Circle of Friends thriving in face of challenges


Last updated 12/6/2022 at Noon

Dennis McGregor, local author and volunteer at Circle of Friends, reading with the Preschool Promise Program at the Campbell House. PHOTO PROVIDED

Circle of Friends Executive Director Nicole Swisher Woodson has been running a metaphorical marathon, with all kinds of obstacles in her way because of COVID-19 challenges. Like many organizations, over the past two years she’s learned new ways of facilitating connections when face-to-face time wasn’t possible. By far, that has been her greatest challenge. Especially with an organization whose mission is based on building strong, long-term relationships between mentors and mentees.

Woodson hasn’t done it alone. Volunteers, dedicated staff, and supportive funders like The Roundhouse Foundation have helped her find a way to keep going no matter how insurmountable the task.

“Through the support of Roundhouse, we were able to purchase a SMART board for the Campbell House, which facilitated group activities in a socially distanced and safe manner,” said Woodson.

The SMART board allowed Circle of Friends the opportunity to increase participation and maintain connections with the youth and families they serve despite the challenging conditions.

“Our mentors did a wonderful job creating fun and creative ways of keeping in touch with their mentees, such as creating mailboxes for our youth to share messages and other fun activities back and forth. Circle of Friends was able to maintain our programs in creative new ways throughout the pandemic,” she said.

Circle of Friends’ mentors work one-on-one with children and youth, building caring and supportive relationships. Mentors work on a selection of core assets with children and youth while focusing on long-term goals and the lifelong success of the mentees. Mentors receive monthly ongoing support and trainings, which nurture the development of the mentor/mentee relationship and provide camaraderie among the mentors.

Not only has Circle of Friends persevered; they’ve expanded tremendously coming out of COVID. They’ve seen a 20 percent increase in mentees and a 29 percent increase in total mentors. But even with an increase in new mentors, they still have several unmatched youths, as well as new children and youth in their program. Currently they have 30 active mentors serving 35 youth in one-on-one mentorships.

“At any given time, we have five to 10 unmatched youth, which means we’re always in need of more mentors,” said Woodson.

Circle of Friends recently hired two new youth program leads, Shaina Fields serving at Sisters Elementary School, and Henry Schuler, serving at Sisters Middle School and Sisters High School.

“Our youth program leads help support matched and unmatched Circle of Friends youth on the school campuses, while also working to facilitate communication with our mentors. We hope to expand this model to allow for more meaningful and supportive connections for our mentors, youth, and families,” said Woodson.

There are specific steps to becoming a mentor. First, prospective mentors meet with a Circle of Friends staff member, then an application is filled out and a background check is done. There’s a home study program, then a four-to-six-hour mentor training. Finally, a match is found with a mentee and family. Mentors receive as much as they give.

One mentor said, “I love being a part of a community and organization that recognizes that every kid has potential.”

Learn about becoming a mentor or volunteering with Circle of Friends at their Mentor Open House Wednesday, January 18 at 5:30 p.m. at the Campbell House, 164 N. Elm St. Nicole Swisher Woodson can be contacted at [email protected], or call 541-588-6432.


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