BEND, OR -- A Portland-based mentoring program for at-risk kids is expanding to Central Oregon. Duncan Campbell created Friends of the Children 25 years ago and says his model is unique because mentors – or “Friends” – are paid. "We love all mentors and other volunteers but these children’s needs are so great, that’s why we hire fulltime people. And, you need to make a long-term commitment. When we hire the friends, for example, we say ‘if you can’t stay three to five years, don’t join us, even if you’re gifted, because you’ll just be another adult that breaks this child’s heart'."
Campbell tells KBND News kids start in the program during the second half of their kindergarten year, "Our commitment to these children is unconditional. We stay for the 12.5 years; most of them come from a welfare family, almost none of them read at grade level, they have challenging behaviors in the classroom. And, we stay with them, nurture them and get them to read to level, teach them social and emotional skills, help them with homework and, basically, they become a healthy, productive citizen in our community."
U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) says the program gives children guidance needed to stay on track, "To make sure that you have a way, with mentors and others, to allow kids to be with families, to be at home, to have a plan for getting ahead." Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) says, "The ripple effect here is profound, especially when government can't get its act together on mental health and primary health, and counseling."
Kim Hatfield has been selected as the local Executive Director and Campbell expects the local chapter will have three "friends" hired and ready to start working with the first group of 24 kids by January, "When I started it 25 years ago in Portland, Oregon, I went out in my old neighborhood and we found three friends and picked 24 children, not only from the grade school I went to, but two others in the area. And, we’re doing the same thing in Central Oregon."
Donations from private citizens, corporations and grants provided the $2.4 million dollars needed to bring the program to Bend, Los Angeles, Austin, Texas and Charlotte, North Carolina. Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR) says, "Having these various locations is essential to providing really important basic services to our kids." He adds, "It's that long-term commitment to a child's life that really proves the results out, that makes it such an important program."