Project Friendship has a rich history in the community that dates back to 1965. Since then it is estimated that 5,000 local children have been matched with a mentor.
In 1965, a group of Northfield women came together with the idea of matching Northfield Elementary School students with St. Olaf and Carleton College students as a friend and role model. Merrell Thornton and Diane Enebeck agreed to serve as co-directors for two years in 1970. At that time, Project Friendship recruited 10-15 mothers who each managed 10 student/college student pairs. Matches were made based on gender and similar interests.
In 1974, the board hired Sharon Day as the first paid director. Laurie Cowles followed and under her direction Project Friendship flourished servicing over 100 students each year over a 20 year period of time. Laurie turned over her responsibilities to Carolyn Svenson. In 1996, Kathy Lansing directed the program with help from consultant Joan Lizsola (assisting to help better serve our Hispanic community). In August of 2014, Sarah VanSickle was hired as the first Executive Director. She grew the program from 46 matches back to 130! Holly Schoenbauer took over in September of 2019.
Thank you to our supporters, both individual and corportate along with our foundation support from The Mardag Foundation, WINGS, Northfield United Way and Northfield Shares.
Volunteer mentors from St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges are matched with same gender children with similar interests each September. Many of the mentors are two page scholars, from diverse backgrounds and places. In 2013, several international students were matched with 3 foreign adopted children. The average match lasts 2.5 years!
The screening process includes a background check and a face to face interview with the PF staff. The mentor is required to attend the New Mentor Training Session and additional training sessions after they are matched. Staff communicates and checks in regularly with the mentors to ensure they have the resources and support.
Project Friendship mentors are matched with children from Northfield Elementary and Middle Schools. We also provide mentors to children that are home-schooled in the Northfield area.
School social workers help prioritize matches with children that have the highest need based on their individual situation. All children need caring adults in their life and mentors can be one of the caring adults.
"A mentor empowers a person to see a future, and believe it can be obtained."