DETROIT – A new program in Detroit aims to end generational poverty by pairing children who have had adverse experiences with a paid, professional mentor for 12 years.
It’s a unique idea that has proven successful in other cities -- and now, Friends of the Children is starting a Detroit chapter.
Friends of the Children’s goal is to give children a consistent and caring adult in their life. The nonprofit pairs children who face several systemic obstacles with a professional mentor, called a Friend.
“Just being able to be a part of an organization that sees the value in the long-term relationship and that really attracted me to Friends of the Children,” said Lara Ahrens.
Mentors work with children from from age 4 until they graduate high school.
“It doesn’t necessarily erase things that kids go through, but just having one support person in their life can kind of change their outlook,” Ahrens said.
“They take the idea of mentorship out of the volunteer realm and raise it to someone who has a bachelor’s degree,” said Kevin Finch. “Someone who’s dedicated to have time and space and resources for a particular child.”
Nicole McKinney, the executive director for Friends of the Children Detroit, said each mentor is individualized for each child with specific goals for that child.
The nonprofit also gives support to those taking care of the children.
“That can look like anything from connecting them with resources or helping them with parenting skills, getting them involved and then another big facet is just connecting the parent and trying to keep them involved with the child’s education,” Ahrens said. “It’s another thing that we really value. We’re obviously involved in their education, but also trying to strengthen the bond that the parent and the child share when it comes to education and just their relationship.”
The mentors aren’t limited to just school education when it comes to helping the children.
“I’m teaching one of my kids what integrity means,” Finch said. “He’s 4-years old. You can articulate what integrity means and what constitutes as an apology. Stuff like that that are life skills that are going to help them throughout their journey.”
A study from Friends of the Children found that for every dollar invested in the nonprofit, the community benefits by saving money in social costs later.
“Research shows that you can make the greatest impact when you start with them younger, so that’s another distinction in our model,” McKinney said. “Because if you can prevent a child from going into the juvenile justice system, or from becoming a parent before they’re able to afford a child, those costs are usually shifted to the community. It’s cost saving for the community by being more preventative than having to serve them after they’ve gotten into some type of trouble.”
According to the nonprofit, 93% of young people in the program have stayed out of the juvenile justice system and 83% graduate high school.