City launches one-stop shop of youth mentoring opportunities

Chicago Sun-Times
Maudlyne Ihejirika

 

Propelling the challenge made by the mayor in his inaugural address, the city on Monday launches an online one-stop shop designed to connect Chicagoans with youth mentoring opportunities.

One Good Deed Chicago, previously a website repository of the city’s nonprofits, has been revamped to play matchmaker between Chicagoans interested in positively influencing the city’s underserved youth and city organizations with the missions to do just that.

“As I go around the city, there’s two things that happen with regularity and frequency. You find all these great organizations doing incredible things that people don’t know about, and you find people who want to help — whether an individual with time or a company with resources — and they don’t know where to begin,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel told the Chicago Sun-Times. “I think we can play a role in highlighting these groups and connecting people with them, specifically on this one issue.”

In his May 18 inaugural address, the mayor challenged Chicagoans to step up through mentoring. “When prison is the place we send young boys to become men, we as a city must and can do better,” he stated poignantly, asking that every Chicagoan do his or her part to help in “preventing another lost generation of our city’s youth.”

Many welcomed the renewed focus as Chicago braced for another potentially violent summer. With nearly four dozen murders in May, the city already is averaging more than a killing a day so far this year. The 161 murders through May 30 was the highest total through the first five months of the year since 2012.

The number of shootings and shooting victims are at their highest point in three years, with the escalated violence mostly claiming lives in neighborhoods where impoverished youth can be ensnared by drugs and gangs. Austin has had the most killings this year, followed by South Shore and West Englewood, tied for second place.

“The mayor was absolutely right. No matter what neighborhood you live in, you should feel a responsibility for what happens to a child in another community. This is our Chicago. This is ‘One Chicago’,” said Jenne Myers, CEO of Chicago Cares, the largest voluntarism agency in the city dedicated to connecting people, communities and causes.

“Mentoring is a way to do that,” she said. “At Chicago Cares, we connect volunteers with programs allowing them to interact with youth in many different ways, but more than anything, they’re all about creating that connection between a caring adult and a child.”

Through the portal, nonprofits will be able to post available opportunities onegooddeedchicago.org. Volunteers will be able to search a database of groups committed to mentoring or just about any other altruistic mission; filter opportunities according to skills, interests and desired contribution; then register on the site with the nonprofit.

In launching the portal, Emanuel also has convened a working group of nonprofits such as Myers’ group, Donors Forum and Serve Illinois, charged with coming up with recommendations to improve voluntarism in Chicago. A major challenge is how to streamline  background checks of volunteers — a costly and time-consuming but absolutely critical process for nonprofits that work with youth.

Just last year, a study by the Illinois Mentoring Partnership and University of Illinois at Chicago found many programs in Illinois failing best-practice standards governing background checks for volunteers, potentially exposing youth to harm. That same study also found a statewide shortage of male volunteers to mentor at-risk males.

The best-run mentoring programs provide immense benefits to youth, including reduced risk factors for violence, national studies show,.

“Mentoring is a research-proven way to have a positive impact on a youth’s well-being, resulting in improved relationships, increased positive quality-of-life outcomes, and a higher chance of success in continuing education and realization of career goals,” said Margie Morris, executive director of the Illinois Mentoring Partnership.

At One Good Deed Chicago, education and schools, mentoring, and children and youth are described as the city’s “high-need areas.”

“This is so critical. We’re all watching the news. We all know what’s going on. We know how challenged these communities are,” said Brenda Palm, executive director of Working in the Schools, a nonprofit that sends reading buddies into schools in the inner city.

“The beauty of our model is that the same volunteer sticks with one student throughout the year, and yesterday, at the final session at McClellan School, a male volunteer and third-grade boy were saying goodbye,” she recounted. “The student turned and said, ‘Hey, thank you so much for coming here and spending time with me every week.’ To me, that was so powerful. The student recognized this was an additional person who didn’t have to do this, but valued him enough.”

 

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