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    Friends of the Children

    By Bev Scott–

    I confess I was coasting, allowing the progressive politics of San Francisco to reassure me that we were making progress.  Then the summer of 2020 happened. 

    I described in a blog I wrote at the time: “I worked as a social justice activist in earlier decades. I saw myself as anti-racist. I had made my contribution, I could retire. Besides, I was tired. But now my heart is breaking to feel the pain, the sorrow and the tragedy displayed before me. I was not paying attention … to so many things. I have white privilege. The enormous income and education inequality gap; the ways in which the police are shielded from accountability for their racial abuse, aggression, and violence; how systemic and institutional racism continues to infect every aspect of our society and culture. Sadly, the work seems unending and daunting.”

    The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, and the reactions to them, shocked me into recognizing I had an obligation to address the systemic issues perpetuated by a society built for rich white men. I knew many of the actions that needed to be taken to address the historic structures that assure benefit to those of us with white privilege and deny opportunity to those without. But I felt overwhelmed. Where could I start? What would inspire me to wade in and commit my retirement time?

    I began a search for a way for me to take action. I knew it needed to be aligned with my progressive values of anti-racism, equity, fairness, and inclusion. At the same time, I wanted to work with an organization that addresses the consequences of our racist and patriarchal system with concrete results. I also wanted to be able to utilize my years as an organization development consultant and my experience on both local and national boards. A former client told me about Friends of the Children, which serves severely disadvantaged children, primarily Black and brown.

    ‘One child, One friend, 12+ years. No matter what.’

    The model used by Friends of the Children has been applied in many cities across this country and is rapidly growing based on the “Power of One” and a mantra: “One child, One friend, 12+ years. No matter what.” It is a bold commitment to invest in a child for over 12 years. But it is a model that has been working for over 25 years. Founded in 1993 in Portland, Friends of the Children now has 25 community-led locations around the country.

    The research on the results of the 25 years of experience shows impressive outcomes and suggests that following this model can be an important lever in breaking the cycle of poverty: 93% of the youth go on to enroll in post-secondary education; serve our country or enter the workforce; 83% earn a high school diploma or GED. This contrasts with the parents of the youth in this program: 60% have been impacted by the criminal justice system, 50% did not graduate from high school, and 85% began parenting during high school.

    It is unlike most of the organizations that I have encountered and that serve children and poor families. I am an alum of the War on Poverty, and I worked in my earlier life as a social justice activist. This model is different. Working with schools, community organizations, and foster care systems, Friends of the Children-San Francisco identifies children in the Bay View/Hunter’s Point who are the most disadvantaged and would benefit most from a long-term professional relationship. One of the keys to the success of the model is the use of paid professional mentors, not volunteers. 

    The Mentor or “Friend” works with 5 to 8 youth in school, in the community, and at home spending 4–6 hours per week with each child. The work is relationship-based with goals set jointly with the “Friend” and the child to help build life skills. The Friend then utilizes personalized experiences to explore each child’s unique talents and interests. The Friend spends time with the child in school to support and advocate for learning, builds connection and community in the neighborhood, and becomes a trusted resource at home for both the child and his/her caregiver.

    Friends focus on nine core assets of personal strength. Examples of these assets include:

    • Problem Solving – considering the pros and cons to make a decision;
    • Hope – believing that it can get better;
    • Self-Management – managing feelings and taking care of self in healthy ways;
    • and Positive Relationship Building – getting along with others and finding supportive people. 

    Friends of the Children believes that these research-based qualities or “assets” will give the children a solid foundation to be successful as they enter adulthood. 

    A Courageous and Proven Model

    How do you break the cycle of poverty? It takes a courageous and proven model. The evidence shows that this model works.  Friends of the Children makes a daring commitment, a promise to stay with each of these children for “12 years, no matter what.” Friends support and empower the children by providing consistency, helping them learn coping skills, exposing them to new experiences, connecting with other children and with community resources, and supporting or advocating for the child’s learning in school. 

    The relationship building, support, and empowerment help to keep 93% of the youth free of the juvenile justice system and encourage 98% of the youth to wait to parent until after their teen years. The research from the Harvard Business School Association of Oregon showed that for every $1 invested in Friends of the Children, the community benefits in over $7 of saved social costs. Helping one child saves an estimated $900,000.

    Worth the Commitment

    As I explored this organization to learn about the background and the people who were involved, I was impressed that, although the San Francisco location was founded only seven years ago in 2017, it has a solid management team, and a 2022 budget of over $2 million. It currently serves 110 children with 23 staff members and plans to grow in the coming years. It is a young, growing, and stable organization. In my interviews, the Executive Director and Board Chair quickly realized that I would bring valuable experience from my 45 years of the practice of OD (organization development). In addition, my local and national board experience would provide a useful perspective for both organizational and policy questions. 

    I have found a place where I make a contribution using my skills and experience with an organization aligned with my values that addresses systemic issues of poverty, racism, and equity. Most important, there are concrete and proven results that this courageous and audacious model works. Friends of the Children has inspired me and made it worth the commitment of my retirement time.

    Bev Scott has served as a consultant to organizations, managers, and individuals bringing clarity, focus, integrity, and a sense of purpose to her work. She has also been a nonprofit executive, college professor, and social activist. She is committed to service to her community and has served as Board member, Board Chair, and head of several committees and projects. A speaker on family history and genealogy, she is the author of “Sara’s Secret, A Western Tale of Betrayal and Forgiveness.”

    Published on May 5, 2022