Charlotte mentorship program dedicated to helping at-risk youth

CHARLOTTE — Members of a Charlotte nonprofit are mentoring some of the area’s most vulnerable children as early as kindergarten in an effort to change the course of their future.

It’s all in response to results from a 2013 Harvard study that determined a child’s ZIP code ultimately decides their future. Among its findings, the study showed out of 50 large U.S. cities, a Charlotte child born into poverty is most likely to stay there.

Will Jones, the President and CEO of Thompson Child and Family Focus, cited the study as the reason he pushed to establish the professional mentoring program, Friends of the Children in Charlotte.

“One of the things that the study cited was it would be really good for children at risk to have a life navigator. Somebody to walk through life with them,” Jones said.

Friends of Children in Charlotte dubs itself as the country’s first and only professional mentoring program and is committed to children who are most at risk, with the greatest needs, until that child graduates from high school.

Imoni Johnson, a mentor at the Friends of Children affiliate in Charlotte, Thompson Child and Family Focus, explained why she accepted the role.

“When you commit to a child, you can’t just dip out on them at any moment, because at that point, especially once you’ve built that trust, they are relying on you,” Johnson said.

“My favorite quote is ‘There is always a rainbow after every storm.’ And I feel like as a friend, or as a mentor here at Thompson, that’s a reminder to them. We are that ray of sunshine. Not just me but our team,” she said.

The program’s mentors are paid and professionally trained using a model that’s research-based and trauma-informed.

The nonprofit also partners with select schools, which allows them to observe the potential mentees in their kindergarten classrooms for months at a time.

“What we’re really looking for, are those without appropriate long-term intervention — they’re going to slip through the gap,” Jones said.

According to data collected by the Harvard Business School Association of Oregon, for every 100 people who have graduated from Friends of the Children, society gains 24 more graduates from high school or college, the program produces 59 fewer teen parents, as well as 30 fewer people heading to prison.

Friends of the Children is fully funded by grants and donations, among which included proceeds from Michael Jordan’s Netflix documentary “The Last Dance.”

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