NewsCovering Colorado


New program helps provide professional mentors to at-risk kids

Posted at 5:49 PM, Apr 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-20 11:32:42-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — A new non-profit organization in Colorado Springs is helping at-risk kids.

Portland, Oregon-based "Friends of the Children" created a Colorado chapter to help guide kids through their childhood.

"We take youth that just need a little extra love. We give them that love, and take them out and teach them different things and let them explore nature," said Friends of the Children Mentor Erich Nelson.

The organization matched Nelson and Robert a few weeks ago.

"We're just getting to know each other, learning different things, but I'm excited to be with him for many more years," said Nelson.

These two will be together up until Robert graduates high school. Nelson is teaching him valuable life skills and healthy behaviors.

"Right now, we're working on manners and eating our apples. We just tried to finish a whole bag of apples, and got most of the way through. Manners are a big thing, and he's doing a really good job," said Nelson. "It's a good starting platform. Once we get him to opening doors for friends and letting them go first. That's the stepping stone, and we can use that later to build onto more skills."

Nelson will also be working with Robert during and after school to help him with coursework. He'll be a constant throughout his entire life.

"I think it's important for him to know that there is a whole group of people that love him," said Nelson.

Friends of the Children is a unique youth program that pairs at-risk kids with full-time, salaried professionals (called Friends) who spend 3-4 hours each week with each child.

"They work with the children for 12 years no matter what. Starting between the ages of 4-6, and working with the kids through graduation," said Judy Cara, Executive Director of Friends of the Children.

Research has shown that the most important factor for building resiliency in children who face the greatest challenges in life is a long-term, consistent relationship with a caring adult.

"We are a data driven organization. In addition to working directly with children, mentors also go online and record a lot of statistics that we can use moving forward," said Cara.

Statistics show that 83% of program participants graduate from high school, 92% of program graduates attend post-secondary education, 93% stay out of the juvenile justice system, and 98% avoid early parenting.

"The nice thing about having a mentor for these children is many of them have a pretty disrupted youth. Some are in foster care, and then go back to their biological parents, and may go back into foster care. The one constant that they have throughout their childhood is their mentor who stays with them throughout all of those changes. So it's really important there is a strong relationship between the mentor and the child," said Cara.

Cara is starting the program with a group of 24, but plans to add 24 more children and three additional mentors for the first three years. Children will be referred by the El Paso County Department of Human Services and local school districts.

The program has caught the attention of some big names.

"Russell Wilson and his wife Ciara Wilson have been involved with Friends of the Children in the Pacific Northwest when they lived up there, and they've moved to Denver so we're hoping to make contact with them so they can come and interact with this chapter," said Cara.

Cara is fundraising for a larger space, and clubhouse for the mentors and kids to play. For more information on how to get involved, and get your kid signed up, click here.