Rachel Cardwell is the Executive Director of Friends of the Children, an organization that connects children – all of whom have unique talents – to a paid, professional mentor called a Friend. You can learn more about the organization at friendscentraloregon.org
Friends of the Children is the first and only long-term professional mentoring program in the country with specialization in working with youth who have faced a lot of adversity. Rachel has dedicated her career to removing barriers for youth as they work to unlock their own futures. Friends of the Children has shown her the importance of communities rallying around their children, building systems of support, and cheering them on as they move into opportunities that wouldn’t have been attainable for them otherwise.
Unknown Speaker 0:00
If we want our kids to understand who they are, to have a place where they feel accepted, and know that how they contribute to their communities and to their families, that that matters, that they belong to a place and to a group of people that values who they are and what they bring to the table.
Welcome to cascade views a discussion with Central Oregon leaders. Your host is Michael SIPE, local business and community leader Best Selling Author of the Avada principle and candidate for Oregon State Representative for House District 53, which encompasses southern Redman sisters tremolo in northern bend. The purpose of these discussions is to share the views and insights of local leaders from a variety of community sectors on a range of timely and important regional and state issues. With that, now, here's your host, Michael SIPE.
Michael Sipe 1:00
Thanks for joining us on cascade views. This is Michael SIPE, and I'm excited to welcome Rachel Cardwell to the show today. Rachel is the executive director of Friends of the Children, an organization that connects children, all of whom have unique talents to a paid professional mentor, called a friend. You can learn more about the organization at Friends Central oregon.org Friends of the Children is the first and only long term professional mentoring program in the country. With specialization in working with youth who have faced a lot of adversity. Rachel has dedicated her career to removing barriers for youth as they work to unlock their own futures. Friends of the Children has shown her the importance of communities rallying around their children, building systems of support and cheering them on as they move into opportunities that wouldn't have been attainable for them otherwise, Rachel joining us today to talk about the youth in Central Oregon, and about what her organization does to help. So it's my pleasure to welcome her to the show. Hi, Rachel.
Unknown Speaker 2:00
Hi, Mike. Thanks for having me.
Michael Sipe 2:02
You bet. First of all, tell me just a little bit about your journey and how you came to be a part of Friends of the Children.
Unknown Speaker 2:10
Absolutely. So I grew up in rural Oregon, I spent most of my childhood down in Klamath Falls, left the small town for college in the late 90s spent a couple of decades up in Tacoma Washington before really feeling the call back to Central Oregon and rural Oregon to raise my own family. So returned here five years ago in the fall of 2017. And found my way to friends of the children just over a year ago now spring of 2021. And I will say in a 20 plus year career, I have never encountered a model like this helping kids with pretty significant trauma achieve what truly is astounding outcomes for the population that we work with.
Michael Sipe 2:58
Well, we're really glad to have you here in Central Oregon. And that sounds really encouraging. I'm excited to hear about the program having been in the childcare industry, myself and being very pro children. I understand the value of investing in our future leaders. So how exactly does the program work?
Unknown Speaker 3:16
So we identify children between the ages of four and six, making us an incredibly what we call upstream prevention focused program. The children come to us from community referrals and partners in both school based settings as well as the foster care system, behavioral health providers, and a number of of agencies that work with kids who have experienced trauma. They come to us and begin a journey that actually sits in a really simple model of service. Our friends, our professional mentors spend four hours a week, every week with the kids on their roster, and my employees, because our mentors are our paid salaried employees, they each have a roster of eight kids. So that is that is a full time job. Those hours are split between the classroom two hours in the classroom, we coordinate with teachers and educational providers to make sure we have access to the kids during the school day. And then two hours in community either at our ranch, which is centrally located between bend and Redmond, making sure that they have extra curricular and enrichment activities outside the school day that we know go to bolster soft skill and what we call core assets in them to help them learn and walk a path toward adulthood.
Michael Sipe 4:47
Wow, that is that sounds really cool. Do you have a program like that for adults? Like, like for business people where we could just go check out for four hours and have someone take care of it. That sounds awesome. Shouldn't so how many kids are you serving right now in Central Oregon,
Unknown Speaker 5:05
we today have 52, we are planning to expand and have two friends placed in lupine in partnership with the elementary schools there by the beginning of the school year, so just a few weeks out. And then once we select the kids onto those two rosters, we'll hit 68, ideally, by the end of the calendar year 2022.
Michael Sipe 5:28
Fantastic. This mentoring program sounds really unique. So what's the process look like? In in finding the right long term mentor? And and how long does it mentor walk with a child?
Unknown Speaker 5:40
Sure, our hiring process looks much like a standard hiring process. We review applicants for background in youth development, in education, in social services and social work, that seems to be the the area of focus that our friends come to us from. And then and then our selection process for kids is really about matching, really matching the kids with the most need to those professionals that we train and ensure have the right skills and resources to bring to each child in our program. We invest in those children that we select, we make a commitment to them to have a paid professional mentor for them for 12 and a half years. So since we always meet kids in kindergarten, those four to six year olds when they're in kindergarten, sometimes it is a is a young first grader. But more often than not the child is in kindergarten, when we meet them, we will have a mentor for them until they graduate from high school. That does not however, mean that it's the same friend, I think that's a piece that's important to clarify for your listeners. There is no employment law in the state of Oregon that would allow me to contract someone to stay in their position for 12 and a half years, we certainly do our best to retain our employees and make sure that they have all that they need to continue to walk with kids for as long as possible. And we average between four and five years across our national network, the amount of time that a friend stays in that position.
Michael Sipe 7:10
Wow, that's terrific. It can't all be roses, though. What are some of the challenges that you face in this long term mentorship model?
Unknown Speaker 7:18
Sure, I think that really is is twofold the challenges that our kids face, don't go away when they have a friend when they enroll in our program. In fact, the point of our program is to identify and partner with kids who we know will face lifelong challenges in terms of poverty, abuse, neglect, crime, and other sort of societal systems that are just going to be a part of their life throughout their childhood. The point of a mentor, the point of the friend is to have a long term relationship with a stable and caring adult, to be able to work through those challenges and face those those barriers together, to have a support system in place that can help them navigate those issues, and get to the other side of them. That's really the goal of our program.
Michael Sipe 8:11
I suspect for success in this, then this is a speculation, please correct me if I'm wrong, I suspect that into under your degree or another you're sort of mentoring parents as well and and forming kind of a partnership with the with the parent or parents involved with the kids, assuming that they're not in foster care is that I mean, am I on the right track?
Unknown Speaker 8:31
Absolutely. Absolutely. We are not a court mandated program. A significant percentage of our kids have experienced to the foster care system at some point or will experience the foster care system at some point. And so just as you put it, it's just as important for us to have a relationship a strong relationship with their caregivers, whether that be their biological parents or their foster parents, we aim to be that consistent person in their lives, regardless of where they are living. And many times our caregivers need support and and resources as well. We do our best to meet those needs, while maintaining our primary clients or services will always be the kid. But because we don't have that that requirement from a court system or from a legal system, it's essential that we have solid relationship with our caregivers, to be sure.
Michael Sipe 9:27
It seems like there's a kind of a corollary benefit to the caregivers, particularly in the foster system, because that can be pretty, pretty demanding job it seems like that that four hour timeframe could be a really nice break for them.
Unknown Speaker 9:41
Exactly, exactly. It also is we're a research backed organization. So 30 years of research just with Friends of the Children shows that our work with kids, including wraparound services that would impact our care caregivers, the more that we can be a resource to those caregivers as well. better the outcomes for our youth. So good.
Michael Sipe 10:04
I read that your program has developed nine research based core assets, which are specific qualities you focus on to ensure the social and emotional development of the youth. And I was really impressed by those. So could you take just a minute and walk us through those core assets?
Unknown Speaker 10:21
Absolutely, absolutely. I'm happy to. So as you said, there are a group of qualities that we seek to develop in our kids. So let me go through those one by one. The first is growth mindset. So helping kids learn, and love learning that they have abilities that will improve their dedication and effort in life. Growth Mindset helps them come out of a fixed mindset that their lives and their situations are unchangeable. And that they can begin to see futures that are different than their present situations. The second is belonging, we want our kids to understand who they are, have a place where they feel accepted, and know that how they contribute to their communities and to their families, that that matters, that they belong to a place and to a group of people that values who they are and what they bring to the table. The third is hope. Very often people in traumatic situations lose sight of what they have to be hopeful for. So in those tough times, making sure that our kids know that it can get better, and they have the ability to work through it. The fourth is problem solving. So helping them understand how to weigh pros and cons and make a decision that there's a process to go through when encountering a problem, and the competence that they have the ability to solve it. Finally, perseverance, and grit. This is my favorite one, because it's the one we all need a reminder of that, if you just don't give up that you can get to the finish line that that's really all it takes is that perseverance and grit to get through challenges. And to finish what you start. By not giving up, it doesn't matter how long it takes, or how windy a path you have to follow to get to the end. The point is that you get to the end, from there, we go into self management skills, so many of our kids have a hard time one articulating how they're feeling. But to even understanding how they're feeling they live in really confusing situations and overwhelming situations. And for especially for little kids who don't really know how to manage those feelings. We teach them how to take care of themselves and healthy ways to express those feelings, and to control their their physical response to having those feelings. We also really value self determination, I talk a lot about confidence and competence for our kids that they have, they have one they have a skill set that is unique and and something that should be offered to the world. And that they should be confident that the world wants it that the world needs it from them. So if they're able to set goals and achieve them, the world is going to receive them with open arms. And then finding your spark. Everyone wants to find that one thing that they're good at that they love doing and can pour themselves into. For myself as as a kiddo. Mine was really about my community and and involvement with the arts. So I was able to explore that passion and receive positive feedback from people related to that passion. So we really work with our kids to help them find what that spark is for each of them. And then finally, it's about positive relationship building, knowing that connectedness with people, even people outside their immediate families, is going to be really important to their long term success, helping them get along with others, helping them reach out to people to find support and care and building trust with other people. In particular, their peers and and adults in their lives will help set them on the road to success. So those are our core assets.
Michael Sipe 14:13
Those are awesome. You have now convinced me that we need to friends of the adults.
Unknown Speaker 14:18
We'll get to work on that.
Michael Sipe 14:20
That's the next step. You know, all of us and grown up adults. What an awesome list of of core assets. You know, what I'd love to hear now, if you don't mind are just a couple of stories. Anonymous, of course, so maybe we can understand at an individual level how children's lives are being transformed through your work.
Unknown Speaker 14:39
Yeah, me too. Um, let me tell you this right now. It's an anonymous name, but let's call her Mandy. Mandy, we met a couple of years ago. She's a really happy kiddo. Despite having gone through some pretty horrific experiences as a kid, and before we met her and She's the she's been in and out of foster care. Her her biological parents have been in and out of prison. And we've had a friend in her life since since the age of five. So we're we're not going on three years with her. This past spring, she got home from school to start spring break and found her caseworker waiting for her because she was being removed from her home again and placed in emergency foster care. And because we have such a great relationship with the child welfare system, our our employee, Mandy's friend knew that this was happening and was able to connect with Mandy within the first 24 hours of that placement. She brought her clothes and supplies and and checked in to make sure she was okay. But the reality is while Mandy's friends were running off to Disneyland or some amazing trip over spring break, Mandy was in a house that she'd never been in before with adults, she didn't know. And so the value of having a consistent person like a friend in her life really rang true in that moment, that person was able to show up and be there be a familiar face in in a really scary time for Mandy. And by the next Monday, we have Mandy out at our ranch for for cookie decorating. It was a really nice kind of moment for our staff to gather around her and make sure that she was having a fund a fun day. And I was connecting with adults that were safe and stable in her life. And I asked her how she was doing. And without looking at from her cookie because lord knows she was putting a million cans of sprinkles on there. Without looking at it. She said, I'm just glad I get to keep coming here. Because I don't get to go home anymore. So that means we're having an impact in her life. That means that she will trust us and feel safe in our in our house. At our ranch for the rest of her life. We've made that that relationship important to her and consistent and something she can depend on. So I really value that we're able to do that, that our team works really hard to build that trust with our kiddos to be that consistent person for them no matter what.
Michael Sipe 17:22
Wow, that's the kind of story that brings people hope. Well, we have some big news, right? Friends of the Children just received an enormous contribution. Tell us about it and maybe talk a little bit about the kind of impact that will have in our region.
Unknown Speaker 17:37
Absolutely. So just just a few days ago, actually we received word that we were going to be the grateful recipients of a $1.4 million gift for MacKenzie Scott. MacKenzie Scott inherited a large amount of money, and has made a commitment to the world to be distributing that and making gifts and programs that matter and are making an impact. And we've seen her give really incredible gifts in this country and across the country. Over the last few years. Friends of the Children nationally received a total of $44 million from Mrs. Scott. And our local chapter received 1.4 million of that total gift. What it means for us in a very simple way is serving more kids. Our vision, our dream, really for friends Central Oregon is to be serving kids in every community throughout our region. So while our ranch is located just south of Redmond, we have kids today from lupine to Madras out to Prineville and up into crooked River Ranch. And our intention is to make sure that we can serve all kids regardless of distance from our our central operations, all kids who need it. So this is going to take us a long way and being able to achieve that. I think what is really smart, our board is going to hit the pause button and really look at the next five years for our organization. As I mentioned, we're five years old. We started here in 2017. So we're just closing out the first five year chapter as a nonprofit. And so the next five years is going to look a lot different as we as we grow and expand those services throughout the region.
Michael Sipe 19:23
With tremendous news, as we move toward wrapping up here. What's something you'd like us to know about friends of the children that we haven't touched on?
Unknown Speaker 19:33
That we exist. We have been really focused on serving kids the last five years and a big part of the next five years is to let people know that we're here and we're doing this really important work and that we can't do it alone. So there are ways for folks to get involved. You can sign up to volunteer with our organization on our website. We always need support. Despite this, this gigantic gift that we receive. We want to be here for the long haul We want to be here forever. And so making sure that we're leveraging those dollars and investing them in the community, where it makes the most difference, we need our community to help us understand what that is, and where that is. So open lines of dialogue, sharing with, with our region with your neighbors about what we do, and that we exist, and that we really just want a partner in supportive kids.
Michael Sipe 20:24
Yeah, I think your point is well taken that just because it was a big one time donation doesn't mean that that funds the organization for all eternity. I mean, you have long term mission and, and we it's not like you've saturated the market, right? You haven't cared for every child that could have a friend so because we got to turbocharge here doesn't mean that that's that's the handle, still need ongoing support. Talk to us a little bit about how people can volunteer, like, what does that look like?
Unknown Speaker 20:53
Yeah, so we run activities at our ranch house. And in any given month, so having a group of folks who want to help with an art activity or, or a stem activity for kids. We've had, we just started that, in this last year, as things began to open up, and we were under COVID restrictions anymore. So we've been welcoming folks into our house to help run some stuff with our kids. Just this last summer, we had four weeks of summer camp programming for kids and their siblings at our ranch. And those included outdoor education, environmental education, STEM education, and arts. So helping having volunteers help with those days really makes a big difference to our team. And then beyond that, you know, it's it's spreading the word, we hope to reignite what we call an ambassador board, that folks who just want to sign up to help us spread the word who are going to commit to sharing our posts from social sporting emails, and just talking to their neighbors about what we do and who we are really building that name recognition for you. There are so many groups in our region that mentor kids, and they're all really wonderful organizations. We are unique in that our mentors are paid professional people. And so we want folks to know that that it's a pretty intense wraparound service that we provide to our kids. So helping helping educate the masses would be really amazing.
Michael Sipe 22:24
Well, I hope to be able to help spread the word through the show. We'll have it out all over the place. And it's it's been great having you on the show. This is fascinating. I'm so appreciative for the work you do to serve our community. I think my main takeaway really is the story about Mandy, you know what a heartwarming story that is, and what incredible service and relational opportunity that that she has with you was just really moving. So thank you for sharing that story. I really appreciate your time. Really appreciate your message today.
Unknown Speaker 22:59
Thanks so much, Mike for having me on today. I really appreciate your invitation and the opportunity to share a bit about what we do. I also just want to say thanks for educating your listeners on all of the work that nonprofits are doing in our region, and ways they can get involved and stay informed. I think it's really important that people like you. I like this. So thanks so much for what you do.
Michael Sipe 23:24
You're totally welcome. It's It's great fun, and this conversation has been a lot of fun. My guest for this show has been Rachel Cardwell, the executive director of Friends of the Children, you can learn more about the organization and how you can support it and maybe how you can volunteer and, and certainly how you can spread the word by going to friends, Central oregon.org That's plural friends. So friends, Central oregon.org. Thanks for tuning in.
Thanks for listening to cascade views with Michael SIPE. To find out more about Mike the upcoming election. The key issues he's focused on in his campaign to represent Central Oregon and Salem as a state representative. Visit www dot a voice for Central oregon.com that's www dot a voice for Central oregon.com You can get your own copy of Michael SIPE his best selling book the Avada firstname.lastname@example.org. And finally, please vote in the upcoming election. Your Voice Matters