Robert Raiche, who died in 2014, was the Founder and Chairman of the Board of Friends Forever, a program that promotes peace and friendship among Catholic and Protestant teenagers in Northern Ireland and young Arabs and Jews in Israel. Raiche spent most of his career with the YMCA. He served as Executive Director of the YMCAs in Danvers (1961–1965), Salem (1965–1978) and Portsmouth, NH (1978–1989). It was while he was in Portsmouth that he founded Friends Forever.
An active Rotarian, he drew support from many other Rotary Clubs to fund the Friends Forever program.
In addition to has many efforts on behalf of Friends Forever, Raiche was an elected Town Meeting member and was involved in the Danvers Educational Enrichment Program. He was also well known in other local communities on the North Shore. While in Salem, for example, he served as President of the Chamber of Commerce.
Friends Forever was founded in 1986. Each year since, the program has brought groups of eight to twelve young people together for two-week retreats in the United States. Here in an unfamiliar culture, on neutral ground, away from their home environment they learn to turn to each other and to replace fear and suspicion with friendship and trust.
In places like Northern Ireland and Israel, generations of teens living in separate areas, attending segregated schools, even playing different sports and learning different histories, have built formidable walls of mistrust and fear. Friends Forever tears down those barriers.
When the teens return home they are repeatedly reunited for activities in which professional youth workers help them translate their new understanding into real gains at home and enlarge the circle of those who are committed to peace.
The program has won widespread praise, particularly from U.S. Senator George Mitchell, chairman of the peace talks in Northern Ireland. The group has met with former President George H.S. Bush several times.
Bill Fleming of the Belfast YMCA in Northern Ireland said, “Friends Forever builds bonds of trust and friendship in only two weeks that take us two years any other way. Friends Forever is up there all alone, in a class by itself.”