Play Connects Impacts … Friends of the Children – Portland

The Toy Industry Foundation’s (TIF) Play Connects program invites Toy Industry Association (TIA) member companies from across the nation to nominate charities in their own communities to receive grant funding. In 2011, four nominated charities were selected to receive $10,000 each to help at-risk children through play, education and mentorship programs. The following feature on Friends of the Children – Portland is the final in a series of Toy News Tuesday articles profiling the four charities that received grants in 2011. The application deadline for 2012 Play Connects grants is September 4th.

friendsAugust 24, 2012 | Friends of the Children – Portland currently provides 400 of the city’s most vulnerable children with nurturing and sustained relationships with professional mentors so that they may become healthy, productive members of the community. In 2011, the charity was nominated by TIA member Uncle Skunkle Toys, Inc. to receive a $10,000 Play Connects grant, which is being used to provide 25 children with enriching, bonding activities for one year.

Friends of the Children mentors are paired with an at-risk child from kindergarten through high school graduation. 95% of the program’s children are from low-income backgrounds, 74% are racial minorities, 50+% experience domestic violence, and 70% have at least one parent with a history of substance abuse problems. The program requires mentors to spend at least 16 hours a month with their mentees in order to help children accomplish individualized short-term and long-term goals related to social and emotional development and academic achievement. General goals for every child include: 1) Graduate high school with a diploma (preferred) or GED (85% success rate); 2) Avoid the juvenile justice system (95% success rate); and 3) Avoid early parenting (99% success rate).

Utilizing the grant monies provided through Play Connects, Friends of the Children is providing mentors with monthly budgets to pay for one-on-one activities with their youth, including arts & crafts, sports, outdoor activities such as canoeing and camping, and day trips to amusement parks and festivals. The budget covers the cost of any materials or class fees that will help each child explore their individual interests and talents.

According to Friends of the Children, a child named Grant made great strides in his development after being paired with his “Friend,” Carl, in kindergarten. Grant, who came from a violent home and whose father was frequently in jail had speech development issues and was picked on by other children. Grant dealt with the ridicule by becoming violent – he would hit his classmates and then immediately feel sorry for his actions. While Grant did not open up to Carl right away, after spending lots of time together playing games and sports, Grant began to open up to his mentor.  As Grant became less defensive and reserved, Carl was able to gradually add more targeted interventions into his program, helping with school work and speech practice. Grant has now made friends, improved his grades, and has increased confidence.

Mentors play an invaluable role in their mentee’s lives. They provide them with academic support, teach them life skills, model healthy behavior, nurture interests and talents, and expose kids to new places and experiences. With TIF’s funding, Friends of the Children is able to continue its mission to create nurturing long-term mentorship relationships.