Friends of the Children-Detroit's (Friends Detroit) mission is to break the cycle of generational poverty in southeast Michigan and Wayne County. And thanks to help from the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) Foundation, the nonprofit is now better equipped to do so. Friends Detroit is the Detroit chapter of a nationwide organization that works with local kids who are facing the greatest obstacles and enrolls them into a mentorship program. From Kindergarten until the time they graduate high school, these children enjoy long-term relationships with stable, caring adults, who help address social determinants of health and promote each child’s prosocial development, health, and educational success. Currently, Friends Detroit has 48 children in its program. The chapter enrolled 32 children in 2020 and 16 more in 2021. “The model really works,” said Friends Detroit Development Director Laura Blum. “What we believe, and it’s actually been proven in research, is that the single most important factor in a child’s life is their relationship with a stable, caring adult.” The 12-year model has proven fruitful across other chapters of the national nonprofit, and the Detroit chapter is well on its way to sustained success despite launching less than three years ago. In 2021, the BCBSM Foundation awarded a $34,000 Community Health Matching Grant to the organization. Blum said the grant allowed Friends Detroit to invest in enthusiastic professional mentors who are filling a void in the lives of young, impressionable children across southeast Michigan.
“Our mentors are spending at least 12 hours a month with each child, so that’s three to four hours a week,” Blum said. “Some of that’s in school, some of it’s out of school in the summertime. A lot of it involves doing some enrichment and engagement activities.” In addition to helping Friends Detroit employ five mentors, grant funds have also helped facilitate working relationships with community health partners that provide these children with increased access to preventative primary care, dental care, and mental health services. “A big activity we had recently involved a community partnership of ours with Vision to Learn,” Blum explained. “We had them on-site and invited all our families to come for free vision screenings. If they needed it, the kids got free glasses. I think we did 23 screenings and 17 needed glasses. So, this was an activity and partnership that gave our kids access to an important health component that, maybe, the kids haven’t had access to before.” The personalized work Friends Detroit does to help prepare children for a future of good health and academic success is invaluable, but those aren’t the only facets of a child’s upbringing that Friends Detroit mentors and staff address. Members of the organization are there to instill basic life skills in young children, like how to brush their teeth and tie their shoes. They also take pride in the precious bonding moments that come with mentorship. “We talk a lot about small moments with them,” Blum said. “On Saturdays, one of our mentors, Jordan, will take his kids down to get haircuts. And they just have this incredible bonding experience where they get their haircuts and get to be in the barbershop environment and have that kind of community experience.” Children enrolled in Friends Detroit are enrolled mostly based on their living situations. They come from low-income neighborhoods in Wayne County and southeast Michigan, and despite having caregivers, most children do not receive adequate attention, support, and guidance, for a multitude of reasons.
“Each situation is different,” Blum said. “There are single parents in our program. We have one girl who lost her mother during (the COVID-19 pandemic) and now lives with her grandmother. There are some incarcerated parents. Sometimes it’s because these parents have to hold two to three jobs. So, I want to make that point, too, that sometimes it’s about them trying to fight against their low-income status. I think it’s a loving act for the caregivers of these kids to enroll them in this program. The best thing you can do for your child is let other people love them and support them as well.” Myra Tetteh, Senior Program Officer of the BCBSM Foundation noted, "we recognize that there are many factors, including having mentor support, that contribute to improving physical and mental health. Ensuring that our youth are on the right track with their physical and mental health can provide the behaviors and habits that will support them becoming healthy and thriving adults. Our support of this program brings us pride as it is in line with our vision to improve health and thus create a healthy generation.” Friends Detroit wants to expand. Blum said the goal is to eventually have 96 children enrolled in the program. She added that she’s grateful for the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation’s assistance in helping Friends Detroit touch the lives of so many children in need over the last year and a half. “It’s so important that organizations like ours can touch these lives,” Blum said. “The Foundation believed in us. They asked tough questions and made sure that we could be good stewards of the investment. We’re so thankful because it’s really equipped us with resources needed to execute the goal.” BCBSM Foundation grant programs address improved health and access to quality, high-value care by targeting health disparities, physical health, behavioral health, substance use disorder, mental health, maternal-infant health, health inequities and the social determinants of health through health care research and innovative health programs. For more information on BCBSM Foundation grantmaking search “Foundation” on MiBluePerspectives.com. Click here to view the list of recent grant recipients. More Foundation stories:
- New University of Michigan Project Addresses Diabetes in Black Men With BCBSM Foundation Grant Funding
- Calvin University’s Women Supporting Women Program Reaches New Heights with Investigator-Initiated Research Award
- Washtenaw Area Council for Children Expands Educational Services with Community Health Matching Grant
Photo credit: Friends of the Children-Detroit