When the impact of the COVID-19 crisis presented Tutoring Chicago with the challenge of transitioning to an all-digital model, many of our volunteer tutors found new ways to help. One engaged pair of tutors, Jake Scheinbart and Samantha Metsa, did so in an exceptional way.
“When everything hit in late March 2020, everything was kind of thrown into disarray. Tutoring Chicago was mentioning in emails how not all students had proper equipment, not just for tutoring, but also to do their work because school was fully remote at this point.
We thought this was a really big problem that seems like it would have a pretty concrete solution. We’re distance runners and we ran the Chicago Marathon the prior year, and with the pandemic a lot of races were getting canceled, so we figured it could be good to set up our own little challenge.
We like to train for distance runs and we wanted to have something to work towards, and we wanted to kind of put all that energy that people were going to use for running towards something positive,” said Jake.
The result was a virtual event called the COVID-19 Challenge, in which Samantha and Jake encouraged their friends and family to run either 19 kilometers/miles with the goal of raising enough money to purchase 19 laptops for Tutoring Chicago. Over 15 people participated in the event across the country, ultimately raising over $6,600, enough to purchase 37 new laptops.
In Samantha’s words, “It was really cool to see our friends do this in honor of something that we believed in. And I think surpassing the goal is one thing, but just seeing our community come together, that was really cool. And it shows you small events, small things can have a great impact.”
Jake and Sam
Stacey & Lamonica
Stacey Meyer first started volunteering with the Cabrini Green Tutoring Program in 1989, when she was an employee at Quaker Oats. In 1991, she and her coworker partnered with a young student named Lamonica.
“Lamonica was very shy. When we met her, Arla and I were two New York girls who were not so shy. And so sometimes Lamonica would ask a question and Arla and the two of us would have to run over, figure out how to do the math problem and then come back to her.”
Stacey and Lamonica worked together for several years, managing to stay connected even after their time in the tutoring program had ended.
“What’s very different about Lamonica’s story and partially why I probably stayed connected to her – she went through the tutoring program as did her three siblings. Quaker, for a short period of time, had a program. They were hoping to help kind of vertically integrate tutoring and were paying for people to go to Providence St. Mel. Lamonica was one of the few students who ended up going. Through those years, through middle school and high school, Lamonica was still connected to Quaker.”
As Lamonica grew, so did Stacey’s role with Tutoring Chicago. Through Quaker, she became a member of Tutoring Chicago’s board of directors in the mid-1990s, continuing to work with the organization until 2001.
While they were no longer seeing each other on a weekly basis, the two kept in touch through phone calls, especially when Lamonica went back to college after the birth of her first child.
“I would say it was honestly just being her cheerleader. Like you got this, how great you’re going back, I know you can do it.”
Stacey was present at Lamonica’s graduation, and since then the two have kept in touch on a regular basis.
“At this point, I don’t think we’d go more than a couple of months without at least a check-in.”
Lamonica now works as a registered nurse, and Stacey is helping her daughter to navigate the college application process. When asked about their many years together, Stacey made sure to note that it’s Lamonica who is the true star.
“The one thing I think I was able to do was be another person who just believed in Lamonica. She did the achieving, but I did the cheerleading.”
Marisa & Ariella
“Ariella’s the only student I’ve ever worked with at Tutoring Chicago. We were paired up starting when she was in first grade.”
She’s always been the same spunky, really personable kind of student. In the beginning, we had to work really hard on using the assignment notebook and turning homework in on time. As the years went on, she got really into using her assignment notebook and the different colored pens to track things.
It’s funny because I thought the program would end at sixth grade, and then we added seventh grade. And now we added eighth grade. It just keeps growing along with her as if the world doesn’t want us to be done just yet, so that’s really sweet.
These last two years have just been amazing. I mean, her grades have also gotten a lot better. And when we meet now, I swear it’s like she does not need me anymore. She is so ready for high school. She really is super competent in all her classes. She’s really got it together.
I have been there to answer questions and help her with homework, but she’s done all the work. It’s just been my privilege to follow her along on that and be the one that gets to see her develop.
I feel really lucky to have gone so deep with her, but also for so long. I think we have a really unique story because we’ve connected for so long.”
Barisa & Sofia
“I started tutoring Sofia when she was in 2nd grade & now she is in 5th. During that time, it has been such an amazing experience to watch her continue to grow into such a hardworking, respectful, and bright student. Initially, I signed up for Tutoring Chicago with hopes of making a small impact in my own way on a student’s education path, however, I’ve learned just as much if not more through Sofia and have had a blast doing so. I’ve been fortunate enough to have amazing mentors who have had a big impact on my life & it’s important to me to pay it forward.”
Kribi Coffee – 360 Partner
In the summer of 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement inspired Kribi Coffee in Forest Park to join Tutoring Chicago’s mission of supporting change. Founded by Cameroonian immigrant Jacques Shalo, Kribi Coffee uses a unique air roasting process to create distinctive small-batch coffee blends.
“Because what we’re doing is disrupting people’s notion of coffee consumption, we saw this as an opportunity during the Black Lives Matter movement…We felt that we had something unique to tell the story about what we’re doing, but also participate in this Black Lives movement and have our own little way to affect change,” said Shalo.
In response, they created a special Black Lives Matter Blend. This unique blend of African and South American coffees is adorned with a tribal mask inspired by Shalo’s village in Cameroon, and it was decided that $2 from each bag purchased would be donated to a local organization.
“We needed to change our approach by looking close to home, to see how we could affect change in education. And so we searched all around, talked to some folks in the neighborhood.
We chose Tutoring Chicago because we felt that it had been around for a long time and was hitting different core groups across the community. It’s the focus on education at a very early age – especially in today’s climate and the challenges we face, education at such a core fundamental level is extremely important.”
While Tutoring Chicago could not operate without its wonderful donors and volunteers, it is also kept going by one staff member with a very interesting story.
Marquita Cross first joined the Cabrini Green Tutoring Program as a third grade student in 2003, building a wonderful connection with her tutor.
“I really, really, really enjoyed it. It really did help me gain a sense of mentorship and understanding of what a mentor is.”
After graduating from the program, Marquita stayed in touch with her tutor for several years.
In 2021, she applied for a job to help with a tutoring program, not realizing it was the same one that she had participated in as a student. (Cabrini Green Tutoring Program rebranded as Tutoring Chicago in 2012).
“That just really made me want to do it even more, just to see like – I’m all grown up now, and what the kids are experiencing being on the other foot.”
Marquita currently works in Tutoring Chicago’s middle school program as a program coordinator, where she facilitates weekly digital tutoring sessions.
“It’s so inspiring especially to see tutor and student combinations, who’ve been with each other for years. And that’s like, that was me. That was how I grew that relationship with my tutor. So I like popping into those breakout rooms to see the tutors that have been with their student for so long.”