Friends of Youth is committed to ensuring that every young person has the opportunity to succeed. They began working in 1951, after Washington resident Iva Matsen identified a lack of quality foster care for at-risk youth. Friends of Youth started its life as a resource for vulnerable young people: a listening ear and an opportunity for personal growth. In the almost 70 years since its humble beginnings, Friends of Youth has grown into a leading organization, providing access to quality services for underserved youth and families. Its mission is to ensure that each young person is given every opportunity to succeed, from skills and resources to relationships and emotional support.
Providing Wraparound Care
Friends of Youth is committed to partnering with children, youth, young adults, and their families in order to combat circumstantial and systemic disadvantages and offer them an opportunity to thrive. They work in three core divisions: Homeless Youth Services, Child Welfare Services, and Youth and Family Services.
One key service they offer is The Landing, an emergency shelter for homeless youth. Clients arrive seeking food, water, and a bed for the night, but what they find is far more than that. The young people at the landing — who include students, young parents, and trafficking survivors — are listened to, invested in, and believed in. Friends of Youth staff take a trauma-informed approach to goal setting and community building, providing a safe and stable environment in which young people can be themselves.
Apart from this, Friends of Youth provides counseling, home visits, parenting programs, long-term foster care, and its Transitional Living Program for pregnant and parenting young adults. All these services are designed to help vulnerable young people find stability and recover from the trauma of experiencing homelessness and the associated harms that they have endured. In 2019, the Homeless Youth Services division supported 648 individuals, and 95 percent of young people who maintained contact with staff transitioned to stable housing after leaving the Transitional Living Program.
Many of the young people Friends of Youth serves are from backgrounds that cause them to be disproportionately impacted by homelessness, substance abuse, exploitation, and mental health among other things. A significant portion of clients accessing services through Friends of Youth are people of color, and 21 percent identify as LGBTQ.
The Need for Infrastructure
Since 2007, Friends of Youth has relied on Cisco for its networking infrastructure. As a growing organization with a one-person IT team, it has benefited from Cisco's routers and access points and the flexibility offered by them. They have used VPN connectivity to tie their infrastructure in between various locations. The use of Cisco's support engineers has been invaluable, guiding Friends of Youth's limited team through the necessary processes to make their hardware fit their needs.
"We've been very fortunate to basically purchase commercial-grade routers and access points, keeping our network equipment up to date, secure, reliable, and most of all, affordable," says Rey Robles, the IT administrator for Friends of Youth. The Smartnet warranty included with all Cisco routers has also helped in ensuring that the organization's networking infrastructure is always secure and up to date, something that is particularly important in organizations that handle the personal data of vulnerable people.
In the spring of this year, along with many organizations across the U.S. — and in fact the world — Friends of Youth suddenly needed to become remote. With the infrastructure they already had in place thanks to Cisco's adaptable networking systems, they were able to smoothly adapt to life as a remote organization. Staff could access the information they needed easily and securely, without needing it to be stored on-premises.
"TechSoup is just awesome!" says Rey. "When retail vendors call me to drum up business, I tell them if you can give me the same pricing that TechSoup offers, then we can have a conversation. So far, none has even come close."
Rey tells us, "By ensuring the majority of our budget goes to directly supporting young people, we can provide resources and services to more young people, working toward ending homelessness and supporting youth in crisis."
The low cost of Cisco products through TechSoup has ensured that the majority of the organization's budget can go directly towards supporting youth, young adults, and families. This extra money goes a long way towards providing clients with essentials like food and shelter, as well as helping them find stability, growth, and the skills and resources to get back on their feet.