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Making dreams come true with Friend Finder and O2’s Go Think Big programme

It’s rare that you come across someone so inspiring that you have to get involved and support them straight away. But that’s what happened when we first encountered Lewis Hine. If you haven’t heard his story until now, then you should Google him right away. You won’t regret it.

Lewis was diagnosed with a life-threatening brain tumour and water on the brain at just 17 months and wasn’t expected to survive. But Lewis proved everyone wrong. Not only did he survive, but at just fourteen years old he set up Friend Finder, a charity that brings young people together through events to make sure that no one ever faces childhood illness alone. In one Facebook post on his 16th birthday he invited everyone to see how he copes with the challenges from his ongoing illness. That post was viewed by 30 million people.

At O2, we have been championing Lewis’ mission from the start. We helped to launch Friend Finder with funding from O2’s Go Think Big programme, and have continued to support Lewis through our social innovation grants programme. Lewis talked to us about how seriously ill or disabled young people often miss out on the social aspects of school due to their illness or spending long periods in hospital, we helped him establish Friend Finder with mentoring and a Go Think Big grant.

Lewis had spoken to many young people around the country about challenges they had faced through their illness or disability and one response came up again and again: They felt sad that they had missed their school prom, or that their illness meant that they would do so.

So last year Friend Finder hosted its first ever prom for 150 chronically ill and disabled young people aged 15-19 at The Guildhall in Portsmouth. The response was nothing short of outstanding. £15,000 was raised, and volunteers from the community and the local college contributed evening wear, dry cleaning, alterations, hair and make up. The prom enabled teenagers who would not have been able to attend their own schools’ proms to come to The Guildhall for the night of their lives!

This week Lewis hosts his most ambitious event to date, the third and largest Friend Finder Prom in Birmingham on 13 July. Volunteers from O2 will be helping to support the event. They will be setting up, running the PA system, welcoming guests on the red carpet and providing support throughout the evening.

O2 also supported Lewis’ prom in Portsmouth in June, which one volunteer described as “one of the most rewarding days/nights I’ve experienced and I’ll definitely be volunteering to help them again next year.” We’re sure Friday’s prom will be equally rewarding.

To encourage more social innovation ideas to help tackle the isolation faced by young people who are seriously ill or disabled, O2’s Go Think Big programme is offering grants of £500 to 15-24 year olds, with ideas on how to tackle the feeling of missing out or loneliness. You can find more information on how to apply at https://www.gothinkbig.co.uk/opportunities/without-limits

Can you help Lewis to reach deserving young people? If you know a young person who would like to join the Friend Finder network and hear about future proms and events, contact Lewis and the Friend Finder team either by phone on 07545 664784, or by email at Info@friendfinderofficial.com.

If you are inspired by Lewis’ extraordinary resilience and strength then you might want to read more about the incredible story of Lewis’s life. Despite only turning seventeen this year, Lewis has written Looking at the Stars: How incurable illness taught one boy everything. It is published by Lagom and available through all major retailers.

Lewis is one of more than 8,000 young people who have received funding and mentoring for social action projects from O2’s Go Think Big over the last seven years. Go Think Big is an online digital hub from O2 bringing young people the inside scoop on exciting work experience opportunities, valuable career advice, amazing insider contacts and exclusive tips to set them up for a dream career. You can find out more about the work we do here.



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