PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — One Portland teen recently graduated for a second time — from a mentorship program that helped guide him through his school years.
“Just to have that extra support system can really help a lot of people, and it really did for me,” Enrique told KOIN 6 News.
At a young age, Enrique and his family fell on hard times. They were homeless for over 2 years — but then, “Friends of the Children” stepped in and changed his life.
The nonprofit’s mission is to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty by providing children with these challenges an unconditional friend over the course of 12.5 years.
“When I had mentors, I had a lot of tragedies in my family,” Enrique said. “People died on me. Just to be able to talk to Adam — he actually helped me out a lot with losses and issues that happened with friends.”
Enrique was selected to be part of the long term program when he was in kindergarten. From kindergarten until high school graduation, his mentor — Adam Coble — helped him overcome any challenges life threw at him.
“It’s an incredibly rich and meaningful work,” Adam said.
Adam is not the only mentor who has walked alongside Enrique. Over the last 12.5 years, Enrique had two other great mentors — one during elementary school and another during middle school.
“They were someone I could go to if I was having troubles at home,” Enrique said. “Maybe I didn’t want to talk to my mom, I could always talk to my mentor.”
Adam, who works as a mentor full time, said, “I think that every kid, including myself, can benefit by having an extra person in their life that will always be there for them.”
Not only did Enrique receive his diploma from Franklin High, but Adam also nominated him for a scholarship to college through the Michael Jordan Wings Scholars Program. After the rigorous application process, the recent high school grad was surprised with a full ride.
“I was caught off guard,” he said. “I was stunned. I was crying. It was very emotional. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d be able to afford to go to college.”
Enrique is 1 of 9 children in his family. He’s the first son to go to college — an action that’s likely to inspire his younger siblings.
“Do you know how awesome that is?” Lafonda Grant, Enrique’s mother, told KOIN 6 News. “So now the siblings underneath can say ‘I can do that’ and not be afraid to do it because they have their own mentor to look up to.”
Starting in the fall, Enrique will attend Western Oregon University. He’s interested in studying criminal justice and political science.
More about Friends of the Children:
The nonprofit has been working to break intergenerational poverty for the last 35 years.
Each child is paired with a salaried, professional mentor called a “Friend” for the course of 12. years.
According to their website, 84% of their youth graduate high school, 93% avoid the juvenile justice system and 98% avoid early parenting.
How Friends of the Children works
Friends of the Children program select children through a rigorous process with partnership schools, it’s not something people can opt into. They identify children in need who could benefit from their services. It’s a 12.5 year mentorship program that starts the relationship in kindergarten. They stand beside the child no matter what to see them through high school.
“That’s a really important part of our program because a lot of the youth that we work with are in systems that are not unconditional,” Chief Program Officer Rachel Pearl said.
For the first 5 years, mentors work with youth inside and outside of the classroom. They spend 2 hours a week in the classroom and 2 hours out of the classroom, spending a total of 16 hours of one-on-one attention a month.
Friends of the Children mentors are paid professional mentors, not volunteers. It’s their full-time job to work with 8 to 11 youth, depending on how old their children are.
They also select kids from foster care, working with DHS to find children between 4 and 6 years old to get them a mentor as well, who can be their constant while they encounter countless transitions through the foster care system.
In addition to helping children with academics, mentors are helping children develop social and emotional skills. They focus on several core assets like self-management, hope, perseverance, grit, and self-determination.
“They are learning what that means, how to use it, and what their personal strengths are and applying a growth mindset to all of it,” Pearl said.
Friends of the Children program receives some public funding from Portland Children’s Levy, but 80 percent of their funding is through private philanthropy.
“Our outcomes speak for themselves,” Pearl said. “It’s pretty incredible to compare our children to youths who don’t have friends in their lives, so people want to fund us because they believe in our mission since our system is working.”
However, they can only provide friends for as many youths as they are able to get funding for. So, they’re still looking for ways to expand.
“We’re always working really hard to find other people who want to come alongside and walk this walk with us,” Pearl said.
Currently, the program has 50 friends and they serve 510 youths in the metro area. Right now, they’re expanding into Southwest Washington, adding 2 mentors who will work primarily in Vancouver next year.
Portland is the founding chapter of Friends of the Children program. They’ve been serving children and families in the community for 26 years. They are now a national organization, they have co-located the national chapter in Portland.
They’re working to expand their model into 15 cities throughout the country — and one in England. Their goal is to be in 25 cities by 2025.
Their program is very data driven. There are multiple studies that have been done on Friends of the Children and their model not only in terms of return of investment back into the individual child but also the impact on the greater family, peers at school, and the community.
“The more opportunities and resources you give someone, the more likely they are to succeed,” said Justine Reimnitz, Marketing & Communications Manager. “This model show that it’s about people who believe in their community, investing in their community.”
They admit it’s not a cheap model — and they have no apologies about that.
“You put the money where it’s going to work,” Reimnitz said. “The return on the investment is huge.”