News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Changing lives of at-risk children

Circle of Friends began in Sisters 10 years ago after Duncan and Cindy Campbell of Portland purchased a house here. Thirty years ago, they had established the Friends of the Children organization in Portland to create a system of support for the most at-risk children in North Portland, where Duncan had grown up. Today, Cindy still serves on the Portland board of directors and helps organize their annual fundraiser.

The impetus behind that effort came from Duncan’s own childhood experience, with two neglectful, alcoholic parents and a father who went to prison twice while Duncan was growing up. The odds against that young boy becoming a college-educated, successful businessman were not good — except for the support and encouragement he received from his first-grade teacher, two coaches, and a high school counselor, who cared about him and believed in him.

The father of his best friend took Duncan fishing and provided him with a positive male role model. Spending time at friends’ homes gave him a glimpse of healthy family life. Duncan himself had a great deal of drive and worked hard.

Duncan knew early on how important those people and experiences had been in his life and he wanted to do something to keep other children from experiencing the negative things he had. The Campbell family, Duncan and Cindy and their children, decided to establish Friends of the Children 30 years ago in an effort to break the cycle of generational poverty.

The Friends nonprofit selects children who face multiple systemic obstacles and “commit to each of them for the long-term, 12-plus years, no matter what.” Each child is paired with a college-educated professional mentor called a Friend, who is paid a living wage to work with eight children. When the Friends are hired, they are asked to commit to at least three to five years.

There are currently 470 children in the Portland program in several different locations. The program has received national recognition and is now located in 22, soon to be 25, cities across the country with the national headquarters located in Portland. They go into new cities when they are invited, and the same model exists in each city.

Several years ago, they received an unsolicited multi-million-dollar gift from basketball great Michael Jordan.

According to statistics from the Friends of the Children, their successes are many. Ninety-two percent of youth in the program go on to enroll in post-secondary education, serve our country, or enter the workforce. Eighty-two percent of youth receive their high school diploma or GED. Ninety-five percent of youth remain free from involvement in the juvenile justice system. Ninety-eight percent of youth wait to parent until after their teen years.

The program here in Sisters has a different name — Circle of Friends — and it is dependent on volunteers to serve as mentors (see story, page 3). For information about the Circle of Friends programs or to inquire about being a mentor, call the office at 541-588-6445.


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