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January 15, 2021

National Mentoring Month: Youth mentoring is critical to keeping students – particularly those facing systemic inequities – engaged and supported through COVID-19

As schools report millions of students 'missing' from class, professional mentors stay connected

January 15, 2021 (PORTLAND, ORE.) – When Paula Lozano met with the teacher of a third-grade student Lozano had been mentoring since kindergarten through the Boston chapter of Friends of the Children, the teacher shared that she was concerned because the student is typically very engaged but had been logging on late.

“Her teacher shared her compassion, saying she didn’t want to penalize the student because she could tell the student was trying her best,” said Lozano. “When I talked with the student, she shared how hard it is for her to wake up on her own because her phone, which served as her alarm clock, was broken. Her face lit up when I suggested she could pick out her favorite alarm clock from Amazon. She picked the pink unicorn one of course.”

The student expressed to Lozano that every morning she wanted to wake up on time, brush her teeth, shower, eat breakfast, and plug into class on time so she can feel prepared every day before school. Lozano was able to support her mentee in coming up with her own solutions and goals.

Lozano, who is a paid, professional mentor called a “Friend,” is one of hundreds of professional mentors throughout the U.S. and U.K. supporting thousands of students in more than 550 schools during the pandemic. Friends have trusted, established relationships with the students they mentor—and their families—due to the unique long-term model: Youth in Friends of the Children have a Friend from as early as age 4 through high school graduation—12+ years, no matter what.

“The pandemic has put parents and caregivers in an impossible situation,” said Terri Sorensen, National CEO of Friends of the Children. “One of the biggest disparities we have seen is with students who have a caregiver at home helping them log on and stay on track during online classes, and those who don’t have that luxury. For families we serve who were already living in inequitable conditions, the pandemic has taken a particularly hard toll. We have supported both youth and their caregivers through this difficult time as part of our Two-Generation approach.”

When the pandemic hit the U.S., Friends of the Children leaned in to adapt its model in response to the pandemic, moving almost all mentoring online. The organization also saw a 300% increase in demand for support for youth and families at the organization’s 22 locations. A large focus has been partnering with schools to advocate for the youth the organization serves.

“While this may be a lost school year, we aren’t letting it be a lost learning year,” said Carmi Brown, chief program officer at Friends of the Children. “Friends actively reach out to teachers and schools to understand how-and where-their youth are learning, making sure families and teachers know Friends are providing support for each student—inside and outside of learning time. Friends are also creatively and consistently staying connected to their youth through technology, which has been critical for so many reasons.”

Early on in the pandemic, Friends of the Children was awarded a $250,000 contribution to respond to the impacts of COVID-19 through technology and expansion of Friends of the Children services. The contribution is being used to launch a technology initiative and mobile app that will provide resources to reach all family members in Friends of the Children—throughout the pandemic and after.

“Friends of the Children sees the pandemic as an opportunity to reimagine how schools equitably support students who face the most significant barriers,” said Sorensen. “While we would never wish a pandemic on anyone, what it has shown us is that the presence of a consistent, caring adult in a child’s life can make a life-changing difference—and this practice should be embedded into our education and child welfare systems.”

During National Mentoring Month, Friends of the Children and thousands of youth-serving organizations across the country will be calling attention to the important role mentors like Lozano have played throughout the pandemic. Friends of the Children Board Member Bryan Parker and National Program Director Erica Reid will be featured speakers at the Virtual National Mentoring Summit, taking place on January 27-29, 2021.

For National Mentoring Month, which takes place each January, billboards featuring Friends of the Children will be displayed in more than 30 cities across the country. The more than 200 billboards were donated through a partnership with outdoor advertising company Billups, in partnership with at least 18 media companies who have donated space.

Photos of the billboards can be accessed here.

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Media Inquiries Contact: Ariane Le Chevallier 971.201.1214

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