May 20, 2021 (PORTLAND, ORE.) – Friends of the Children, a national youth-serving organization that hires and trains paid, professional mentors called Friends, has received a $100,000 grant from The Upswing Fund for Adolescent Mental Health, a collaborative fund powered by Panorama. The grant will support Friends of the Children’s evidence-based approach to trauma-informed mental health prevention and intervention support to youth enrolled in the program, and their families, who are among some of the hardest hit by the pandemic.
“At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Friends of the Children conducted a network-wide needs assessment and learned that our youth were experiencing increased feelings of isolation and anxiety and are unable to access mental health services and other critical stabilizing resources,” said Terri Sorensen, CEO of Friends of the Children - National. “This grant will help us maintain our ‘no matter what’ commitment to every program youth, and especially as we see an increased need for mental health supports for youth.”
Founded in Portland in 1993, Friends of the Children is a national nonprofit network, serving 22 locations in the U.S. and U.K. The Portland chapter is the largest, serving 450 youth annually. Friends of the Children proactively selects youth from public schools and the foster care system who are navigating the intersecting challenges of poverty and childhood trauma. Each youth is paired with a paid, professional mentor, called a Friend, from as early as age 4 through high school graduation—12+ years, no matter what. Each Friend works with eight to 10 youth, spending three to four hours every week with or on behalf of each child.
“We are happy to announce that financial support from The Upswing Fund will enable organizations to continue mission-critical work with adolescents who are of color and/or LGBTQ+ in these challenging times,” said Solomé Tibebu, director of The Upswing Fund. “These organizations are on the front lines combatting a mental health epidemic during a global pandemic by delivering impactful programs and innovations in an ever-changing world.”
The pandemic has disproportionately impacted Friends of the Children program youth and their families—88% of whom are people of color—in terms of remote learning challenges, social isolation, and economic fallout. Even before the pandemic, youth and families in communities served by Friends of the Children faced barriers to accessing culturally responsive trauma mitigation and behavioral health supports. Through youth-centered and responsive programming and a strong support network, Friends of the Children offers an innovative and preventative approach to mental health services.
“As schools and other organizations where youth may have felt safe to receive behavioral health services are less accessible, access to care has declined at the same time the need is rapidly increasing,” said Traci Rossi, Executive Director of Friends of the Children - Portland. “Coupled with the shortage of professionals to meet increased mental health needs, especially professionals who are culturally and linguistically responsive, the pandemic has only worsened gaps in access to care for the youth we serve.”
Even before the pandemic, Friends often stepped into the role of paraprofessional mental health service provider to help fill these gaps. The long-term, trusting relationships Friends build with youth increase protective factors and help buffer the impacts of trauma and toxic stress. Friends provide youth with a safe and affirming relationship and, for LGBTQIA+ youth, often help them to navigate complex relationships with their families.
Through the combined impacts of early childhood intervention, long-term commitment, and intensive, personalized one-on-one mentoring, Friends of the Children has been shown to increase the health and well-being of youth who live with the intersecting pressures of poverty, complex trauma and race.
Friends empower youth to develop social-emotional skills to combat loneliness, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts: 80% of youth in the program use preventive physical and mental health resources; 84% have no thoughts or actions relating to self-harm; and more than 91% report accomplishing things they are proud of. Third-party evaluation over 27 years shows that: 92% of youth who graduate from the program go on to enroll in post-secondary education, serve our country, or find employment; 83% earn a high school diploma or GED; 93% remain free from juvenile justice system involvement; and 98% wait until after their teen years to parent.
“Intentional social connections are critical to a young person’s well‐being and ability to cope in the face of adversity. We are proud of the youth and families in our program—all of whom are inherently resilient—and grateful for the opportunity Friends have to tap into that resiliency so that youth can reach their personal goals,” said Rossi.
Support from the Upswing Fund will contribute to organizational capacity to ensure ongoing, trauma-informed, and culturally responsive professional mentoring services to the more than 650 adolescent youth served in Portland and in chapters across the country.
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