Ajit has been a loyal friend to George, who he has supported through some tough times.
“It was ten years ago that I got involved with Friendship Works. I wanted to do something positive in my spare time, and mentoring felt like an opportunity to have a meaningful impact as a volunteer. I was attracted by Friendship Works commitment to long-term mentoring, as I felt it was most likely that mentors could make a difference if they offered support and friendship for a long time.
“My caseworker suggested George and I would make a good match. He was eight at the time and she said his circumstances were challenging both because of his home life which was very difficult, and his health, but that he could really do with a positive role model in his life. I liked the idea of being matched with someone who really needed that support, so I was happy to go ahead.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been as nervous about anything as I was about meeting him – and even more so about his Mum. My caseworker had told me that George and I shared some interests – football amongst them – so I was confident we’d have at least something to talk about, but I had no idea how his Mum would perceive me.
“The first time I met George it went well – we had some good banter and made plans for things to do over the coming weeks – nothing special – kicking a football round, sometimes playing cards or a board game. His mum was initially wary but as the months went on she really warmed to me.
“It has been ten years now and what I have realised over that time is that my role was not to ‘turn his life around’ or ‘make things better for him’ but to be there with him as he goes through his teenage years, supporting him when things haven’t gone well, helping him wherever I can to succeed in what he wants to do, and having some fun along the way.
“During the period I’ve been matched with him, his family circumstances have changed, he has had challenges at school and outside, and he has gone through a lot of difficult events. I like to think I’ve been a reliable constant in his life when things have been difficult or have changed, someone who will listen to him and who he knows he can trust and who he knows is on his side.
“It’s hard for me to judge objectively whether I have had an impact on his life. Mentoring is definitely more complicated than ‘achieving a goal’ – it’s not black and white like that, it can’t be measured by exam results, for example. I think the best measure of whether it has been successful or not is that we have kept up the friendship for ten years during a period of immense change in his life, and I like to think that he has gone into every situation he has faced over those years knowing there is someone behind him. You can’t put a number on that, but I think it is worth a lot.
“For me, it has been both a life-changing experience and also a great deal of fun. I’m a better person for it. None of that would have been possible without the support of the team at Friendship Works, particularly my caseworkers. Ten years on, I still phone up for advice from time to time and always find it helpful and warm. As long as George wants my support, I’ll be around to provide it in some form or other, and I know that Friendship Works will keep doing the same for me.”