Several balls of pizza dough rest on a flour-topped table in the parking lot of the Columbia City Pagliacci Pizza. Jaylen Jones and Tre’vion Sinclair, two recent high school graduates, stand by their mentor, Stefan Hauser. Angela Agustin, Pagliacci’s Lead Inspector and a longtime trainer, encourages them by demonstrating the process. “Flatten it into a disc, like so,” she says. “Then toss it, flicking your wrist, almost like shooting a basketball.” With a few tosses, the dough spinning above her head, Angela lays down a nearly perfect sixteen-inch pizza crust just waiting for toppings.
Soon, Jaylen, Tre’vion, and Stefan are tossing dough high in the air. The first few don’t go so well, and laughter ensues. But soon enough, a few serviceable results emerge. Stefan tosses what may be a good twenty-inch disc on the table, and it balloons up, almost a perfect half-sphere. “Gonna be hard to get the toppings to stay on that one,” he says.
At another table, a youngster finds it more entertaining to pinch off bits of dough and throw them playfully at a peer. Jaylen and Tre’vion turn to Stefan and ask what they were like at that age. Stefan, who’d mentored Jaylen since kindergarten, and Tre’vion since middle school, says, “That conversation led me to understand that these are the type of events that they remember.”
Friends of the Children is a national mentoring program with paid professional mentors who support youth throughout their school years—no matter what. The nonprofit has a chapter in Seattle, based in the Columbia City area, and another in Tacoma. Their results are stunning:
83% of youth with Friends graduate high school, while in some communities, graduation rates are as low as 27% for youth without a Friend.
92% of their program graduates enroll in post-secondary education, serve our country, or become employed in a living wage job.
Stefan, the community engagement manager for the Seattle chapter of Friends, reached out to Pagliacci. “We’re looking to engage with our community in ways that work for both parties and raise awareness about Friends,” he says. “Our office is just down the street from Pagliacci. I sent them a message, and Pagliacci’s owners, Matt and Michelle Galvin, responded quickly and were so willing to help.” Pagliacci is supplying the Friends mentors with gift cards so they can take their mentees out for an occasional meal. Additionally, Pagliacci will continue to host fun activities like the recent pizza toss.
Stefan has been a Friends’ mentor for 13 years, holding two jobs (he’s also a teacher at Mercer Middle) for the last ten years—because he can’t give up on mentoring. A Rainier Beach High School graduate, Stefan chose to pursue education over the dream of professional baseball.
“Growing up, I always had kids under my wing, helping them out how I could,” Stefan says. “That was really important for us coming up. My dad was incarcerated. We needed somebody there, a father figure, so to speak. We found that in different places. Mentorship was really big for us.”
Friends is a way for him to give back—with the backing of a national organization with the resources required to provide the support he needs.
“Being able to be another constant for youth when they’re dealing with ups and downs is big,” says Stefan. “It’s as helpful for me as it is for them. I’ve learned a ton from the kids and families that I’ve worked with. They helped me become a better man, husband, and father. It’s not a one-way relationship. It’s reciprocal. It truly takes a village to raise a child. I had many people as a part of my village and am appreciative of my youth, families, and Friends-Seattle for allowing me the opportunity to be a part of the village for my youth.”
The impact Friends makes on so many lives has garnered support from many, most recently, Mackenzie Scott, who just gave the national organization $44 million, including $5.1 million for the Seattle and Tacoma chapters. Stefan got the news just an hour before the Pagliacci event. “We had to keep it quiet for a day,” he says, smiling. “This is a sigh of relief for the organization and super helpful for everyone’s morale.”
The Pagliacci event ended with a group conversation over pizza. After a bit, Jaylen asked for a job application.
“He’s gonna apply,” says Stefan. “Jaylen could see himself doing this. All the people here are pretty cool, everyone is nice, and he has a friend that works there. For him to step into that environment and see that people actually like working there—it sparked him to pursue the opportunity.”
Jon Obrycki, the general manager of Pagliacci’s Columbia City store, says, “It was a blast showing these kids how to work with some dough. I’m excited this also led to some job opportunities. We’re going to find more times to do events like this.”
Update: Jaylen interviewed and was hired at Pagliacci!