By Alexandra Fradelizio | m/Oppenheim Media Writer
The age-old proverb “it takes a village to raise a child” illustrates the influence of individual community members uniting in order to create a thriving environment in which children can grow. 25 years ago, Duncan Campbell, who spent his childhood with absent and drug-dependent parents, founded the Friends of the Children in Portland, an organization based on this adage, that provides services which would have benefited him in his childhood. Today, Friends of the Children has 14 chapters across the country and seeks to become established in 25 cities by 2025. The organization’s newest chapter, Friends LA, resides upon the “whole village” philosophy to effectively end “cycles of generational poverty by providing the most vulnerable children with a professional salary mentor for 12 plus years” said Executive Director Thomas Lee.
Friends LA centralizes its work in metro South Los Angeles as the Southern California county holds the largest concentration of foster care children within the United States. Adult mentors, called “Friends,” meet with the children 16 hours a month, or about 4 hours a week. With the help of the Friends, the children involved within the program have a trusted adult whom they can rely upon for emotional support, especially as they face the struggles of growing up within the foster care system.
“We really feel that our mentoring model could be a solution to a decades-old problem,” explained Lee.
In addition to providing children with a quality mentor, the organization works with families and schools to identify and treat trauma among youth. For young parents who grew up in the foster care system themselves, Friends LA offers educational and employment opportunities, helping them “to become even better, stronger advocates for the child as well as advocates for their own future,” stated Lee. The services and support tailored to children and adults alike are aimed at further preventing the cyclical nature of the foster care system.
Part of the challenge in helping those impacted by poverty resides in the access to the children themselves. Foster care children often move to new houses, and due to the vast geography of Los Angeles, this constant transit “can potentially disrupt the continuity of support,” said Lee. In order to provide the most care possible, Friends LA often partners with different organizations to identify at-risk children and their families. With the organization seeking to expand its presence within the city by 2020, Lee and his staff plan to expand their work into the northern region of Los Angeles, specifically Antelope Valley, an area that holds that most foster care youth within the county.
“With the size and need of LA county, we could potentially become the largest chapter of the Friends of the Children network,” he explained.
Lee, who previously served as the Initiative Director for the Alliance for Children’s Rights, holds an extensive history in helping foster care youth find housing, education, and employment opportunities. When the Friends of the Children contacted him to begin the Los Angeles chapter, Lee was apprehensive due to the difficulties in starting and managing a mentoring program. However, now with the establishment of the chapter, Lee and his team are helping dozens of children while setting their sights on increasing their presence. The organization is planning to establish strong relationships with mental health organizations while also bolstering its board. As the chapter continues to grow, Friends LA is continuing to seek professionals who believe in the organization’s mission and who are willing to guide children in need.
“Everyone can relate to having a supportive adult in their life,” stated Lee.
“This is one of the really true moments where we can really see how the village effect can make a difference here in Los Angeles.”