When people talk about Mercy Home, they most commonly refer to our residential program. As you know, 134 young men and women actually live on one of our two Chicago campuses where they receive the safety, structure, support and care so they can grow and thrive and have the opportunity for a happy and fulfilled life. What many people are unaware of, however, is our Friends First program.
Started thirty years ago, Friends First is a volunteer mentoring program which matches adults with at-risk children to serve as role models, friends and confidants. Mentors in our program are all ages and from all walks of life but are united by their concern for hurting youth. In a sense, Friends First is a prevention program, as it aims to reach out to young people who do not have various support structures.
Just recently, I had the pleasure of attending a Friends First picnic in which the mentors and their matches enjoyed a delicious barbeque and outdoor games. At the picnic, Sandy, a twelve year old girl, approached me with a large grin. She excitedly announced that this was the first picnic she had ever attended; she especially liked the hula hoop contest and snow cones!
Before meeting her mentor Megan, Sandy was self-conscious, depressed and hopeless. Her father was recently incarcerated and some classmates took to bullying her. When her brother noticed that Sandy literally cried herself to sleep every night, she sought out Mercy Home’s Friends First program. We quickly matched Sandy with Megan, who we knew could be a terrific role model. Within weeks, the cloud over Sandy’s head had lifted. Her friendship with Megan inspired her to work harder in school, seek out trustworthy friends and join her school’s drama club. For the first time in months, Sandy was finally herself. After spending time with this “match” at the picnic, I firmly believe that both Megan and our Friends First program drastically improved Sandy’s quality of life. I left the event with a refreshed intuition that not only is Friends First going strong, but it is saving lives.
As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of Friends First, I invite you, our Partners in Prayer, to commemorate this occasion with a special prayer for the young people and mentors involved in the program.