Freedom Museum. He stated, “I was a bit confused when I came to the name of the museum. The concept of freedom is a very abstract idea in my country. Common people never talk about it, and when the right of freedom is violated, people don't even notice it. It just seems like the word "freedom" mostly appears in poems or fictions.”
He went further to discuss visits to the Art Museum and Navy Pier and talked about the benefits of having cultural experiences as a child to carry with one throughout their lives. He then discussed the issues of their education being “score” based and not experience based and how poverty further destroys the opportunities youth have in his county to become successful, culturally aware and free.
His words gave me pause, it seemed a lot of the same issues he was discussing about his country and his experiences could be summed up in the life experiences of many people in our own country. How race and poverty often determine where you live, and how where you live often determines your educational opportunities, and your education often determines your career, which then determines yet again where you live. All those lost or gained opportunities then determine the life we live and the lessons we pass down to future generations of ourselves.
It’s up to us, all of us, to make the changes necessary in our society to combat the root cause of these problems. There’s a saying, “get in where you fit in,” that provides insight into what needs to be done to make the positive changes necessary to change the outcomes of our lives. Showing up is never enough, in school, at work, in politics and in life; just showing up has little or no impact on our desired results. All you have to do is ask yourself, what can I do? Can I spend time mentoring an at risk youth, can I take the time to tutor a youth struggling through school or can I make a donation so that those that do have the time have the resources and opportunities to provide them.
We don’t have the luxury of time to point out the problem and discuss solutions, now is the time to commit to solutions. Get in where you fit in or face the fact that you are the problem.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Dead Diamonds

We don’t have to ask ourselves why there are so many children being killed in Chicago, we know why. Poverty, poor education, lack of substantive opportunity, historically underserved communities. The only real question we have to ask is, what can I do about it? We have these untapped minds and bodies (throwaway children) going off with no direction, it’s no wonder why their life path often leads them to drugs, violence, imprisonment and sometimes premature death.
To me they, the neighborhoods, represent untapped diamond mines and our children are diamonds in the rough. The ones we read about in the paper I call Dead Diamonds. The is a lot of information currently online and in the paper about Blood Diamonds and the hardships faced in Africa over the mining and eventual theft of their natural resources. However the only time we talk about the hardships facing our children is when we read of another one dying senselessly and the other one who killed him.
Not too long ago, I came to the conclusion that something had to be done. I had already raised my children in quant Fairfax County, Virginia. I believe I made good choices in their rearing and it proved true as they transitioned into adulthood. My children are emotionally stable, mentally stable and successful in their careers. It is my estimation that what got them there were positive role models, real opportunities and access to technology. With that in mind, I set about trying to make a difference in other children’s lives. You all know the story, I came to Chicago, opened a technology center in an underserved community and engaged the youth and other disenfranchised citizens with information, training and technology that they would otherwise not have access to.
Although I was able to touch a few lives, as one man, I didn’t have the resources or time to make a big enough difference. I ran out of money and soon my store had to close. But during the time I was in business, I saw the results of my efforts flourish in the children who had an opportunity to see something different. My efforts pale in comparison to the years of work put in by one Dan Bassill. For over 30 years, Dan has championed the cause for tutors and mentors for “our” children. Dan is white and somewhat amazing. The programs he has put together, Cabrini Connections has impacted the lives of over 4000 children from Cabrini Greens and the surrounding area and Tutor/Mentor Connections has provided services and information to tens of thousands of children in poverty stricken communities. Cabrini Connections is were we run our tutoring and mentoring program and the Tutor/Mentor Connection has resources that support your own involvement in volunteer based tutoring/mentoring can provides valuable information for anyone interested in doing the same in Chicago, or in any other city in the world.
Please take the opportunity to consider what you can do in order to stop the flow of Dead Diamonds in our streets. Trust me, as one person, you can make a difference. We need your support, if you have time please consider volunteering some of it to Tutor and Mentor a child in your area or here. If you don’t have the time, consider giving a donation to one of the programs in your area or here. In lieu of either just give some consideration to the many children who are in trouble and need help. Talk to those you know who can help and ask them to give a hand up or even a handout.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Week 2 crashes in.

Well, this week has started with a bang, of sorts… When we walked in Monday morning the entire system had crashed. It is quite evident the great need that non-profits subsist under. Because I’m a technician I was able to troubleshoot the problem fairly quickly but due to my lack of knowledge of the infrastructure of our system I was hard pressed to identify what to do about it. I had to call in our local volunteer technician who was instrumental in the original setup. Poor guy spent his entire work day here trying to get us up and running. By the way if there are any good Windows NT-2000-2003 Server Technicians within eyeshot of this posting, we could always use a few more volunteers.
Which is a good segue into another topic… The amount and level of help we need. It seems we have a problem in 3 areas when it comes to our foundation. One is getting committed Tutor/Mentors that are willing to stick with the children for the long haul, our goal is to take them from 7th grade through college to a career. That’s about a 10 to 15 year commitment and everybody understands that life sometimes gets in the way. The problem is getting the right volunteer for either working directly with the children or working with the center to maintain our systems and services. Furthermore, there’s something to be said for having a role model from your own cultural background; information seems more relevant and cogent from that perspective. Finally, as with all non-profits, money is the wobbling 3rd leg of the stool. Anyone who has ever been to, through or around Cabrini Greens knows the reason we exist and the depth of our need.
However, our programs goes further Cabrini Connections is the program we run to tutor and mentor children in this area. We take the best practices and other useful information we’ve gathered along the way and put it in a knowledgebase to share with other service providers and tutoring programs.