How a nearly $8 million gift from MacKenzie Scott will help the Portland chapter of Friends of the Children
On Thursday, the nonprofit Friends of the Children announced it received a $44 million donation from billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott. The organization pairs children as young as 4 who face obstacles such as poverty and other life challenges with paid mentors for at least 12 years. Friends of the Children started nearly 30 years ago in Portland and has since grown to 26 chapters nationwide.
The Portland chapter of Friends of the Children is getting nearly $8 million from Scott’s philanthropic gift.
Traci Rossi is the executive director of the Portland chapter of Friends of the Children. She talked to “Think Out Loud” host Dave Miller about how the new funding will help at-risk children in Portland and beyond.
The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Dave Miller: Can you describe in more detail the ideas behind the Friends of the Children model?
Traci Rossi: So Friends of the Children is a long-term mentoring program. And we work with paid professionals, whom we call “friends,” and they walk alongside the youth that we work with for 12 and a half years. We say that they make that commitment no matter what.
We work with youth who are exclusively high potential with innate potential and they face systemic obstacles.
Unfortunately, many of the youth in our program have to face inequitable systems. They are often coming from communities that have educational inequities, in particular. Racism is one of those inequitable systems that many of our youth have to overcome. And also, especially now with the pandemic, we know that our youth are really dealing with mental health inequities as well.
Miller: How did the pandemic affect the work you do?
Rossi: The pandemic exacerbated all of those issues for the youth that we walk alongside, and that’s when we really realized the power of the 12-and-a-half year relation that is cultivated in our program. And so, when times got tough, those relationships were really important.
And what we also found was though we primarily work with the youth in our program, because we had those long-term relationships, we also had bonds with our caregivers. And so we were able to react and provide additional resources to families as well. And we really leaned into this idea, when many of us were talking about essential workers who were critical during the pandemic, but we really leaned into this idea of essential relationships, and that’s really one of the things that helped us maintain those bonds.
Miller: How much can one adult impact the life of a child in need?
Rossi: It’s transformative. It’s one of the reasons that I gravitated toward this organization, and many people do. So 12 and a half years with someone who’s got your back, someone who’s in your corner, in addition to the natural mentors in their lives, their caregivers, to have that person who sees you. But those 12 and a half years, the youth know that those mentors are there with them, and unfortunately because some of those inequitable systems that we talked about, the youth in our program are used to systems letting them down or expecting them to fail, and to know that the trust that the mentors have with them and that one in one powerful relationship is unconditional, is very powerful in the lives of the youth that we walk alongside.
Miller: I should note that Friends of the Children chapters in Central Oregon and in the Klamath Basin also received gifts directly from MacKenzie Scott, in addition to your chapter and others around the country. What will you be able to do with this $8 million grant?
Rossi: We are going to deepen the impact of what we’re able to do with the youth who are currently in our program, going back to an example of really trying to lean into some of the mental health support that we can provide post pandemic. We also really want to increase our footprint and so we’re thrilled to be able to reach out and serve more youth in the Portland metropolitan area, which is really important to all of us, and we’re also going to be able to provide additional professional development for our mentors so that they can continue to grow in their profession.
And of course it provides just a wonderful financial foundation for Friends Portland so that we can really look at how we utilize these funds in the next three-to-five years to go much deeper and do more work in this community, partnering with other organizations.
Listen to the full conversation with Traci Rossi at the top of this story.
Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.