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Transformational Gifts Boost Youth Programs
Transformational Gifts Boost Youth Programs

Friends of the Children in Portland, Oregon has received unprecedented support totaling $77 million in two transformative gifts. 

The most recent gift is five commercial properties valued at $33 million to support the continued expansion of its youth mentoring programs. The gift from philanthropists Gary and Christine Rood follows the $44 million in cash received this past August from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott. They are the two largest gifts in the organization’s history.

The combined total of $77 million is more than six times the $12.7 million in total revenue the organization received for the fiscal year ending in August 2021 alone, according to its federal Form 990.

The five debt-free commercial properties from the Roods will be provided during the next three years, the first two of which will be donated this spring and immediately sold off. The Roods have also pledged to make up the difference if the total from the properties falls short of $33 million.

“Gary and Christine Rood have been generous supporters of Friends of the Children since 2018 but when we learned about this gift and the timing, we were astonished and overwhelmed at their sincere generosity,” said Friends of the Children CEO Terri Sorensen. “It is incredible to kick off both our 30th anniversary and National Mentoring Month with this extraordinary gift. This investment opens unfettered opportunities for the network and the youth we serve and provides us the unique opportunity to establish the first-ever national learning hub for long-term mentoring.”

The learning hub will be funded at a cost of $5 million, which will establish a National Center of Excellence at the nonprofit’s headquarters. The center will be named after founder Duncan Campbell and his wife Cindy.

An additional $5 million will be given to the organization’s chapter in the Roods’ hometown of Vancouver, Washington, which the couple helped launch in 2020. The balance of approximately $23 million will be distributed among the remainder of the organization’s 29 locations across the country and will also help grow new chapters, including one in Houston and another on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Its goal is to get to 45 chapters in the next two years.

The meteoric growth of the organization — which, as recently as 2014, still had only five chapters — was given a jump start by a grant from the Obama Administration and also by what was reported to be a multimillion-dollar donation by NBA legend Michael Jordan from the proceeds of his Netflix documentary “The Last Dance.”

The growth since then has been “truly remarkable for an organization that is still relatively new compared to organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters and YMCA,” said Sorensen.

Friends of the Children’s mentoring model is unique in that it relies on a full-time workforce of paid mentors rather than volunteers. The mentors, who are called “friends,” receive professional training and are paired with youth who are living in or at risk of entering foster care due to mental health, poverty and other challenges. “Friends” receive a full-time salary and benefits and stay with each child from as early as age 4 through high school graduation “no matter what,” according to Sorensen.

The organization has further benefited from its partnership with Olympic gold medal gymnast Simone Biles, who herself experienced foster care while growing up and has since spoken of her experiences to hundreds of the children currently served by Friends of the Children. Biles is collaborating with the organization to help launch its planned chapter in her hometown of Houston and will also be promoting the nonprofit as a “charity of choice” on Wheaties breakfast cereal boxes later this year.

“I think she relates to our kids from having lived what a lot of them are going through and from having overcome it to be an incredible champion,” said Sorensen. “Our vision is that every child who needs a friend will have one, and I think Gary Rood – who likes helping vulnerable young children himself – was inspired by that and wants to support that.”

The Roods grew their wealth through investing in real estate and assisted living facilities, originally planned to leave a bequest to Friends of the Children but have also decided to donate a portion of their wealth now so they can see the impact in their lifetimes. The couple, who are well-recognized for their philanthropic giving in the Pacific Northwest, were inspired to do so following the historic gifts by Scott and Jordan, according to Sorensen.

“Friends of the Children’s proven track record and long-term commitment to youth deserve not just recognition but continued and sustaining investment,” said Gary Rood, 84. “We are deeply committed to giving generously now because so many children and families need support now more than ever. We also want to see the fruits of this gift within our lifetimes.”

It will be an “honor” to witness the transformative power of this gift on young people and their communities over the next few years, Rood said.