Fourteen-year-old Betsy has been coming to the Friends of the Children Clubhouse since she was 6. After more than a dozen failed foster care placements, the teenager lives in a residential care facility, and the small gray house on Altamont Drive is the only place she feels she belongs and can explore her skills and passion.
“It is her grounding place, the only consistent building in her life since kindergarten,” said Anne Taylor, who mentors and advocates for Betsy through Friends of the Children-Klamath Basin, a professional mentoring program that serves youth in Klamath County.
Betsy is one of 47 youth who regularly use the 1,392-square-foot Clubhouse to study, learn life skills, and bond with their mentors, also known as “Friends.” But it is crowded. The program, which started 22 years ago with 24 youth, has long outgrown its space and aims to serve 59 children this year. Last summer, the hunt for a new home began.
This month, Friends of the Children kicked off a $1.5 million capital campaign to purchase and renovate a 3,700-square-foot house at 1515 Old Fort Road as its new Clubhouse. The new building will have more than enough space for the program’s youth, seven mentors, and five administrative staff.
“We love our Altamont Clubhouse,” said Amanda Squibb, executive director of the Friends of the Children-Klamath Basin, “but we truly are bursting at the seams and need more space if we are to continue providing the programming that is proven to help kids to pursue healthy lives and overcome trauma in this community.”
Before its official kickoff, the campaign had already garnered community support and has secured more than $850,000 in grants and donations. Other grants are pending.
Friends of the Children hires paid professional adult mentors to advocate for school-aged children, supporting their academic, social-emotional, and health goals year-round through high school graduation. The research-based model of early, long-term intervention has proven successful since its founding in Portland in 1993. The program has been in place in Klamath since 2000 and has spread to 25 sites nationwide.
Support so far has included in-kind donations from Cardinal Flooring, Absolute Tree Care, and ZCS Engineering & Architecture. Community volunteers and organizations, including Oregon Tech’s Circle K Club, Dragonfly Transitions, and Lithia Ford of Klamath Falls, volunteered and helped with extensive site clean-up.
Funding has come from the Mike & Bessie Short Trust, the Wendt Family Foundation, the Klamath Medical Service Bureau Foundation, Klamath County Rotary, the Washington Federal Foundation, and several individual donors.
“Klamath is small but mighty, and the community knows that Friends of the Children is a good investment,” Squibb said. “Research shows that every dollar invested saves at least $7 in social costs, and what is more valuable than building bright futures for our children?”
Demolition work by Diversified Contractors, Inc. already is underway at the Old Fort Road property, and interior renovation by DCI and local subcontractors is expected to begin in November. Squibb aims to move operations by summer 2023.
Friend Anne Taylor already is prepping her mentees for the change. “Betsy is sad to lose the current Clubhouse but excited to see what the new one will bring,” she said. “The quiet study rooms, an art room, a gaming room, and a huge kitchen to cook in. The acres and trails to roam are a top contender for being the favorite part. The Clubhouse is the space and place where she knows her people will always be.”
To support or learn more about the Clubhouse Campaign, go to friendsklamath.org.