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Friends and Families United, Inc. (formerly Freedom Foundation of New Jersey, Inc.) began its successful youth development work in 1994 serving 115 girls with a grant from the R W Johnson Foundation in collaboration with the Newark School District. FFNJ changed its name to Friends and Families United, Inc. (FFUI) in 2006 and today sponsors the Newark Best Friends and Best Men Programs sand served almost 1,500 boys and girls in 2006-2007. Both Best Friends and Best Men are holistic youth development programs that meet the educational, physical and psycho-social needs of developing at- risk youth and provide adult and peer support to help them succeed in their choice to reject alcohol, drugs and violence, postpone sex and remain in school. Almost 400 mentors guide our boys and girls with an approximate average of in-kind volunteer hours valued at more than $360,000 yearly. Each child receives approximately 110 hours of adult supervised education/guidance yearly (health lessons, weekly aerobics, dance or martial arts training, weekly meetings with mentors, community service activities and cultural events) that generated more than 156,000 hours of learning last year.
FFUI has been the recipient of two major federal grants, a SPRANS recipient Strategic Project of Regional and National Significance and is currently working on a HHS Adolescent Family Life Grant. In 1998, FFUI's Best Friends program was honored as one of the 50 Best Teaching Examples in the nation at the Presidential Summit in Philadelphia where Presidents Clinton, Bush, Ford and Carter applauded its work and has also been cited by the state for its utilization of "Best Practices" in youth development. The Board of Trustees of FFUI represents the ethnic, religious and socio-economic communities that exist within this small, but highly populated and diverse state. Former NJ Governor Thomas H. Kean, presides as our honorary chair and Congressman Payne sits on our board, as does Ron Salahuddin, Newark Deputy Mayor of Public Safety. Our inner-city parents and guardians support the messages and tenets of the program and there is currently a wait list of numerous Newark schools and 4 other NJ school districts requesting the programs. Local colleges, universities, hospitals and civic organizations (Rutgers, Montclair, Kean, Seton Hall, Essex County College, Beth Israel, St. Barnabas, UMDNJ, United Way, etc.) consistently work along side us. FFUI works daily to help adolescents develop the cognitive ability to make wise decisions. Even though our participants live in a socio-economic situation where poverty, teen pregnancy, drugs, disease and violence are an everyday fact-of-life we believe that when given the best they will surely respond with their best. That is the essence of Best Friends and Best Men.