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Friends of the Children Detroit bridges the gap by joining mentors with at-risk youth

Posted at 4:12 PM, Apr 22, 2021

DETROIT (WXYZ) — Nicole McKinney is the first executive director of a new program called Friends of the Children Detroit, which pairs paid mentors with some of our most at-risk youth for years of support, helping them to build trust and inner strength to help them become their best selves.

"Research shows that a child who has a consistent caring adult in their lives has a better outcome for life, and so we start with children from 4 to 6 years old and we mentor them from when they graduate from high school," Mckinney said.

Peighton, 7, is mentored by Autumn Palmer, a Harvard graduate who will stick by the young girl until she graduates high school.

Each mentor is given eight children they are responsible for. They also must have a college degree and experience working with children. They must also have a big heart.

"To know that I am going to be able to touch someone's life; I may not be able to change the world but I'm touching this particular child's life and that's going to stick with them forever," said mentor Kevin Finch, 26. "That actually does feel good."

Not only do mentors spend four hours a week with the child and assisting the family, but they also show up in the classroom to be right their side while they learn.

And the pandemic isn't stopping the progress.

"Through Zoom over the holidays, mentors watched holiday movies with their mentees and it also created a bond between us and the families because we met them," Mckinney said. "At their most vulnerable time, many of them had basic needs that weren't being met and so we did have some grant funding that allowed them to meet their basic needs and it demonstrated our commitment to them."

Peighton, 7 (mentee), Autumn (mentor)
Zoom tutoring with mentor and mentee in the Friends of the Children program.

Durfee Innovation Society will soon serve as a new home for Friends of the Children, offering an in-house connection of resources and opportunities for all mentees and their families.

Referral partners, like some schools and even the department of health and human services, have provided this new organization with its first set of 32 children, and they are now in the process of finding their second set.

"We don't take just any child, we take the children who've experienced three or more adverse childhood experiences," Mckinney said. "That includes children who have a parent that's incarcerated, a parent who may be on drugs and have substance abuse issues, (or) children who are in foster care or a parent who is deceased. Those are the children we take with the most need."

The program operates through school referrals. The commitment-based program continues to rally for support to stay in Detroit. For more information on the Detroit-area Friends of the Children program, click here.