Looking for a way to make a real difference in one child’s life?

Mentoring and coaching a child are great ways to make a difference!

All it takes is a few hours and a couple times a month to make a lasting impact on a child’s life.

Friends First aims to positively effect the lives of children, mentors, and families. We focus on engaging youth in fun, purposeful activities through mutually rewarding mentoring relationships that result in positive, lasting change for all involved. In addition, our mentoring experience exposes youth to group and one-on-one opportunities to build on their strengths, develop skills, increase self-esteem, and nurture social relationships in order to help them reach their full potential as members of the community.

Friends First screens and trains adult volunteers who wish to mentor a child. We provide ongoing support, supervision, and encouragement to matches. Our match support staff helps to foster significant and life-changing friendships.

To be a mentor to a child, you need to be 21 or older, patient, and a good listener.

Research shows that youth with mentors are:

50%

More likely to attend college

46%

Less likely to use drugs

27%

Less likely to use alcohol

“I wanted to find a perfect organization that would reflect something that I was looking for when I was a newly arrived immigrant. Mercy Home and Friends First gave me an opportunity to be useful to somebody in the same way that I wanted somebody to be useful to me.”
Yulia, Friends First Mentor

“I love Friends First. I’m actually recruiting quite a few of my friends to get them involved. The Friends First staff make it very easy by providing materials, ideas, and recommendations for outings. The program fits into my life very easily. I really enjoy it and look forward to it every other week.”
Jake, Friends First Mentor

“My mentor is super funny! He is very kind and awesome. I love hanging out with him. My favorite things we did last year were going to the arcade and going mini golfing.”
Josh, Friends First Mentee

“Mercy Home’s Friends First Mentoring Program has encouraged my daughters to be themselves and love themselves as well. It really has inspired my youngest daughter and raised her self-esteem. Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. They can – just like they do at Friends First – by encouraging another, one person at a time. Thank you, Mercy Home.”
Mrs. Stephanie, parent of Friends First Mentees

Who We Serve

Friends First serves youth between the ages of nine and 17 who come from the city of Chicago and select suburbs. A majority of our referrals come from the South and West Side neighborhoods of Chicago.

African Americans and Latinos represent over 95 percent of the youth we serve. Our children are predominantly from single-parent and low-income homes.

How Mentors Receive Support

To ensure successful, meaningful matches, Friends First staff offers support above and beyond what is provided in typical mentoring programs. This includes providing access to a licensed clinical social worker, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Continuous training opportunities are provided to ensure our mentors are supported in their roles.

Attend an Info Session

West Loop Campus

1140 W. Jackson Blvd, Chicago, IL 60607

  • May 7 & 21 (6-7pm)
  • June 11 & 25 (6-7pm)
  • July 9 & 23 (6-7pm)
  • August 13 & 27 (6-7pm)

Walsh Campus

11600 S. Longwood Dr, Chicago, IL 60643

  • May 9 (6:30-7:30pm)
  • June 13 (6:30-7:30pm)
  • July 18 (6:30-7:30pm)
  • August 15 (6:30-7:30pm)

Interested in becoming a Friends First Mentor?

Choose an info session to attend below! You could be the person who makes the difference in a young person’s life.

All fields are required.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Mercy Home’s Friends First Mentoring Program?

Friends First matches mentors and positive role models with at-risk kids in the Chicago area to create a foundation of encouragement. These kids face many challenges but may not require placement in a residential treatment setting like Mercy Home for Boys & Girls. Instead, the additional support of a trusted friend may be enough for an underserved kid to find the confidence they need to thrive.

Mercy Home responds to their need through our Friends First Mentoring Program, serving youth throughout the city of Chicago and select suburbs who live at home with their own families. Mentees often come from single-parent households with economic struggles or from neighborhoods with limited resources and opportunities.

Mentors support their mentee in gaining self-confidence, finding direction, and resisting negative peer pressure. They expand their mentee’s horizons through shared activities. Many of these young people have never ventured outside of their own neighborhood prior to their involvement with Friends First. They benefit by experiencing new things, seeing new parts of the city, and having a friend to lend an ear and lead by example.

At Mercy Home, we have two mentoring programs, our Community-Based and our Site-Based Mentoring Programs. View a comparison to see which is best for you.

Who are the mentors? Do I need any special skills to be a mentor?

Friends First mentors are adult volunteers from all over the Chicago area who work in a variety of professions. Mentors come from all adult age groups and all walks of life but are united by their desire to make a difference in the lives of young people.

Mentoring isn’t about having a special talent—it’s about being yourself. If you are at least 21 years old, are patient, a good listener, and can be a positive role model, you already have what it takes to be a good mentor.

How are mentors selected?

All mentors must attend an information session and go through a careful screening process. Mentors must complete an in-person interview, an online background check, and have their fingerprints on file. Mentors also must attend mentor orientation and a training on preventing child sexual abuse.

The screening process can take a minimum of 4-8 weeks, based on a mentor’s initiative in completing these necessary requirements.

What types of activities do Friends First matches enjoy?

Our matches can be found playing sports in a park, visiting a local library, touring a museum, participating in cultural events, enjoying the zoo, or walking along The 606 trail. We encourage matches to choose free or low-cost activities that foster communication, confidence, and empowerment. We offer group activities and provide a book called 102 Things to Do With Two to all new matches. Mentors also receive our monthly update of activity ideas.

With whom will I be matched?

The kids in Friends First are willing participants who are eager and excited about having a mentor in their life. Our youth may have low self-esteem and struggle socially, but positive one-on-one attention from caring mentors can help change that. Often, our mentees simply want to broaden their horizons and have new experiences.

Our kids range in age from nine to 17 but are commonly between 11 and 15 years old.

What is the time commitment for mentors?

Matches in our Community-Based program meet at least twice a month to go on outings. Matches commit to doing so for one year. Weekend availability is required.

Matches in our Site-Based program meet during the school year, from late September to June. Site-Based mentors agree to spend a minimum of four hours for each meeting and follow a set calendar that is typically every other Saturday. Site-Based matches meet at Mercy Home’s 1140 W. Jackson location.

How are kids referred to Friends First?

Most of the youth in our program are referred by parents who recognize that their child will benefit from additional positive influences. We also receive referrals from schools and social service agencies.

Do I need a car to be a mentor?

Having access to a car is ideal for being matched in the Community-Based program. We strongly encourage mentors without cars to consider our Site-Based program, held at our 1140 W. Jackson location, which is easily accessed via public transportation.

If you do not have a car and prefer to be matched in our Community-Based program, we will match you with a child who lives near public transportation. Please keep in mind that the ease by which we match you will depend on your openness to travel to different areas of the city and how far you are willing to travel. Owning a car can reduce travel time and open up more matching possibilities as many of our referrals come from areas not easily accessible via public transit.

How many kids are on the waiting list?

We currently have about 20 young people on our waiting list, all of whom are boys waiting to be matched with male mentors.

Our wait list alone illustrates an essential request: Friends First needs more male mentors.

The majority of people who volunteer to become mentors are women. Since
Friends First only makes same-gender matches, one of our challenges is finding enough men to accommodate our list of boys.

How will I know I’m making a difference?

We would all love to see the immediate impact of our actions in the lives of young people, but change can take time. The full impact we make might show up years later. If you have an eye for small moments of hope and change, then you’ll know you are making a difference.

However, studies show that children who are mentored are:

  • 55% more likely to be enrolled in college
  • 81% more likely to report participating regularly in sports or extracurricular activities
  • 78% more likely to volunteer regularly in their communities.
  • More than twice as likely to say they held a leadership position in a club or sports team.

I know a child who might benefit from having a mentor? How can I make a referral?

If you know of a child who you think could benefit from mentoring, please contact a Friends First staff member to make a referral. You may reach our Senior Matching Coordinator by calling 312-738-6368.