MacKenzie Scott supports Oregon-based children’s mentoring organization with $44 million donation

Billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott has donated $44 million to Oregon-based mentoring organization Friends of the Children, which supports children at risk of entering the welfare system by matching them with a longtime mentor.

The unrestricted donation, announced Thursday, provides $15 million to the organization’s national headquarters and distributes $29 million in direct donations to 12 of the organization’s chapters from Tampa Bay to Detroit to Los Angeles.

Mentors Ashakia Morgan, left, and Angel Garcia, top center, chat with Aleksander Robinson, 7, while playing Battleship as Issac Portillo, 8, top right, plays drums in a Friends of the Children office on Wednesday, August 24, 2022, in Lancaster, Calif. Billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott has donated $44 million to Oregon-based mentoring organization Friends of the Children, which supports children at risk of entering the welfare system by matching them with a longtime mentor.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

Terri Sorensen, CEO of Friends of the Children, said Scott made it known through intermediaries why she chose his organization.

“She said they were doing this because they really hoped more people would find out about Friends of the Children,” Sorensen said, adding that she had worked with The Bridgespan Group through the vetting process for several months. before the amount is finalized.

This mirrors what Scott has often said about her giving, writing in a 2020 Medium article that she and her team rigorously study organizations, in part, “to pave the way for unsolicited and unexpected gifts given in complete safety.” trust and without any conditions”.

“Because our research is data-driven and rigorous,” Scott wrote, “our donation process can be humane and gentle.”

Sorensen recalled the “surreal” moment in June when she learned of Scott’s gift. She was visiting the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where cell phone service was limited, and had to travel to get a signal to take the call.

“I was actually in a ditch when I got the word,” she said.

Scott’s donation nearly doubles the organization’s overall resources, as the National Network’s budget for 2022 was $50 million. Founded in 1993, Friends of the Children pays a professional mentor to befriend and support children and their families for 12 years starting in kindergarten.

In 2020, the latest federal figures for the year are available, over 631,000 children passed through the foster care system. Often families who come into contact with the foster care system have experienced some sort of trauma and, for whatever reason, have been unable to get support at a less critical time, Sandra Gasca-Gonzalez, vice president of Annie E. Casey Foundation, says.

Program Director Alan Arce, right, chats with siblings Moises, left, and Yancy Rodriguez at a Friends of Children office Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022, in Lancaster, Calif.  Billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott has donated $44 million to the Oregon-based mentoring organization, Friends of the Children, which supports children at risk of entering the welfare system by pairing them with a longtime mentor .

Program Director Alan Arce, right, chats with siblings Moises, left, and Yancy Rodriguez at a Friends of Children office Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022, in Lancaster, Calif. Billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott has donated $44 million to the Oregon-based mentoring organization, Friends of the Children, which supports children at risk of entering the welfare system by pairing them with a longtime mentor .

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

The foundation previously supported Friends of the Children and Gasca-Gonzalez said she hopes one of the results of the philanthropic support will be to produce evidence and research so it can qualify for evidence-based government funding. .

“The ones around the whole family are the ones that are really promising,” she said.

Over the past eight years, the network has grown from five chapters to 26, with the help of a $4 million grant in 2016 from the Corporation for National and Community Service, a US government agency. This grant was intended to help the organization expand its program and study its impact on children living in poverty.

Chapters plan to use Scott’s donation to pay higher salaries to mentors, whom they call “friends,” and expand to serve more children, Sorensen said, though she pointed out that each chapter is managed independently.

National headquarters will add staff to augment the administrative support, such as grant writing and accounting, that it provides to chapters and establish an impact fund for chapters seeking grants.

The gift is Scott’s latest to be made public and expands the pattern of his giving to other organizations that provide mentorship and support to children like Junior Achievement USA, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and Boys & Girls Clubs of America. .

Like almost all of his donations of more than $12 billion since 2019, Scott’s donation to Friends of Children was unlimited and Sorensen said they intended to spend the funds within five years. Scott’s large gifts have challenged other wealthy donors and foundations to assess their own giving strategies.

Scott and her husband, Dan Jewett, donate in relative secrecy. Giving as individuals and not through a foundation means their donations aren’t known until the recipients disclose them or through their occasional blog posts. She has previously written that she does not respond to press inquiries so as not to overshadow the work of the organizations she donates to.

Los Angeles, which has one of the largest numbers of foster children than anywhere in the country, is one of the Friends of Children chapters that will receive the donations. The organization has two locations there, including one opened in 2019 in Antelope Valley, located about an hour north of the city. This office obtained funding from the county mental health department to divert children at risk of being separated from their parents or guardians from entering foster care.

“We’re getting reports from out there, from parents and their caregivers, that not only do they have hopes and dreams for their children, but they have their own hopes and dreams and don’t feel so alone having a friend by their side,” Sorensen said, referring to the mentor assigned to the family.

Their chapters now partner with a range of local organizations to identify children most at risk of being drawn into the welfare system and to match them with a long-term mentor.

“Maybe the parents were in foster care, didn’t graduate from high school, were incarcerated. Let’s go see these families before they enter the system and keep them out,” Sorensen said. “So that’s really where we like to be on the prevention side.”

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