Friends of the Children–Utah


Friends of the Children is launching a new chapter that will pair children facing the greatest obstacles living in Utah with a paid, professional mentor (called a Friend) for 12+ years, no matter what. Friends–Utah will initially begin selecting children in the greater Salt Lake Valley.  Each child selected is paired with a Friend whose full-time job is to spend four hours a week with each child at school, at home and in the community. Friends will support youth—and by extension their families—for 12+ years, building trusting relationships through a trauma-informed lens that provides critical social, emotional and academic support.

Utah is one of the only – if not the only – states in the nation to have passed a law committing to end intergenerational poverty. Among families experiencing intergenerational poverty, the rate of contact with the child welfare system is particularly high. In 2018, 21 percent of children experiencing intergenerational poverty were victims of a substantiated case of abuse or neglect, a significantly higher rate than the statewide average of 1.2 percent. The number of children at risk of, and experiencing, foster care is also increasing in Utah. On any given day in the Salt Lake Valley, an estimated 140 children ages 4-6 are in foster care. Parental substance abuse is now the leading reason for a child's placement in foster care. Finally, trauma and mental health issues for parents and children are a major cause for concern, with teen suicide rates in Utah among the highest in the nation. 


Each child enrolled in the Friends–Utah program will be paired with a paid, professional mentor called a Friend. For 12+ years, from ages 4 to 6 to high school graduation, Friends work with their youth in schools, at home, and in the community for 3-4 hours each week to build skills like problem-solving, perseverance, and self-management. These skills empower youth to pursue and achieve their goals in school and in life. Simultaneously, leveraging our two-generation approach, Friends will empower parents and caregivers to build their own skills as parents, advocate for themselves and their children, and increase connectedness to community resources that improve family stability.


Prior to being selected as Friends—Utah’s executive director, Pershing worked as the vice president of University Relations for the National College Advising Corps, and was the assistant vice president for Engagement, and dean of Continuing Education at the University of Utah. In these roles, Sandi and her teams worked with community partners across the state of Utah and the U.S. to build and support programs, partnerships, and pipelines to and through higher education for first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented students.

Please note: A full website will launch in summer 2020. Please check back here for updates until then.