The program works with schools and foster
agencies to identify children who live in volatile,
low-income households that may be experiencing
homelessness, food insecurity, single parenting
or the absence of biological parents. Oftentimes
parents have substance abuse issues, have not
graduated from high school, have been or are
incarcerated or are financially unstable. The
mentors and the program directors meet with the
biological family and, if needed, caseworkers and
foster parents, to make sure everyone is on board
with the child having a mentor, so if the child
transitions to a different foster home or back to
their biological family, the mentoring is still
supported and continued.
“The role of the mentor is to really just be
a constant, consistent, no-matter-what
presence,” says Vegas, a Costco member,
who was in foster care as a child. “And it
really is a partnership with the families.
We’re not replacing a parent. We’re not
stepping in in that way. But it really does
become like an aunt or an older sibling
kind of a relationship over time. It
evolves and develops.”
Lang, who has experience working
at a youth group home, says she enjoys
being able to watch children through-
out their journeys. She provides
them with a different kind of
friendship outside their families
and often becomes a sounding
board for their experiences.
“Kids or youth or teens are naturally going to
push against their authority figures, and I don’t
think I’m always seen as the authority figure, so
I think that’s probably what helps,” Lang says.
In addition to training, new mentors at
Friends of the Children are partnered with buddy
mentors to offer peer support and critical professional development as they transition into their
roles. Friends of the Children also works with
MENTOR, an organization focused on expanding
mentoring relationships and connecting volunteers to local communities (see below).
“You know, it takes a village to raise a child,
and we’re all part of the village,” says Vegas. C
RESEARCH HAS SHOWN that young people who
have a mentor have better school attendance, are
more likely to enroll in college, are more likely to
participate in extracurricular activities and therefore avoid risky behavior, according to MENTOR:
The National Mentoring Partnership (mentoring.
org). However, one in three young people are
growing up without a mentor outside their family.
“If kids do things that are damaging to
themselves and to others, it is typically because
they don’t have a sense of positive belonging,”
says David Shapiro, president and CEO of
MENTOR. “Mentoring creates a positive relation-
ship and a network of support that can prevent
these harmful incidents and promote positive
Founded in 1990, MENTOR is a national
nonprofit that created a baseline for how to
assess mentoring programs, providing a standard
and best practices that are based on surveys
from participants, mentors and community part-
ners. In 1990, approximately 75 percent of
young people were growing up without a mentor,
Shapiro says. Today, about 33 percent of young
people will grow up without a mentor, and
MENTOR aims to close that gap.
“MENTOR was started very much out of
the proof of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America,”
Shapiro says. “If you rewind back to 1990, there
was really only this one large organization delivering
mentoring in a structured, scientific and proven way,
Social science research shows that it is very
difficult for a child to break a cycle of poverty
without a relationship with a person from an
advocate network outside the child’s family.
Shapiro says, “Most people who have strived
Guidance on the road to success
and thrived in life would say that members of
their family were not the only people who were
there for them—that there were other people
along the way who were not related to them.
They could be coaches. They could be teachers.
They also could be mentors who were assigned
For more information on mentoring, visit
OUR DIGITAL EDITIONS
Click here for a video about
children growing up in the
cycle of generational poverty.
(See page 9 for details.)
OUR DIGITAL EDITIONS
Click here to watch a video about
mentoring. (See page 9 for details.)
Center: Angel Taitano celebrating
her high school graduation in her
cap and gown. Below, left to right:
Doneka Lang and Angel Taitano
meet with Mary Rennekamp
Vegas, deputy director of Friends
of the Children Seattle.