January 08, 2020

Friends of the Children Chapter Coming to Detroit, Executive Director Announced

Nicole McKinney selected as executive director.

DETROIT – Friends of the Children, a national nonprofit that pairs children facing the greatest obstacles with a salaried, professional mentor called a Friend for 12+ years, announced today that they are launching a Friends of the Children–Detroit chapter and have named area resident, Nicole McKinney as the executive director.

“Every child in Detroit deserves the opportunity to dream big and reach their goals, but many youth face a lot of adversity that can seem impossible to overcome,” said McKinney, who brings to the chapter nearly 20 years of experience from the United Way network, including 15 years at United Way of Southeastern Michigan. “With the support of a Friend, I believe Detroit youth can build resilience, allowing them more choices and more opportunities. I’m incredibly honored at this opportunity and look forward to working with partners to serve the amazing children of Detroit.”

Friends–Detroit will operate in Wayne County, with a focus on Detroit. The chapter will work with partners to select children as early as age 4 who are living in high-poverty neighborhoods (which includes 78 percent of Detroit youth) and have experienced—or are at risk of experiencing–foster care and other adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).

Each child will be paired with a Friend whose full-time job will be to spend four hours a week with each child at school and in the community. Friends will work with youth for 12+ years, building trusting relationships through a trauma-informed lens that is culturally-responsive and provides critical social-emotional and academic support.

“I am so pleased that Nicole will be leading our Detroit chapter, because I know she is committed to Friends of the Children’s mission and has the experience needed to make the chapter successful,” said Terri Sorensen, chief executive officer of Friends of the Children. “We are also incredibly grateful to the many local champions and funders who made it possible for us to serve children in Detroit.”

The chapter is implementing a Two-Generation (2Gen) approach where they will be working with the parents of youth in the program to build critical skills that empower parents to advocate for their child in school and strengthen bonds, with the goal of building overall health and well-being for their entire family.

Community leaders in Detroit sought out Friends of the Children’s model to address the need for trauma-informed models that support youth living in high-poverty neighborhoods. According to a Kids Count report published by the Michigan League for Public Policy in 2019, one in five children in Michigan has experienced two or more ACEs. The same report showed that the number of confirmed victims of child abuse and neglect in Detroit rose by 84 percent since 2010, while the number of youth experiencing foster care in Detroit increased by nearly 55 percent.

A third-party evaluation of Friends of the Children program graduates showed that:

  • 83% of youth obtain a high school diploma or GED
  • 93% remain free from juvenile justice system involvement
  • 98% wait to parent until after their teen years
  • 92% of graduates go on to enroll in post-secondary education, serve our country or enter the workforce

Due in large part to a front-page story in the Detroit Free Press, local champions worked with Friends of the Children to raise $1.5 million to bring a chapter to the city. The private funds came through support from AT&T, Michigan Health Endowment Fund, McGregor Fund, Stand Together Foundation, the Jamie and Denise Jacob Family Foundation and dozens of individual donors, including basketball legend Michael Jordan.

“When I learned about the model, I knew that this could make a tremendous difference in the lives of children in our city,” said Heidi Alcock, director of grant development and communications at McGregor Fund. “I’m thrilled the community made it happen.”

The chapter has received letters of support from the Detroit Mayor’s Office of Children and Youth Services, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Detroit Public Schools Community District and Franklin-Wright Settlements, Inc.

The Friends of the Children model is currently in its twelfth year of a randomized controlled trial. Early results are showing that improved behavior of youth in the program helped parents have a more positive perception of their child, which is considered a protective factor against child maltreatment. Another study of the model funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation showed that both youth and their parents benefited from the presence of a Friend in their child’s life.

Prior to joining Friends–Detroit, McKinney worked for 19 years in the United Way network, most recently serving as the work-based learning director for United Way for Southeastern Michigan. McKinney serves on the Birmingham Public Schools Board and was appointed to the State of Michigan Teacher Tenure Commission in August 2019 by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. McKinney holds a bachelor’s degree in management and organizational development and a master’s degree in business administration.

Friends–Detroit is in the process of building a local Board of Directors and hiring staff. Interested candidates can visit for a list of open positions.