My name is Maraena Allen-Lewis, and I am majoring in Sociology with a minor in Psychology, graduating in May 2020. This summer, I have the opportunity to intern with the National component of a non-profit organization called Friends of the Children. Friends of the Children works with young children who are at-risk to empower them by providing a consistent and reliable adult in their lives. We employ salaried, professional mentors that are paired in one-to-one relationships with children. Friends of the Children is not only unique in that it has moved away from the volunteer model of mentoring, but it is also longitudinal. When a child is selected around kindergarten, or age 5, they receive a mentor, called a Friend. From this point on, the child is guaranteed a Friend for 12.5 years — no matter what.
Within Friends of the Children, there are chapters in 18 cities across the United States as well as Cornwall, United Kingdom. Along with each of these independent local chapters, Friends of the Children’s National Headquarters are located in Portland, Oregon, where I am working for the summer. Our national staff, comprised of about 20 employees, shares a building with the staff of the Portland chapter itself, which has been a great way for me to not only connect with the organization at the administrative level, but the local level, too. As for my specific role within Friends of the Children, I am working directly under their Officer of Expansion & Policy to complete and assist with tasks related to expansion strategies & techniques, research to inform policy, and other projects that may arise. So far, this summer, I have helped complete an updated Business Plan for the organization to present to potential investors, helping me to get to know the ins and outs of the organization that I may not have been familiar with otherwise. I have also independently written an issue brief on the educational outcomes of the youth we serve, focusing on data gathered on things like suspensions, expulsions, high school graduation rates, and grade-level progressions each year.
What has been truly fascinating about this internship is having a complete understanding of the potential impact a single mentor can have on a child’s life. Historically, 40% of our youth have, at some point, experienced the foster care system, while many have parents who did not graduate high school or have been incarcerated. Although the youth we work with are frequently disadvantaged by the systems they are a part of, they consistently avoid outcomes such as dropping out of high school, teen pregnancy, or becoming involved in the juvenile justice system. Through this opportunity, I have been able to meet many incredible youth, Friends (mentors), and Friends of the Children staff, all of whom have shown to me, in different ways, why our work is so significant.
Experiences like Maraena Allen-Lewis’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Mitzy Rodriguez