Friends of the Children aims to expand mentorships with historic donation from e-commerce fortune.

COURTESY PHOTO: FRIENDS OF THE CHILDREN - Friends of the Children, a national nonprofit headquartered in Portland, pairs professional, paid mentors with children for at least 12 years. The organization serves many children who encounter the foster care system.Portland nonprofit Friends of the Children has received a $7.7 million gift from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott. The sizable donation — the single largest gift ever received by the Portland chapter — was part of a $44 million gift to Friends of the Children's Portland-based national network, which includes 26 chapters.

Friends of the Children is a national youth mentoring program that pays professional mentors, called Friends, to be part of a child's life for 12 or more years. It's the only national program that relies on paid, professional mentors.

Scott's gift is the single largest donation ever received by the Portland chapter.

"This historic gift comes at an extraordinary time as we transition out of the pandemic," said Traci Rossi, executive director of Friends of the Children-Portland. "As the founding chapter, we could not be more thrilled to see this incredible support for not only youth in Portland, but across the country. Because we commit to walking alongside youth for 12 (or more) years, gifts of this size provide the confidence to look into the future and keep that 'no matter what' commitment. The need in our community is still great and there are a lot more youth we can serve."

Scott, a novelist who worked at Amazon alongside Jeff Bezos before the two were married for more than two decades, is now best known for her philanthropy.

She recently made headlines for a historic $275 million donation to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which included $15 million for Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette. The Portland chapter was one of 12 to receive a direct gift from Scott, including chapters in Central Oregon and the Klamath Basin.

Friends of the Children's Portland chapter said the funds will support the organization in expanding programs and services to the youth it serves and widening its reach to serve more children.

Olympic gymnast Simone Biles applauded the organization's mission.

"I know from my own experiences that children often face a lot of hard things as they grow up and the love and support I received after my foster care experience allowed me to thrive and see myself for all that I could be," Biles said. "That's why I believe the long-term mentorship that Friends of the Children provides is so meaningful — having just one person who believes in you can truly impact a young person's life. I am excited that MacKenzie Scott is investing in Friends of the Children to empower more youth across the country. In supporting Friends of the Children, it is my hope that more children will have access to a 'Friend' and be inspired to pursue their hopes and dreams in all communities, including my hometown of Houston, Texas."

Many of the organization's youth encounter the foster care system, putting them at risk of homelessness.

According to Friends of the Children-Portland, 83% of youth in its programs who receive mentorship graduate from high school and 93% avoid the juvenile justice system, compared to 74% of at-risk youth who don't have a mentor. A large majority of children who are paired with a Friend through the organization also avoid early parenting and most go on to college or a living-wage job.

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