- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 28, 2002

Staff writer Denise Barnes recently interviewed Joel M. Friedman, executive director of Fairfax Partnership for Youth Inc.

Question: How was the Fairfax Partnership for Youth Inc. established?
Answer: We were formed back in 1995 in response to a gang-related death at one of the county's high schools. The Fairfax Board of Supervisors and the School Board put their heads together and decided [the county] needed to do something to address the issue of youth violence.
Ultimately, a task force called the Community Initiative to Reduce Youth Violence was created. And over the course of 18 months, the task force interviewed parents, youth, members of the ecumenical community, gang members, members of local government, members of the school system, the business community and community-based organizations. The task force determined there needed to be an ongoing entity whose primary focus was to address the issues of reducing youth violence.
One of the results was to create the Fairfax Partnership for Youth. The task force developed a comprehensive plan, which identified seven key areas: hard-to-reach youth and parents, role models and community standards, prevention programs, youth employment and training, information dissemination, community collaborations, and advocacy for youth. So those are the seven areas of the comprehensive plan that drove the partnership's development of its initial programs and that drives the development of new and continuing programs.
Q: How does the Fairfax Partnership for Youth work?
A: The partnership brings together the Fairfax-Falls Church community to reduce youth violence and promote positive youth development. The partnership works with many parties in the community to make this happen.
We're a facilitator, a networker, a collaborator, a strengthener of the community's capacity to address the needs of its youth. Fairfax Partnership programs and services are developed through task forces comprised of Fairfax Partnership board members, community organizations, representatives of local government, school systems and youth.
Our partnership programs and services include the Fairfax Mentoring Partnership, the Support on Suspension (SOS) program, the After-School Program for middle-school-aged youth, which provides structured after-school activities in the county's 23 middle schools. The [after-school] programs are provided in partnership with the Fairfax County Public Schools' Office of Safe and Drug-Free Use and community coalitions.
Q: Tell me a bit about the Fairfax Mentoring Partnership.
A: The Fairfax Mentoring Partnership works with the community at large to [help residents] understand the needs of youth in regard to mentoring.
Some of the things we have done in this regard is to help facilitate the creation of the Mentoring Provider Council, which is a group of 32 organizations that provide mentoring services directly to youth. The Mentoring Provider Council meets quarterly and offers opportunities for networking among providers of mentoring services, information exchange among the providers of mentoring services and presentations by guest speakers. The council helps to promote the best practices in mentoring, keeping abreast of recent trends in the mentoring field.
Among the success stories that we had while working with the school system was the creation of MentorWorks. It's a mentoring organization that operates within the school system. MentorWorks matches prospective mentors with students in grades K-12 in the Fairfax County school system.
The Fairfax Mentoring Partnership has been working with Fairfax County Executive Tony Griffin to establish a pilot program that gives county employees time off from work to mentor. The Fairfax Mentoring Partnership recruits, trains and refers prospective mentors. The [partnership] has worked with the National Mentoring Partnership … local governments, school systems and the commonwealth of Virginia to designate January of each year as National Mentoring Month.
Another of our partnerships the Support on Suspension (SOS) program provides high school students suspended from a school in Fairfax County with a safe and supervised environment while staying on top of their schoolwork and receiving support with other issues, including those leading to their suspension.
Q: Are students receptive to SOS?
A: Students respond very well to the SOS program. It provides them an opportunity to interact with adults that aren't teachers or school administrators or parents. Sometimes that enhances the willingness of the student to learn or attempt to understand the circumstances that led to their suspension. Students may receive referral information to other community-based resources that might be of interest and benefit to them.
Last year, a student was referred to the SOS program for fighting in school. SOS staff learned the student wanted to become a nurse. The SOS staff worked with Inova Hospital and invited a nurse to come out and talk to the student. This helped her understand what's involved in the nursing profession and promoted her interest in focusing on schoolwork. The student is now pursuing an education in nursing.
The school system by law is not able to serve all suspended students on campus, which is why the SOS program is a viable alternative for the schools when in-house suspension is not available. In each SOS site, services are provided by staff and volunteers based on a school-day schedule.
Q: So far, how many youth have been paired with mentors?
A: Through the Fairfax Mentoring Partnership and its partners in the community, more than 2,200 at-risk youth are presently matched in mentor relationships in Fairfax County. Growing evidence shows mentoring relationships between adults and youth offer the personal care and support so frequently lacking in the lives of young people today.
Seventy-three percent of students said their mentors helped them raise their goals and expectations. Fifty-nine percent of mentored students improved their grades.
The high school dropout rate of students with mentors is 1.1 percent; for students who don't have mentors, it's 11.7 percent. (The percentages were taken from a … Harris poll in 2000.)
It's not so much that kids don't have contact with their parents, but in some situations, parents are working multiple jobs to survive in Fairfax County. Children coming from other countries need additional support in transitioning to their new life in this country and in this county. Parents who also come from other countries are not necessarily able to understand what their children need and to help them transition.
Sometimes there may be large families where it's almost impossible for young people to get the one-on-one attention they need. And mentoring may work to expose kids to discussions on personal development, career development, interpersonal development and academic development.


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