Regarding the article, “Growing up poor in Hillsborough? It’s going to cost you” (front page, May 5): It highlights poverty issues in Hillsborough County and ranks it as one of the most difficult in the country for children to rise above poverty. As a lifelong resident of Tampa with 16 years in social services, I understand generational poverty. Hillsborough residents should know about Eckerd’s Friends of the Children Program, where 64 of the highest-risk foster children are paired with salaried professional mentors from kindergarten through high school.
Consider that half the kids mentored by Friends of the Children have a parent in jail; 85 percent were born to a teen parent; 60 percent have a parent who did not graduate from high school. After 12 years of mentoring, 83 percent of at-risk children graduated from high school; 93 percent avoided any contact with the juvenile justice system; 98 percent avoided becoming teen parents.
The study cited in the article found that “every extra year spent in Hillsborough reduces a child’s earnings by 0.67 percent. That would equal a loss of $3,510 in income for someone who spends 20 years in Hillsborough.” On the contrary, the Harvard Business School Association of Oregon showed that for every $1 invested in Friends of the Children, the community benefits over $7 in saved expenses the child would have incurred. Helping one child saves the community $900,000. Here in the Tampa Bay area, funding constraints allow only 64 children to participate in the program. Let’s rally as a community around a program that has a sincere shot at changing a child’s future.
The writer is director of Eckerd’s Friends of the Children Program