Rhys has been a mentor to Ben for fourteen months. Their friendship has inspired positive change in both of them.
“Initially I signed up for Friendship Works because I had been involved in a charity day at work and wanted to do more. It is well documented that those who volunteer are happier and that giving time to support others is good for your well being. I wanted to feel that I was making a positive contribution, so I started searching for volunteering opportunities. When I came across Friendship Works, I liked the idea of having a direct, positive impact in someone else’s life. Mentoring is a big commitment, but it seemed very manageable for me to fit it into my life.
“After I had been through the assessment process, my caseworker told me about a seven year old boy called Ben who was waiting for a mentor. They gave me a bit of background, so I knew that he lived with his mum and they didn’t have any other family around so they were quite isolated. He was described as a shy boy who struggled to make eye contact with adults, who was having problems making friends at school. His mum had asked Friendship Works if a man could mentor him as he didn’t have any positive male role models in his life at that time, and the caseworkers thought we would get along well.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first met Ben about fourteen months ago. He was a little bit shy, but straight away I could see the bright, inquisitive boy underneath that. He was very quick to engage with me, asking questions and wanting to know what I liked. We found common ground early on through our love of chess and an interest in science and maths. He has a great thirst for knowledge, which I appreciated. I have a bank of lots of useless little facts which I drip feed him, and he has now started to do the same with me.
“We still enjoy playing chess together at the cafe, and I’ve also introduced him to other games, but we’ve been on a wide variety of outings over the last year or so. We have visited the Science and Natural History Museums; been to a live dinosaur stage show, which was great; visited the Olympic Park where we tried a whole variety of sports; we play football and frisbee together; and I have recently started teaching him how to ride a bike. Ben’s mum has helped come up with some great ideas for outings too, things that I wouldn’t necessarily have found myself.
“I have definitely seen a change in Ben over the past year. At first he tended to avoid eye contact, and lacked a conversational demeanour around me, but now he is a more confident and has become a lot more playful with me. He has changed around other people as well. On the advice of my caseworker, I have encouraged him to engage with others in small ways when we are out and about – for example, by paying for things in shops or ordering his own food in a cafe. We recently attended the Friendship Works Awards Ceremony together, and he was engaging with new adults in a way that he wouldn’t have been able to do when I first met him. Ben was asked what he thought about me at that event, and he said, ‘He’s really thoughtful; he always looks out for me.’
“I got involved with Friendship Works because I wanted to have a positive impact, and it is inspiring to know that just by giving up a small amount of my time, I can make a difference to someone’s life. I am a happier person now, and a lot of that has come from the fact I am doing something worthwhile. Ben and his mum have said some wonderful things about me and the difference I have made. But really all I have done is make plans, turn up and give him my attention for a couple of hours each week. It just makes me think, if it’s that easy, imagine the difference we could make if everyone did something like this…”
Click here to read what Ben’s mum, Sara, says about their friendship.