We leverage the power of mentoring relationships in East County to support positive self-identity and youth leadership, so young people have a platform to build the futures they want for themselves and their communities.
A world where all youth have the power and multi-generational support to realize their potential, discover their passions, and create pathways for a meaningful life, as they define it.
Relationships: We believe in the power of relationships to change lives and systems. We stand in our long-time commitment of putting people first, both through built-in flexible programming to fit the individual needs of our participants, but also in how we allocate resources, so that staff have time to build authentic relationships with mentors and youth.
Youth-Voice: We are deepening our commitment to ensure that our kids have consistent, age-appropriate and evolving opportunities to decide what’s important to them, and to contribute to the design of programs that serve them. When working with young children, desires and leadership from their parents and guardians is crucial to building strong relationships with youth.
Racial Equity: We believe that cultivating strong racial and cultural identity is particularly important for building a more just and equal world with our youth, 70% of whom identify as multi-racial and/or kids of color. This can show up in many ways in our program, from having strong racial diversity represented at all levels of leadership and staff, to highlighting the contributions and leadership in our communities of color for our kids, to training our mentors on how to cultivate positive racial/cultural identity with their youth.
Our Commitment to Anti-racism:
At Family of Friends we believe that our kids deserve the best of us as adults. They deserve a community that values all parts of their identity, that works to change discriminatory systems, and that invites them to contribute to those changes. Systemic racism is real, its effects are pervasive and complex, and the time to eliminate it is long overdue. We have not done enough to prioritize this value in our organization, and we are changing that now.
Our board and staff unanimously commit to becoming an antiracist organization, to examine our internal systems through a racial and cultural lens, and to change our systems to ensure that the lived experience and contributions of our kids of color are prioritized and valued as equally as white dominant experiences and contributions. We will hold ourselves accountable to families, youth and leaders who are black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC), as we work to dismantle these systems within our organization. We acknowledge that authentic antiracist work takes time, relationship-building, money and a willingness to be uncomfortable.
We have taken some steps: This past year we changed hiring and recruitment practices, to increase representation in our staff, board and volunteers. We have intentionally sought minority-owned vendors, and we’ve built stronger relationships with partners who value racial justice and are BIPOC led.
Our next steps: Our board and staff commit to educating ourselves more deeply on the intersection of race and youth-development, and to make an action plan this year to change policies and practices at Family of Friends, so that we 1) Affirm our participants’ racial/cultural identities in all their complexity, and 2) Provide responsive, informed opportunities for our kids to grow and lead within this context.
We’re at the beginning of this journey, with a sincere desire to be part of the solution. We’re excited for these changes and what they mean for our kids. We encourage all of you to engage with us and continue to hold us accountable to create a more equitable world for our youth. Thank you!
How does Family of Friends work?
Research overwhelmingly demonstrates that kids who have more positive adults in their lives are more successful in work, play, life and love. Unfortunately, due to historical inequities and outdated mindsets, kids and families from low-income backgrounds and kids of color often have less access to services that respond to their unique needs.
Family of Friends focuses on creating a community of adult support around kids to help them thrive. Through individual and family-style mentoring, volunteers partner with parent/guardians to spend time once a week with a young person, doing fun activities of their choice, and building the foundations for leadership. Through these weekly activities, mentors help open up pathways for kids to see themselves as powerful, and practice making healthy choices. Even more, kids build a trusted relationship with another adult outside school and home, who is on their team.
But kids aren’t the only ones who benefit. Parents get an advocate for their child in the community, and volunteers get to share their time and experience and help a young person grow. Everyone gains a deeper understanding of the world around them.
After a minimum of one year, matches may continue with the same child or mentor, or be re-matched with someone new. Children may continue with their mentors until they graduate from high school. Most matches stay formally involved in the program for an average of 2-3 years. More than half of these graduate to “Alumni” status. This is when a match reaches a natural state of connection, and want to stay affiliated but no longer need formal support from the program.
Professional staff provide high-quality training, screening and coaching every step of the way, so that each match is as successful as possible.
Serving roughly 85 mentor-mentee matches per year, Family of Friends is funded primarily through private and public foundation grants and individual donations.
Who are our kids?
We believe that every child, no matter their background, can benefit from additional adult support. However, we prioritize children from low-income backgrounds whose environments can make it harder to get additional attention and support.
Children are typically referred through our local school and county partnerships. We currently enroll elementary school children (grades k-5) attending Gresham area schools or who live at Stephen’s Creek Crossing in Southwest Portland.
Who are our mentors?
Mentors are stable, caring individuals, couples and families, age 21-70+ who have time and experience to share. Our mentors come from many racial, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. They all have a heart for kids and for making our community stronger through relationships. Mentors don’t have to do or be anything “special”. They simply show up consistently and be themselves for a kid. Through active listening, encouragement and fun, mentors build trust and provide another, safe, caring adult that a child can rely on. Just by being a friend, mentors model healthy social-emotional skills for kids, which in turn, aides in positive youth development and a love of learning.
Hear Mentor Suzanne share how the program has impacted her:
What makes us different?
We’re family-oriented. We believe in the power of family. That’s why our mentoring relationships are often more than just one-on-one. In our model, entire families as well as couples and individuals are invited to participate in mentoring the child. We encourage families of all types and sizes to join our program and give a child more opportunities to thrive.
We’re responsive and flexible. We focus on matching children in elementary school, to give kids support early on to build positive self-identity and goal setting. We are proud of our robust evaluation system that ensures our services are achieving the intended outcomes for our participants.
We’re professional. Our program offers intensive training and support throughout the life of the match, so that mentors and families get the most out of their experience and have the highest potential for success. Our model is based on best practices in the field of mentoring, and continually examines practices to keep the program relevant to the changing needs of our participants.
Our co-founders, Kris and Mike Forzley, dedicated their careers to helping kids succeed. They co-founded and built numerous successful youth organizations including the nationally acclaimed professional mentoring program Friends of the Children with Duncan Campbell.
In 2003, Kris and Mike started Family of Friends under Trillium Family Services and in 2004, the program made its first match.
After 13 years under Trillium Family Services, in October 2016, Family of Friends spun off to become its own independent nonprofit and moved to Gresham! An innovative partnership with the City of Gresham leverages the strengths of both organizations to prioritize mentoring for low-income families and gang-affected youth in east Mutlnomah County. Family of Friends will continue to serve at select locations in Portland.
Since 2003, Family of Friends has matched over 250 children with mentors, many of whom are still in contact today.
Family of Friends is a high quality program.
In 2014, Institute for Youth Success (IYS) recognized Family of Friends as a high-quality program upon completion of IYS’s Quality-Based Mentoring Initiative. This initiative gives programs the opportunity to examine and improve their policies and procedures with one-on-one coaching from experts in the field. We are very proud of this accomplishment and strive to continually improve our services. We are immensely grateful to the team at IYS for guiding us through this multi-year process. Click HERE to learn more about the Quality-Based Mentoring Initiative.