March 26, 2018

Award-Winning Documentary Series The Visionaries to Feature Friends of the Children

New documentary to air nationwide as nonprofit celebrates 25 years and expands nationally.

PORTLAND, Ore.The Visionaries, an award-winning public television series hosted by acclaimed actor Sam Waterston, formerly of Law & Order, is set to feature the national nonprofit Friends of the Children beginning this March.

Now in 15 locations across the U.S. and in the United Kingdom, Friends of the Children’s innovative social change model has gained national recognition and is quickly expanding across the country. The organization pairs children facing the highest risks with a salaried, professional mentor, called a Friend, from kindergarten through high school graduation—12+ years, no matter what.

“This is the rarest of stories,” Waterston said as he introduces Friends of the Children in the documentary, which was selected from hundreds of applicants. “On the surface, it seems so simple. And then there is a twist–A little change of perspective. Then it hits you. This could change the world.”

Filmed in Portland, Ore., and Seattle, the episode takes viewers through the founding of the organization 25 years ago to the current day and features stories of Portland and Seattle program graduates whose life trajectories changed significantly because of their Friend. Friends of the Children will host a Facebook LIVE online watch party of the episode on Wednesday, April 11, at 6 p.m. PT/9 p.m. ET, followed by a Q&A with Friends President Terri Sorensen.

Friends Founder Duncan Campbell, a successful Oregon timberland investor, entrepreneur and social innovator, launched Friends of the Children 25 years ago with the premise that he wanted to give other youth a happier and safer childhood than he had.

“When I was living here, I was neglected and left alone,” Campbell recalls in the documentary as he drives through his old neighborhood in inner Northeast Portland. “The name ‘Friends of the Children’ goes back to my childhood. I didn’t have family support. I was always over at my friends’ houses, and it was my friends’ parents who nurtured me.”

Counteracting childhood trauma

Friends of the Children’s evidence-based model has been hailed as an innovative early intervention and prevention solution that moves families, and particularly youth in foster care, out of poverty and counteracts the long-term, devastating effects of childhood trauma, also referred to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).

The combination of the long-term commitment, the salaried, professional mentor approach, and 25 years of evidence-based outcomes has set the organization apart from other more traditional mentoring organizations and programs. Evaluations on youth who complete the Friends of the Children program show that:

  • 83% graduate from high school, although 60% had parents who did not graduate high school
  • 93% avoid the juvenile justice system, although 50% had parents who were incarcerated
  • 98% avoid early parenting, although 85% were born to a teen parent

“We know that the longer the commitment, the stronger the relationship and the larger the impact on a child,” said David Shapiro, Friends of the Children board member and CEO of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, who is also featured in the documentary. “Friends has captured the importance of a mentoring model that is specifically designed in direct proportion to the level of risk for the child.”

25 cities by 2025

In the past year, Friends of the Children has gained nationwide recognition with the ambitious goal of expanding to 25 cities by 2025. Currently, in 15 locations across the U.S. and the United Kingdom, Friends launched six new sites in the last 18 months. They are also planning to launch four chapters in the next year in Cincinnati, Detroit, Washington, D.C., and Vancouver, Wash.

Their work in the social innovation space has caught the attention of corporate, nonprofit and foundation leaders across the country, including Ballmer Group, King Philanthropies, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, AT&T, Stand Together, Cambia Health Foundation and Results for America.

“We feel a special kinship with Friends because our company CEO Mark Ganz, like Duncan Campbell, is a visionary. Cambia Health Foundation supports Friends of the Children because we’ve seen firsthand how powerful the work to transform lives has been in Portland and we want more children across the country to have this support to improve the overall health and well-being of communities,” said Peggy Maguire, immediate past national board chair of Friends of the Children and president of the Cambia Health Foundation, which generously supported the documentary.

Viewers interested in watching The Visionaries can check their local public television listing or go to for a list of stations planning to air the series. Distributed through an ACCESS Offer through National Educational Telecommunications Association, The Visionaries is airing on PBS stations across the country beginning March 24, 2018. PBS affiliate WGBY in Springfield, M.A., is the presenting station.