Through its Mentoring Services program, Friends for Youth matches youth one-to-one with community volunteers. Volunteers cite wanting to make a difference, giving back to their community, and providing support that they themselves did not receive as youth as reasons for participating. All help to fulfill Friends for Youth’s mission of creating and cultivating friendships with youth, providing opportunities for enrichment and growth, and focusing on ways to help them achieve their potential.
Friends for Youth serves predominately low-income, ethnically diverse youth between the ages of 8 and 17, in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties. Currently, 229 volunteers serve as mentors. For one year, Senior Friends (mentors) meet with their Junior Friends (mentees) for a minimum of three hours a week. Together, Friendships work on homework, play in the park, take day trips, or just spend time talking. Throughout the year, program staff provide ongoing, individualized support to the volunteers to maximize the success of each Friendship.
Friends for Youth’s clients face violence, school failure, child abuse, drug abuse, early parenting, and suicide. ‘Natural’ mentors (such as extended families, neighbors, or coaches) who were so readily available in the past, are no longer as accessible. Additionally, San Mateo County has the highest percentage in the state of children who live in families with two working parents. Consequently, parents have less time to spend with their children. With less adult involvement, few natural mentors, and more free time, children will choose their own mentors who are oftentimes not the positive influences they need.
Friends for Youth uniquely benefits its volunteers by offering a highly structured program with ongoing support, including workshops and group activities. Since 1979, Friends has matched more than 1,500 youth with volunteer mentors. 85% of Friendships complete their first year, and many more continue their relationships beyond the one-year commitment. Because of their relationship with their mentor, Junior Friends demonstrate an increase in self-esteem, set high goals for themselves, and strive toward being positive, contributing members of their communities.
In compliance with the mentoring field’s 10 Quality Assurance Standards and Best Practices, Friends for Youth has created a model for volunteering for other agencies to adopt and tailor. The Friends for Youth Mentoring Institute was founded in 1998 as a response to an overwhelming number of requests for support. During the past year, through trainings and technical assistance, the Mentoring Institute facilitated the creation of even more volunteer opportunities locally and nationally by serving 350 new agencies through more than 80 trainings or workshops.
Friends for Youth relies on a diverse source of funding including: foundations, corporations, individuals, government entities, special events, and an endowment fund. Over 50 schools and agencies refer children to its program. Friends for Youth partners with schools for its Youth Achievers after-school program and with local agencies to provide life skills workshops. Stanford and Santa Clara Universities provide mentors and student research support. Corporations provide activities and volunteers for children on the waiting list, provide on-site technology activities for youth, and provide a source of mentors.