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Family of Friends marks third year in Gresham with exploration of new mentoring practices

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Anna Kurnizki and Addie Williams were matched through Family of Friends Mentoring five years ago. Outside Gresham City Hall, a cohort of children created and cultivated a lush and chaotic garden plot over the summer months.

Through a partnership between Family of Friends Mentoring and Outgrowing Hunger, local children got to dig in the dirt and learn what it takes to grow fresh vegetables. The garden was an eclectic mix of lettuce, onions, carrots, kale, broccoli, tomatoes, radish, carrots and more.

"The little kids loved to dig, while the older ones were more purposeful in keeping it alive," said Allison Yoder, Family of Friends program manager.

The mentor pairings caring for the garden enjoyed a salad party one afternoon using the bounty they had grown, and throughout the summer, the kids would swing by with their mentors to pick vegetables for their families.

The garden was just one of the ways Family of Friends Mentoring created opportunities for local vulnerable children, all of which was celebrated by the nonprofit organization Tuesday evening, Oct. 29, during their three year anniversary in Gresham.

"Our mentors and volunteers are the backbone that lets us do all of this," said Executive Director Michelle Kosta. "This is a family we have created."

The celebration was held at Migration Brewing, 18188 N.E. Wilkes Road. Those who attended enjoyed free food and beer while listening to powerful testimonies from matches like Addie Williams and her mentor Anna Kurnizki that have made Family of Friends such a beloved part of Gresham.

Williams and Kurnizki, matched six years ago, have since formed a strong friendship. Through the program, Williams got to go ice skating for the first time, and took over the controls of a small plane during an outing to the Troutdale Airport. Her mentor also took her horseback riding.

"When I am with Anna I am happy and feel like I'm with my best friend," Williams said.

But it's all the little things that make having a mentor such a boon for children like Williams. Her mentor listens when she has a problem, and lets her pitch in on the little things like making dinner. While bigger outings are fun, often the pair will find themselves spending a quiet afternoon walking to the park or hanging out at home.

"Addie is one of the most kind, respectful and thoughtful people I know," Kurnizki said. "I'm so grateful the program brought us together."

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Michelle Kosta, executive director of Family of Friends Mentoring, said the program is looking for more mentors as it heads into its fourth year in Gresham.A raffle and silent auction, filled with items created by mentors, helped raise money for the nonprofit organization. Umpqua Bank, which has been a strong supporter of Family of Friends, presented a check for $4,000 to the program.

"Organizations like (Family of Friends) are vital to the success of our kids, families and community as a whole," said Gresham City Councilor Eddy Morales, who with his partner Hugh Harris, matched $1,000 in donations made during the event.

Family of Friends is a volunteer group that uses a community of mentors within East Multnomah County to support vulnerable children. The mentors, which can be families, couples or individuals, provide another positive force in a young person's life. They guide positive behavior while uplifting parents who are trying to make ends meet.

The children in the program are usually in elementary school, and often stay connected with their mentor through high school.

Last year, the program supported activities like a trip to the pumpkin patch, flights out of the Troutdale Airport, and a road trip to the Oregon Coast. They hosted summer park days, a tour of Umpqua Bank's vault, and plenty of other activities that had the kids outside and active.

"Joy and fun is always number one," Kosta said.

In the last fiscal year, the program served 60 Gresham youth with weekly mentoring sessions. That marks a huge leap in support for East Multnomah County's vulnerable children. Before moving into the city three years ago, Family of Friends would only serve one to two Gresham children a year.

"Our kids have more people in their court to remove barriers and uplift them," Kosta said. "When kids are thriving it's usually because systems around them are working."

Historically, the program has utilized one-on-one mentoring. While that is still the backbone for Family of Friends, they are going to explore new ways to serve children in need. That could include group or school-based mentoring.

"There are a lot of kids who can be served in different ways," Kosta said. "We don't want to reinvent the wheel, but partner with new people and groups."

The program needs more mentors — with a specific need for mentors of color, men, and those who speak multiple languages. The best mentors are those who listen to their matches, and love doing the little things together. A new staff person is going to be hired to focus on recruiting mentors, with the goal being 20 by the end of next year.

"Mentoring has brought so much joy to my life," Kurnizki said.

To learn more about Family of Friends, become a mentor or provide financial support, visit family-of-friends.org. Through the end of December, The Collins Foundation is doing a one-for-one match of any donations to Family of Friends.

Support Family of Friends

Visit family-of-friends.org to become a mentor or make a donation. Anything given this year will be matched by The Collins Foundation.


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