November 06, 2017

Austin Business Journal:

Kids' mentoring program expands to Austin, thanks in part to Vista Equity exec

By Will Anderson and Andy Giegerich – Austin Business Journal

Oct 25, 2017, 6:04am

Friends of the Children — a program that connects vulnerable children at a young age with mentors who help them all the way through high school — is expanding to Austin, where it will serve youngsters on the east side.

The nonprofit organization will start with four paid, full-time mentors reaching 32 kindergarten students at Rodriguez, Widen and Overton elementary schools. Organizers aim to reach more than 200 youngsters by year five.

More than $1.7 million was raised to get the organization off the ground in the Texas capital, spearheaded by Rachel Arnold, founding board chairwoman of the Austin chapter and a senior vice president at Vista Equity Partners.

"It is a really unique, special organization that has incredible results and outcomes," Arnold said Tuesday. "It helps break children out of the cycle of poverty."

Of the $1.7 million raised, more than $650,000 came from Vista Equity employees and families. Arnold approached the program similar to how she would evaluate deals for the Austin-headquartered private equity firm — she said every $1 invested in Friends of the Children returns $7 to the community through reduced social costs.

"That is a strong ROI," she said.

At Vista Equity, Arnold has been a senior VP on the investing team since 2012, helping CEO Robert Smith and others evaluate which companies to put money into and how to best grow the businesses. Arnold sits on the boards of portfolio companies Gather, SecureLink and Zapproved.

Friends of the Children, which is based in Portland, Oregon, said Tuesday it is also opening new chapters in Central Oregon, Los Angeles and Charlotte, N.C. and expanding services in Boston.

The group said the strategy results "in large part" due to the Social Innovation Fund, which provides federal matching grant opportunities, as well as support from Ballmer Group, Thrive Foundation for Youth (a division of King Philanthropies) and Russell Wilson and Ciara’s Why Not You Foundation, among other groups.

Friends of the Children connects long-term, salaried mentors with kids from kindergarten through high school graduation. Over the past 25 years, 83 percent of children participating have graduated from high school and 93 percent avoided getting locked up in jail or the juvenile justice system. Another 98 percent of the participants avoided early parenting.

“We know that our children have a lot stacked against them," Terri Sorensen, president of Friends of the Children, said in a statement. "They are at greater risk for dropping out of school, substance abuse, incarceration and teen parenting. Research has shown that the most important factor for building resiliency in children facing the highest risks is a long-term, consistent relationship with a caring adult. We can now provide that to hundreds more children.”

Learn more by visiting the Friends of the Children Austin website: Friends Austin