When we make a mistake, many of us rely on the support of family, friends, and mentors to help us learn from the experience and recover. This has been the business of Denver nonprofit Friends for Youth since 1998. Through mentoring and academic support programs, the organization aims to keep as many kids from entering the adult prison system as possible. Their primary goal is to inspire kids by connecting them with people who care. Although this may sound straightforward, their multi-faceted mentoring approach changes lives through relationship building. Billy’s story is a prime example.
Billy moved to the United States from Mali in West Africa and struggled adjusting to a new culture. His parents noticed that Billy befriended people who did not have his best interests in mind. He began to disengage from his family and schoolwork and started to get into trouble with these new “friends.” Adults around Billy took notice and intervened with the hopes of helping Billy find a new way that wouldn’t lead down a destructive path.
At the beginning of high school, a counselor referred Billy to the Friends for Youth program for support. Billy began attending various mentoring sessions in both group and one-on-one settings. As Billy’s engagement with the programs grew, his performance in the classroom improved and he started making more thoughtful decisions about his affiliations and his future. Home visits revealed that for the first time, Billy felt supported in all facets of his life. His parents noted the shift and were grateful that he found another avenue for care and support.
Friends for Youth continues to support young people in the Denver Metro Area as it serves nearly 400 students. Of the 85% of kids who complete a full term of programming, only 4% are recidivist, relapsing to habitual criminal behavior. Their successes and impact in helping youth develop into strong, independent citizens is changing futures for the better. Ultimately, Friends for Youth’s philosophy reminds us: showing someone care and attention can go a long way.