Jan Loar said when she and her family moved to Highland County from Columbus, they fell in love with the people – but it wasn’t long before they started hearing about how hard the area has been hit with opiate abuse.
“We learned… that there’s a really horrible opioid epidemic here,” she said.
After learning more about the problem, Loar said she was alarmed at the amount of children it affects.
“A lot of kids are falling through the cracks,” she said.
Since she believes good education is what “pulls people up,” she said, she started volunteering as a mentor in the local public school system, eventually attending the National Mentoring Summit in Washington D.C. in February.
“That’s where I learned about Friends of the Children,” she said.
Friends of the Children, a national non-profit organization, selects children in the public school system who are at the highest risk of continuing the cycle of poverty in their lives, then assigns them a salaried mentor committed to staying with them for however long it takes to graduate.
“The idea is to stay with the kids,” Loar said. “That’s the number-one goal.”
With parents’ permission, mentors attend classes alongside children and meet with them regularly to be a positive voice in their lives.
Currently, according to FOTC’s website, 60 percent of the children selected by the organization have parents who did not graduate high school, 50 percent have parents who have been incarcerated, and 85 percent were born to a teen parent.
On the flipside, the website says 83 percent graduate high school, 93 percent avoid the juvenile justice system and 98 percent have avoided early parenting.
With that in mind, Loar contacted FOTC and began meeting with local officials to start a local chapter.
“People have been amazing,” she said. “If this can get off the ground, it would help a lot of people… We’re getting some momentum.”
Depending on funding, Loar said the chapter would probably include a mentor hiring director, program manager and three mentors as a start.
Currently, Loar said the idea is still in the early stages of development. To be approved by FOTC, a prospective chapter has to demonstrate a three-year operating budget, which Loar estimated would be about $750,000 for a three-mentor model, funding that includes salaries, benefits and other costs.
Although there is some government funding available, Loar said most of the money would come from private sources such as corporations, foundations and individuals. At this point, she said, the most valuable way for people to get involved is making commitments to provide financial support.
Loar said her faith has been the driving force behind the project, and it’s what keeps her from getting discouraged.
“If God wants it to happen, it’ll happen,” she said.
Dr. Kevin Boys, president of Southern State Community College, expressed interest in being involved.
“I wasn’t familiar with Friends of the Children as an organization, but I spent some time with Jan this week and reviewed the website, and it’s a pretty unique, very compelling way to go about reaching young people and making sure they have positive influences in their lives for the duration of their school years,” he said. “It’s a big job, putting together the finances to tackle this, but I think it’s a very worth-it effort to see what we can get going in Highland County… It’s one of the only mentoring programs I’ve known that utilizes employed mentors that are well-trained in order to work with the children for 12 years.”
FOTC founder Duncan Campbell, who grew up in poverty in Portland, Ore., overcame his circumstances and eventually became a successful businessman, then decided to apply his business experience to helping children, according to the FOTC website.
Campbell established the organization in 1993 in the same neighborhood where he grew up, employing three salaried, professional mentors for 24 children. Currently, FOTC employs hundreds of mentors serving thousands of children in Boston, New York, Seattle, Portland and several other cities, according to organization material.
In a report published in August of 2016, Charity Navigator gave FOTC an overall four-star rating, giving it 92 out of 100 for financial performance, and 96 out of 100 for accountability and transparency.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.