By Natalie Delgadillo
When he was in the first grade, 6-year-old Reginald was suspended from school 15 times. He angered easily, often exploding in fury in the middle of class, throwing things over his desk and yelling at his teacher.
“He had abandonment issues; he frustrated easily; he angered very easily,” says Terri Sorensen, the national president of Friends of the Children, a national nonprofit that has worked with Reginald — who is now a high school sophomore in Oregon — since he started kindergarten.
Reginald’s mother had him when she was just a teenager, and his father passed away in prison when Reginald was four years old. By kindergarten, his anger and aggression drew the attention of his teachers and evaluators at Friends of the Children, an organization dedicated to mentoring children like Reginald.
The program — which recently expanded in five cities, to reach a total of 15 locations in the U.S. and U.K. — could offer a solution for at-risk children that schools have struggled to help escape from cyclical poverty and other negative life outcomes.
Unlike most mentoring programs in the United States, which offer a few months or years of involvement, Friends of the Children offers kids 12 years of continuous mentorship from kindergarten to high school graduation. Rather than relying on volunteer mentors who already have full-time jobs, and who may not have any experience working with kids, Friends of the Children hires college-educated, professionally-trained people with at least two years of experience working with vulnerable children, Sorensen says. Each friend is a full-time employee with salaries and benefits, tasked with helping eight kids navigate their often difficult lives.