Friends of the Children is a nationwide nonprofit that has been around for 30 years. Recently, in the summer of 2020, it expanded to Lane County. The people of this organization set out to help children break the cycle of generational poverty by pairing a child who experienced hardships with a professional mentor for 12 years.
In 1993, Duncan Campbell established Friends of the Children in Portland. Campbell is a University of Oregon alum and an Oregon philanthropist who created a model to support children who are statistically expected to end up in poverty. This model is now being exercised in 26 major cities across the U.S., including five in Oregon: Portland, Central Oregon, Gresham, the Klamath Basin and now Lane County.
Matt Springer, the executive director of the Lane County chapter, says, “Can we get involved in your life early? Can we provide you positive support? Can we help you chase your dreams and help you navigate systems that really weren’t built for you?”
According to the nonprofit’s website, of the youth who go through this program, 92 percent go on to enroll in post-secondary education, serve in the military or enter the workforce; 83 percent earn a high school diploma or their GED; 93 percent remain free from juvenile justice system involvement; and 98 percent wait to have children until at least their late teens.
Since the Lane County branch opened in the summer of 2020, it’s served 48 kids/families. It has also expanded to eight or nine cohorts. One cohort includes 16 families in one city or town. Due to the group’s growing success, they are expanding their Lane County outreach to include Cottage Grove, according to Springer. They also have put a number of siblings into their program as well to help families with a more extensive number.
The branch started during the height of COVID-19, which increased certain concerns for children such as rising mental health issues, a lack of support for lower income residencies, difficulty for guardians to stay home and teach their children while maintaining a stable household, rising rental market costs and many other factors.
“Those are the problems that we are trying to and here to help with,” Springer says.
The organization published a children’s book called Fleetfoot’s Rise to promote the rich history of Lane County and the importance of fostering children so they can live up to their highest imaginable potential. The story showcases the story of a little girl, Finnley, in Eugene who goes through the Friends of Children program. The book was released in July and can be found in local bookstores and online though Bookbaby.com. Sales will go towards benefiting Friends of the Children.
Along with proceeds from the book, the organization receives money through donations and state or federal funding. This funding goes towards helping kids get into third party programs such as after school activities and enrichment programs especially over the summer.
“We got a really big grant that was stimulus funded through the Oregon Association of Educational Support District. The money was intended to help provide programs, structure and support for really COVID-impacted populations,” Springer says.
Springer says he hopes to launch another cohort soon and to target areas that are underserved.