What We Do and Who We Are

Friends for Youth is a nationally recognized, award winning direct-service agency with a 39-year history of measurable success matching youth with caring, adult mentors.  Read about our recent activities in our 2018 Report below.


Our History

Friends for Youth was established in 1979 by a group of local community leaders, including the Director of Juvenile Probation, who recognized that many children did not fit the focus of other available youth services.  Since our inception, we have worked to support children who would otherwise go unserved, with an emphasis on positive youth development, academic achievement, health and wellness, prevention services, and critical skills for future self-sufficiency.

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We've helped over 2,000 youth reach their full potential.  Our 90% success rate of creating long-term mentoring matches is far above the 33-37% national average.

Studies have consistently shown that youth in our program improve their motivation and school performance, demonstrate increased self-esteem and resiliency, avoid negative behaviors, and rarely have future involvement with the Juvenile Justice System.

Our mission is to create quality mentoring relationships for the youth who need them most.

We first established our Mentoring Services program, providing direct 1-t0-1, community-based mentoring services to low-income youth ages 8 to 17 in San Mateo County and Northern Santa Clara Counties. Youth are referred by teachers, probation officers, and other youth professionals as being "at-risk" of academic or life-skills failure.

In 2016, in response to substantial need brought to us by Sequoia High School, we implemented a school-based, group mentoring program called Connect™. Incoming freshmen exhibiting academic challenges, behavioral and mental health issues, poverty, and social isolation are identified by the school and served through group mentoring sessions on campus. Connect™has now expanded to serve youth before and after the transition into high school, from 8th to 10th grade. 

Award-winning Mentoring Model

Friends for Youth represents the gold standard in the mentoring field. Mentoring programs throughout the country have requested technical assistance in setting up and enhancing their own mentoring programs.

In order to satisfy this demand, we founded our Mentoring Institute in 1998 with a grant from the Packard Foundation, allowing us to help agencies adopt our successful mentoring model so that more youth would benefit from consistent, caring, and safe mentoring relationships.

In addition to organizational techniques and staff training, we develop educational products to help youth-serving professional including SAFE mentor screening that protects youth mentoring programs from child predators.

Our Staff

Dedicated to delivering mentoring services and positive youth development to youth facing adversity.

Karen Wilmer

Chief Executive Officer



Looking to apply her for-profit marketing and management skills to benefit youth in need, Karen joined Friends for Youth in 2004 just as the organization was celebrating their 25th anniversary. Captivated by the stories she heard at the anniversary event, Karen knew she made the right decision to join Friends for Youth. Appointed to the role of Chief Executive Officer in 2017, Karen had worked closely with recently-retired Emeritus CEO Becky Cooper assuring a smooth transition.  Karen's role has evolved from Chief Operations Officer position where she led numerous operational improvement projects, donor development initiatives for individual and institutional gifting, marketing, IT strategy, as well as managed finance and HR.   Karen previously had a rewarding for-profit career, working with major corporations building significant product and brand success.  During her for-profit career, Karen held positions including Vice-President of Marketing at Varilux (US subsidiary of Essilor France), Worldwide Marketing Director at Oral-B (a Gillette company), Executive Director of Marketing at Penederm (a dermatology product startup), and a long tenure in marketing at Neutrogena Corporation.


Sarah Norman

Community Partnerships Director



Sarah joined Friends for Youth in 2015 as the Program Coordinator for 1-to-1 Mentoring, and helped launch the School-Based, Group Mentoring program in 2016. Sarah now supports our programs by developing community engagement and partnerships. She is passionate about creating opportunities for marginalized youth and families and fostering the power of mentoring. She has a Bachelors in Planning, Public Policy and Nonprofit Management from the University of Oregon. As an avid volunteer she received the Leaders of Oregon award for her work in food access and the national Spirit of Service award for her contributions as an AmeriCorps VISTA. Prior to Friends for Youth, Sarah worked for Venice Community Housing Corporation's YouthBuild program in Los Angeles, where she managed volunteers and developed leadership opportunities for young adults. In her spare time Sarah enjoys the arts, hiking and traveling.

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Ana Davila

Program Coordinator



Ana joined the Friends for Youth team in 2017, after three years of teaching legal education and life skill courses to youth who are involved in or at risk of becoming involved in the juvenile justice system. Ana taught about the law and consequences of crime to juvenile detentions centers and continuation high schools across San Mateo County, which makes her a great asset as a Program Coordinator for Friends for Youth's mentoring programs. Ana’s commitment and life goal is to continue serving at risk youth in her community.  She has a Bachelor’s of Science in Criminal Justice Administration with Justice and Enforcement option from California State University, East Bay. Ana grew up in Redwood City and now gives back to her own community.  She aspires to become a Juvenile Probation officer one day. In Ana’s spare time she enjoys spending time with her family and close friends, going to the movies, and shopping.


Marcela Rodriguez

Program Coordinator



Marcela joined the team in 2017 as our Administrative & Social Media Intern. She has a Bachelor’s of Science in Business Administration with a concentration in Entrepreneurship and a minor in Communications from Notre Dame de Namur University. Marcela grew up in South Los Angeles and at nine years old was recruited by a not-for-profit organization that provided free music education to under-served kids in her community. She is passionate about helping her Latinx community and youth who are facing several risk factors. Her dream is to one day start her own not-for-profit organization for children in the hopes of changing people’s lives the way hers was changed many years ago. Marcela is a violin player, feels at home when she’s at the beach, and has been to 12 countries!

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  • 2017      Sobrato Family Foundation 20 Year Friendship Award
  • 2016      Launched new school-based mentoring program at Sequoia High School, called ConnectSHS
  • 2016      2,000th one-to-one mentoring match made
  • 2016      Research with AIR/American Institutes for Research and Kettering Foundation shows Friends for Youth mentoring’s positive impact on families
  • 2016      Achieved Platinum Level GuideStar Profile
  • 2015      Trainer to MENTOR’s state mentoring partnerships
  •  2014     New Pathways Initiative Cohort sponsored by David and Lucile Packard Foundation
  • 2013      Past Board Chair honored as recipient of San Francisco Giants’ Isabel Lemon Service Award
  • 2013      Represented State of California at MENTOR’s annual state caucus convening
  • 2013      Friends for Youth is among the first nonprofits in CA to be certified as a “Service Enterprise”
  • 2013      Kettering Foundation Community Educators events and research conversations
  • 2012      Friends for Youth featured in Community Educators: A Resource for Educating and Developing our Youth by Dr. Patricia Moore Harbour
  • 2011       Invited guest at National Mentoring Summit with First Lady Michelle Obama
  • 2011       Friends for Youth cited by Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and top researcher Dr. Jean Rhodes as the “gold standard” in the mentoring field at 12th annual Mentoring Conference
  • 2010      CEO selected to serve on national Mentoring Children of Prisoners Support Center Advisory Board
  • 2009      CEO was keynote speaker at Singapore National Youth Mentoring Conference
  • 2009      SAFE cited in a national mentoring policy brief, Strengthening Mentoring Opportunities for At-Risk Youth, as a key initiative to promote program quality in the mentoring field
  • 2008      CEO and past Board Chair participated in Kettering Institute Think Tank on educating youth outside of the school system
  • 2008      Presents annually at “Mentoring Summer Institute” at Portland State University
  • 2008      CEO serves on National Mentoring Work Group on Accreditation
  • 2007      AMP (Association of Mentoring Professionals) Advisory Board: Chair, Screening and Safety
  • 2006      CEO in CEN 3rd Nonprofit Leadership Institute Class (invitation only)
  • 2006      Guest Lecturer at Stanford School of Education course “Urban Youth and Their Institutions”
  • 2006      Presenter/trainer at Department of Education Mentoring Grantee Conference
  • 2006      Selected for “Community All-Star Award” by San Francisco Giants and AT&T
  • 2005      Cited by Dept. of Education for best practices in “Creating Mentoring Matches That Last”
  • 2004      “Outstanding Volunteer Program” award from San Francisco Volunteer Center; nominated by Oracle Corporation
  • 2004      CEO named one of four “California Mentoring Experts” by the Center for Applied Research Solutions
  • 2003      National Daily Points of Light Award
  • 2003      Cited as an exemplary program in a John W. Gardner Center report
  • 2003      California Governor’s Mentoring Partnership Virtual Mentoring Conference Site Leader
  • 2002      CEO and Mentoring Institute Director wrote a chapter in Mentoring Works
  • 2002      Represented Mentoring Coalitions in a meeting with First Lady of California Sharon Davis
  • 2001       State of California Spirit of Mentoring Award for Friends for Youth’s leadership of the Silicon Valley Mentoring Coalition
  • 2001       Founding Member, San Mateo County Council of Nonprofits (now THRIVE)
  • 2000      California Governor’s Mentoring Partnership Quality Assurance Standards Committee
  • 2000      Co-Creator, 1st annual Northern California Mentoring Conference
  • 1999        State of California Spirit of Mentoring Award for outstanding mentoring services
  • 1999        Guest at White House Mentoring Ceremony hosted by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton
  • 1998        Selected as one of 16 agencies for a pilot “Organizational Capacity Grants Initiative” project sponsored by Peninsula Community Foundation, Sobrato Family
  • Foundation, and Schwab Family Foundation
  • 1996        Friends for Youth’s 1000th child was matched with a trained community mentor
  • 1996       “At-Risk Youth” Steering Committee of Menlo Park Police Department
  • 1995        San Mateo County Board of Supervisors Award for Excellence
  • 1995        Established Youth Achievers program partnership with local schools
  • 1994        J.C. Penney Golden Rule Award
  • 1994        CEO inducted in San Mateo County Womens Hall of Fame
  • 1993        President's Volunteer Action Award Citation (presented to 60 programs nationally out of 4,300 nominations)
  • 1992        CEO received Unsung Hero Award from County Family and Child Abuse Advisory Committee
  • 1991         J.C. Penney Golden Rule Award
  • 1990        Award for Management Excellence, presented to 2 Bay Area non profits annually for outstanding program management
  • 1989        Volunteer Center/Junior League Program Service Award
  • 1989        J.C. Penney Golden Rule Award
  • 1987        Wells Fargo Bank Volunteer Service Award
  • 1987         J.C. Penney Golden Rule Award
  • 1985        Volunteer Center's Outstanding Volunteer Program of the Year
  • 1980        J.C. Penney Golden Rule Award
  • 1980        National Juvenile Judges Award (as Partners, Inc. branch)
  • 1980        National Activist Award (as Partners, Inc. branch)