Friends First Mentoring Matches Create Lifelong Friendships
January is National Mentoring Month, but we celebrate our mentoring matches all year long! Mentoring changes the lives of so many young people by providing them with needed support to grow and thrive. And through our Friends First program, which matches a child with a well-trained volunteer mentor, countless lives have been changed for both mentor and mentee.
Mentor John Reddington and his mentee, Malik, were matched four years ago and are still going strong! John became involved in Friends First when he was looking for a way to be involved in mentoring and a friend suggested Mercy Home’s program. After some research, he knew that it would be a great fit.
The first time John and Malik met, John remembers being very nervous, despite typically being a person who is comfortable stepping into new environments. Malik was nervous, too, but the initial meeting between John, Malik, Malik’s mother, and the Friends First coordinator went really well, John explained. The first outing John and Malik went on was to a DePaul basketball game.
“It was a really cool ice breaker,” John said. “It was something that was new for him that he had never done before.”
When they were driving home from the game, Malik told John that he had a lot of fun with him that day. And from then on, John said that their trust and comfort level has continued to build.
Throughout the years they’ve been together, they’ve done countless of fun activities, but they both enjoy spending time outdoors and being active. John noted that the peacefulness they experience hiking in the woods was such a different environment from the one Malik grew up in.
Their time together has also helped Malik face some of his fears. He used to be uncomfortable with swimming, but now he loves it. And he faced his fear of heights by trying rock climbing and ziplining. John explained that he is constantly trying to find activities that will give Malik new experiences.
“We built a really good trust,” John explained. “And a good rapport. It’s been a special relationship.”
John and Malik also enjoyed doing activities with John’s dog. So when his dog passed away last fall, both were devastated. But it was also an opportunity for Malik to be there for John. For Christmas, he got John a picture of his dog etched into glass. He also let John know that he was there to support him.
“I knew that I played that role in his life, but [this showed] the role he plays in my life and how he shows up,” John said. “I think obviously we’ve been close, but I think hard moments like that, it brought us even closer. We had a chance to talk about life and death and those moments.”
Malik has also opened up to John about many subjects, like family relationships and getting older. John said he’s glad he can be someone to listen in these situations and provide support. John has also gotten to know Malik’s family, and Malik’s brother has even joined on a few outings. They especially love their fall tradition of visiting a haunted house together.
Like everywhere else, the pandemic has provided some challenges, but John and Malik continued to make the best of things and grow their relationship. Though it was hard not being able to spend as much time together in person, John would occasionally drop off one of Malik’s favorites, Do-Rite Donuts, and they would talk outside with masks on and socially distant. They also texted and called each other to stay in touch.
John also said that Mercy Home has provided incredible support to Malik. When Malik was struggling in school, Katie Gunter, the manager of Friends First, was able to find him a tutor to help get him caught up. And because Malik only had an iPad to do his work on, Mercy Home was able to get him a computer so he would have an easier time getting his schoolwork done.
It’s a privilege in the sense that you have the chance to impact someone’s life in a positive way.
“I have so much love, appreciation, and respect for Mercy Home,” John said.
When reflecting on his time as a mentor, John highlighted the importance of the relationship he has built with Malik.
“It’s a privilege in the sense that you have the chance to impact someone’s life in a positive way,” he said.
Malik also shared what makes his relationship with John so special.
“[I like] his personality and we have a lot in common,” he said. “He’s a very good person. [He’s helped me] to become more social and more mature. It’s easier to talk to people and [easier] being around people.”
And although John and Malik come from different backgrounds and have different experiences, they also have a lot of common.
“We both like to explore and do a lot of things,” Malik explained.
“When you first start spending time with people that have different backgrounds, different living experiences, come from different places … you noticed the differences,” John added. “They’re all around you. But the more time you spend together, you realize there are more similarities.”
And when John thinks back to that very first day he met Malik, and how nervous they both were, he’s filled with gratitude that he was willing to try something outside of his comfort zone.
“This is what it means to grow, to put yourself in uncomfortable situations,” he said. “I could have easily just not done this. But when you start these relationships because you’re growing, you’re learning, you’re meeting different people. And I think that’s the beauty of it, how much growth you have.”