Nancy Pollard of Friends Austin tells Sarah Ivens how they are improving our city’s future with community love and magical friendship… one child at a time!
“Friends of the Children started in 1993 in Portland, Oregon, with the mission to end the cycle of generational poverty. The Austin chapter launched in September 2017, and is the first and only professional mentorship organization in the city.
In partnership with three of Austin ISD's highest-poverty public schools and CASA of Travis County, we identify pre-K and kindergarten-aged children facing the greatest barriers to success and pair them with a professional, salaried, full-time, bilingual mentor called a "Friend.” We commit to these children through high school graduation — for 12+ years, no matter what. Because our mentors are full-time employees and not tied to specific schools, they can follow their youth wherever they go and continue providing high-quality, consistent, wrap-around service. As a result, we serve 112 children in 41 schools across 10 districts.
Friends spend at least four hours of one-on-one time a week with each of their eight youth. Half of this time is spent in the classroom, focusing on academics and social and emotional development. The other half of the Friends’ time is spent in the community, exposing them to new places, sights, and experiences to create that vital spark for engagement and learning.
Nationally, our model has shown successful results: 83% of our youth earn a high school diploma/GED; 98% avoid teen pregnancy; 93% avoid the juvenile justice system; and 92% go on to pursue post-secondary education, serve in the military, or enter the workforce. By empowering these children, our whole community is made stronger. An ROI study found the generational change sparked by our model saves Austin $732,000 per child over the course of a lifetime due to increased earning potential and reduced social service costs — a return four times the investment.
The pandemic emphasized the role Friends play in the lives of their youth. During initial shutdowns, we provided 100+ Chromebooks and dozens of WiFi hot spots to our youth to ensure Friends could continue serving the children remotely. We also safely reopened our Clubhouse in September to provide a stable, clean environment where our youth may pursue remote academic studies, engage in healthy, in-person social interactions, and access consistent, nutritious meals. Friends also work with their children’s caregivers to empower them as self-advocates, modeling how to locate and navigate relief aid from government agencies, schools, and other organizations.”
Support from the Austin community continues to be crucial to the enduring success of the program. If you are interested in learning more and supporting Friends Austin, visit friendsaustin.org.