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on a positive impact

Youth Can Succeed with the Help of Each Other

By Ben Davies, Executive Director, Johnson & Johnson Corporate Citizenship Trust

In Swedish folklore, maskrosbarn means “dandelion children” — children who, much like dandelions, persist and thrive under harsh conditions. Adolescence is a period of change and adjustment for all of us. And these changes can be even more challenging to adapt to when youth lack the support and guidance of their parents. When this gap exists, the role of a peer mentor and counselor is that much more important in order to thrive.

Jessika Arvik, camp leader at Maskrosbarn. Photo credit: Maskrosbarn

One special organization in Sweden has taken this message to heart, and it has been the privilege of the Johnson & Johnson Corporate Citizenship Trust and Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies in Sweden to support their work for the past several years. As in much of the world, mental health and addiction are rarely part of a public discourse in Sweden, and children with parents who are experiencing problems with drug, alcohol, or mental illness have few opportunities to connect with others like them. The aptly-named nonprofit, Maskrosbarn, was founded to bridge this gap in peer support.

The cornerstone of Maskrosbarn’s impact is a unique summer camp for youth with parents who are experiencing problems with drug, alcohol, or mental illness. At the heart of these summer camps are peer leaders like Jessika Arvik who draw upon their own experiences as former Maskrosbarn campers to show each adolescent that they are not alone in their struggles. As a camper, Jessika’s first night at camp was a watershed moment that created a bond between her and her camp leader. As a camp leader, Jessika aims to recreate this nurturing environment for her own campers to share their own stories.  

Photo credit: Maskrosbarn

On the first night of camp, surrounded by candles and bundled under blankets, Jessika passes around small pieces of paper and asks her campers to complete the sentence: “I’m here because….” She then collects the pieces of paper and begins to read the statements aloud. 

“I’m here because my father is a drug addict and I need to get away for a while.”

“I’m here because my mother is mentally ill and I’ve been abused my whole life.”

After sharing her campers’ statements, Jessika tells them her own story about having parents that struggled with addiction and mental health. Jessika first arrived at Maskrosbarn as a camper when she was 17, in 2009. At camp, she learned about addiction and mental health diseases and their effect on her parents, developed strategies to cope with their impact on her home life, and began prioritizing her self-care. Most importantly, with the support of her peer mentors and counselors, Jessika took charge of her own journey from healing to success.  

Maskrosbarn demonstrates that, empowered with the right skills and support, youth can break out of cycles of harmful behaviors and chart their own path to healthy adulthood. In turn, young people like Jessika are then empowered to serve as care-givers, messengers of hope, and role models for other adolescents struggling in similar situations.

In the words of John C. Crosby, mentors provide a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction — and peer mentors like Jessika combine the best of these qualities. On International Youth Day, let’s celebrate the youth who are courageously leading each other and their communities into a healthier future!  

Ben Davies, Executive Director, Johnson & Johnson Corporate Citizenship Trust


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