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Our Story – History & Background

our-story-1
In 2010, Circle of Friends began, as our story goes, as a Chapter of the Friends of the Children, a program offered in several cities nationwide to provide vulnerable, at-risk children a nurturing and sustained relationship with a professional mentor who teaches positive values and has attainable expectations for each child to become healthy, productive members of the community.

Our story continues In 2012, the Sisters based program became independent of Friends of the Children and shifted some components of its delivery model. The primary change in the model for the newly established program was to engage volunteers as mentors versus the Friends of the Children model of hiring professional mentors.  Friends of the Children currently has 18 trained Friends that are matched or will be matched as mentors with children in the program.

The mentorship program is based on extensive research conducted in 1992 by The Institute for Children on resilient youth and factors that influenced their success. The Institute sought to understand why some children encountering negative situations develop lives of poverty, violence and criminal behavior, while others overcome these obstacles and become strong contributing members of society.

our-storyThe research discovered that the single most important factor that fosters resiliency in at-risk children is a caring and supportive relationship with an adult. Intervention and support, the research found, must begin early, continue as the child matures, and consistently address the needs of the whole person.

These findings provided the basis for the model and the mission of both the Friends of the Children and Circle of Friends programs: To provide our most vulnerable children a nurturing and sustained relationship with a professional mentor who teaches positive values and has attainable expectations for each child to become healthy, productive members of the community.

Sisters, Oregon, is an incorporated town of close to 2000 residents located in the high desert of Central Oregon. However, within a five mile radius, an additional 10,000 residents live in the outlying neighborhoods, acreages, and resorts. From 1985 to 2005, the town added less than 300 residents, the result of a lack of municipal sewer system. Since then, residential communities have been created within the city limits, more than doubling the town’s population.

While the charming town of Sisters has attracted many new residents, there is a continued need in the community to help at-risk children. At the time a Friends of the Children Chapter in Sisters (the precursor program to Circle of Friends) was proposed in 2010, research indicated a need for such a program because of the increasing number of vulnerable children in Sisters. The town of Sisters is located in Deschutes County, a county with a seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in June 2013 of 10%, remaining well above both the state and national averages of 7.9% and 7.6% respectfully.[1]

our-storyDeschutes County is also challenged by other indicators that can foster the environment that can create at-risk children. The County has a high rate of youth homelessness, which in 2010 was found to be 30% above the national average. Numbers of reports of domestic violence and sexual assault remain high in 2010, with a total of 1599 reports in Deschutes County in 2010 as compared to 1753 in 2009.  Deschutes County saw 88 ‘shelter stays’ by adults seeking shelter from domestic violence, along with a concerning 43 ‘shelter stays’ by children under the age of 6, 25 by children ages 6-12 and 9 ‘shelter stays’ by teens.[2]

Finally, the number of children qualifying for free or reduced lunch[3] in Sisters has continued to rise significantly over the past several years. While the total number of students enrolled has declined over six of the past seven years, the number of children qualifying for free and reduced lunch has steadily, and at times, steeply climbed. By 2012, the total percent eligible for free and reduced lunch reached 43.7%–an increase of 82% since 2006.

Students eligible for free or reduced lunch for Sisters Elementary School

Year

Number of students

# Eligible for free lunch

# Eligible for discounted lunch

# Eligible for both free and discounted lunch

% Eligible for both free and discounted lunch

2006

476

77

39.0

116.0

24%

2007

429

74

35.0

109.0

25%

2008

359

71

32.0

103.0

29%

2009

337

86

31.0

117.0

35%

2010

351

115

31.0

146.0

42%

2011

311

115

19.0

134.0

43.1%

2012

293

108

20

128

43.7%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: for 2006-2010: National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Dept of Ed. For 2011 and 2012: OR Dept of Education

Clearly, at-risk children living in Sisters benefit from an intensive mentoring and support program as offered by the Circle of Friends, and recent data suggested an increasing need.

Observations at the school as well as communication with the teaching staff and FAN Advocates (Family Access Network employees who are in the school to help connect children and families to needed services) happen throughout the year. Our Story and The goal of Circle of Friends is to provide mentors to an additional 7-10 children yearly. More children will be served as more volunteers join our story and become a child’s resource for success.

[1]Source: OR Employment Department

[2]Source: OR Department of Justice

[3]A National School Lunch Program for children from families with incomes at or below 130% of the poverty level are eligible for free meals. Those with incomes between 130% and 185% of the poverty level are eligible for reduced-price meals, for which students can be charged no more than 40 cents. For the period July 1, 2012, through June 30, 2013, 130% of the poverty level is $29,965 for a family of four; 185% is $42,643.

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