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These mentors make a huge difference in Western Washington kids' lives

Friends of the Children is a nationwide organization dedicated to breaking the cycle of generational poverty by pairing kids with mentors. Sponsored by Premera.

SEATTLE — Having someone to look out for you always feels good - but for kids, it's doubly important. For 13-year-old Aujonea, that's Shaye Villanueva.

Shaye Villanueva is a professional mentor with Friends of the Children, an organization dedicated to helping kids facing adversity in their lives - whether that's generational poverty, under-resourced schools, the criminal justice system, or other situations.

Credit: KING 5
Shaye is one of the professional mentors for Friends of the Children.

Youths are paired with mentors, which do everything from help them with their homework to bake with them - online, of course, due to COVID-19. Villanueva has a caseload of eight teenage girls. It's kind of like having eight younger sisters.

"We kind of just hang out after school," Villanueva says. "I help with their homework if they need support in that, if they're dealing with drama as friends, and just as an additional support outside of their support system."

"She's nice and she's always upbeat," Aujonea says. "And I can trust her."

Villanueva teaches them nine core tenants - things like hope, problem solving, perseverance and grit. But it's not all big, important lessons and doing homework.

"We like to cook and bake," Villanueva says. "I actually just dropped off some ingredients for virtual cooking, and we'll make some spicy beef tacos."

Friends of the Children commits to each child for twelve years or more, giving them the stability, guidance and support they need to succeed. And Aujonea plans to succeed. Her dream is to own a bakery while helping to rescue dogs.

"I want to help animals," Aujonea says.

Credit: KING 5
Aujonea is one of Shaye's mentees- she loves math and wants to own a bakery when she grows up.

Friends of the Children is unique in that youth are paired with mentors for years. According to their research, the most important factor in overcoming childhood adversity is "a long-term, nurturing relationship with a consistent and caring adult".

That's what Shaye is to Aujonea. So for her, having Shaye on her side is exactly what she needs to help her be her amazing self, every day.

Sponsored by Premera as part of KING 5 KonnectedKING 5's Evening celebrates the Northwest. Contact us: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Email.