History of the Learning Web

David Connor, center, pictured with an apprentice and her mentor in 1973, co-founded The Learning Web with Michele Whitham in 1972.

David Connor, center, pictured with an apprentice and her mentor in 1973, co-founded The Learning Web with Michele Whitham in 1972.

The Learning Web, one of the first programs in the nation to combine apprenticeships with mentoring, has been working in Tompkins County since 1972 aiding youth in making a successful transition from adolescence to adulthood.  Each year we help over 600 youth, 200 of whom are homeless, to make a successful transition from adolescence to adulthood.

The Learning Web’s philosophy and work are best expressed by the now widely accepted premise that, “a successful transition to adulthood requires more than avoiding risky behaviors and that promoting positive behaviors is “key to preventing problem behaviors.”  We believe that important learning happens outside of the classroom and all young people deserve opportunities to experience adult roles and responsibilities, and make real contributions to their community.

From the start, implementing this philosophy through innovative programming has been our guiding principle and continues to guide us today. Milestones in programming include:

1972: The Learning Web began as an applied research project involving Cornell University faculty and staff .  Initially a campus-based, all volunteer initiative, the Web has evolved into a much-respected local youth agency offering a range of experiential learning, youth employment, and independent living programs to youth and young adults in Tompkins County.  Although it is no longer part of the university, the Web maintains strong programmatic and research ties to Cornell.

1972- present:  The Youth Exploration Program was established, serving 24 youth from the city of Ithaca.  Today, it is a county-wide program that serves over 350 youth annually, providing a vehicle for a diverse group of young people to explore their interests, gain new skills, and contribute to our community.

BJ Ithaca Youth Scoops Scooper presents at community meeting at store

Ben & Jerry’s Ithaca Youth Scoops “Scooper” presents at a community meeting at store located off the Ithaca Commons on North Cayuga Street.

1985- 2000:  The first Ben & Jerry’s ice cream “partnershop” in Ithaca was undertaken by The Learning Web, becoming one of the first youth development agencies in the nation to launch a youth entrepreneurship program.  For 15 years our store, dubbed ‘Youth Scoops’, in partnership with Ben and Jerry’s —offered urban and rural youth in our county a skill-building and empowering employment experience. Guided by on-site Learning Web professional staff, Youth Scoops’ participatory work and management framework introduced youth participants to a positive model of the adult world.

1990- present:  The Youth Outreach Program was launched when youth homelessness was still an unrecognized problem in many policy circles.  Initially a non-residential independent living program with a significant street outreach component, the Web’s Youth Outreach program continues to provide long-term, intensive case-management and independent living skills training to homeless and transient youth—providing them with the resources, opportunities and support to become responsible, productive and contributing community members.  In 2008 Youth Outreach undertook a new residential program component that provides transitional housing to higher functioning participants.  The Housing Scholarship Program—Transitional Living Program provides stable housing and supportive services for homeless youth.  Program services and financial support to cover rent and utilities is offered for 12 to 18 months to assist residents to amass the attitudes, skills, and behaviors necessary to maintain stable housing; identify and pursue an educational and career pathway that will provide a livable wage; and become productive, stable, and contributing members of our community.

1992-present:  Community service was introduced into our program activities.  Seeking to engage middle school age youth in a developmentally appropriate community-based learning activity, service groups presented a perfect vehicle.  Small groups of youth, with the resource of a Learning Web staff person, explore their community, discovering its strengths and needs.  The group identifies projects in the community that they would like to undertake and, with the help of staff and community people, the group plans and implements the projects.

1972-present: Mentors make our programs possible.  While young people are our reason for being, adult volunteer mentors are the rock upon which our programs are built.  These volunteers—who we painstakingly recruit—contribute almost 20,000 hours each year mentoring youth in their workplaces.  Their efforts make our programs cost effective and, more importantly, our mentors model the skills, habits and wisdom that make for a successful transition to adulthood.

Find out about our Programs and Services