October 13, 2022

Hidden Gems: Meet John Koranicki and Jack Schwiebert of Friends of the Children – Utah

Today we’d like to introduce you to John Koranicki and Jack Schwiebert.

Hi John and Jack, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
John – While getting my degree in Finance, I began working in retail and most of my career was in retail leadership. I eventually left retail to launch a small wealth/financial planning firm with some friends. I moved to Salt Lake City because of my love for the outdoors and continued to work in a fully remote capacity. I fell in love with SLC and started looking at ways to work more in public or nonprofit work that could impact our community. I found Friends of the Children – Utah and fell in love with their mission, impact, and research. I wanted to take my years of varying experience to contribute, and I joined the team shortly after we launched and have been working to grow our impact ever since.

Jack – My story has many chapters from being adopted, to being bullied all the way until Jr. year of high school, to having to make last-minute changes in college and coming back to Utah where I continued my passion for kids and supporting them through growing up so they would have the support I did through tough times. This led me to Friends-Utah whose mission embodied that while also adding another layer which is ending intergenerational poverty. I am a little over two years in and I couldn’t be more proud of the kids I work with and the obstacles they have overcome.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
John – I have been fortunate and privileged enough that my journey was mostly smooth. But none of us go through life without speedbumps. My biggest struggles were during the career changes. I left the retail world and enjoyed launching a company. Much was unknown and many risks had to be taken to find success. After creating stability, it was decided to change our direction as a company. I then decided I wanted something different with another career change into nonprofit work with Friends – Utah. Even though I have the skills to do most of the operational work of the organization, there is so much I’ve learned along my journey with Friends – Utah. These learnings continue now as I best try to serve our community.

Jack – I was one of three people to be the first professional Friend/Mentor at Friends Utah so I have been a part of the growth from as close to day one as one could be in my position. So there were obviously some growing pains early on especially while launching during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, one of the main core assets we work on with our youth which is perseverance and grit, can also be said about our chapter as a whole. As a friend, I had to juggle meeting with my youth outside in the dead of winter to supporting wherever I could to help nurture community partnerships so that we could reach more families. While those times were trying, they helped make us stronger and we have been able to establish ourselves as a strong support system for our families.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about Friends of the Children – Utah?
Friends of the Children–Utah is part of a national network of Friends of the Children chapters across the United States. Friends of the Children connects children – all of whom have unique talents – to a paid, professional mentor called a Friend. We hire and train Friends whose full-time jobs are to support our youth to succeed, despite the extremely challenging situations most experience, from as early as age 4 through high school graduation – 12+ years, no matter what.

Our model is distinct, courageous and proven. We redefined youth mentoring by creating the first and only long-term professional mentoring program in the country. Friends are experts in building sustained and nurturing relationships with youth. Our model is evidence-informed and research-based, and we have proven long-term outcomes to show it works.

This is at the core of what we do. Each day, our Friends advocate and help amplify the voices of our youth and their families who often become voiceless in the midst of systemic failures. By challenging the status quo, we also help shift the way institutions and systems view and treat our youth and their families. Friends also create meaningful experiences that teach youth to build life skills and make informed decisions while exploring the child’s diverse talents and interests.

Our model is real, and it works.

What would you say has been one of the most important lessons you’ve learned?
John – I have learned to appreciate how a strong team makes all the difference. Jim Collins in his book Good to Great describes “First Who, Then What”. I have worked on small teams with small companies or really big teams with large corporations. In all situations, the right people make all the difference. This is even more true at Friends – Utah with the impact we are trying to make. We have an amazing team that cares about our mission, is full of wonderful ideas, and comes together in good and tough times to make sure we are all rowing in the same direction. That we are Putting Children First.

Jack – During my time at Friends Utah, I have learned many lessons and have experienced first-hand or second-hand situations that have been heartbreaking and eye-opening. While those experiences taught me many lessons through all of those and the good times the biggest lesson I have learned is the power of showing up. When you show up to support youth in finishing their homework for the day or attend their art show or are there when a critical situation arises, just you being there can be the support the youth needs to keep powering forward and achieving their dreams.