Volunteer mentor nonprofit serving Gresham families and children awarded prestigious national grant

January 25, 2017

Low-income, at risk children in Gresham will be paired with volunteer families and individuals who will help them thrive through a creative partnership between the City of Gresham and local nonprofit Family of Friends. And, thanks to our partners at the United States Conference of Mayors and Multnomah County, this deserving nonprofit will get a leg up on their work to help children and families. 

"I'm tremendously proud of the innovative partnership we've formed with Family of Friends and grateful for the support from the U.S. Conference of Mayors," said Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis. "Family of Friends hit the ground running and is already training new mentors to help Gresham's at-risk kids. Our collaboration is a win-win for this community." 

Family of Friends was housed for 13 years within Trillium Family Services, and last fall, decided to branch out into their own nonprofit. Through their program, mentors are matched with kids from low-income families that want extra support. They commit to weekly visits for at least one year, and staff provide in-depth screening, training and coaching every step of the way. Kids build positive self-identity and social and emotional skills. Families gain valuable advocates for their child's physical and mental health. And, mentors gain new perspectives while sharing their time and experience.

Like many nonprofits, Family of Friends wrestled with how to focus as much of their budget as possible on the programs directly impacting the families they serve. Meanwhile, the Gresham City Council sought opportunities to bring services to Gresham that would help low-income children and families. When Gresham staff connected with the program, they quickly realized the potential for a creative partnership. 

The City provides Family of Friends with office space, equipment and program support such as IT, communications, grant writing and budget. In return, Family of Friends focuses their services on helping children in need in Gresham. 

The partnership is paying off. The U.S. Conference of Mayors awarded the City and Family of Friends a 2017 Childhood Obesity Prevention Award at the organization's recent meeting. Mentors in the program engage with their mentees with fun and healthy activities such as hiking, biking, skating and rock climbing and encourage healthy food culture through shared meals and cooking together.

"The City has been a delight to work with. We are deeply grateful to expand services for our families and kids in Gresham. This partnership is a game-changer, with Gresham families as the biggest winner," said Family of Friends Executive Director Michelle Kosta. 

Next up? The City and Family of Friends are developing a partnership with Multnomah County to grow the program. 

"I greatly value our partnership with Multnomah County as well as the support from Chair Deborah Kafoury," said Bemis. "As we move forward, we'll explore ways we can collaborate to maximize Family of Friends' impact on at-risk children in our community." 

Currently, Family of Friends is actively recruiting new mentors as the list of families who would like mentors grows. 

"Time and time again, I'm reminded of Gresham's deep-rooted community spirit, which really makes our city special. I encourage residents--families, couples or individuals--to step up and learn about the program to see if mentoring might be a good fit for them," said Bemis. 

Since 2003, Family of Friends has matched more than 250 children with volunteer mentors, many of whom are still in contact today. In fact, 87 percent of their matches remain in contact after the one-year mark, well above national average. According to the National Mentoring Partnership, kids with mentors set higher education goals and are more likely to attend college, participate in sports and activities, and hold leadership positions in clubs, sports and student government. 

Learn more at www.family-of-friends.org.