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February 08, 2022

Building Community One Letter at a Time

The story of one youth who has experienced foster care and considerable adversity in his young life illustrates how the entire Friends of the Children-Portland community comes together in challenging times. Andy* is a 16-year-old program youth who was placed in a youth shelter last summer. One thing that was immediately clear to James*, Andy’s Friend, was that Andy missed his friends in Portland—a lot. During a nightly phone call, Andy mentioned that he would love it if FriendsPDX staffers would send him a letter in the mail. Andy explained to James: “a phone call is nice, but a letter is better because you can keep it forever and read it again and again.”

While James worked behind the scenes to support Andy, he knew that a letter writing campaign was something tangible that everyone could do to remind him that—especially now—he was surrounded by the love of the Friends community. James put out a call for letters. Andy was only confirmed to be able to stay at the shelter for 13 days, so timing was tight. Letters had to be in the mail within the next couple of days if they were to make it to Andy in time.

James shared some of Andy’s favorite things: all manner of food/snacks, anime (particularly Demonslayer and Naruto), drawing, animals, Deadpool, Marvel comics, making friends, “Dad” jokes, Minecraft, and Friends of the Children. For those who knew Andy, James suggested, the letters could contain a story of time spent with him, one of our nine social-emotional core assets he displayed, an adversity he overcame, or a time he’d made someone laugh. Just as important, the letter writers were encouraged to share about an adversity they had overcome or what their hopes were for Andy.

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Overnight, the first letter arrived for Andy, followed by many others over the next few days, including 16 in one day alone. All told, Andy received 25 letters in five days! Andy called James to tell him how surprised he was to have his name called at mail time, and how loved he felt while reading so many words of support and encouragement. “We are able to be a light in some of our youths’ darkest times and a mirror for when they shine their brightest,” James said of the letter writing effort.

James shared how surprised he was by something Andy mentioned at the end of a phone call—a saying that James’ grandmother had instilled in him as a child. “She always said, ‘there are no bad days, just ones where you survive and ones where you thrive,’” James shared. Andy added, “And you always say there are no bad days, James.” These words reminded James that it’s the smallest gestures that sometimes make the biggest impressions.

Today, Andy is living in Portland again and enrolled in high school. He continues to hold onto the many letters he received from the FriendsPDX community so he can read them during challenging days. Each letter nurtures a deep sense of belonging and reinforces the importance of continuing to show up for youth no matter what.

*names of youth and mentor have been changed for privacy, photo does not reflect those mentioned in story