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November 9th, 2011 12:01 am WW Editorial Staff | Cover Story

A City’s Riches

Introducing four Portlanders who do fabulous work for local nonprofits.

Temmecha Turner

Mentor with Friends of the Children
BY MAGGIE SUMMERS msummers@wweek.com
FRIDAY FRIENDS: Temmecha Turner (left) meets once a week with Khaleeah.
IMAGE: Roman Nachtigal, focusonyouth.org

Temmecha Turner likens her management of time to solving a Rubik’s Cube. She makes everything fit, but it takes a little effort. The 31-year-old Portland native is a mentor to eight girls at the nonprofit organization Friends of the Children. The girls live all across the Portland/Southwest Washington area and attend schools in six districts. Turner travels a lot. 

Khaleeah is one of the eight girls. She’s in the fourth grade. Friday is her day with Turner. It has been that way for two years. Before that, it was Tuesday. The depth of their relationship is immediately apparent. Khaleeah looks at her mentor with pride and respect. Laughter and hugs abound. The presence of love is obvious. 

In many ways, Turner was born to be a mentor. Throughout her childhood, she faced challenges similar to the youth at Friends of the Children.

“She...experienced the meaning of a troubled home and foster care,” says Gloria Fluker, Turner’s supervisor when she worked for Self Enhancement Inc., in North Portland. “However, she also experienced a caring, nurturing and consistent relationship with an adult. This nurturing experience helped her change her view of the world, and she made a decision to replicate the experience for children and families through her mentoring.”

Turner was the first person in her family to go to college. Now, while working full time and raising a daughter, she’s enrolled in graduate school. There’s a fierce drive in her, that much is clear. Her girls need only look to her for a guide to success. 

Turner attributes her success to those caring teachers, grandparents, and college and community advisers who were her rock as she grew up. “Having someone show you that type of support really does make a difference,” she says—especially when that support has longevity, as it did in her life and does in the lives of the children she mentors through FOTC. 

Research shows the most important influence on a child’s resilience and future success is a consistent and nurturing relationship with an adult. At-risk, vulnerable youth benefit extraordinarily from a relationship with a mentor. Friends of the Children’s mentors dedicate a remarkable 12 years to each child. 

FOTC children are selected for the program when they begin school and continue with a mentor (changing mentors up to three times) until they graduate from high school. The full-time, paid mentors provide a stable and sustained relationship for children who face enormous obstacles to success. The organization guarantees four hours with a mentor each week to every child, with no summer break, spanning kindergarten to graduation. So Khaleeah reads with Turner, who points out mistakes and checks for comprehension. Turner also rides bikes with Khaleeah and the girl’s mother. 

Successful timber investor Duncan Campbell founded FOTC in 1993. Having been raised in a troubled Portland home with alcoholic parents, he promised himself that if he ever had the means, he would help other troubled children succeed. To date, more than 1,300 have been aided by FOTC’s national organization, which has chapters in Portland, Boston, New York, Seattle, and Klamath Falls and Sisters. 

Friends of the Children has three long-term goals for participants: achieve success in school, and avoid the juvenile justice system and teen parenting. The mentors set specific goals and work with the children to achieve them. “It is so rewarding to see their healthy choices pay off for them and give them positive results,” Turner says. “This taste of success has a ripple effect that will teach them more lessons than I ever could.”

When Khaleeah reaches sixth grade, she will become a “teen” at Friends of the Children, allowing her to go on fun outings each Friday and hang out in the “teen area” of the basement, which is filled with games, couches and computers. Khaleeah says she wants to skip fifth grade and go straight to sixth, to the good stuff. But Turner reminds her that they are working to “build a strong foundation.” After they’ve laid that framework, the fun can begin. 

Turner’s commitment to working for nonprofits is clear. In high school, she worked as a peer mentor, and was an academic tutor at Oregon State University. After graduating with a degree in philosophy and ethics, she returned to Roosevelt High School to provide student advocacy and support in the Open Meadow Step Up program. She’s also worked as a mentor for Sisters Reflecting Beauty, and taught at a school operated by Metropolitan Family Services. 

Her extensive, well-rounded experience illustrates her dedication to mentoring youth and to the nonprofit sector. “Even after a difficult day, the next day she was always ready and willing to start again,” says Michael Navarro, her former supervisor at Open Meadow. “Temmecha never backed down from a challenge at work.... She truly believes that all students are capable and able.”

In five years, Turner wants to be in an executive role, teaching and helping others to understand how to mentor young people effectively. She would like to host workshops to share the skills she’s learned, including offering advice on how to effectively manage a Rubik’s Cube-like schedule.

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