Friends of the Children is a non-profit organization that provides children from high-risk communities with a professional mentor that guides them from kindergarten right through to graduation from high school.
The non-profit, established in Portland, Oregon in 1993 is now based in 11 locations across the United States including Boston, with the chapter there opening in 2004. Friends of the Children-Boston currently works with 124 children, known as Achievers, in two schools; Higginson Elementary (kindergarten-second grade) in Roxbury and Trotter Elementary (kindergarten-12th grade) in Dorchester.
“Every year, we onboard anywhere from eight to twenty kids depending on funding and staffing,” tells Director of Development Stacy DellOrfano. “We just onboarded eighteen Achievers. They have been coming here slowly over the summer. In September, they will be getting the non-stop service which for us is a minimum of sixteen hours a month of direct service with the kids.”
Friends of the Children-Boston, with their office in Jamaica Plain, has 19 employees, 14 of which are professional mentors. The mentors are known as ‘Friends’, which helps explains the reasoning behind the name of the non-profit. The Friends go into the two schools to assist teachers with the children. Every mentor is required to meet twice a month with the teacher, regardless of the age of the children in that particular class.
“They’ll go there and check in on the kids. See how they’re doing. Help with the teacher. They’re helping with impulse control and behaviour. How to interact in groups.
“Little things like a field trip. A lot of times our kids can’t go on a field trip because they’ll misbehave. Now that we have our staff there, they’re able to do the field trips. The teacher has an extra person.”
The Friends engagement with the Achievers does not end at the ring of the school bell. The Friends take part in outdoor activities with the Achievers to build on their social skills.
“What’s great about being in Jamaica Plain?” asks Stacy. “There’s plenty of parks around here. We have basketball courts. There’s water, sprinklers in some of the parks. In the winter, there’s a lot of ice skating they learn how to do.”
For the kids that are struggling to improve in the program, Friends of the Children-Boston has an Achiever Support Team that meets once a month to help solve children’s problems.
“For a lot of our kids, the social and emotional piece is where they need the most assistance because they’ve been impacted by so much trauma. There is so much around them that distracts them.
“That’s why we have a lot of staff here who have either a bachelor’s or a master’s in social work. They [Achievers] do clinical supervision with the staff so that they can look at things through that lens. They will present what’s going on with that child to say here’s the situation, this is what I have done, this has worked, this hasn’t worked. How can you all help me problem solve around this.”
Last year, Friends of the Children partnered with Santander Bank to lay the foundation for financial literacy programming at the non-profit. As part of the partnership, the Achiever Entrepreneurship Program was set-up to help over 60 of the elementary and adolescent Achievers learn about entrepreneurship.
The adolescent Achievers took part in a 14-week entrepreneurship boot camp to create a business idea and compete with other youngsters in the program in a business plan competition. The results were astounding as Achievers earned money that ended up being deposited into a savings account in their own name.
In the non-profit’s 2017 milestone report, special event income made up 22% of the organizations operating revenue. Their primary event is an annual gala called the ‘Friendraiser.’ The event is held every May with the 2019 gala set to take place at the Mandarin Oriental in Back Bay.
“It’s a ticketed event although we don’t really sell a lot of tickets,” informs Stacy. “We sell a lot of tables. Our sponsors will bring guests to the table. We have an auction and dinner.”
Friends of the Children-Boston has just completed its three-year strategic plan, which they plan to launch in the fall. The plan involves a lot of negotiating with Boston Public Schools to expand their program beyond just Higginson and Trotter.
“Our goal is to be in three to four schools, so we’ll be looking to add another one to two schools. We have been meeting with BPS, our next meeting in October, to really make sure that when we add those two more schools, they’re the ones that BPS agrees yes.
“Homelessness right now in Boston is huge. BPS is taking it on as a big initiative for them. We want to make sure we’re targeting those kids that need us most as well.”