Supporting volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs as public health strategy

I just participated in a webinar about #getgundata and #preventgunviolence hosted by Dialogue4Health, which is “ devoted to connecting the practice of public health with partners in other sectors who have the power to deeply influence health outcomes”. As I listened I thought of article I’ve written since the late 1990s, intending to engage hospitals and public health leaders as intermediaries and leaders who support the growth of comprehensive, mentor-rich non-school learning programs in areas surrounding urban hospitals….as part of their own public health strategies.

This article was written in 2008 and includes a powerful message:

If medical researchers were to discover an elixir that could increase life expectancy, reduce the burden of illness, delay the consequences of aging, decrease risky health behavior, and shrink disparities in health, we would celebrate such a remarkable discovery. Robust epidemiological evidence suggests that education is such an elixir. Yet, health professionals rarely identified improving school graduation rates as a major public health objective, nor have they systematically examined their role in achieving this objective.” This is a quote from an article by Nicholas Freudenberg and Jessica Ruglis which is posted at . I also wrote about this in a previous blog articles here and here. If there is such a benefit, how can we encourage hospitals and teaching universities around the Chicago area to set up leadership and learning circles, with a goal of building youth development, tutoring and/or mentoring programs in the area around each hospital, and throughout the region?

This was the same message the webinar ended with. How can we build a greater coalition of people who care, so we have the resources, political will and leadership needed to fight a long-term campaign on many, many fronts?
The Tutor/Mentor Connection (T/MC) map posted above, shows locations of hospitals in the Chicago region. In 2008 my team created an interactive map, that you could search by zip code, community area, political district, etc. to build an understanding of the need for non-school tutor/mentor programs, what programs existed in an area, and what assets (business, churches, hospitals, etc.) were in the area who could be supporting program growth. That’s not working properly right now so I won’t point you to it.

I do encourage you to browse this series of articles to see maps created using the Program Locator.
In today’s webinar one speaker asked “How can we get people personally involved before they experience a personal tragedy?” I think one way to do that is to get them engaged as volunteers in organized tutor/mentor programs. The longer they stay involved, the greater understanding they build, and the more the kids become “their kids” rather than someone else’s kids. Another way is to build connections on social media, anchored around webinars like I participated in today, or in conferences that are held regularly around the country.

As schools gets ready to start every August, I’ve encouraged each hospital in Chicago (and other cities) to invite leaders of local tutor/mentor programs, area businesses and faith groups, and the Tutor/Mentor Connection, to meet and discuss ways the hospital and the university can become an intermediary to help bring volunteers and donors to the existing tutor/mentor programs, or help new programs form where they are needed. Interns from DePaul University created a strategic plan for hospital leadership in the early 2000s. I’ve updated it and encourage hospitals to use this as a starting point in developing their own tutor/mentor program support strategy, as part of their drop out prevention and workforce development goals, not just as a random act of kindness. We’ve also created an information library, with links to web sites that show what other hospitals and health centers are doing, and with links to articles that help learners better understand the drop out and education issues that affect the operating budgets of inner city hospitals. This does not need to be a collaboration where everyone marches together. There are dozens of hospitals on the Chicago map, just as there are many different hospitals in other major cities. Each one can take the lead, in its own part of the city, to develop strategies that help kids make healthier decisions, and which have a positive impact on the hospitals at the same time.

As this happens webinars and cMOOCs organized by groups such as Dialogue4Health can bring people together to share what they do, so others can learn from them, and each hospital can constantly improve its efforts.

I’ve been thinking about this for many years and have shared ideas on the Tutor/Mentor blog, the MappingforJustice blog and the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC web site. I’d love to guide health care and business leaders through this information.

Originally published at on October 20, 2015.

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