Last year, more than 600 people, organizations and businesses donated to the Friends Program and volunteers gave more than 44,000 hours of service. During the last ten years, Friends Program volunteers have given more than 2 million hours to help at-risk children, families experiencing homelessness, isolated seniors, and others. Each hour and each dollar represents you and others you know, giving your support, your time and attention and expertise to someone right here in our community.
Our volunteers helped preschool children learn the alphabet. They mentored children, attending baseball games and hiking with them, providing a stable presence and a positive adult role model. Our volunteers plant and harvest food for food pantries. They led free exercise classes to keep seniors healthy. They drove seniors to their doctors and to the grocery store. They filled backpacks to keep food insecure kids fed over the weekend when school lunch isn’t an option. Our volunteers made the life of someone in New Hampshire better in countless ways. All of this is because of you.
The powerful part of this story is more than the extraordinary impact of our programs on the clients we serve. It is that our impact on our clients is only half of the story. Our volunteers tell us that their service is one of the most rewarding things they have ever done. In helping others, we help ourselves. That is the true magic of giving. Thank you for giving of yourself to the Friends Program and making the work that we do possible.
With admiration and thanks,
The focus of the organization was originally on recruiting community-based mentors to guide and encourage Concord-area youth. In 1980, the organization took on the operation of the Emergency Housing Program. Four years later, the Friends Program adopted the Foster Grandparent Program, which later expanded service to cover eight NH counties. In 2006, we launched our Retired Senior Volunteer Program to operate a caregivers and senior exercise program for frail and isolated seniors, as well as serve nearly 60 other organizations with capacity building volunteers to address community needs around the state.
Friends Emergency Housing is the only year-round family shelter in Merrimack County with an independent shelter space that serves this population. Last year, more than 36% of homeless individuals were families. Friends Emergency Housing is an integral part of a network of agencies who work to advance the well-being of families struggling with homelessness, while ensuring that individuals in these families have access to necessary treatment and support. We provide full service case management, hot meals, perishables, personal hygiene products, and other groceries to assist families. We work with families to enroll children in schools, obtain identification and benefits, find employment, secure housing, and provide ongoing case management after they leave our shelter. Our work includes the same challenges and supports as individual shelter, with added supports for school children, parenting skills, and custody and guardianship. COVID-19 caused a significant increase in costs of day-to-day operations. As local vacancy rates remain below 1% and rent increases dramatically, we see the local effects of high housing costs make it more difficult for families to find housing. The National Alliance to End Homelessness estimates that nationally, only 39% of families can be rehoused. Our average family stay increased to six months as a result of the housing crisis.
Our intergenerational mentoring programs serve the school districts with the highest population of disadvantaged students. In particular, the Friends Youth Mentoring program serves youth in Merrimack County, matching children ages 6-17 with a caring adult in order to build confidence and improve educational outcomes. 63% of the children served reside in households where English is not the primary language. NH's overall rate of poverty is low, however the number of children living in concentrated poverty is rising. Concentrated poverty refers to geographic areas and neighborhoods where the percentage of poverty is 30% or higher. NH is one of ten states where the percentage of children living in concentrations of poverty has risen (Kids count, 2019). Children raised in poverty suffer significant negative cognitive, emotional, and developmental effects (Engle and Black, 2008) in comparison with their moderate income peers. Learning loss related to COVID-19 impacted younger students and students from lower socio-economic status at significantly higher rates (Hammerstein, 2021) and requires intervention and support to reverse. Friends is a vital part of the effort to provide support to NH's poor and at-risk children. While supporting at-risk students with one to one tutoring and mentoring in support of academic engagement, advancement in literacy and math, improved cultural competency, mental health and social emotional development.