Everybody Needs Somebody – Become a Mentor to a Young Adult

I spotted two men sitting on comfy couches in the lobby, casually chatting with each other, as I walked into Scandic Hotel Simonkenttä. Right then, I knew they had to be the ones I had scheduled an interview with. I was eager to hear their story.

Making friends has always been quite difficult for Tomi (19), a young man from East Helsinki. He struggles in big crowds, making studying in a normal-sized class a great challenge for him. Luckily, as a seventh grader, Tomi found the Sophie Mannerheim Hospital School, which made it possible for him to complete his basic education in a small group. He had a few friends in his old school, but the problem was the friends of these friends. Whenever Tomi was having a conversation or playing with his friends, the friends' friends came and joined them. Since Tomi has never felt comfortable in groups of people, he kind of just stood there quietly and began to isolate himself. He did make some new friends in the new school, but these friendships did not last for long. Tomi’s new friends were older and were soon done with school. Tomi was left alone, again. Soon, new problems arose.

Tomi started to act out and child welfare services had to intervene. Tomi was made to attend a daily social service program, which meant he had to spend his evenings after school in a special institution for troubled kids. He actually liked it there. They always did something fun together, like sports and field trips. Then, all of a sudden, everything changed again. Tomi was transferred to the weekly program, which meant he had to spend his nights at the facility as well. He was only allowed to go home during the weekends. This made Tomi sad and furious, as no one ever explained to him why they changed his schedule so radically. Tomi believes the reason was his behavior on one specific day. That day, his leg was hurting and he did not want to go for a walk with the group. He went anyway, and his leg started to hurt more and he asked for money for a bus ticket instead of walking back. Since he did not get any, he walked home instead of the facility, which made everyone angry with him. Tomi thinks this is the reason he was perceived to be in need of more help and thus transferred to the weekly program.

Today, Tomi is an adult and is still looking for direction in his life. He does not work or go to school. He spends his days playing computer games and watching videos online. Tomi lives with his mother and their rent is paid by social services, but Tomi would like to move out and live on his own within the next two to three years. After hearing Tomi’s story, one could say he's at risk of facing social exclusion. This is where Samu comes into the picture.

Samu (32) is an entrepreneur. He is the CEO of two companies, Healthia and Aktive International. Samu is a huge fan of sports; he enjoys playing tennis and badminton as well as swimming, running, karate and Thai boxing. Samu spends at least nine hours a week doing sports and his businesses also keep him rather busy. One cannot help but wonder how these two very different men ended up becoming such good friends.

The answer is Amigo. Amigo is a program run by the Helsinki Deaconess Institute, aimed at fighting social exclusion by means of mentoring. The mentors are volunteers who commit to the Amigo program for a year. Every mentor is paired with a young adult in need of someone to spend time with. Young adults participating are between 15 to 29 years of age. Amigo pairs are encouraged to meet approximately one to three times a month.

In Finland, four young people retire every day because of problems relating to their mental health. The educational and health or social service systems do not reach everyone in need. This is where mentors can make a difference. Sometimes all one needs is knowing that someone cares and mentors can provide a model of how to live a normal, healthy and safe life.

On average, Samu and Tomi meet once a week. Normally they just hang out and do something fun; they often play video games at Samu’s office. In the summer they meet more often, since they both enjoy playing tennis - tennis is their 'thing'. That was actually the main reason they were selected to be an Amigo mentoring pair. Samu reflects on his mentoring, saying that “I get much more than I actually have to give. I feel privileged at having had the opportunity to get to know such an amazing young man.”

Today, Samu and Tomi are not an official Amigo pair anymore. Their term together ended about a year ago, but since they managed to build a lasting connection with each other, they are more like real friends now, enjoying spending time together. Samu does not want to get another youngster to mentor, as he wants to make sure he has enough time to support Tomi on his life path.

All photos (c) Maija Huitu

Were you inspired? New mentors are always welcome! You do not need prior experience in mentoring; you are welcome just as you are.

For more information, contact: [email protected]