“I have someone to talk to, get advice from, just listen to me. Supported me when I made decisions to try new things,” says mentee Daniel Morren, matched with Tom Cameron in February of 2012 after both expressed interest in photography. Tom, a photographer, was looking for volunteer opportunities and upon meeting a fellow photographer through Mentor Advantage Program at Community Youth Concepts in Des Moines, decided “that it would be great to learn together.” His open heart and mind provided a perfect foundation for a lasting friendship.
As a foster child living with a new family who had just moved from Canada with four other young children, Daniel was having trouble adjusting. Past experiences with unreliable families left him feeling unwanted and unwilling to believe that his new mentor would stick around, either. Hoping to help Daniel see the good in adults, Tom stated that he would be in Daniel’s life as long as the mentee would allow.
Tom and Daniel both have a passion for taking great pictures. Daniel loves to take pictures of Tom’s work events, and Tom has shown Daniel how to edit and finish them.
“….One [special memory] was when a friend of mine arranged for us to join them on a photo walk of the Iowa State Capitol. We were very lucky to be led by Senator Beal on a tour that included all of the rooms and offices of the Capitol, but ALSO a tour clear to the top - OUTSIDE! There, Senator Beal had a small ceremony for Daniel making him an honorary page! He gave him a pin, shook his hand and told him to work hard in school and consider the page program at the capitol,” says Tom.
They continued to meet regularly for years, developing photography skills together and just hanging out. The two love to try other activities as well, such as hip hop class. Slowly, Daniel began to trust Tom and confide in him.
“[My favorite thing about having a mentor is that] I get an older friend who has had experiences in life that he is able to share with me. Some of the situations are similar, others more in depth and open. He has the empathy of someone who remembers times of when he was my age,” says Daniel.
“I think that [one of the benefits is] building trust and knowing that I will be there for him. School is a challenge, and high school has challenges for any student, but when you’re far from home and going through so many more things, it becomes so much more complicated. Daniel knows he can call me for anything. He puts a lot of pressure on himself, but I think he knows I will always be there for him,” says Tom.
In addition to helping Daniel learn to trust again, Tom has encouraged his mentee to be generous and thoughtful in his relationships with others.
Now, Tom has started a savings account which he enjoys using “to buy Christmas presents for my family and friends. It is really nice to get things for other people and see them smile.” Daniel and Tom enjoy making people smile through acts of service as well. Together, they often care for Tom’s elderly neighbor by changing her bird feeders, cleaning her driveway, raking leaves, and keeping her company. Tom’s generosity and commitment have provided Daniel with not only a model to emulate, but also a friend.