JP Kids: JP nonprofit targets high-risk kids

April 25, 2014
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The Friends of the Children-Boston is a Jamaica Plain-based chapter of a national organization that turns its attention to the children who need the most help.

“We go into a high-risk community and build mentoring relationships with children,” said Friends-Boston Executive Director Michelle Harrington in a recent Gazette phone interview.

Friends-Boston, which is located at 555 Amory St., is part of a national organization that was founded in Portland, Ore. by millionaire Duncan Campbell, said Harrington. She said that Campbell had grown up in hard circumstances and he had promised himself that he would bring resources to children in need if he ever became successful.

Harrington said the original model was for the same mentor to stay with 12 children for 12 years, but that proved unrealistic. In the current program, 12 students receive 20 hours of services a month, including one-on-one mentoring, case management and family support. The organization selects students in kindergarten and then provides those services from first grade to 12th grade. Every year, a new class of 12 students is enrolled into the program.

“The reality of the situation is that kids need caring adults. They need consistency. We provide that,” said Harrington.

Friends-Boston first opened in 2004 and the oldest students are now in the 10th grade, two years away from graduation.

“That will be amazing,” Harrington said about when those students receive their diplomas.

The way Friends-Boston finds students to enroll in its program is by first finding a high-risk, turnaround school somewhere in the Boston Public Schools (BPS) system, said Harrington. The organization then goes to a kindergarten class and uses a research-based “rubric,” or set of standards, to select students. It includes external factors, such as whether the child lives in a community with frequent violence, and at internal factors, such as whether the child knows the ABCs.

“The 12 students who score the highest in the rubric are enrolled in the program,” said Harrington. “We hope to change the face of the classroom and the face of the school.”

This year the organization is at the Trotter Elementary School in Dorchester. But because of the school’s recent success, Harrington said, Friends-Boston will move on to another high-risk school next year. She said the organization has 132 students in the program spread over 60 BPS schools.

Harrington gave one anecdote about the services Friends-Boston provides. A student enrolled in the program who lived within walking distance of Trotter School was frequently absent. The organization found out the reason was that her mother would not walk her to school when it was raining.

A staff member was able to locate another child who lived on the same street as that student and connected their mothers. One mother would walk the children to school when the weather was rainy and the other mother would do it on the other days.

“You can’t get A’s if you don’t go to school,” said Harrington.  “We know it’s not just one-on-one [mentoring]. It’s the whole picture, including family issues.”

She said Friends-Boston makes sure to hire the people with the right skill set, such as having a connection with the city and knowing where to go if mental health services are needed. Harrington said that Friends-Boston—unlike other chapters in the country—has social worker interns from local area colleges. They work for the whole academic year, fulfilling their field placement requirement.

“We offer layers of support for the kids,” said Harrington.

Friends-Boston will host its 9th annual fundraiser May 15 at the Artists for Humanity EpiCenter in South Boston. Harrington said the organization’s fundraisers provide a quarter of its annual budget. For more information, visit friendsofthechildrenboston.org.

Friends of the Children-Boston intern Danielle Lahee helps student Anari read. (Courtesy Photo)

Friends of the Children-Boston intern Danielle Lahee helps student Anari read. (Courtesy Photo)

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