This post was originally published on Michigan Chronicle
By Lynzee Mychael
It is often said that raising a child takes a village, and this is undoubtedly true. A mix of diverse advice, unwavering support, and a sense of security and empathy is key to a well-rounded upbringing that can lead to success. Unfortunately, some children face conflicts and tensions that even the most prepared adult may find challenging. These events are known as Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, and can have a significant negative impact on a child’s life. In response to these challenges, Friends of the Children was established with the hope of making a positive difference.
Friends of the Children-Detroit is just one of 32 Friends of the Children chapters that span across the world, including two indigenous areas. With 30 years of experience under its belt, the Friends of the Children organization has proven to be a reliable and successful resource for children in need. The Detroit chapter has been providing mentorship to at-risk youth in a unique and helpful way since its establishment three years ago.
At the core of this organization is the connection between children and their paid, professional mentor, known as a Friend. Each Friend is carefully selected, trained and employed full-time to support their mentee in achieving success, despite facing incredibly challenging situations. Beginning as early as kindergarten and continuing through high school graduation, Friends provide unwavering support to their mentees for 12+ years, no matter what. This approach ensures that each child is given the opportunity to thrive and develop their unique talents.
Children referred to the program have at least two ACEs in their lives. This experience can range from homelessness, absent parents due to incarceration, addiction, death or a host of other unfortunate circumstances. Many of the participants in the programs have experienced at least 5 Adverse Childhood Experiences putting them at an extremely high risk of experiencing setbacks and difficulties, and highlights the critical need for support.
Derschaun Brown, the executive director of the Detroit Chapter, believes that the work they are doing is not only purposeful but also essential in making a positive impact on the lives of the youth in Detroit.
“I said ‘I must be a part of this mission.’ It’s just like a ministry. It’s not a burden, but every day I get to touch and change the lives of young people and their caregivers. That means more to me than anything because I’m impacting our future. We were so quick to say that children are the future but how are you impacting them? Are you just talking about them or are you stepping in to make a difference? The Friends of the Children Detroit is stepping in and we’re making the difference. Thirty years of doing this work and we see tons of children graduate and go on to live amazing lives where they’re coming back to give because we poured into them.”
With her own life experiences as a testament to the significance of mentorship and support, Brown is the ideal leader to champion the organization’s mission and drive its progress forward. Brown’s vision is rooted in responsibility, integrity and respect, and was shaped by her childhood experiences growing up in inner-city Detroit. Despite the challenges she faced, her mother refused to let those obstacles hinder her creativity. Brown understands how positive guidance can change the trajectory of a child’s life, and feels deeply committed to her life’s calling of helping youth overcome obstacles and thrive.
“This model is a national model that redefined youth mentoring by creating the first and only long-term professional mentoring program in the country,” Brown continues. “There’s no other program like this in the world. Looking at data, having that one professional, that caring, consistent adult in that child’s life, makes a huge difference. We find that we get more children that are graduating more that are avoiding the juvenile justice system. I mean, 93 percent of them are avoiding the juvenile justice system. By placing that friend and mentor with our youth we’re making sure that our kids are graduating, they’re avoiding the juvenile justice system, they’re preventing early parents, and they’re going off to college. This shows that having a professional mentor adds great value to that child’s life.”
As a mentor and advocate for at-risk youth, the Friends of the Children-Detroit program plays a vital role in the lives of both the children and their caregivers. The mentors assume many different roles in addition to their primary duty, serving as therapists, nutritionists and teachers, and often become an extended part of the family. They provide support beyond the mentoring relationship, often helping with practical needs such as housing, transportation and appliances. The program’s dedication to not only the child but also the caregiver reinforces the family-oriented approach of their mission, creating a well-rounded and supportive environment for those in need.
The organization is excited to host its second fundraising gala, “Power of One,” on May 18 at the Shinola hotel with the support of numerous sponsors. The event is a celebration of the organization’s work and its future endeavors. With paid professional mentors, the organization requires funding to sustain its operations. Regular donors, known as GEM donors, contribute a monthly amount, ranging from $20 to $200, while some even donate on a daily basis. The support from the sponsors and donors is crucial to the organization’s success as it serves a vital role in the community. The organization’s recent call exemplifies its importance, as a family reached out for assistance with their basic needs. The gala serves as an opportunity to garner more support for the families in need and further the organization’s efforts.
“Our call to action is we need support desperately. For us to grow the program we need to first offer critical services to our families. So, if you are a housing organization, you offer housing to the community or you offer food to the community. If, you know, offer clothing or back to school items for the community, please get in contact with us. We need support so we can continue to make sure that we are providing a quality program that again is touching and changing the lives that we’re serving.”
To offer support and donations to Friend of the Children, you can visit the website at friendsdetroit.org. Families in need can also seek support through the same online platform.