How to Help Children: Advice from The Front Porch
A Guide for Governments, School Systems and Communities
About Us
Wish Lists
Photo Gallery
Directory of Everything for Children and Youth in Detroit
Front Porch Favorites: Resources for Parents 
Front Porch Book: How to Help  Children
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 - Fairy Tale on the Porch
Chapter 2 - Unmet Needs
Chapter 3 - The Answer
Google Search
The Web
Front Porch
Chapter 3
The Answer: Advocacy
Last Updated 2/20/12


Many years ago in this neighborhood and in neighborhoods across America, children had two parents in their families. Extended family usually lived nearby. Neighbors had no fear of getting in one another’s business, whether it was disciplining children or giving them dinner. Generally, it is a different world. Now, parents divorce, one moves away. Extended families go across the country for warmer climates or jobs. Neighbors keep to themselves. Extended family and neighbors were the safety net for kids who weren’t so happy with their home life. That has disappeared. The Front Porch works to bring that back through advocacy. If the recommendations here for putting an advocate in children’s lives who need them are followed, that strong social fabric can be woven again. The basis for the fabric are people who are getting paid to be in children’s lives. However, as the person positively impacts that family, many children in the next generation will not need an advocate. This is an investment like bonds. Slow growth, safe and with a certain steady return.

In Detroit, because of economic factors and racism, the social fabric has been shredded. However, there is still enough of the warm community feeling that made Detroit special to resuscitate it. There are a couple of generations lost in Detroit, but it’s not too late. This is about intervention, an intervention of love of unparalleled scope. Advocacy is the belief that the neighbors who have the love to give can indeed help the ones who are lost find their way out. The way to reweave this social fabric is through children. They need it the most. They need a sense of community, not the sense of hopelessness that is beginning to be handed down through generations. Adults have an unpaid debt to children for a few generations. They don’t simply need random educational group programming. They need more adults who care for them as individuals because that is the only thing that can save children.


Advocacy is easily understood one child at a time. One little boy needed a bigger intervention than most of the kids.  He was in the back of the room in a public school, in the dirty shirt, with the undiagnosed learning disability, which got him in fights everyday because kids were making fun of him. He shoots dice really well because that’s what he’s learning at home. He tells me, when he is reading letters upside down or backwards that he really knew the answer, he was “just playin”. There are programs to address every one of his needs, but his parents/caregivers were not successful in accessing them. His teacher had too many kids with too many problems to address them all and teach at the same time. The principal was not noticing because the administration kept her so busy with outrageous changes that she had little time to notice him. The social worker that is shared with another school had not noticed because of her caseload of hundreds of kids. We found him in our after school homework help. He was 7 and did not know his letters. We noticed. We advocated for him – talked with his mother, uncle, and teacher and helped them all do the things that he needs. He is a different little boy after 3 months of Advocacy. The request his mother made for his Individual Education Plan (for special needs kids) seven months before is finally submitted, his uncle has found support from us in helping him catch up to the other kids. When he started at homework help, he could not sit still long enough to put together a matching puzzle. Last week he taught another little girl how to do it! Not magic, not some insanely funded research, not some special program tested at some fancy university - just advocacy, just one adult observing a child and connecting all the dots in his life.


Advocacy is elastic and flexible. It fits to each child’s needs. It’s not any sort of blanket program that kids have to fit into. Making programs that kids are supposed to fit into is inappropriate nonsense thought up by cheap adults who think that children are herds or populations or cohorts. Children are individuals who, without individual help, will not succeed. This help is not unreasonable to provide. It is systematic and easily implemented. Because each child is different, it costs a different amount depending on the amount of time the advocate would have to spend with each child. 

Advocacy means there is one person who is monitoring them, communicating between parents, school, and after school. This unburdens less serious cases from the social worker. Kids sometimes need to vent or talk with a caring adult at school about problems they may have in school or out of school. For example: when they are excluded. School social workers have too many restrictions and are too busy.

Does it remind you of anything, perhaps, rich kids might have? A life coach? Hmm... Would I suggest that every kid have access to such a resource? Oh yes, I am!hapterWhat you will read is the idea that children simply need one adult in their life that is solely focused on them. Yes, I know, this should be a parent. But very often, this is not a luxury a child gets. Sometimes parents have problems, sometimes parents don’t know what to do. Sometimes parents don’t have the support and knowledge of grandparents who can guide them. An experienced, trained advocate for children can help parents, children and families live happier, healthier lives. There is a methodical way that this person can be in their lives, a structure and organization. A very efficient and thorough way to deliver all the services and activities a child needs. Am I talking about a structured way to pay an adult to give a child the attention they need? Yes, that’s it. And every child’s fondest wish is to be paid attention to and given what they need. Sadly, this is not happening. Read on and you will find out how this can be given to every child.

This plan is for every child because it speaks to the one thing they need more than anything else: adult support. It’s not about programs and initiatives. It’s about giving children the support they need in a specific structure with not one child slipping through the cracks. NOT ONE! If we do this now, every succeeding generation will need it less and less until the idea of advocacy seems archaic, from a dark time when adults were clearly not doing what they needed to for children to live happily ever after.


If you do only a piece of this, it won’t work. Children deserve every part of this plan to get the quality of life they deserve. Most pieces of the following program exist; they are just not coordinated around every single child. Does that sound daunting? Insanely simple but yet difficult? Yes, I do mean kids just need an extra adult in their life. Stop humming and covering your ears. I know it’s easier to just say, “Kids just need a laptop or a new school building, or a new teaching method.” Sometimes, as adults, we have to accept that things are not so easy. The truth will hurt at first, but then the light is blinding. Adults need to stop doing more expensive research on advancing teaching methods, worrying about how technologically advanced kids are or a program for this or that particular one part of a child’s life and realize that children in the US are starving for attention. Adults need to take note of their whole life and help them in the specific way they as individuals need it. They shouldn’t have to luck up on that one inspiring teacher or the friend’s parent who listens. No, they need to be given that person who is trained to help that child succeed.


From 1995 to 2004, The Front Porch had been offering an after school/summer program and activities on the street in Detroit. We found that no matter how much homework help and no matter how many enrichment activities we gave to the bright youths in our program, they were still not succeeding at school. Yes, we tried all sort do the youth programs that were supposed to save urban children: karate, art classes, conflict resolution, after school programming, on the street games, at school tutoring, dissected fish on the sidewalk, walked for miles and miles to get to field trips, gone on trains, airplanes, camps, museums, and played 1000 games, learned about wild boar hunting as a rite of passage in Nicaragua in a neighbor’s basement, STD prevention in a neighbor’s backyard, movies in another neighbor’s driveway, making cupcakes on the porch in winter, a hundred snow cones from real snow, jars and jars of pickles made on the porch, dress-up, movie making, putting on puppet shows, the programming mentioned in the introduction and much more. We are on call anytime the kids need us. We find them anything they need. It has been anything from calling the ambulance for grandpa because they didn’t have a phone, mediating a friendship crisis, finding a board for their science project or making paper mache – all this has preserved childhood in a mean, mean city. We learned that to really save them there needs to be one essential component: one constant adult who is there to advocate for them. 


Advocacy grew organically from our other programming, but as it formalized, we found one model and stumbled on another once we had established the program.

We used the “Connexions” program in the UK as a model to build off of. They explain:“For many children and young people, there are significant barriers to learning at school. They need extra help to be able to make the most of what education has to offer. Their difficulties may arise from many different reasons: problems at home, emotional trauma, abuse, low self-esteem, bereavement, bullying, learning difficulties, speaking English as a second language or poverty….for some the help needed is not simply more or better teaching, but the kind of one-to-one support for their social and emotional development which is beyond the curriculum focus, role, skills, and capacity of some teachers. In recognition of this and as part of the move toward inclusive education, many schools have employed learning mentors, Connexions personal advisers and a range of other support staff. These roles were established to raise the achievement of vulnerable children and young people by addressing personal, social and emotional issues which may act as barriers to learning….By bringing in relevant professionals to provide support to vulnerable children and youth people, teachers will be freed up to concentrate on what they have been trained to do – teach.” (Support Staff in Schools by Vanessa Cooper, National Children’s Bureau London, UK 2005. p 1 ) “Personal, social and emotional development is at the heart of raising education standards and support staff have a key role to play in this aspect of education.” (Support Staff in Schools by Vanessa Cooper, p 49)

In addition, many of these low-income African American children had attended Head Start. We had no idea we had developed a version of what Sarge Shriver and company had dreamed up so many years ago. While we realize that Head Start is nearly sacred in American educational circles, we dare to speak to a piece of it left by the wayside, much to the disadvantage of American children. 

“From the beginning, Shriver was very concerned to follow up with Head Start Alumni to measure whether their IQ gains and other intellectual improvements would be sustained several years down the road. Discouragingly, the evidence tended to suggest that these gains eroded over time. This led Shriver to create a supplemental program called Head Start Follow Through whose aim was to provide older poor students with the same nurturing intellectual and social environment they had gotten through Head Start.” (Sarge by Scott Stossel, p 426)
The Front Porch was surprised to learn about this serendipitous program. We had no idea of his program and did ours on mini-grants and in-kind donations, from a porch in Detroit, listening to the suggestions of children, parents and teachers. Just because children reach age 6, they should not lose the support they had as a pre-schooler!


The Front Porch’s Advocacy Program speaks to a child’s most basic need, a developmental asset, to feel valued and supported by the adults around them. (
This program is the missing link for children – linking home, school, after school and the neighborhood into one community that supports them. It integrates student support in the form of an Advocate who provides an individual child with 360 degrees of support for their lives. The Advocate forms a bridge between parents who are reluctant to be involved with school and teachers. Each child is asked what they need and assessed for what they need each week at school and then given, whatever that child needs to succeed. Youth receive help with homework at homework help after school, school supplies, and basic needs assistance such as uniforms, coats, and hygiene supplies. If parents ask for advice or support in addressing school issues, the Advocate aids them. The Advocate responds to the child’s parents, cousins, older brothers/sisters, grandmas, aunts, or uncles who ask Advocates to help the child in specific areas. Parents and caregivers like grandparents, uncles, or older siblings feel supported by the Advocate in their endeavor to care and then have more energy to give to the child. They finally have a cheerleader to provide support for the hardest job on earth – raising a child. Advocates support caregivers in front of the children so children know they are facing a united front. The child knows that their Advocate is connected to their parents and teachers. There is no slipping through the cracks, no hiding homework and no need going unmet. The Advocate is the thread that holds it all together for students in the program. In two years, the payoff is good grades.


This person, who is recruited from their own neighborhood, will sit in class with a child, do extra work with them that teachers recommend, come to after school homework help and work with the child and talk with parents when they pick the child up, be sure they receive the special services they need such as eyeglasses or speech therapy. There is also very individualized help. There are many aspects to this. It has been taking the time to find out what adult in a child's life is involved in supporting them and the Advocate encouraging that person, being sure they talk with a social worker when needed, getting a bike donated for a child who is overweight but likes biking, and providing art supplies for a child who likes to create in their spare time. Advocates discover social issues a child has and can address them through friendship coaching and other methods. No "program" can provide this to a child but an Advocate can. The relationship between the child, their family, Advocate, teachers and after school help is key in a child’s success, blending the often separate parts of their lives into one balanced whole. From a child's perspective, being valued and having individual needs met makes them want to succeed and become intrinsically motivated. This is a successful, viable and easily replicable program that is an outstanding innovation in education, parenting engagement and social service delivery.


Our advocates have done everything from supplying a birthday cake, to visiting the doctor with the child and parent, going to a court date, to sitting through science class to keep the student on task. We work with individual children – which is what the schools are composed of.  As each child improves the school as a whole improves. By working with each child we break down barriers to education. Barriers we have seen are everything from being sad about not having a good birthday causing a child to not participate in school to not being able to stay on task and learn in the classroom.  Since we work in coordination with the schools and are independent of the schools themselves we are not affected by political and economic issues that affect working with a school system as a whole.  We are also flexible enough to follow students from school to school; a relationship teachers and principals do not have the luxury of even contemplating.  We also found the possibility of great benefit in offering Homework Help after school at a school where a group of children we Advocate for. We take other children also, and then in turn started advocating for some of them.


The main goal of the program is help children feel they can succeed in school, to provide them the necessary intellectual confidence to be intrinsically motivated in school. All support programs should pivot off the advocacy program. This program gives children access to most of their needs through one point of contact – the Advocate. For example: if they need a coat, they are not getting it from some nameless faceless program. They are getting it from someone who cares about them and who will ask them their favorite color. If they need help in math, the Advocate tells the after school coordinator and the child will be playing math games after school or being tutored in it. Youth and parents feel they can ask for help and be treated respectfully and get real positive change.


This program addresses a number of needs.
  1. Student Need: Coordination of services for individual students - resources are available but not accessed. Approach: Advocates for individual students. In order to effectively deliver services to youth, they must come through one person with whom they have a positive relationship. The Advocate helps youth access the services they need. Advocates are well-trained in accessing available resources and forming a positive helping relationship with the child and their family. Children are assigned an Advocate. who makes sure they get the services they need and are checked on in the classroom. Student Need: A listening ear that is not the school or family itself. Approach: An Advocate, someone who understands their whole life, not just school issues. Children at every level can benefit from it – gifted youths, youths who get C’s that can be A’s, and the learning disabled alike benefit from the added individual attention.  As one student in the program noted about her advocate, “they make sure your grades are good and keep in contact with all of your teachers. If your grades aren’t right, then they make sure they talk with your teachers to settle the conflict or tutor you constantly with any help that is needed.” “Apparently the brains of babies and children need other people, especially parents and other caregivers, to learn. Social connection and interaction, scientists are finding, are importation to early learning. Children take in more information by looking at another person face-to-face than by looking at a person on a big plasma TV screen. Children also learn what’s important in their environment by watching where a grown-up’s gaze goes, which helps them figure out what’s worth paying attention to.” (The Scientific American Brave New Brain by Judith Horstman, John Wiley and Sons, p 64)
  2. School Need: To improve grades and behavior. Approach: Advocates get help for teachers with youths who need extra help and resolve other issues outside of school that distract youth. One special education teacher noted that a student in the program’s participation increased, said it was an excellent program and asked the advocate to come back two days/week.  Another teacher, who never saw the parent of one of the children in advocacy, thanked the program for the time we invest and noted that student had improved with her participation.
  3. Social Worker/Guidance Counselor Need: Many of the smaller issues are taken care of by the Advocate. In the 2011-2012 school year, the Guidance Counselor at the local elementary school added advocacy to the resources she uses when intervening in a child's life using as needed for the child, the teacher, the psychologist, social worker and/or any other school staff who is involved in a child's life. She simply adds them to our list of children we pull out of class once a week. Parents sign the permission slip for us to be involved and we learn from the counselor, social worker, teacher and the student themselves what sort of help they need. Sometimes, students themselves refer themselves to the program and ask the councilor to join up. Kids know when they are having difficulty in a subject and are happy to know they can get extra help. 
  4. Parent Need: Help in advocating for their child and meeting their needs. We have found that many parents in Detroit are reluctant to advocate for their children because they went to Detroit Public Schools and had a negative educational experience. Often they do not try, are tired of trying, are shy or attempt with negative strategies such as yelling at the teacher. This type of parent engagement is about meeting parents where they are at. On a logistical level, Advocates see parents when they are already at school picking up their child or at other times parents are already up there. Advocates call parents and talk with them, get to know them one-on-one. It is about building a relationship not a “program”. Advocates help parent learn to advocate for their child successfully and the parent then sees their child’s needs met. One parent came to give his son lunch one day and found him in tutoring with his advocate. He was thrilled to see him getting the extra help and used the opportunity to publicly tell his son how much he loved him and wanted him to succeed. He gave the advocate his phone number. This is crucial. If the child knows that parents are making the connection, that they care, and that they have communication with the advocate, they feel supported (and watched!). One day in the hall he was about to get in trouble and he saw the advocate coming down the hall, he stopped. You could see in his eyes that he knew there was a direct line to dad watching him. 
  5. After School Program Need: Information flow between after school and school. The advocate coordinates information about what the child needs directly to program, particularly regarding homework and behavior

Resources the Advocate provides as needed:
  • Identifying individual needs and meeting them.
  • Time to visit the youth’s school, sit in on classes, visit home, afterschool activities, or counselor
  • Communication with teachers about homework and class issues.
  • Basic needs items (uniforms, hygiene, etc.) and school supplies
  • Lunches, snacks to bring on visits
  • Transportation vouchers to counseling, school, and after school activities.
  • Short term tutoring at school
  • Referral and follow up to get youth into needed tutoring, after school activities and counseling
  • Someone who listens and follows through
Advocates follow the same children through their school years. Advocates are given a number of youths depending on the level of advocacy they need. The number of hours each coordinator works is on a ratio basis depending on the level of needs of the youth on their caseload. There are generally three different levels of intensity needed: intense, medium and low.  Intense needs a ratio of 1:4. Intense services include sitting with youth in class for long stretches and one-on-one tutoring. Medium services need a ratio of 1:10. Advocates occasionally sit in on classes and help with homework. Low services need a ratio of 1:20. This just includes checking in on class and being sure that youth are understanding everything and keeping communication open between school, student, caregivers, after school and any other services the youth uses. Examples of services they coordinate/funnel/assist/help student navigate with for students/caregivers: mobile doctor, mobile dentist, mobile eye doctor, speech/hearing, tutoring, social work, after school programs, gifted programs, special needs programs, community service, technical training, counselor visits, college applications, transportation, juvenile court, and in-class assistance. At the beginning of the year, students set academic goals and explore the steps to meet those goals. These are revisited as needed by the advocate through the year and shared with caregivers.

Some children need to stay in the program. However we have seen that at the end of year two, many children do not need a very intensive intervention, which may open more time for the Advocates to take on more students.

Can advocates be volunteers?
That is a big fat no. Advocacy is during the day and it has to be consistent and rewarded and trained for. They need to be paraprofessionals. They are a little bit like family, a little like a social worker, a little like a teacher, but just enough to link them all together.

Why not just volunteer mentoring?
Mentoring is a nice idea, but it is not a trained position in their life, full of resources.

Why not just tutoring?
If you are a tutor and if you are paying attention, you will notice that there are lots of other problems going on in children’s lives than understanding academic subjects. It is wrong, WRONG, to just turn a blind eye. As a responsible tutor, you have to communicate with the teacher and with the parents. This, well, makes you, an advocate. 

Why not just after school programming?
Because after school programming is not enough either. After school programmers cannot just be in their space. They need to know how kids are doing in school, talk with parents about behavior and homework and interests and issues.

Why not just other support programs?
All the other support programs are, of course, needed, but Advocacy is the main dish. Its time to stop rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic. Time for a paradigm shift and consideration for a paragon of children’s services. I am saying that funding, first and foremost should go toward advocates, and then to the support programs. The support programs will be MORE needed and used because children will be identified who need particular programs. The programs that will die off, however, will be those that are parts of funder’s misguided initiatives. This makes like a free market, driven by demand for programs. No longer yoked by what funder’s initiatives are or research initiatives. Its not that research isn’t useful sometimes, but at some point, enough already. For example, we know that kids who have a parent in jail need help, but certainly not every child who has a parent in jail is getting extra support geared toward helping them overcome this. At some point, its time for the paradigm shift to be: use resources to APPLY the knowledge we have to every child. Once we catch up – when there are no hungry kids, no ignored kids, no kids who are lacking mental health services, then we can worry about more and more research.

Recruiting Advocates
Advocates are recruited from parents at school, parent groups, Title I meetings, local community groups/neighborhoods and if needed, university students. The primary source of Advocates is the community from which the children come. This would benefit the community as a whole because the trained Advocate then will add to the neighborhood – the ability to find resources, conflict resolution, leadership, and communication skills. This also would provide jobs in depressed areas. First asked will be the parents in the local parent groups, then local nonprofit staff, local community groups, Title I Parent Meetings, neighborhood clubs, and if needed, local universities. Easily they could be Americorps. They would be assigned to children and make, ideally, a two-year commitment to those children. 

Recruiting Children

Children are recruited from the youth who are already in our advocacy program and the youth who are in classes that the Advocates have visited in the past. Sometimes children see the Advocate with other children and ask to be in the program. Teachers also refer students who need advocacy. Teachers have actually chased our Advocates down desperate to talk to them about certain youth who we know from the after school program but who have not enrolled in advocacy. We even had a teacher try to get help reaching the parents of a youth who she knew had come to our after school program once in a while. We have found the first half of the school year, particularly the first two months, is crucial to their success the rest of the year.

Advocacy can be for every child who is: bullied and there is no one advocating for them, going without eyeglasses because no one noticed and signed them up for the free eyeglass program, sitting bored silly because they are gifted and unrecognized until they are labeled a troublemaker. Then there are the children whose parents are going through a rough time: they are preoccupied with finances, going through a divorce or illness. Maybe children lose a parent because of jail, rehab or even death. Who fills this gap? If no one in their life steps up or knows how to help a child with these issues, the substitute caregiver becomes drugs, alcohol, a gang, or the TV. At adolescence, the advocate is invaluable. An Advocate who understands teenage development can translate a teenager’s “insanity” into plain English for parents at their wits end. There is a place for an Advocate in so many children’s lives.

Parental Participation

Parental participation in school was almost non-existent regardless of our efforts before we started the Advocacy program. So we decided to get parents’ permission to visit the school as representatives of parents, as Advocates of children. We found that working with parents helped the parents get more involved in school matters and empowered them because we are careful to not overstep our boundaries and to be supportive of their needs and understand their limitations without judgment. Detroit has many parents that are third generation Detroit Public Schools. Most of them did not have a good school experience and therefore are not good advocates for their children. Understanding this makes advocacy even more urgent and important for the next generation of children.

And why aren’t parents_____________?  I know you are asking this. Shouldn’t their parents or families be taking up for them? And you can say that 1 million times, but you can’t legislate, pay, bully, or beg parents/family to participate fully in their children’s lives. And unless your family is perfect, you can even look at your own family to see where adult conflicts might be preventing children from getting the support they need. And you know what? That is OK. None of us are perfect. This is another benefit to the Advocate. They don’t have that long standing grudge with Auntie, they don’t think the kids dad should have never married into the family, they haven’t already lent money that hasn’t been returned so they aren’t giving any for that child to get a coat etc... I don’t think I need to go on listing the billion ways in which families conflicts end up harming children. An Advocate is a neutral force for a child. Having advocated for a lot for a lot of children – whether it was sitting calmly in a living room of angry adults and one adolescent or speaking with a fake smile to a teacher who was ignoring a young mother, its sometimes difficult to stay neutral. It is necessary to not get involved and make those barriers that the child may have in other parts of their lives because of negative relationships between adults in their lives. Saying “Why don’t parents__________” is not fruitful for the child. And if the parent doesn’t do what they should, someone has to! There is only one childhood for goodness sakes! Other adults need to step up and provide the help if they really care about children and the future.

Parents Reviews of Advocacy

We were worried parents would be looked at as interfering, but we hadn’t realized how much parents (and teachers) wanted this extra person in their lives. One parent took up advocating for their child fully once they saw us do it. He graduated from high school. Two single parents were chronically ill and appreciated the extra help. It’s really just about how you say things. A majority of parents already know the issues their children have. Sometimes it’s a matter of knowing how to follow through with the issues at the school, navigating often difficult systems or getting through to a particular staff, and sometimes parents just need encouragement, praise and positive reinforcement. Where else are they getting that if grandparents are not there and they are raising a child alone? Nowhere. People complain all the time about how parents act, what they don’t do, but for many parents, particularly in economically depressed areas, I wonder how they face each day knowing just as I know in running the Porch, there are just not enough resources to give every child everything they deserve to be successful.

A parent whose child was in the program noted, “ When you find someone as [my child’s advocate] and The Front Porch, who is willing to put the time and positive influence into a child’s life to help with school or just growing into responsible adults is a plus. They’re not only helping the children but also the parents and teachers by reinforcing study habits and the importance of learning to students. Every child isn’t fortunate to have a parent to home to show them the correct guidance as a teen, so we should be thankful for [the advocate] and the Front Porch’s patience and good heart.”

Statistics on Advocacy
(As of 2009. We will have more statistics before June 2012)

The Advocacy Program has been implemented for 6 years with promising results. We have proved our hypothesis that the program does make children feel more supported in school: 100% of the children in the advocacy program surveyed in 2008 and 2009 said they felt more supported in school since joining. Our hypothesis is that Advocacy improves children’s grades. As of the second quarter of 2008: the average GPA of a youth in our program was 2.5. 15 kids went up from the first quarter, 5 kids went down, and 3 stayed the same. Between September and April 23, 2009 the 3 part-time Advocates: attended 15 parent-teacher conferences, sat in 147 classes, had 36 discussions with teachers & 25 discussions with parents provided 361 lunches, stopped in 31 classes. As of the second quarter: the average GPA of a youth in our program was 2.5 -15 youths went up from the first quarter, 5 youths went down, 3 stayed the same and one was incarcerated. In total, youth: attended 68 sessions of play, received 39 packets of school supplies/hygiene/school clothes, did 12 sessions of community service, and attended 48 sessions of homework help.

100% of children surveyed reported feeling more supported in school after getting an Advocate. The average GPA of youth in the program in 08-09 was 2.74.

We have seen something interesting happen with a few of the kids who had the advocate for more than 3 years: they did poorly in school before they had the advocate, did mediocre with an advocate, and excelled once they didn’t enroll in advocacy, but still had just homework help. The children, parents and advocates cannot explain this. And it’s not little. It’s about watching a light bulb go off and see a kid who could care less to complaining their A was not an A+. Maybe it was years of forming positive habits and positive reinforcement?


In addition to partnerships and other support programs, there are a few resources that would be invaluable to advocates to provide the best services for children.

1. Website Resource Guide
This is a very simple, easily searchable database of almost every program that touches a child’s life. From a foundation or governmental perspective, this database helps see where there are gaps in funding, gives a way to contact organizations – and sort them for targeted emails, events and funding opportunities, training etc. We are working on one and need funding to pay college students to help fill in the database. Please contact us if you are interested in funding this resource that will be valuable to the entire metro Detroit area and a model for every city in the country. These are all the
different services that youth need access to and parents need information about:

After school/Summer programs
After School Programs
Before School Programs
Camps for Children with Special Needs
Day Camps
Overnight Camps

Arts and Crafts
Drawing/ Visual Arts
Foreign Language/ ESL
World Cultures

Day Care
Day Care (*partner with state licensing list or link to it)
Head Start

Head Start
Elementary School
Middle School
High School
College Preparation
Special Education
Vocational School
Alternative Education School
Gifted Programs
GED Preparation
Educational Evaluation
Free School Supplies
Drop out Prevention
Dealing with School Issues
Scholarships (Local)
Academic Games
All Girls School
All Boys School

(By Month)

Jobs/Job Training
Job Training
Job Preparation

Aviation (airplanes)

Aerobics/Exercise class
Boxing/ Wrestling
Horseback riding
Karate/ Martial Arts
Roller Skating
Self Defense
Sports Physicals
Variety of Sports for Fun
Weight Training

Other Activities and Places to Play
Boys' Programs
First Aid/ Safety
Girls' Programs
Hair Braiding
Money Education / Entrepreneurship
Playgrounds /Parks
Religious Programs
Self Defense
Social Activism / Community Service
Teen Group
Woodworking / Model Building

Field Trips and Programs for Groups of Children
Careers/Job Preparation
Community Service
Group Camping
Drug Use Prevention
Group Camping
Nutrition and Food
Science and Technology
Sex Education
Violence Prevention
World Cultures

Eating Disorders
Hearing / Speech
Lead Testing
Medical Needs
Sports Physicals

Basic Needs
Heat, Lights, etc. (utilities)
Housing for Families
Housing for Teens

Abuse / Neglect
Anger Management / Conflict Resolution
Eating Disorders
Grief Counseling

Drugs / Alcohol Addiction Prevention
Drugs / Alcohol Addiction Treatment

HIV/AIDS/STDs Prevention

Help for Parents
Foster Care
Parenting Classes
Support Groups
Help for Kids Dealing with their Family's Problems
Alcohol Abuse in the Family
Drug Abuse in the Family
Parents Incarcerated

Special Needs
Adaptive Equipment
Autism Spectrum Disorders
Child Care
Cognitive Impairments
Educational Support
Evaluation and Assessment
Hearing Impairments
Information and Referral
Job Programs and Job Preparation
Learning Disabilities
Legal Resources
Mental Health
Physical Health Impairment
Recreation and After School Programs
Speech Language Impairments
Traumatic Brain Injury
Visual Impairment

Other Help
Discipline Programs
Drop-out Prevention
Gang Prevention
Holiday Toys for Low Income Families
Juvenile Justice System
Legal Help
Teen Pregnancy Prevention

Teen Pregnancy Prevention

2. Resource center for advocates/caregivers

Training, lending library of books and other media to use with children/parents. This would be modeled on the Skillman Center for Children Resource Center which was gutted by Wayne State University.


Partnerships in advocacy are not formal. Over time, they may become so, but every child needs different services/activities. In our work in previous years, there are other programs we feel would be beneficial to children and would like to explore implementing them on a regular basis. Holiday parent dinners and regular community meals used to be a wonderful community builder, a chance for advocates, parents and children to celebrate. We had an after school youth center with field trips which also added a sense of community for children. These are suggested main extra supports for kids below.

Homework Help at School

This needs just a paid coordinator. Volunteers are screened. Play time comes after homework time. This significantly increased the speed with which children were completing their homework. This can be after school, during school, out in the hall or library option for tutors available during the day.

Boarding Schools

This is a special concern we have found in advocacy. There are children whose home environment is not conducive to a regular schedule for the school week, but would not necessarily be better off in the foster care system. In short, they have people who care for them at home but for several reasons (on and off drug/alcohol problems, family fights, work hours of parents) would be better off during the week in a boarding school atmosphere. This could be a group home setting where they just go to school, come home, do homework, eat dinner, have an enforced curfew, sleep regular hours etc. in a regular schedule, in their own neighborhood.  We have seen many children take the path of: local high school, another high school, alternative school, then JobCorps or night school still ending up with no GED. The solution would be a boarding school option, starting in middle school. There should be at least one boarding school on the east and west side. Examples: Job Corps, Boys Hope Girls Hope, Michigan Youth Challenge Academy. The National Guard should open up a Challenge Academy in Detroit for youth whose parents believe they need more discipline, giving access to a military academy many parents in Detroit couldn’t afford.   

Parent/Neighborhood Youth Centers (Ages 6 – 18)

These need to be small and plentiful, incorporated into existing community centers and adding ones where there are gaps.

  • Parent Resources/help
  • Recreation
  • Homework Help/Educational Games
  • Hot Homemade Dinner
  • Life Skills (how to cook, manage money, get a job, relationship help, dealing with stress – there are plenty of curricula out there for this – be sure its hands-on, work with High/Scope Adolescent Development)
  • Computer Lab – set up as a donation package for groups from Microsoft or Dell and Tech Soup
  • Librarian Visits
  • GED/ Virtual High School
  • Field Trips

1. Many of these already exist. Send out an RFP for groups to become a designated center with a list of requirements. They must provide all the above services, go through a training/evaluation, and follow basic safety guidelines about food, police checks, insurance, transportation etc. If large groups apply, they will be told to make satellites of their group into neighborhoods. They will not be given larger funding because they are big. Staff trainings will be offered regionally through the groups that already train. Neighborhood groups will be encouraged to apply. A support system will be set up for them.

  • Parent Recourses
  • Rent
  • Utilities
  • Alarm
  • Insurance
  • Repairs
  • Staff: Teens on stipends/Doing Community Service, College Kids, Adults from the Neighborhood, Volunteers, Parent Coordinator for each city/area who stocks parent resources in all the centers, Trains staff on how to use the resources, Asks staff what they need,  On call to give advice to Advocates and to Neighborhood Staff
  • Computers
  • Computer Repair
  • Computer Software
  • Dinners
  • Virtual High School Fees – make states give this up for free at these centers
  • Educational Games
  • Recreational Games
  • Funding to libraries for roving librarians
  • Transportation for all groups
  • Kitchens
  • Main Funding : HUD
  • RFP’s or Donations
  • Transportation for Youth Groups (Community Transport is already in place; just expand these services for youth groups where they can call for a ride.)
  • Computer Software/hardware/internet service/set up/ repair
  • Games
  • Parent Resources
  • Library Funding for Roving Librarian
  • Life Skills Curriculum
Local College Culinary Arts and Nutrition Departments/ Food Safety for Evening Meals

Money for Grades

In “Money for Grades” children get money for their grades going up and lose money for grades going down. They are required to put half away and gain interest on the amount put away. This would be excellent in partnership with a credit union or bank that would come to the school. This is explained in detail in Chapter 2 under Financial Education.

School Registration Fairs at Each School

Children would benefit immensely from a required, fun and well organized registration fair. Many of the extra issues schools have to deal with could be taken care of with one event.

Youth and families would be greeted by the principal with balloons, healthy snack and a ticket they check at the end to see if they won something. Rooms visited in a specific order – no meandering so nothing is missed. Halls have firm greeters to be sure people are going through each room.

  1. Meet teacher.
  2. Registration. Sign up for school, and sign up if qualified for: free lunch, free coat (given out later), Toys for Tots/Teens.
  3. Sign up and meet academic advocate.
  4. Sign up for a tooth cleaning (later in year), get free toothbrush and paste. Meet the dentist/hygienists.
  5. Immunizations given
  6. Sign up for Mobile Doctors. Meet Doctors, Nurses. Physicals roll throughout year and visits as needed. They will also come before the scheduled date, do a presentation, play a game, explain what they do, and get to know the kids.
  7. Sign up and get free bus card if qualified or student bus card.
  8. Get school ID.
  9. Eyes and hearing checked. Glasses sent to order for those who go through the school’s program. Glasses delivered and fit first week of school.
  10. Child testing in basics so can be placed in best suited class.
  11. Head Start sign up for the younger kids in the family.
  12. Library card registration. Free book given and information on making reading fun. Amnesty for kids who apply for it from past fines.
  13. Information about Project Fresh, free fruit, list of places to buy fresh produce, and tips/recipes on getting kids to eat fruits and veggies. Plants given out for families to plant (greens or other culturally and seasonally appropriate plants) and information on local gardening programs.
  14. School supply shop. Sliding scale.
  15. School uniform swap/shop. Sliding scale and parent trade/sell used uniforms.
  16. School shoes shop. Sliding scale.
  17. Box lunch given.
  18. Prize room to see if they won anything.
  19. After school fair – information on sports and after school programs in that area. For parents: free 5 minute massages, coupons for groceries and more uniforms, hair salon coupons, give-aways. Free hygiene samples of deodorant, and soap for 4th grade and up. Kid soap for the younger kids. Cooking demonstration and samples for healthy versions of food that is culturally appropriate with recipes given out.  Bouncy things in playground.


1. Make schedule of school visits and dates and times
2. Communicate this to teachers, principals, staff, and advocates
3. Coordinate Groups:
  • Local Public Schools
  • Toys for Tots
  • Coats for Kids
  • Buses
  • Lens Crafters or the Lions Club
  • Project Fresh
  • Local Agriculture Group
  • Head Start
  • Local Public Library
4. Beg donations
  • Healthy Snacks (local food banks, health food stores)
  • Toothbrushes (dental plans, toothpaste companies)
  • Toothpaste
  • Fruit (city markets, local produce companies)
  • Prizes (bikes, helmets, TV, basketballs, salon and nail visits, massages, barber visits, a     washing machine, computer, gym shoes etc.)
  • Books
  • Plants
  • Deodorant
  • Soap
  • Massages
5. Get Vendors
  • Uniforms
  • Shoes
  • Supplies
  • After School Providers (free programs pay nothing)
6. Order Lunches/Snacks

7. Order lanyards/bouncy things

8. Send out Advertising:
  • On radio stations, buses, TV, newspaper, on ice cream trucks, on neighborhood signs, in front of schools, at libraries, recreation centers, juvenile court, parks and other kids-central areas.
  • Ads should list: free gift, free transportation, enter in a prize drawing, free snacks, and free lunch. Registration, immunizations, physicals. Apply for bus card, ID, Toys for Tots, free lunch. School shop with discount/used clothes to trade/sell and shoes (list actual prices)
9. Coordinate Transportation

Validate transportation (within a limit) or provide transportation. Maybe a neighborhood shuttle with an advertisement on the side. Give a free gift for coming.

  1. Have one early morning and late nights.
  2. Most parents will probably come between 12 and 7.
  3. Each one should be at least 2 days.
  • Staff to coordinate and operate it.
  • Lanyards for IDs
  • School operation costs
  • Transportation
  • Bouncy thing
  • Advertisement
  • Funding to libraries for roving librarians
This is list of most of the possible referrals that an advocate would make for a child or teen.

The program is evaluated in December and in May by students, teachers and parents. A survey is given out. The Advocates are evaluated by the students, the administrators and teachers/parents using a survey. The administrators of the program as a whole would be evaluated with a survey in November and June of the first year by the Advocates and Board of the Front Porch, and in December and June each following year.

We collect report cards, which are then summarized without the children’s names to protect their privacy. The Advocates keep a log of each child’s needs and how they are met. That is provided as a narrative in the report. Youth are also surveyed twice a year on how they feel toward their Advocate, schoolwork and other program areas.

The method of evaluation is to compare the grades of the children in the program and as they progress through the program using interrupted time series design.

In the future: We would in the future like to also compare them to the averages for Detroit Public Schools. We would hire independent evaluators - although this is extremely expensive! The program would be evaluated once in December and once in June. Using methods of total quality management at monthly advocacy training, suggestions will be taken on how to improve the program. Because the Advocates are the backbone of the program, they will be rigorously evaluated by survey by the children they advocate for and by the co-directors in September and October and again in December and May. Advocates that stay on a second year will only be evaluated in December and May. All attempts will be made to have the Advocates evaluated by parents and teachers.      

We have some hypotheses for the long term that we want to test.
  1. After two years of advocacy, if there are no major negative changes in that child’s life, the amount of advocacy a child needs drops dramatically. 2. 10% of teens we advocate for need to live in a structured group home during the week and return home on the weekends.
  2. When we Advocate for one child in family, their siblings’ grades also improve.
  3. After one generation has been in the program, each subsequent generation will need the program less, until very few children need an Advocate. Children who had parents who were not effectively advocating for them learn how to advocate for themselves and their children.

Advocates would keep careful track of the programs that they interact with and when there is a problem to report it on a form or website. Those issues would then be followed through on by a staff member at the Advocacy program to clear up the issue and be sure ALL children get a good experience at the services/programs they need to access. Since advocates would be dealing with about 10 children’s issues at once, they are perfect to report issues at the services/activities as part of their job. From the mayor of the city to the directors of services/activities in the city the program is in, it needs to be made clear that issues raised about services and activities affecting children need to be dealt with as a priority – to further the quality of children’s programming and services and better give them their rights. 


This is a good question. We are a tiny group. Our 2009 we took in about $12,000. We have no building, we have no administrative costs. We are a part of the backbone of America, in the wonderful and unpublicized tradition of giving in Detroit, the “All Volunteer Organization”. Being small is apparently, to funders, problematic. Seems they prefer groups to have $100,000 budget and be audited. Yes, the ever widening gap between the rich and the poor is now even apparent in how rich groups versus poor groups are funded. An audit costs $3,000, but as one funder explained to me, “You don’t have a CPA on your board? Most people just know one.” I explained that in our neighborhood, there are no CPAs. Funders are woefully out of touch and I don’t really understand how people who fund these foundations put up with executives with $700 shoes or who would ask why a group wouldn’t know a CPA. I am not sure why they invest in social ventures so much more irresponsibly than they invest in the for-profit world. A volunteer wanted to donate to us because she had volunteered and her work would donate if we were listed on one particular charity website. The giving department at this corporation believed that we couldn’t be a legitimate charity if we weren’t listed on this selective and crooked website. I had to explain that the IRS and the state would be the real authorities on it.

It’s been a real horror and I am at the end of my patience with the ridiculous structure in this country construed for social change. I realize I understand this from this perspective because I lucked up on excellent analytical skills. It also makes suffering their nonsense much more painful than for other people in this funding world of carnival mirrors and jokes, instead of a sincere love for humanity and the willingness toward working for a better future.  Yes, I do have a low opinion of the funders. The one I revile the most is the one who, when I brought the advocacy program to them, they said it was such a good idea, but since we didn’t have 1. $100,000 budget 2. An audit 3. and weren’t in the neighborhoods they were funding, there was nothing they could do. Not a month later, I saw a job opening for an Advocate at the non-profit the vice president of the foundation used to run. Oh yeah. I’m not just a little disgusted with the low level of ethics, the nonsense sorts of research foundations do, how they make all these rules instead of just finding the best programs and helping them. It’s as if foundations are the bullies on the playground – either you play by the rules we have made up because our parents own the playground, or you can go. Really? Proper and beneficial social skills would be that you come to the playground, watch how everyone is playing, join in their games and learn first before trying to be the queen bee. I would argue that in a healthy community, there is no room for that sort of behavior. Ask people what they need. Give it to them. Play nice. Most of the time this is all that is needed. Sure, sometimes there are new good ideas from research or other programs. Ask us if we could include that, if that would work with our programs. Treat us with dignity and respect. Since I am both highly educated and a ghetto girl, I am INDIGNANT at the way other highly educated people treat the people and programs that surround me. Working in the community is about learning and teaching. It’s about living together. It’s not about holing up in the gentrified part of the city or in a suburb away from the “population” you work with, maybe in some apartment on the river or some loft and sharing your superior knowledge with the poor people. It’s about love. There is nothing else. If that is not where you are coming from, then reevaluate your life. There is so much to learn from other people, even if all they have is a one room apartment and a bike, or they are drug dealers with a staff of 50. No, you are not better. Foundations and people in non-profits need to keep this in perspective.
The Front Porch, in and of itself, has been an impossibility that existed through sheer will of myself, other volunteers and the children.

Neighborhood Opportunity Funding

We are a small nonprofit that had partnered with the local community group to use their building, employ our folks and used as a base. We had Neighborhood Opportunity Funding (NOF), but were never able to spend the full amount because it was on a reimbursement basis that came so slow we felt it was on purpose to try to kill our group and many others in the city off. Our last NOF funding of $45,000 never came through and not any of the three consecutive administrations could tell us where it went. We will not apply for that again. The community center we used closed after complicated problems with this. Essentially, they ended up lending the city money. Imagine!


We do not have an audit, which cuts us off from lots of funding because an audit is required. One funder, for a $5,000 grant required at least a $2,500 certified financial review. We had done once (which "expired") where I was disappointed to find it is really nothing but looking through our organizational paperwork and policies and procedures. Nonsense. And that would have to be done annually!

And More Disappointments

We applied for a government grant, knowing full well that such a simple idea as Advocacy would be met with a sort of blank stare. And it was. The winners of the funding clearly showed that there certainly needs to be a paradigm shift in importance in education  philosophy in the United States. The wide gap between the other programs and the Advocacy program are night and day. Kids in the US are going without eyeglasses and yet the ivy league was chosen to do some research. REALLY?? HOW ABOUT MAKING SURE KIDS ARE GETTING GLASSES TO IMPROVE THE LITERACY RATE? You see, sometimes it’s a simple shift in how these programs are implemented so children can make it to the finish line.

The TAP Program from the Youth Sports and Recreation Commission was the best funding the Porch and the Advocacy program ever got. The program gave our program an advocate – yes, one person who was trained to look at an organization's programs/structure and help them become better. There was a checklist and a knowledgeable person asking the important questions about children’s programs: how many children per adult, did volunteers have TB test, how did we police check, were children asked for feedback?. Nothing high and mighty or super academic thick. NO. Just a person who cared about our program succeeding. Then there was a pot of money for us to improve for CPR classes or programming for the kids or a certified financial review. When situations changed, as they often do in the months that pass between proposal and a funding OK, we simply asked her if our needed changes were acceptable. There is brilliance in simple, straightforward and careful giving. It is beyond mysterious to me how foundations are set up with like 3 staff to give out a zillion dollars. It’s careless and irresponsible. Its very hands off. Not that nonprofits want funders all in their business every minute, but there is, we learned, a very respectful and helping relationship that can be built between funders and the organizations they fund. Essentially linking communities together, bridging the gap. Contact us and we will tell you more about our favorite program officer who should be training foundation staff everywhere who work with disadvantaged people.

And so the story comes to an end. I tried for 3 different fellowships, with advocacy being the reason for my application for the fellowship as well. Really, trying every way possible to no avail. Our kind and generous individual donors have kept us afloat. We will again try for the small funding we are able to apply for. The advocates get paid a pittance. I am and always have been a volunteer. If, by accident, you discovered how to really help children succeed, would you ever give up?

Jean Vortkamp

The Front Porch P.O. Box 24744 Detroit, Michigan 48224 USA
This website made possible by the Youth Development Commission and designed on open source software from Kompzer.
This work by The Front Porch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.