MacKenzie Scott supports child mentors with $44 million gift

Aug 25, 2022, 5:06 AM | Updated: 7:41 am

Program Director Alan Arce, right, chats with siblings Moises, left, and Yancy Rodriguez at a Frien...

Program Director Alan Arce, right, chats with siblings Moises, left, and Yancy Rodriguez at a Friends of the Children office Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022, in Lancaster, Calif. Billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott donated $44 million to the Oregon-based mentoring organization, Friends of the Children, which supports children at risk of entering the welfare system by pairing them with a longtime mentor. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

LANCASTER, Ca. (AP) — Billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott donated $44 million to the Oregon-based mentoring organization, Friends of the Children, which supports children at risk of entering the welfare system by pairing them with a longtime mentor.

The unrestricted gift, announced Thursday, provides $15 million to the organization’s national headquarters and splits $29 million in direct donations to 12 of the organization’s chapters from Tampa Bay to Detroit to Los Angeles.

Terri Sorensen, the CEO of Friends of the Children, said Scott sent word through intermediaries about why she’d chosen her organization.

“She said that they were doing this because they really hoped more people would find out about Friends of the Children,” said Sorensen, adding that she worked with The Bridgespan Group as part of the vetting process for several months before the amount was finalized.

That reflects what Scott has often said about her donations, writing in a 2020 Medium post that she and her team rigorously study organizations, in part, “to pave the way for unsolicited and unexpected gifts given with full trust and no strings attached.”

“Because our research is data-driven and rigorous,” Scott wrote, “our giving process can be human and soft.”

Sorensen recalled the “surreal” moment in June when she learned of Scott’s gift. She was visiting the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where there was limited cell phone service, and had to drive around to get a signal to take the call.

“I was actually in a ditch when I got the word,” she said.

Scott’s donation nearly doubles the organization’s overall resources, since the national network’s budget for 2022 was $50 million. Founded in 1993, Friends of the Children pays a professional mentor to befriend and support children and their families for 12 years starting in kindergarten.

In 2020, the latest year federal figures are available more than 631,000 children passed through the foster care system. Often families who come in contact with the foster care system have encountered some kind of trauma and have, for whatever reason, not been able to get support at a less critical moment, Sandra Gasca-Gonzalez, a vice president at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said.

The foundation previously supported Friends of the Children and Gasca-Gonzalez said she hopes one of the outcomes of philanthropic support is to produce evidence and research so that it can qualify for evidence-based government funding.

“The ones that wrap around the whole family are the ones that are really showing some promise,” she said.

In the past eight years, the network expanded from having five chapters to 26, with the help of a $4 million grant in 2016 from the Corporation for National and Community Service, a U.S. government agency. That grant was meant to help the organization expand its program and study the impact it had on children living in poverty.

The chapters plan to use Scott’s donation to pay higher wages to mentors, who they call “friends,” and expand to serve more children, Sorensen said, though she emphasized that each chapter is run independently.

The national headquarters will add staff to increase the administrative support like grant writing and accounting they provide to chapters and establish an impact fund for chapters seeking grants.

The gift is the latest from Scott to be made public and extends the pattern of her giving to other organizations that provide mentorship and support to children like Junior Achievement USA, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

Like nearly all of her more than $12 billion in giving since 2019, Scott’s donation to Friends of the Children was unrestricted and Sorensen said they intend to spend the funds within five years. Scott’s large gifts have challenged other wealthy donors and foundations to assess their own giving strategies.

Scott and her husband, Dan Jewett, donate in relative secrecy. Giving as individuals and not through a foundation means their donations are known only when the recipients disclose them or through her occasional blog posts. She’s written previously that she doesn’t respond to press inquiries in an effort not to overshadow the work of the organizations to which she donates.

Los Angeles, which has one of the highest number of children in foster care than anywhere in the country, is one of the chapters of Friends of the Children that will receive the gifted funds. The organization has two locations there, including one that opened in 2019 in Antelope Valley, located about an hour north of the city. That office won funding from the county mental health department to divert children at risk of being separated from their parents or guardians from entering foster care.

“We’re getting reports from there, the parents and their caregivers, that not only do they have hopes and dreams for their children, but they have their own hopes and dreams and don’t feel so alone by having a friend by their side,” Sorensen said, referring to the mentor assigned to the family.

Their chapters now partner with a range of local organizations to identify children most at risk of being involved in the welfare system and to match them with a long term mentor.

“Perhaps the parents experienced foster care, didn’t graduate from high school, have been incarcerated. Let’s get to those families before they enter the system and keep them out,” Sorensen said. “So that’s really where we like to be on the side of prevention.”


Associated Press coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content. For all of AP’s philanthropy coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Arizona and New York attorneys feud over extraditing suspect...

Associated Press

Why Alvin Bragg and Rachel Mitchell are fighting over extraditing suspect in New York hotel killing

Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell says she isn't into extraditing a suspect due to her lack of faith in Manhattan’s top prosecutor.

2 hours ago

A Gila monster is displayed at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Dec. 14, 2018. A 34-year-old Color...

Associated Press

Colorado man dies after being bitten by pet Gila monster

A Colorado man has died after being bitten by his pet Gila monster in what would be a rare death by one of the desert lizards if the creature's venom turns out to have been the cause.

1 day ago

Police clear the area following a shooting at the Kansas City Chiefs NFL football Super Bowl celebr...

Associated Press

1 dead, many wounded after shooting at Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl victory parade

One person died after 22 people were hit by gunfire in a shooting at the end of the Kansas Chiefs' Super Bowl victory celebration Wednesday.

8 days ago

This image from House Television shows House Speaker Mike Johnson of La., banging the gavel after h...

Associated Press

GOP-led House impeaches Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas — by one vote — over border management

Having failed to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas the first time, House Republicans are determined to try again Tuesday.

9 days ago

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, right, and Kenya's Defense Minister Aden Duale, left, listen during...

Associated Press

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin hospitalized with bladder issue

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has been hospitalized following symptoms pointing to an “emergent bladder issue."

11 days ago

Follow @ktar923...

Sponsored Content by Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.

Sponsored Articles


DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.


Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Day & Night is looking for the oldest AC in the Valley

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.


Collins Comfort Masters

Avoid a potential emergency and get your home’s heating and furnace safety checked

With the weather getting colder throughout the Valley, the best time to make sure your heating is all up to date is now. 

MacKenzie Scott supports child mentors with $44 million gift