The COVID-19 pandemic and shelter in place order is challenging youth – and all of us – in new ways, as we contend with isolation and uncertainty. For pre-teens to young adults with little control over their lives, this isolation can lead to dramatically increased anxiety, stress and despair – and the need for mental health support.
You can count on The Friendship Club, which recently merged with NEO Youth Center, to create opportunities for our youth, and in turn, for our community to thrive.
Soon to be known as Bright Futures for Youth, the nonprofit is expanding to provide comprehensive academic, emotional, and social support to several hundred girls and boys ages 11-25 throughout the greater Grass Valley/Nevada City region.
Our life-changing programs are in full swing, five days a week, with numerous activities, support services and connection to meet needs of nearly 200 youth, double the number from a year ago. Efforts include:
Providing after-school classes and hands-on programs, fun activities, on-site counselors, mentors, tutors, access to internet and distance learning coaches.
Making mental health support available via telehealth to address more needs – a 10 percent increase in just the first few months of the pandemic.
Assisting unhoused 16-24-year-old young adults through the SAFE program, with basic needs, rental assistance, career paths, community resources and more.
Improving efficiency and effectiveness with student management system software to tailor services for young people, including coordination with care providers.
Be assured, Bright Futures for Youth is following COVID guidelines for all in-person activities.
This needed and valuable expansion requires the collective financial support of the community. Your support is a gift to our youth and to our community.
Please consider supporting this most worthy endeavor to invest in youth, today and tomorrow. Donate online at https://www.friendshipclub.org/donate-online/ or by check to The Friendship Club (200 Litton Drive, Suite 308, Grass Valley, CA 95945).
Combined organizations will support several hundred youth every year
GRASS VALLEY, Calif. – The Friendship Club and NEO (New Events and Opportunities) have announced their merger expected to be completed by the end of August, a step that will enhance their capacity to meet the ever-increasing needs of youth in Nevada County.
“The merged organizations have similar efforts and goals, and we can help ensure stronger and more expansive support for youth during this important time in their lives,” said Jennifer Litton Singer, Executive Director of The Friendship Club. The organization started as a pilot program with 15 girls in 1995 and now serves more than 125 youth a year.
Helping youth transition to adulthood and self-sufficiency is a far-reaching goal of both The Friendship Club and NEO. Young men and women are provided academic, emotional and social support, life-skills training, career education and access to counseling and health care. In 2019, The Friendship Club expanded to help 16- to 24-years-olds experiencing homelessness through its SAFE program (Stability, Access, Foundation, Empowerment).
“The Friendship Club and NEO have extensive experience working with youth, their families and the community,” Litton Singer said. “Joining together is part of a focused effort to ensure young people have hope, opportunity and the capacity to succeed.”
Youth are facing more challenges in this modern world. By coming together, the organizations will be stronger and able to serve more youth in better ways. The Friendship Club and NEO will meet the needs of several hundred youth every year. Youth in the community can use one or a combination of the programs, receiving services in numerous ways.
NEO was co-founded by Halli Ellis-Edwards and Lynn Skrukrud in 2008. NEO has evolved to embrace a holistic approach to wellness, addressing the root causes of substance abuse and mental health issues through events and its Youth Center.
NEO is moving the Youth Center to a new location with plans to reopen when services can safely be offered again. In the meantime, NEO is providing virtual programming and pop-up summer camp events. The Friendship Club is also providing fun summer activities to youth. Both organizations are implementing all required practices to maintain social distancing and safety protocols.
“We’re extremely grateful for what we’ve accomplished and how we helped fill a great need in the community,” said Ellis-Edwards, who along with Skrukrud, was 19 when they founded NEO. “Combining the organizations will allow more youth and young adults opportunities to access a safe, fun and supportive environment while getting services they need to thrive,” said Skrukrud.
The merged organization will be known as Bright Futures for Youth to better describe its expanded mission and vision for youth in Nevada County. The organization will be comprised of three aligned programs: The Friendship Club, NEO and SAFE. The new, multilayered organization will provide comprehensive services to meet the many, and sometimes very specific, needs of youth in the area. The name change is pending approval from the California Secretary of State.
The Friendship Club and NEO boards of directors unanimously approved the merger. All Friendship Club and NEO board members will join the new Bright Futures for Youth Board of Directors. Singer will serve as Executive Director and Ellis-Edwards and Skrukrud will continue with the organization.
“The merger is about bringing together our committed, mission-focused organizations and making them stronger,” said Machen MacDonald, Board President of The Friendship Club. “We will leverage our resources to provide a continuum of services so young people get the help and resources they deserve.”
NEO Board President Marty Lombardi, who also serves on The Friendship Club Board, commented that the addition of NEO coupled with The Friendship Club and SAFE will provide a “one-stop shop” for youth services.
“It takes kind and caring hearts moving in the same direction to make a community thrive,” Lombardi said. “The Friendship Club and NEO have a never-ending commitment to ensure that our children and young adults get the assistance they need.”
The Friendship Club, celebrating its 25th Anniversary this month (July), has helped empower and educate more than 1,000 girls and young women in sixth through 12th grades who face many life challenges. Although much has changed since Mary Collier founded the organization in 1995, the goal of connecting girls with each other, mentors and role models, and putting them on a path to success, remains constant.
NEO strives to empower youth to make healthy and positive lifestyle choices. Founded in 2008, NEO serves youth ages 11- to 25-years-old through its Youth Center, community events, school outreach programs and summer camps. Since opening the center in 2015, NEO has provided free after-school drop-in hours for more than 1,000 youth.
What started as a dream in the days before smartphones and social media has become a life-changing program for nearly 1,000 girls in western Nevada County. Times have changed, but the far-reaching goal of The Friendship Club remains the same – a preventative program aimed at helping youth maintain good health and make good choices throughout their lifetime.
Grad Night celebration on KNCO, discussing our organization and how we are affecting the lives of our nine grads.
You can listen to the full program here, or scroll below to listen to our individual graduates, a TFC alum and community leader Leo Granucci:
Listen to her interview below:
Listen to her interview below:
Listen to her interview below:
Listen to her interview below:
Listen to her interview below:
Listen to her interview below:
News From One of Our 2016 Graduates
Cheyanna Brock Jimenez
The 2016 Friendship Club graduate has earned her bachelor degree and has applied to nursing school while working full-time child-care worker with a focus on behavioral modification and counseling for young boys who have experienced trauma.
Listen to her interview below:
Investing Today for Success Tomorrow
Listen why a community leader and local philanthropist invests in The Friendship Club.
Many people retire to Nevada County for the life of leisure; not Tom Cross.
Tom, a former Vice President of AT&T and PacBell who oversaw Northern California telephone operations, found a beautiful retirement home in Lake Wildwood and his peers thought he’d focus on lowering his golf handicap. Nope. Tom focused on at-risk youth.
At 55, Tom scrapped the work world and followed his passion — helping others by giving back. That was over 20 years ago and he’s still going strong. Two years ago, Tom was asked by a county department head to be the only public member on the Continuum of Care, a collaborative of local governmental and nonprofits working to help solve the homeless issue. Tom realized everyone was talking about helping adults who were homeless and no one at the table was dealing with the 125 or so homeless teens attending our local high schools.
Much to the amazement of many, a number of our teens are “couch surfing” at someone else’s home, garage or attic because of some economic, social or behavioral issues at home. Tom felt that if this issue was not addressed these teens would become high school dropouts and our next crop of adult homeless in the county.
“I felt that if we didn’t address this issue head-on these youth would just feed the homeless pipeline,” says Tom.
Tom knows what he’s talking about; his years in retirement have seen him serving as a Big Brother to three youth, whom he remains in touch with. All three are now successful adults. He still works with two youth involved in the juvenile delinquency system through the Court Appointed Special Advocate Program providing them mentoring and tough love. Tom has served on the Board of Directors of United Way of Nevada County and Sierra Nevada Children Services but his latest passion, homeless teens, is taking traction.
Over the past two years, Tom has visited every local governmental agency and nonprofit that work with youth to discuss the homeless issue, seeking help and leadership on this topic. He eventually found a receptive ear in Jennifer Litton-Singer, Executive Director of the Friendship Club. The Friendship Club annually serves dozens of at-risk girls in middle and high school who need social mentoring and academic assistance. Her nonprofit’s track record is amazing but it had never served boys, who make up the vast majority of homeless teens.
In order to prove the viability of the program, Tom went out and raised $40,000 in private donations and then steered $100,000 from a federal homeless grant toward the teen problem. He helped create a link between Litton-Singer, the high school superintendent Brett McFadden and the local Sierra College Dean, Stephanie Ortiz and, collectively, this serious community issue is being addressed.
The Friendship Club is now working with 15-20 homeless teens (a majority of them boys) providing them daily in-school and out of school assistance. In addition, counseling and guidance is steering these students toward a two-year career track vocational educational certificate program at our Sierra College Campus, eventually assisting them in job placement. The three-year financial grant will allow The Friendship Club to add an additional 15-20 homeless teens in 2020 with another group the following year.
Tom begs away from any credit but it goes to show that one person can make a difference. With perseverance and always a goal in mind, Tom Cross is helping to solve our homeless teen problem, one student at a time. He is a role model for us retirees.
I know there are many other Tom Cross’ in this community who will be inspired by Tom’s actions who may also find their passion which can help to make a difference in our community.
Terry McAteer is a member of The Union Editorial Board. His views are his own and do not represent the views of The Union or its editorial board members. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 1995, Nevada County’s youth were facing steep challenges.
Women, particularly, were dealing with teen pregnancy and incarceration, said Jennifer Singer.
The now-executive director of the Friendship Club was, at the time, just beginning her career helping youth.
Today, she is doing more of the same, as her organization received a $100,000 grant for a new program to prevent and mitigate youth homelessness.
The money was awarded through the Homeless Emergency Aid Program, which was in turn distributed to the Homeless Resource Council of the Sierras, said Mike Dent, director of Nevada County Housing and Child Support Services. The council provided $100,000 of a $1 million pot to The Friendship Club.
Dent said the council was required to put 5% of the funding toward the issue of homeless youth in the county. It put 10%.
The funding is meant to halt a trend.
“We’re trying to prevent them from becoming chronically homeless,” said Cheryl Rubin, director of development and communications at the club.
An estimated 172 high school students in Nevada County were homeless in 2018 — a 36% increase compared to 2014, according to an email from The Friendship Club citing numbers from the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools. The problem is statewide. Of 129,972 Californians experiencing homelessness in 2018, 12,396 were unaccompanied young adults from the ages of 18 to 24, according to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.
In Nevada County, the club will be aiding 22 boys and girls with the funding, said Rubin. Although the organization hasn’t explicitly worked with homeless youth, they often aid girls in a similarly precarious situation.
PLAN OF ACTION
The new funding helped propel the Homeless Youth Career Technical Education Pilot Program, which, in addition to helping stabilize youth who are dealing with issues of trauma and drug addiction, is leveraging county career technical education programs to help young people get jobs.
“We’re not re-creating the wheel,” said Singer. “We’re trying to tap into what’s going on and connect.”
Singer, who has been working on achieving this grant for the past year, began the pilot program last summer, aiding girls who were cycling through homelessness.
Hospitality House will also be collaborating with The Friendship Club, providing a 12-week culinary training program and a six-week retail training program in addition to emergency shelter support, said Ashley Quadros, development director for the Hospitality House.
BREAKING THE CYCLE
The program’s funding is meant to help county officials and nonprofit leaders stem the rising tide of youth homelessness.
As Singer said, in past years The Friendship Club has been referred 25 girls for its program. Now it gets around 51. The executive director said many of the problems arise from a cycle of generational poverty, which has recently manifested in depression and anxiety. Singer said she is trying to get a mental health counselor operating on their site.
While the problem of homelessness is real and rising, said Mike Dent, the county’s definition of homelessness is broader than that of the federal government. Additionally, he said, county, state and federal officials are more aware of the problem.
“There’s a lot more attention toward the elements of a child,” said Dent.
Singer agreed more attention is being paid to uncovering and solving the issue.
“This is a very hidden problem,” said Singer, referring to homeless youth who are couch surfing or staying at friends’ homes. “It’s a problem we’re just starting to uncover.”
At the state level, California recently decided to expand its Earned Income Tax Credit, giving a young child tax credit of $1,000 to households with a child under the age of six. The tax credit was meant to help pay for childcare and combat poverty.
Dent was pleased with California’s decision, and hopes the governor sticks to his plan to resolve a shortage of housing plaguing the state.
“The big push from Governor Newsom is affordable housing,” said Dent. “We need to build more units.”
Almost 200 high school students are homeless in Nevada County
The Friendship Club has received a $100,000 state grant connected to the increased focus on addressing homelessness in California, allowing the nonprofit organization to greatly expand its efforts and provide much-needed services to youth experiencing homelessness in the region, a fast-growing but often-overlooked segment of the population.
The grant provides partial funding for the Friendship Club’s Homeless Youth Career Technical Education Pilot Program, entitled, “SAFE,” which stands for key components of the program – Stability, Access, Foundation and Empowerment.
The new SAFE program provides academic, social and emotional support along with life-skills to homeless high school juniors and seniors as they transition into adulthood.
“Homelessness is a huge issue in our community, especially for our youth,” said Jennifer Singer, Executive Director of The Friendship Club. “The SAFE pilot program opens the door to endless opportunities, helps break the cycle of poverty and aims to prevent young people from being homeless as adults.”
An estimated 172 high school students in Nevada County were homeless in 2018, a 36% increase compared to 2014, according to the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools. Nationally, nearly 50 percent of chronically homeless adults experienced homelessness as teens and young adults, according to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.
“California is the third most expensive place to live in the United States. Homelessness and poverty have been an increasing issue in recent years, especially for teenagers and young adults who are just starting to be independent,” said Mike Dent, Director of Nevada County Department or Child Support, Collections, Housing and Community Services and a board member of the Homeless Resource Council of the Sierras. “The Friendship Club is connecting with these students to ensure they get services and support, and develop the skills needed to become productive, successful young adults.”
The Friendship Club was awarded $100,000 for the pilot program through Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP) funding administered through the Homeless Resource Council of the Sierras (HRCS). One of the funding priorities identified for HEAP addressed the need for homelessness prevention and, more specifically, the growing numbers of youth who are living in unstable situations, on the street or in cars.
Under the SAFE pilot program, The Friendship Club provides students experiencing homelessness a safe place to meet with peers who face similar challenges, offers the support of the staff and well-trained adults and mentors, and connects them to community resources.
The students recently entered the SAFE pilot program at the end of their junior year of high school. They will continue while they attend Sierra College in Grass Valley and Rocklin and take classes to earn a Career Technical Education (CTE) certificate. The students will get an education, learn independence and develop new skills that put them on the path to success.
“The program is definitely about giving homeless students a much-appreciated and greatly needed helping hand, but also not simply a handout,” said Lauren Stowe, Board President of The Friendship Club. “This is about building a solid foundation and giving them every opportunity for a brighter future.”
Many of these children’s families have battled financial instability and homelessness much of their lives. About 11% of households in Nevada County live in poverty, including 17% – or almost one of every five – children.
“Rural youth homelessness is very unique and less visible than in cities,” said Nancy Baglietto, Executive Director of Hospitality House and Board Vice President of HRCS. “Many homeless teens and young adults in rural areas will ‘couch surf,’ staying with friends, extended family or neighbors, making them less visible and more difficult to identify and serve.”
The Friendship Club already works closely with Hospitality House Homeless Shelter in Nevada County, local schools and businesses and Sierra College. These collaborative efforts will continue with the Homeless Youth Career Technical Education Pilot Program.
“Homelessness is a big problem, and developing a program, connecting with the students and working with them is a huge task,” said Dent of Nevada County Housing and Community Services. “I hope the pilot program is a major step forward in breaking the multi-generational poverty cycle.”
Funding from the just-received state grant will allow The Friendship Club to help between 30 and 60 youth under the SAFE pilot program. The Friendship Club has already received about $35,000 in donations from the community for the program and has applied for additional grants.
The three-year SAFE pilot program is open to boys and girls, an expansion of The Friendship Club’s girls-only efforts.
The Friendship Club has enjoyed much success since opening in 1995, serving about 125 girls at a time, in a comprehensive, long-term program. The Nevada County-based organization aims to break the cycle of poverty, abuse and untreated trauma for girls between the ages of 10 and 18, and continues to provide services into their early 20s as they transition into adulthood.
The Friendship Club focuses on six areas: health and wellness, healthy relationships, goal setting, self-awareness, self-sufficiency and community connectedness.
The SAFE homeless youth pilot program builds on and expands The Friendship Club’s efforts and services.
“The pilot program is the next-step in the evolution of The Friendship Club,” said organization Board President Stowe. “We want to address homelessness and help youth succeed, which will have a very positive impact on them and the community overall.”
About The Friendship Club
The Friendship Club provides a comprehensive, year-round, long-term program aimed at helping empower and educate youth who face challenges of poverty, abuse and trauma between the ages of 10 and 18 and provides assistance into their 20s as they transition into adulthood. Founded in 1995, The Friendship Club serves about 125 youth at a time, guiding them to a bright future by focusing on six areas: health and wellness, healthy relationships, goal setting, self-awareness, self-sufficiency and community connectedness. Based in Nevada County, Friendship Club is expanding to help alleviate homelessness among teenage boys and girls and provide mental health counseling on-site.
The Friendship Club Leadership Council is putting on a Spaghetti Dinner and Dessert Auction fundraiser this Saturday, October 6th from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Grass Valley Veteran’s Hall. The Leadership Council is comprised of 12-15 girls in grades 7 through 12 who would like the opportunity to spend additional time with The Friendship Club, participate in community service above and beyond the activities in their weekly groups, and learn about leadership related topics. Involvement in the Leadership Council also provides a unique opportunity for girls to participate in a cross-age peer group while both strengthening their leadership skills and building a connection with their community. On average, girls that serve on Leadership Council complete about 40-60 hours of community service a year. As part of their learning, the girls in this group organize and execute a fundraiser for The Friendship Club. The Spaghetti Dinner and Dessert Auction provides an opportunity for the girls to put their skills to practice: they produce the posters and advertisements, sell tickets, decorate, shop for the food, cook the meal, serve the dinner to the guests, solicit donations for the dessert auction, etc. This is truly a girl-organized and run event.
We hope to see you there to support their hard work (and maybe bid on a dessert too)! Tickets are $7 in advance and can be purchased online. You can also get tickets at the door for $10. If you’re too busy to stay for this event, then you can always get your spaghetti dinner to go! We hope to see you on Saturday, October 6th at the Grass Valley Veteran’s Hall Lower Dining Room (enter through the back parking lot), from 5pm to 8pm!
Judi’s of Nevada City will be hosting a special fundraising event for The Friendship Club on Saturday, October 13th, from 10am until 6pm. At this event, Judi’s will be offering a 5% discount on all merchandise (including sale merchandise) while donating a percentage of all sales to The Friendship Club. The doors will open at 10am and complimentary refreshments will be served throughout the day. Staff and board members from The Friendship Club will be on hand throughout the event.
Judi Weiner, the proprietor of Judi’s, has long supported the mission of TFC, and views her support as an investment in the future of our community. “I believe that The Friendship Club does an outstanding job of empowering their girls and helping them to be the best they can be. Judi’s was born out of a desire to help women have confidence and feel good about themselves, so we are very much aligned with TFC’s mission. Confident women of any age are beautiful!”
Judi’s carries a wide selection of beautifully designed contemporary clothing and accessories including Alembika, Angela Mara, Comfy, Cut Loose, Dolcezza, Habitat, FDJ Jeans, Jag Jeans, Johnny Was, Renuar, Latico and Maruca handbags- and a selection of jewelry and accessories created by international designers as well as local artisans.
The Friendship Club Fundraiser is a great way to enhance your wardrobe with Judi’s fabulous fashions, get started on your holiday shopping, and support a very worthwhile local cause – everyone wins! We hope to see you there!
On Saturday and Sunday, October 13th and 14th from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., one of the artists on the Open Studios Art Tour, Gayle Granucci, will be donating a percentage of her proceeds from her art sales during the tour to The Friendship Club. Not only is the Open Studio Tour a wonderful way to connect with some of the best artists in our community and to see them at work in their studio, but it is now a great way to support the girls in The Friendship Club should you find that perfect piece of art from Gayle to add to your collection! See the details below for all of the studio locations on the tour–Gayle’s studio is number 52 in Nevada City.