Giving Tuesday Finale: Friends of the Children LA

For the final post of our Giving Tuesday series, we have some bonus content for you from Friends of the Children–Los Angeles!

Friends of the Children – Los Angeles (Friends LA) is a part of a national network of 22 chapters working to create a better future for youth by connecting children impacted by the foster care system to a paid, professionally trained mentor called a “Friend.” The organization hires and trains these “Friends,” whose full-time job is to support and encourage the success of youth despite the challenges they may face throughout their childhoods—12+ years, no matter what.

Friends LA starts early and upstream.  For the past three years, the Friends LA chapter has represented the Greater Los Angeles area by enrolling 224 deserving children (ages 4-6) and families in both South LA and Antelope Valley. They are committed in walking alongside each child for the next 12+ years, providing four hours of weekly support in the home and classroom until they graduate high school.

Metrolink spoke with Executive Director, Thomas Lee, about the organization’s empowering mission, and their inspiring role in the lives of vulnerable Greater Los Angeles youth. This community-driven activism is especially important to Lee on a personal level as he’s a native born Angeleno, raised in Pasadena. Lee has dedicated his life to serving the most vulnerable children in the area – so when he saw an opportunity to foster the growth of Friends of the Children–Los Angeles, he jumped at the chance and began to build the program.

Role Models are the Best Type of Models 

“I believe that this organization’s model really makes a difference by changing and disrupting the cycle of foster care in Los Angeles,” says Lee about his key objectives working with Friends LA. “Our aim is to ensure our children remain connected to their families and are prepared for adulthood. We work multi-generationally to make sure we’re having a positive influence on the entire family dynamic and home environment.”

He notes the children they work with don’t care about details adults concern themselves with, such as socioeconomic status – they just want to “have fun and be loved.” For this reason, Friends LA aims to give these children an additional role model who can support them and offer them someone to trust, confide in, play with, and look up to.

“Friends” Can Also Be Family 

A Friend works with their partner for four hours each week from the initial pairing through high school graduation. Lee says the organization has been quickly expanding and currently serves 224 children throughout metro and South Los Angeles and Antelope Valley. They’re scheduled to add an additional 100 children in 2021 as a part of their Fostering Resiliency Project for black boys in foster care.

“We look at this organization as an opportunity to serve the community,” says Lee, who reminisces about a particularly impactful experience from his time cultivating the growth of the philanthropy.  He dives into the story of a young boy he calls “Mark” who was living with his grandmother and having significant behavioral problems at 4-years-old. Lee could already foresee the benefits that the structure and guidance of having a Friend would offer Mark and his grandmother.

It was a special case for Lee, because he was able to pair Mark with a former mentee named Victor, who was someone  Lee had helped from a previous organization he worked with that supported undocumented foster youth.

“Victor had also been under the probation system, and his probation officer had threatened to deport him if he made any mistakes,” recalls Lee on his first encounter with Victor. “We were able to get him an internship and he began to thrive.”

Friends for Life 

“Now, Victor has been one of the best Friends we’ve had. Under the support of Victor, Marks no longer has behavior issues – and the few times I’ve been able to spend time with them together, you can tell they genuinely enjoy each other’s company.”

Friends LA continues to make an impact on the lives of LA’s foster youth by offering a supportive role model for kids who need a reliable mentor.

“I have watched Mark continue to grow, have fun, and be loved,” says Lee. “Two-and-a-half-years later, we’ve followed through with him on what matters most and as a result, the response we see from him today is what we planned and hoped for in the beginning.”

To donate to Friends of the Children – Los Angeles, check out this link.

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