Past Recipient Check-In: Dan Bassill & The Tutor Mentor Institute
February 25, 2014 by Kat Krieger
I’ve been here at the Jefferson Awards for 6 weeks now. The time has flown! The one thing that constantly strikes me and quite often moves me to tears (in the best way!) is the sheer number of stories – the incredible moving public service feats that people all over the country are accomplishing. The Jefferson Awards is all about highlighting the good people are doing – we believe that building a culture of service is key to changing the world for the better.
Dan Bassill Tutor Mentor InstituteAs a part of this and my particular job here, I am relaunching our blog to help tell some of these stories. We’ll be rolling out more features over time, but one is a Where are They Now feature where we will highlight former Jefferson Awards winners and their work. To that end, I recently reconnected to a 1982 Jefferson Awards winner through Twitter (don’t you just love social media?!!). Daniel Bassill has been tutoring in Chicago for more than 40 years and has literally helped thousands of kids expand their horizons.
After exchanging a few direct messages, Daniel agreed to sit down (virtually) to an interview about his work. An excerpted version of the interview is below. To learn more about Dan or his work with the Tutor Mentor Institute, check out their site.
Can you tell us a bit more about the Tutor Mentor Institute?Dan Bassill Tutor Mentor Institute
The Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC has been growing since 1973. When I began to tutor, I had very little understanding of what would be required of me, but it led me to begin what has become a 40-year journey of tutoring and mentoring, learning about poverty, racism, social justice, income inequality and much more. Every August, I’ve started the new school year with a process of recruiting youth and volunteers, matching them with each other, then coaching and mentoring them for the next nine months with a goal that most of them were still with us as the school year ended, and that the program’s activities would have an influence on the aspirations, learning habits and world view of both youth and volunteers.
You’ve been tutoring in the Chicagoland area since 1973, 40+ years…what an amazing accomplishment. How many kids have you been able to help?
Dan Bassill Tutor Mentor InstituteThe first 20 years of my work were with a program at the Montgomery Ward Headquarters of Chicago. Our estimate is that more than 4000 kids were involved from 1965-1992. In the Cabrini Connections program more than 700 were involved between 1993 and 2011. In both of these programs a large percent of the kids participated multiple years. In the past few years I’ve been able to reconnect with nearly 100 of our former students and volunteers on Facebook and LinkedIn. Some are doing really well. Others still struggle. We’ve done all of this with less than $150,000 a year in operating funds.
What an amazing accomplishment! Do you think the need for tutoring programs is the same today? More needed? What do you see as the obstacles in today’s inner-city education system?
The need has not changed. The obstacles are the same. One of the primary problems is that people want to look as mentoring as a way to improve education outcomes. A second problem is we’re talking about the needs of youth in this country in one conversation, when we should be talking about it in many smaller discussions. Youth living in high poverty city neighborhoods face different challenges than do youth living in affluent communities; the solutions are different in high-density cities than in low population rural areas. Kids who don’t speak English as their primarily language have different challenges. Kids who have learning disabilities or physical disabilities have different challenges. Youth involved in the juvenile justice system, or with incarcerated parents have different challenges. Thus, talking about mentoring as a solution in one large conversation means everyone understands the conversation differently; based on what youth they are trying to help.
In addition, there is no long-term funding stream to support the general operations, and constant innovation and improvement of every program operating in any city, nor is there a university teaching people to lead and build careers in programs like the ones I’ve led. Most funders and media focus on the act of mentoring, and/or on single programs. Few focus on how provide a consistent flow of dollars, talent and operating resources needed to make volunteer based tutor/mentor programs available in every high poverty neighborhood of a city like Chicago.
Why do you think it is important to give back to one’s community, as you have been doing these many years?
I’ve come to realize that the world we want for our own kids and grandkids won’t be what we want it to be until we make a better future for kids who are born in economically disadvantaged areas. I don’t call it giving back. I call it responsibility and self-interest. I hope that more people in business and other sectors will some day look at it with the same self interest and this will cause them to invest more consistent time, talent and dollars helping youth move from birth to work.
What is the most challenging aspect to your work at Tutor Mentor Institute? What is the most rewarding aspect?
I’ve had to spend thousands of hours on weekends, evenings and during my workday learning why I’m doing what I do, and how to do it better. I have constantly struggled to find the dollars, talent and partners to help me do this work in all the ways it needs to be done has been a constant frustration. The rewards are unlimited, unexpected, and unpredictable. I’ve seen kids graduate from high school and college because of the support we’ve provided over many years. I’ve seen kids faces light up like a light bulb when their mentor entered a room for a weekly tutor/mentor session. I’ve had countless people say “thank you” for the work I do.