Our Social Service Samurai: Dan Bassill

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When I initiated my quest to start my own mentoring program, Polished Pebbles, I searched for veterans in mentoring and non-profit management who would be willing to chat with me and give me some advice.  One of those individuals who took the time to provide me with guidance was Dan Bassill of  Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection program.  For years, I have respected his commitment and efforts to really define mentoring as a recognized industry and profession both nationally, and especially locally in Chicago.  I thought he’d be an excellent candidate to be our first honoree in our new feature Social Service Samurai, where we highlight individuals who are doing stellar work to enhance the field of youth mentoring.

Daniel F. Bassill, D.H.L., occupies a prominent niche in the Chicago youth advocacy arena. His expertise is sought by organizations striving to do what he has done for over 36 years: lead comprehensive, volunteer-based, non-school tutoring and mentoring programs serving inner-city children and youth. His hands-on leadership in both the business and nonprofit realms makes him a premier “go-to guy” for counsel on the newest, most innovative facets of development, sustainability and efficacy for community-focused tutor/mentor programs.

-Tell me about Tutor Mentor Institute; how/why you started the organization; what is its mission statement. Goes back 40 years ago when I came to Chicago to start an advertising job at Montgomery Ward Department Stores.  I was  recruited to be a volunteer tutor for a program they had for youth in Chicago. From 1975-2011 I spent every fall recruiting volunteer tutors and kids and keeping them together as mentoring matches. I began to reach out in 1976 to other people leading tutor/mentor organizations to learn from each other. Our volunteer program grew from 100-300 kids from 1975-1990. I used my skills in mass communications and advertising to promote how to support our kids and mentors to help each other.

This experience taught me, that the only person who could talk knowledgeably about tutor/mentor organizations around the city, and connect those invested individuals/organizations was the person who had the list of all the programs. And, at that time, no one was doing that. Newspaper stories and editorials would sensationalize problems with youth, but didn’t intend to draw readers to places where they go to help  solve the problem.

I left Montgomery Ward in 1990 and converted the tutoring program there into a non-for-profit. I wanted to share this idea of helping mentoring programs all over the city. In 1992 I left that program, and created an older kid version of the original program called Cabrini Connections. Tutor-Mentor Connection started shortly after in 1993.

The mission of the Tutor/Mentor Connection is to gather and organize all that is known about successful non-school tutoring/mentoring programs and apply that knowledge to expand the availability and enhance the effectiveness of these services to children throughout the Chicago region.

Tutor Mentor Connection works directly with organizations not with kids.  Our volunteer base is focused on, and consists of, volunteers from programs and organizations who come together to learn together. We’re trying to drive volunteers and dollars into every neighborhood. The tutor/mentor program locator on our website is built by a volunteer in India. We have volunteers and connections from all over the world, not just in Chicago.

Additionally,  Dan and his organization are responsible for organizing extremely successful Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conferences.  They actually just held their 40th conference in 20 years.   The conferences connect leaders and supporters of volunteer-based tutoring, mentoring, and education-to-career programs with each other; building visibility so that more volunteers and donors will choose to support tutor/mentor programs in the Chicago region; and help Dan, and his team maintain a current database of existing Chicagoland tutor/mentor programs to share with the general public.

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-What advice do you have for people who are interested in mentoring youth and working for youth advocacy?  The first step is to create a learning process, if someone is thinking of starting a program first thing they should be doing is look at research and other programs and learn what they do/what works best. Begin to synthesize own vision and own strategy. Second step build a team of people so not doing it by yourself. If you have a team of people and do your own research, then build own strategy and own structure. Then [consider] the logistics, when, where, etc. Once you get started you never stop learning. Track own participation and own outcomes, look at what other people do. Use that information to get better. The Internet is good for people coming into this industry, learning what other people do and how they work. Keeps you involved. This energizes you. From these connections people will give social/emotional support; that’s what keeps you involved.

You can find more information about Dan and connect with him on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/tutormentor/
Read his blog at tutormentor.blogspot.com, and visit his web site at http://www.tutormentorexchange.net 

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