YouthFriends is a Greater Kansas City metropolitan area initiative which connects young people, ages five to 18, with caring, adult volunteers in schools. The program began in 1993 and serves 13 school districts. It was born out of a community task force coalition comprising the Kansas City Community Foundation, YMCA, and the Partnership for Children. The goal is to provide responsible, caring adult role models for young people in order to improve educational achievement and community participation.
There are more than 3,500 adults that serve as YouthFriends. The volunteers connect with more than 30,000 young people in one-on-one and small group relationships within 167 schools throughout the area. The volunteers participate in a wide variety of activities: reading, academic tutoring, school-to-work transition, career and college coaching, job skills and resume building, as well as traditional mentoring. There are 70 businesses and corporations that participate in the program, many giving employees paid release time to spend with the students. Institutions of higher education encourage students, faculty, and staff to volunteer. Religious organizations also encourage members of their congregations to get involved.
The program addresses the need for drop-out prevention, student attitude improvement, academic achievement, and crime reduction. Beyond the impact the program has on the students, the organization conducts surveys of the volunteers that have found 91% of the volunteers had a meaningful experience and 95% would recommend others to volunteer for YouthFriends.
More than 6,000 students have been matched with volunteers in one-on-one mentoring. Most matches are for one year or longer, while some special programs range from three weeks to a semester. Volunteers are matched with students based on their interests, needs, and availability. The average volunteer spends two to three hours a week with their student.
YouthFriends is funded by the founding organizations, with supplemental funding provided by the school districts and the United Way. The organization has had many calls from other communities in order to replicate the program; however YouthFriends is waiting until it evaluates the actual, quantifiable impact of the program before they advise other programs.