By Anne M. Daly
In the early 1990s, "Angels in America: The Millennium Approaches" and "Angels in America II: Perestroika," enjoyed long runs on Broadway, numerous Tony awards and many accolades. I had the pleasure of seeing "Angels in America II." While there are angels in Tony Kushner's story of love, justice and forgiveness, and compelling characters - spies, a drag queen and caretaker, partners dealing with AIDS, a Mormon lawyer and his wife - the primary question that Kushner asks in these plays is, "How broad is a community's embrace?"
Not surprisingly, if one were to ask that same question of our KCBA community, the answer would be very broad. I'd like to introduce you to one such KCBA angel, David Keenan, and a remarkable community angel, Friends of the Children of King County, on which Dave serves as the vice president of the board.
To understand Dave's passion about this organization, one first needs to know Dave. He has an impressive résumé. Dave graduated from Seattle University School of Law in 2008. He attended law school at night while working as a special agent for the Department of Homeland Security. Prior to joining Homeland Security, Dave worked for the Department of Justice. He is the immediate past president of KCBA's Young Lawyers Division, the WSBA recipient of the Outstanding Young Lawyer Award in 2011, SU Law's Outstanding Recent Graduate for 2013, a managing associate at his firm, and much more. Equally impressive is the pre-lawyer Dave.
Growing up, Dave did not have a stable home life. At age 13, Dave made his first appearance as a defendant in King County Juvenile Court. He was repeatedly suspended from school, with lengthy suspensions in the seventh, eighth and tenth grades. As a result, he dropped out of high school.
At age 17, Dave decided he wanted to be a police officer. Everyone he knew told him he was crazy, in part because of his history. He applied to a youth program sponsored by the Seattle Police Department and was rejected. His mother contacted the officer in charge of the program and begged him to allow Dave to participate. The officer agreed to meet with Dave and at the end of the meeting told Dave that he occasionally was willing to take a chance on a few kids who "could go either way." He told Dave he was willing to take a chance on him. Dave vividly remembers this moment and describes it as the first time an adult invested in him. He thrived in the program, went back to school and obtained his GED, and is still in touch with the officer who took a chance on him.
While in law school, Dave learned of Friends of the Children of King County (FOC) from a close friend. FOC invests in highly-at-risk youth by providing them with mentors, beginning in kindergarten. Mentors stay with these kids until they graduate from high school. The goal of the program is to provide a stable, healthy, consistent adult in each child's life; to have an adult who is invested in each youth.
We are all familiar with excellent youth mentoring programs, however this organization is different. Mentors at FOC are paid and make a commitment to mentor a youth for 12 years - 12 YEARS!! These mentors are often the only constant in the youth's life. They are top-notch and provide what the individual youth needs, be it a meal, advocacy, help with homework, someone to talk to, help getting signed up for an activity or just a break from the day-to-day stresses these youth face. On average, there are 90 youths being served at any one time by FOC. The Seattle chapter began in 2000 and had its first graduating class last year.
Mentors adjust their styles to meet the youths' needs as they grow from small children to adolescents. Each mentor works closely with a youth's school and parent/guardian during the entire 12 years. One remarkable hallmark of this organization is it follows the kids. If a youth is moved to a foster home in Everett, that youth's FOC mentor stays with him or her. If a youth has to change schools or school districts, the mentor stays with him or her. There are no physical boundaries that terminate the 12-year commitment. An FOC mentor does not end his or her relationship with a youth because it is no longer convenient to meet.
This is a program focused 100 percent on being there for every youth regardless of where they are. Mentors spend four hours a week, every week, for 12 years with their mentees. It is this consistency, this investment by an adult - the same adult, who is not fleeting - that makes this program different and successful.
Dave was drawn to the organization because of his own life experiences. He joined the board within two months of his swearing-in and will celebrate his four-year anniversary as a board member this month.
Four obstacles that FOC helps youth to avoid are: involvement with the juvenile justice system; substance abuse; early parenting; and dropping out of school. FOC is partnering with the National Institute of Health on a longitudinal study to test the efficacy of this model. The initial results are promising. In looking at the aggregate, FOC has about a 90-percent success rate in keeping its kids in school, out of the juvenile justice system, childless and free from substance abuse. Among the first FOC graduating class, one graduate is enrolled at the UW, some are in community colleges and one is in art school.
In reflecting on his own childhood experiences, Dave describes feeling an incredible amount of stress that his situation at home was not like that of other kids. The kids involved with FOC undoubtedly feel the same stress from their situation, be it poverty and its impact on their ability to have basic needs met, being in foster care, having or having had an incarcerated parent, domestic violence or substance abuse. FOC relieves that stress. Dave describes it like this, "All these kids are like your kids. They want the same things and have the same potential. They just need Friends of the Children to help them remove the barriers."
FOC is funded through foundation and individual donations. To mentor a youth for 12 years the cost is about $120,000 or $10,000 a year. This is significantly less than a year of incarceration, a year on public assistance or a stint in treatment. FOC holds an annual backpack/school supply drive so that all of the kids can start the school year with new supplies and a new backpack, just like all the other kids.
For the holidays, FOC adopts out the youths' families. Each family provides a list of what each person needs, often a winter coat, shoes that fit, socks and underwear, and what each person wants, perhaps a book, toy or video game. FOC also holds an annual auction to raise money.
There is no endowment to ensure that funds will be there each year for the full 12 years. There is the commitment and determination of people like Dave, the board (which also includes KCBA member Jeffrey Beaver), the staff and mentors that they will be there for the duration and do whatever it takes for these kids. It is this broad embrace of community that makes this organization, Dave, its staff and board angels in our community and in KCBA.
If you'd like to learn more about FOC or how to help, visit its website at http://friendskc.org, or contact Dave Keenan directly at email@example.com.