Stories / Youth
Friends Are For Bear Hugs
Sometimes the hardest and most important job of a Friend is to help a kid stay a kid.
Meet Laura,* a nine-year-old youth in our program who loves to swim, play, write, and pretend to be a princess. Laura has been going through some significant trauma recently, but you wouldn’t know it watching her romp through the aisles of a grocery store, surprising her Friend, Alice,* with bear hugs.
When we asked Laura how her Friend helps her, she answered, “they play with me, help me with math sometimes, help me spell words, play with me—oh I already said that one!” This is a simple and accurate description of Alice’s role in Laura’s life right now. Laura’s characteristic spark and bounce went out of her when life got especially tough for her and her mom. While Alice can’t change those circumstances, she can be there for them, and provide a space for Laura to play, heal, and be her silly self again.
Part of what makes Laura feel safe with Alice is the schedule they keep. Laura pays close attention to the weekly schedule with her Friend. They occasionally go on special outings, like to the ballet or a children’s play; however, Laura looks forward to every Monday when Alice spends time with her in the classroom.
Lately, Alice has been bringing one of her first graders on outings with Laura to give her the opportunity to act as a kind of big sister. For instance, Laura will keep the younger girl entertained, but also remind her that they can’t do certain things when they’re in the car. It also allows Laura to practice the Core Asset of Belonging—knowing that she is accepted and that her contributions count!
Laura’s joy in filling this more mature role shines through when she talks about the future. When we ask her what she wants to be when she grows up, she turns to Alice and exclaims, “You already know what I want to be when I grow up! It’s a mentor.”
* Names changed to protect the identity of the youth. Photo does not reflect youth in the story.