Salaried mentors may reduce anxiety and depression among at-risk kids. At least, that's one of the preliminary findings of research into a program in Portland and Seattle.
It's called Friends of the Children. Portland millionaire-turned-social-entrepreneur Duncan Campbell is the founder.
Duncan Campbell: "We go to the most difficult neighborhoods and the most difficult schools and ask for the child they don't expect to finish grade school, let alone high school."
More than 10 years ago, reporter Colin Fogarty met a boy enrolled in the program Campbell started. Now he returns to find out whether the paid mentors actually worked.
When Anthony Blackmon was 8-years-old, he was smart and flashed a sweet smile. But his principal at the time, Joseph Malone also remembers Anthony was....
Joseph Malone: "...always getting into something. And he would get angry. And it took him awhile to calm down."
Anthony’s teachers worried if they didn’t intervene early he'd grow even angrier and eventually join a gang. That's why they recommended him for Friends of the Children.
Here's Anthony in 2000, shooting hoops with his mentor, Earl Fonville. The two hung out together and talked a lot about getting control of his behavior.
Anthony Blackmon: "I learned to think positive and to be the best I can be. And I just try to do the right thing.
Anthony told Fonville he wanted to grow up to be a Christian hip-hop artist.
Earl Fonville: "I definitely think that he can be those things that he wants to be if he makes good choices. That’s what I try to instill in him."
Fonville’s role was something of a social worker, friend, teacher and advisor - all rolled into one. Anthony's mother Cheryl Blackmon could see a difference early on.
Cheryl Blackmon: "Anthony, before he was in the program seemed to be angry all the time…And since Earl’s been around him and in his life, I’ve noticed that that’s calmed down a whole lot."
Ten years later, there are echoes of Cheryl Blackmon's comment in new research by the National Institutes of Health.
The full results won't be clear for years. But the preliminary findings indicate that kids enrolled in Friends of the Children tend to show less anxiety, aggression and depression than other kids facing the same challenges.
University of Oregon researcher Mark Eddy sees the most progress among the most difficult kids, almost to the point that....
Mark Eddy: "They look normal on their parent ratings. And that's really exciting."
The mentoring group's executive director Judy Stavisky says her program's hired friends get intensive social work training and work with no more than eight kids.
Judith Stavisky: "The role of the mentor is both an anchor and the sail for the kids because these kids have very little of each.”
Stavisky says the key is sticking with those kids for the long haul...from first grade through the end of high school. That was the original vision from Friends’ founder, Duncan Campbell.
He grew up in the same rough Portland neighborhood as Anthony and faced challenges of his own -- alcoholic parents, dad in prison.
Campbell went on to make a fortune in timber investments. But he says measuring success as a social entrepreneur is a different calculation entirely.
Duncan Campbell: "Like in business, you know what you're doing monthly, yearly and you see the outcome, or you see the reward or the failure. Here, we don't know for five to seven to eight years let alone 12 years whether you've made a real difference in a child's life. It takes patience."
Campbell's creation now spans six cities including Seattle and New York. But these salaried mentorships are costly: about $9000 per child per year. That means the program can only reach as many kids as money from Campbell and other private donors can cover.
Executive direct Judy Stavisky is hoping the National Institutes of Health study will eventually lead to federal funding.
Judy Stavisky: "It is a hard decision to make to invest in something that is so expensive on the front end but certainly bears substantial fruit on the back end.
Fruit like an 85 percent high school graduation rate Friends kids, along with low teen pregnancy and crime rates. So were 12 of years of investment worth it in the case of Anthony Blackmon?
He's now 18, attending Benedict College in South Carolina. The boy who wanted to be a Christian hip-hop artist is studying music.
Here he is in the same gym in Portland where I met him 10 years ago, not shooting hoops but playing one of his own songs.
Anthony says it was hard to leave Friends. At a good-bye ceremony last May, his mentor...
Anthony Blackmon: "...cried like a baby. And you know I cried too. This place helped me get to a place in my mind, saying, I can do this. You know, I went through the fire and I'm coming out as pure gold.”
Anthony says rather than be in the spotlight, his ambition is to be a music producer. That way he says he can help someone else succeed.
© 2011 Northwest News Network