The Friendship Club helps girls make healthy choices | TheUnion.com

The Friendship Club helps girls make healthy choices

Dear Readers:

The following is a profile of The Friendship Club, a 15-year-old nonprofit organization whose mission is to create opportunities for our area’s disadvantaged girls so that they may go on to enjoy healthy and happy lives.

Last year alone the organization (with 125 to 150 volunteers at its core) provided girls with 4,500 after-school snacks and meals, donated more than 2,000 hours of community service and provided scholarships to seven graduating high school seniors.

“It (The Friendship Club) was kind of a safe haven,” one now-20-year-old woman told our reporter, regarding her relationship with the club that began when she was in 8th grade. “It’s really important as a young girl to have support, whether you are a

single-parent family, or whatever’s going on in your life.”

Thanks in large part to The Friendship Club, that young woman is now a college sophomore and likely on her way to leading that “healthy and happy” life we all deserve.

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Unfortunately, fundraisers alone aren’t nearly enough to pay for the valuable and life-saving services The Friendship Club provides these hundreds of girls. That’s why you will find inside today’s edition an envelope. My hope is that you will use that envelope to make a donation, no matter how small.

The needs have never been greater and the money you contribute will go a long way in ensuring that these girls have a shot at really making huge contributions of their own down the road.

I thank you in advance.

Jeff Ackerman

In addition to her own 3-year-old daughter, Jennifer Singer has many other young ladies whom she calls “her girls” – the participants in The Friendship Club.

In cooperation with Sierra Mentoring Partnership, The Friendship Club, a nonprofit prevention program, provides resources and opportunities for disadvantaged girls to help them lead healthy, happy lives.

With a mission to engage, educate and empower girls at risk, the program focuses are educational success, boosting confidence and community service.

“It’s meant to form positive friendships (and) make healthy choices,” said Singer, executive director at The Friendship Club. “It’s about empowering women to change the world.”

The Friendship Club began in 1995 under the leadership of Mary Collier, coordinator of the Nevada County Pupil Assistance Liaison (PAL) program, to provide mentoring to middle and high school aged girls. Singer, who had previously volunteered with the PAL program, was asked to help out with The Friendship Club’s summer pilot program during a break from studying at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

“We could see (the girls) were on the periphery of community,” she said. “All that support you may have had, take it away. What would you do?”

The Friendship Club has evolved to being a year-round, seven-year program for its participants.

“Girls needed more than summer support,” Singer said. “It exposed them to things most did not get exposed too. It gave them opportunities to feel valued.”

After wrapping up her studies in 1997, Singer began working as assistant director for the program, then based out of the Superintendent of Schools office.

“The focus was to make sure kids stay away from drugs and alcohol,” Singer said. “It was showing them a different way.”

The club soon realized a larger facility was needed to house computers and to prepare meals. After stints at the Yuba River Professional Building and the Providence Mine Building, the organization found a home at its New Mohawk Road location in 2006.

Girls are referred to The Friendship Club by middle school teachers and counselors.

“Girls are more addictive than boys, have more emotional stress,” Singer said. “I’m not saying that boys don’t need support, but I feel strongly that girls need to be a focus.”

Singer has served as executive director of the organization since 2004. Collier remains involved with the program as a grant writer.

Twelve to 20 girls attend The Friendship Club’s afterschool programs each day, with 80 girls currently enrolled in the program, Singer said.

While participants do have a set schedule, “at the end of the day, if they need to be here, they can be here,” she said.

A typical afternoon includes a snack, a discussion, and a speaker, activity or lesson. Once a month a field trip, designed for exposure, is conducted, while special events such as college trips also take place. During the summer, a string of camps and clinics are offered.

“It all goes into skill building and building up assets,” Singer said. “The more you’re exposed to it, the more regular it becomes, the more possible it can be.”

In 2010, The Friendship Club provided more than 4,500 snacks and meals; performed 2,000 hours of community service; and equipped seven graduating seniors with scholarships.

“They’re good girls. They may make bad choices, but show me someone who hasn’t,” Singer said. “It’s important for these girls to think back on their childhood and have happy memories.”

The Friendship Club currently has 125 to 150 active volunteers, Singer said, offering help with driving and cooking, serving as guest speakers, along with the more structured volunteer programs of “Find Your Passion” mentoring and “Angels.”

Angels are one-on-one long-term mentors, while Find Your Passion mentors work with a girl on a specific hobby for three months.

“One of the things so important about mentoring and being in this community, we have the resources to take care of each other,” said Christine Kelly, Sierra Mentoring Partnership executive director and Friendship Club Angel. “The resources are available to create the community we want to live in, and that means everyone in our county. “An organization like this promotes that.”

The Friendship Club’s combination of afterschool programs and mentoring is invaluable, she said, noting the organization makes it easy for anyone to make a difference.

“You can participate on so many levels,” Kelly said. “For a lot of people who think they can’t be mentors, that capacity to just get their foot in the door, it’s a huge benefit.”

Board President Susie Bavo has been a volunteer since 1997.

“All the girls are a success, even if they are only in the club for a couple of years,” Bavo said. “It still makes a difference down the road. That’s why I do it.”

“My kids, they knew they were going to go to college. The Friendship Club girls don’t. They kind of fall through the cracks. They’re not troublemakers, they’re not in the system, they don’t have a lot of parent support for the most part. They are sort of these invisible kids that need a leg up.”

Bavo notes that 80 percent of the organization’s funding is from individual donors.

“The community is what keeps us going,” she said. “People, I think, don’t understand, in our beautiful little community, that there’s all this stuff going on. I don’t think people are trying to ignore that there is a problem, they just don’t know.

“It’s one kid at a time,” she continued. “We can’t help anybody but the 100 girls who are in the program at any one time. By making these girls feel part of our community, we’re improving their lives.”

Nicole Misley joined The Friendship Club when she was in eighth grade.

“It was kind of a safe haven,” the 20-year-old said in a phone interview from Belmont, Calif., where she is a sophomore at Notre Dame de Namur University. “We had so many volunteer opportunities and traveled places. They took me back-to-school shopping. They help you with college applications.

“Some of the best times I had in high school were with The Friendship Club.”

Misley is involved in the community service program the “Bonner Leaders,” and is organizing a Habitat for Humanity build in Grass Valley.

“It’s really important as a young girl to have support, whether you are in a single-parent family, or whatever’s going on in your life,” she said. “I don’t think I’d be where I am today without that support.”

Singer hopes to eventually take The Friendship Club model elsewhere.

“This is a grassroots effort that does not exist anywhere else,” she said. “It’s tailored to our community and would look potentially different in another town. That’s OK. It’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of world.”

The organization, completely self-sufficient, is always in need of donations and volunteers.

“We’re realistic with the world, but not saying we can’t take more girls,” Singer said.

Grass Valley’s AJA Video plans to match every donation received from the fundraising drive led by The Union, up to $10,000.

“We are so honored to be able to support your efforts for our community, for our future, for our girls,” AJA Video owner Darlene Abt wrote to the club. “If, by offering to match donations, we can encourage others in our community to learn about and support, in whatever way, your remarkable, heart-touching program, again, we are honored to do so.”

The Friendship Club’s next informational event is the Power of the Purse, set for March 16 at the Holiday Inn in Grass Valley. Call to reserve a seat.

To contact Staff Writer Angela Diaz,

e-mail adiaz@theunion.com or call

(530) 477-4203.