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At the Olkkari – Lounge organised by the Finnish Red Cross, tenants can find new friends

Moikka, tervetuloa! Mitä kuuluu? Hello, welcome! How are you?”, asks Kai Saarto as he walks into the Tyyssija common space.

Saarto works at the Finnish Red Cross Southwest Finland district office as a project worker, and this autumn he has been organising evening get-togethers for the Red Cross. These meetings are called Olkkari – Lounge and they take place at the Tyyssija clubroom and the common space of TYS n´ Chill for TYS tenants and other young people in Turku.

”In the spring of 2022, we decided to place special focus on students in FRC’s youth work. The main reason for this was the Loneliness Barometer published by the FRC that showed how students form one of the largest groups who often experience loneliness. At the time, my co-worker Elina Jalonen and I noted that we need to find a place in the Student Village where the FRC can organise weekly, regular activities”, says Saarto.

He adds that the idea is to provide young adults with free activities and interesting things to do. At the same time the participants can get to know one another and perhaps find new friends to spend time with, also outside these events.

Diverse activities

This autumn, the programme has included activities such as movie and gaming nights, alcohol and drug education, and the hugely popular Clothing Swap, where tenants bring clothes they themselves no longer need and trade them for something else with the others. Coffee and snacks are always offered.

“What we are doing combines several of the FRC forms of activities. The services of finding new friends and supporting integration happen more or less automatically as people start getting together. In addition, we wish to make the FRC better known through various trainings and pop-up assistance events”, Saarto describes.

This time the plan is to make Christmas cards and bake Finnish Christmas pastries aka joulutorttu. Saarto lays down the sheets of pastry dough to thaw out as FRC volunteer Jenni Airola works with the participants to produce the first batch of greeting cards. More and more enthusiastic attendants join in as the evening progresses.

”The people of the Student Village have found their way to the Olkkari – Lounge evenings in surprisingly high numbers. New faces are brought in almost weekly thanks to TYS communications, social media channels, and word-of-mouth. On average, we meet about 15 young adults during the evening. Reception has been warm, even enthusiastic. Students who work on their group projects at the TYS’n Chill on Wednesdays have been understanding even though our activities are sometimes a bit noisy and take up quite a bit of space. We buy the students coffee as well while they are here”, Saarto tells us.

Activities to continue also in the spring

After finishing the cards, people move on to making Christmas pastries. In addition to the more traditional shapes, whole new forms of pastries emerge at the hands of the participants – and it won’t take long for them to vanish from the trays. Some of the participants have never made nor even tasted these delicacies before. As Saarto tells us, the majority of the people attending these events are students from abroad who get a great chance to familiarise themselves with Finnish culture.

There are plans to continue arranging these evenings next year too. Saarto says that there has been talk of adding slightly modified FRC training packages to the offering in the spring, such as first aid training for everyday situations.

”We plan to keep this going until further notice – that is, for as long as there are interested visitors and we have the space at our disposal. We have also discussed enabling going to the sauna and ice swimming in the familiar group where everyone knows one another. In early spring we plan to visit Kupittaa to go skating, and later we mean to make a longer trip to some interesting site in the metropolitan area. And we aim to organise the Clothing Swap events on a regular basis”, describes Saarto.