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

If you have 8-10 hours a month to spare, you can.

Mentors help children gain self-confidence and direction, and resist negative peer pressure. They give of their time and take our young people to places like ball games, museums, parks and more. Many of these young people may never have ventured outside of their own neighborhood prior to their involvement with Friends First. By having a mentor, they benefit by experiencing new things, seeing new parts of the city, and having a friend to lend an ear and lead by example.

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.

Who We Serve

Friends First serves youth between the ages of 9 and 17 who come from all over Cook County. A majority of our referrals come from the South and West side neighborhoods of Chicago.

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

How Does Mentoring Work?

To ensure successful, impactful 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. Our staff is on a first-name basis with every mentor and child and considers all of our families and volunteers to be part of the Mercy Home community.

Consistency is critical to positive mentoring.

Interested in becoming a Friends First mentor?

Attend an Info Session

Thursday, July 19, 2018
6 p.m. - 7 p.m.

Information Session

1140 W Jackson Blvd, Chicago, IL 60607

Please RSVP to attend.

Get More Information

There are boys and girls waiting to be matched with a suitable mentor right now! You could be the person who makes the difference in a young person’s life.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is mentoring at Mercy Home?

Some children are in need of a caring friend to help, but may not be dealing with the same circumstances that rise to the level of seriousness that requires placement in a residential setting like Mercy Home for Boys & Girls. Mercy Home responds to their need for additional support through the Friends First Mentoring program serving youth throughout Cook County who live at home with their own families. Mentees may come from economically-struggling single-parent households or from neighborhoods with limited opportunities.

Mentors support their mentee in gaining self-confidence, finding direction, and resisting negative peer pressure. They give of their time and take these young people to places like ball games, museums, parks and more. They expand young people’s horizons through shared activities. Many of these young people may never have had 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.

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 Friends First Matching Coordinator by calling 312-738-6368.

How many young people are on the waiting list?

We currently have about 30 young people on our waitlist, with the majority being boys.

Since we only make same-gender matches, one of the challenges that the Friends First mentoring program faces is that most of those who volunteer to become mentors are women.

How are mentors selected?

All mentors must attend an information session and go through a thorough screening process. Mentors must complete an in-person interview, receive a fingerprint and online background check, get a light physical, and attend a mentor orientation and the Protecting God’s Children training on preventing child sexual abuse. Based on an individual mentor’s initiative in completing the necessary application requirements, the screening process can take a minimum of 8 weeks.

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 the travel time and open up more matching possibilities as many of our referrals come from areas not easily accessible via public transit.

What is the time commitment?

Matches in our Community-Based program meet for at least eight hours, spread over at least two outings per month, for one year. Weekend availability is required.

Matches in our Site-Based program meet during the school year from the end of August to the end of 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.

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 and the full impact we make might show up years later. However, if you have an eye for small moments of hope and change, then you’ll know you are making a difference.

What if my mentee and I have a situation that I don’t know how to handle?

To ensure successful and meaningful matches, Friends First staff offers support above and beyond what is provided in typical mentoring programs, including access to a licensed clinical social worker 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

If a non-life-threatening emergency occurs, matches are encouraged to contact their Match Support Representative (MSR.)  You will be provided with a phone number for your MSR when you are matched.

If your MSR is unavailable, emergency numbers are as follows:

  • During regular working hours, 8:30 am to 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday, the program office can be contacted first. Call Mary Quinn, Friends First–Manager at 312-738-6365.
  • On weekends and evening hours, call Mary Quinn, Friends First–Manager at 872-222-9544.

What types of activities do Friends First matches enjoy?

Oftentimes, our matches can be found playing sports in the park, visiting a local library or book store, participating in cultural activities or events, enjoying the zoo or the 606 trail. We encourage matches to choose activities that foster communication and are free or low-cost. 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?

Our kids range in age from 9 to 17, but are most commonly between 11 and 15 years old. The parent or guardian has identified that their child can benefit from positive one-on-one attention. The youth may have low self-esteem and struggle socially. Often, our mentees simply want to broaden their horizons and have new experiences. All of the kids in our program voluntarily participate and are excited about having a mentor in their life.

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.

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.