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Natural Awakenings Charlotte

At-Risk Youth Get Big Break

by Martin Miron

Friends of the Children, a national organization based in Portland, Oregon, with a successful model of providing the most vulnerable children with long-term, salaried, professional mentors from kindergarten through high school graduation, is awarding $600,000 to Charlotte-based Thompson Child & Family Focus to launch a Friends of the Children affiliate here, enabled by a federal matching grant from the Social Innovation Fund.

With children at greater risk for dropping out of school, substance abuse, incarceration and teen parenting, research has shown the most important factor for breaking intergenerational cycles of poverty and building resiliency in children is a long-term, consistent relationship with a caring adult.

Friends of the Children’s evidence-based model works: 93 percent of youth avoid involvement in the juvenile justice system, 83 percent graduate from high school and 98 percent avoid early parenting. Moving mentoring out of the volunteer-dependent format ensures the quality, consistency and commitment needed to break the cycle of poverty for the most vulnerable youth.

With more than 130 years of service to the community, Thompson has worked to fulfill its mission to strengthen children, families and communities through healing, teaching, worship and play. Today, the agency is the most comprehensive provider of clinical and prevention services for children and families across Mecklenburg County.

The Friends of the Children Charlotte model will begin by identifying 5-and-6-year-old children facing the highest risks. They will be chosen for the program by a Friends of the Children risk and needs assessment tool, in class observations and the recommendation of the targeted school teachers and administrators.

Because a 2013 Harvard University report on inherited generational poverty ranked Charlotte dead last in the nation, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force made suggestions for improvement, and this program by Thompson is the first long-term solution to be proposed.

The program will begin serving 16 youth in the first year. By year five, the goal is to serve 192 youths, committing to each of them for 12.5 years, no matter what occurs along the way. Thompson is based in Matthews, North Carolina, and the children involved in the program initially, will be from one school, and ultimately, will be selected from all around Charlotte.

Will Jones, president and CEO of Thompson, believes Friends are more than mentors; they are life navigators, saying, “This program has more than two decades of data showing that it addresses both systemic and individual challenges. For children and families facing otherwise insurmountable odds, this program promises to change their life trajectories.”


Donations and community support are needed to make this program possible. For more information, visit and

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