December 11, 2019

Friends of the Children Chapter Coming to Tacoma, Executive Director Announced

JR Nobles selected as executive director.

TACOMA, Wash. – Friends of the Children, a national nonprofit that pairs children who face multiple systemic obstacles with a salaried, professional mentor called a Friend for 12+ years, announced today that they are launching the Friends of the Children–Tacoma chapter and have named Tacoma area resident Melvin “JR” Nobles, as the executive director.

“I am thrilled and honored at the opportunity to lead efforts in launching this chapter of Friends of the Children,” said Nobles. “I know from my previous youth advocacy work in the community that this early intervention and prevention model can ensure that our youth facing the toughest challenges have more choices and more opportunities as they enter adulthood.”

Friends–Tacoma will work with area organizations serving families impacted by foster care, and the Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) to identify and enroll children ages 4 to 6 in the program. Each child will be paired with a Friend one-on-one who will spend three to four hours a week through high school graduation–12+ years, no matter what.

“I have been waiting 20 years for a program like Friends of the Children,” said Regional Administrator for DCYF Region 5 Joel Odimba. “To have a program that is focusing on prevention and staying with children and families consistently for over 12 years is powerful, and we are looking forward to partnering with them in Tacoma.”

Funding for the Friends–Tacoma chapter came through a catalytic $500,000 investment from the Medina Foundation in 2018, as well as support from other funders, including the Schultz Family Foundation, Ben B. Cheney Foundation, Bamford Family Foundation, Gary E. Milgard Foundations and over 30 Tacoma area individuals and foundations.

“I am so pleased that we were able to support efforts that successfully led to launching a Friends of the Children chapter to our community,” said Gail Gant, board of trustees president of the Medina Foundation and longtime Tacoma resident. “When I learned about the model, I knew that this could make a tremendous difference in the lives of children in our community, and I’m thrilled we made it happen.”

Over the course of their 12+ years in the program, youth selected for Friends–Tacoma will have a consistent, caring adult by their side to navigate tremendous transitions and develop nine Core Assets, such as Growth Mindset and Belonging, to overcome obstacles and build resilience. A third-party evaluation of Friends of the Children's program graduates showed that:

  • 83% of youth obtain a high school diploma or GED
  • 93% remain free from juvenile justice system involvement
  • 98% wait to parent until after their teen years
  • 92% of graduates go on to enroll in post-secondary education, serve our country or enter the workforce

An independent analysis of Friends of the Children’s model conducted by researchers at the University of Washington and Washington State University showed that having a Friend in a child’s life benefited the entire family.

Friends–Tacoma is implementing an intentional Two-Generation (2Gen) approach, working with parents to build critical parenting skills that empower them to advocate for their child in school and strengthen bonds. Friends will also support parents in accessing housing, employment and social service resources while measuring both youth and parent outcomes.

Prior to joining Friends–Tacoma, Nobles was the Director of the Tacoma/South Puget Sound MESA (Math, Engineering, Science, Achievement) program for seven years where he became a well-known voice in numerous arenas, including higher education, K-12 education, diversity, equity and inclusion, policy and advocacy, and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

As a Tacoma native, Nobles is a product of Tacoma Public Schools and graduated from Wilson High School. He also received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Washington and a Master of Business Administration from Pacific Lutheran University.

“We have seen the impact a Friend can have on a child’s life for more than 25 years,” said Mary Rennekamp, the chief development officer of Friends of the Children and a Tacoma chapter board member. “We are grateful that we can provide that to Tacoma area youth, and we are confident that JR is the right leader to launch this chapter.”

The organization is in the process of building a local board of directors and hiring program staff. Interested candidates can visit our Careers page for a list of open positions.