Through the power of relationships, Friends of the Children transforms lives and breaks cycles of generational poverty

By Regence
January 08, 2024
Friends of the Children

Transforming despair into hope. Going from barely surviving to thriving. Emphasizing education, rewarding employment, and encouraging healthy lifestyles as strong family values. These life-changing outcomes are possible when families break the cycle of generational poverty.

Children in low-income families are statistically more likely to live below or near the poverty line when they grow up. As adults, they have had less access to quality education, are more likely to be involved in criminal activities, frequently become teenage parents, and experience poor health outcomes associated with social determinants of health. When this is the reality for one generation after another, the outcomes eventually impact everyone and society overall.     

Among U.S. children born around 1980 who grew up in low-income families, 34% were experiencing poverty in adulthood compared to 17% same-aged adults who did not. That means twice as many adults likely perpetuated the cycle of generational poverty as they raised their kids. Today, 11.6 million children are living in poverty nationwide, according to Kids Count®. About 436,000 of these at-risk kids are in the four states Regence serves.

An evidence-based solution

As a nonprofit community partner, Friends of the Children offers a uniquely distinct solution to this long-standing societal problem. Its Two-Generation approach helps families build the stability needed to break the cycle of generational poverty. Based on an evidence-informed, research-based model, Friends of the Children selects youth experiencing the greatest systemic barriers and pairs them with a full-time, paid professional mentor. Called a “Friend,” each mentor spends four hours weekly with their youth in the classroom, school, home, and community to build resilience, social emotional skills, connection and belonging. 

Once enrolled, Friends of the Children commits to provide their youth with a full-time professional mentor through their entire childhood, from kindergarten through high school graduation.


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“Friends-Utah selects children 4-6 years of age who are facing obstacles like generational poverty, homelessness, foster care, and involvement in child welfare services and pairs them with full-time, paid mentors,” said Kelsey Lewis, executive director at Friends of the Children Utah. “By moving mentorship out of the volunteer realm, we can commit to each child for the long term – 12+ years, no matter what.”

The power of one

As mentors, Friends help children develop nine core assets that provide a solid foundation for future success such as self-management, perseverance and problem solving. The Friends of the Children model also enables whole family success by teaching parenting skills, building resiliency, and encouraging protective dynamics that prevent adverse childhood experiences like abuse and neglect.

Decades-long, national studies show that this approach has an exceptionally positive impact on systems of adversity and poverty. When paired with a Friend for 12+ years, youth achieve outcomes that give them more choices and opportunities as they enter adulthood:

  • 83% graduate or receive a GED
    • Although 50% of their parents dropped out
  • 92% enroll in post-secondary education, join the military, or obtain a living-wage job
  • 93% remain free from the juvenile justice system
    • Although 60% have parents who were incarcerated
  • 98% wait to become parents until after their teens
    • Although 85% were born to a teenage parent

Lewis emphasizes that the real power in the Friends of the Children model is in meaningful relationships. “We create connection, belonging and the consistency that youth need to grow and thrive. Our services are individualized and intentional. Every mentoring interaction is built around one or more of our intermediate outcomes including school success, prosocial development, improving health, making good choices, and having plans and skills for the future.”  

“We know from years of research that helping one child live out a new story through Friends of the Children saves the community $900,000,” said Lewis. “And every dollar invested in our nonprofit returns more than seven dollars in saved social costs by diverting youth from poverty as adults, teenage pregnancy, unhealthy lifestyles, and involvement in the criminal justice system.”

Aligned in advancing equity through whole person health

As a nonprofit organization, Friends of the Children depends on donations and philanthropic partners to sustain its commitments to youth and families – including Regence and its charitable arm, Cambia Health Foundation. Its vision for at-risk youth and families perfectly aligns with our work to advance equity through whole person health in underserved communities.

  • Regence was one of the founding donors to make a catalytic investment and bring Friends of the Children to Utah. This year, Cambia Health Foundation, invested another $50,000 in Friends-Utah to support youth and families.
  • Cambia Health Foundation has also invested over $900,000 in Friends of the Children nationally and in the communities we serve. A portion of these funds, $50,000, will support its new chapter in Idaho.
  • Regence employees across the company donated 300 volunteer hours and generated $208,000 for Friends of the Children, which was matched by Cambia Health Foundation.

Learn about Cambia Health Foundation’s strategy for building resilient children and families, enabling healthy and connected aging, and supporting the health care workforce here.

Friends of the Children is in 36 locations nationwide including Oregon, Utah, Washington and several other states. A new chapter will open in Eastern Idaho in 2024! Visit a chapter in your state to learn more about its long-term approach to generational change.