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Family of Friends formed 17 relationships during first year after coming to Gresham.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Family of Friends Executive Director Michelle Kosta thanked the Gresham community for being supportive through the mentoring program's first year.During Family of Friends' one-year celebration since coming to Gresham, one of the mentees served by the group took the microphone to say thanks.

"I am really glad to be a part of this program," said 9-year-old Ava, who is mentored by Erika Michaud. "I wanted someone who is tough and strong like me, and now I have Erika."

The independent mentoring program held an open house happy hour Thursday, Oct. 19, a night filled with fun at Mojave Grill & Cantina, 77 N.E. Fourth St. There was a raffle, appetizers, no-host bar and a live performance of Gresham's new theme song, performed by Family of Friends Executive Director Michelle Kosta.

"We are passionate about people, mentors, and kids," Kosta said. "We have had such an amazing year, and the community has been so supportive."

About 100 people attended the event to celebrate Family of Friends successes. The event helped fundraise for the program, with Powell Valley Assisted Living & Memory Care Community serving as the title sponsor.

"I don't know what else to say except thank you — it's been an incredible year," Kosta said.

There were stories of successful Gresham matches around the room. One talked about 11-year-old John, whose mother wanted her son to have a male role model to help build his confidence. So, she contacted Family of Friends, and John was matched with his mentor Brandon in August.

"My life right now is amazing," John said. "I'm doing good in basketball, I'm playing viola and I have Brandon in my life."

Family of Friends is all about the power of relationships. The volunteer group uses a community of mentors within East Multnomah County to support vulnerable children across the city. Mentors, which can be families, couples and individuals, provide another positive role model for the kids. They help guide positive behavior while supporting parents who are trying to make ends meet. The kids are usually in elementary school, and could stay with their mentor all through high school.

So far, the partnership between the city, which offers space in City Hall and logistical support, and the nonprofit has been beneficial to both parties. Family of Friends helps further Gresham's goal of improving opportunities for children and families.

After one year in Gresham, Family of Friends has already made great strides. They formed 17 new relationships to go along with their 52 ongoing pairings. Their mentors spent 3,250 hours with the kids, and went on 1,250 fun activities.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Nine-year-old mentee Ava spoke during the event alongside her mentor, Erika Michaud.A survey conducted with all of the kids in the program showed that 98 percent felt they had developed a strong connection to their mentor, while 75 percent had maintained or improved their social/emotional skills linked to academic success.

In addition, six city employees have signed on as mentors, with more on the way.

"We would like to congratulate Family of Friends on their first year in Gresham," said Councilor Jerry Hinton, who is about to start mentoring a six-year-old.

To learn more about Family of Friends, visit www.family-of-friends.org. There will also be two info sessions from 6-7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 1, and Tuesday, Dec. 5, at Gresham City Hall.

"We are always looking for more mentors, because the number of kids we can serve is directly tied to those willing to help," Kosta said.

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