Duncan Campbell, founder of Friends of the Children, was awarded a 2009 Purpose Prize today, which honors social entrepreneurs over 60 who are using their experience and passion to take on society's biggest challenges. Friends of the Children is a long time grantee of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The Purpose Prize recognizes 10 individuals a year, whose encore careers have focused on solving seemingly intractable problems facing our communities. There were over 1,000 nominations for this year's Purpose Prize awards. Campbell won a $50,000 award.
"My own experience as a child with parents struggling with alcohol abuse, a father in and out of prison and living in a very distressed community, fueled my lifelong commitment to improving the lives of other neglected children," explained Campbell. "I have the opportunity - and, I believe, the responsibility - to inspire others to make use of ther own resources, whether time, talent or treasure, to help make real changes that will affect people's lives in a positive, meaningful way."
After a thorough review of the science about what makes young people with daunting challenges succeed, Campbell launched Friends of the Children in Portland, Oregon in 1992. Research confirmed what Campbell already suspected-children develop resilience when they have a consistent caring adult in their lives. For some children who grow up like Duncan Campbell, that person is found outside their families.
"Our model works. We select children who few think have potential and we make that long-term no-matter-what commitment for 12 years, " explained Campbell. "I am honored to be selected for such a significant award and will use the funds to help further support the Friends model."
Friends of the Children takes children who are beginning to tumble through a cycle of poorly performing schools, decaying neighborhoods and complicated families and guides them to another track by pairing them with a caring, committed adult mentor, called a "Friend." The Friend spends four hours a week with that child, every week, starting in kindergarten or first grade through high school graduation. Each Friend is a salaried, full-time professional whose job it is to be the child's advocate, support their academic progress, and cultivate their gifts and talents.
"The low attrition rate for both mentor and child underscores that the bond of this relationship is powerful....and can move even the most challenged children forward," said Campbell. Friends of the Children now serves over 700 youth in Boston, Cincinnati, Klamath Falls (OR), New York City, Portland (OR), San Francisco and Seattle.
"We need to move beyond short term fixes and realize that a long-term commitment to our most vulnerable children generates a significant future return on our investment," remarked Campbell. "In today's troubled economic climate, we give our children something that does not decrease in value: unconditional love."