Stevie's Mum and Dad were in and out of jail for as long as she can remember, she was made homeless twice and she experimented with drugs and alcohol at the age of 12. She was always in and out of trouble with the police and was expelled from school a lot. She also struggled with her sexuality and never felt accepted.
It all came to a head when, at the beginning of 2008, Stevie and her friend stole her friend’s mother’s car and crashed it into a wall. Thanks to local community organisation Pallion Action Group (PAG) both girls took their advice and turned themselves into the police. After their court appearance and whilst on probation, Stevie went back to PAG for help and began paying regular visits.
Even though she had accepted the offer of getting help from PAG, Stevie never wanted to get involved in anything the charity had to offer; she lacked any interest in the community projects and didn’t want to interact with any other members of the group.
However, this all changed when PAG was approached by T-Mobile and TimeBank to help deliver a project for disenfranchised young people to develop and run their own community projects. Assoon as Stevie was asked if she wanted to get involved she jumped at the chance.
‘The Spark’ is a T-Mobile initiative, developed in partnership with the national volunteering charity TimeBank, designed to give NEETs the chance to develop their own community projects that that tackle social and environmental issueswith the aim of developing their soft skills and employability.
A few local places that hosted DJs had closed down resulting in a lot of the local youngsters having nowhere to go, thus often ending up in trouble. Stevie worked as part of a group to offer these young people somewhere to go to enjoy listening and dancing to music and also learn how to DJ themselves.
Before she started ‘The Spark’ project Stevie just plodded along – she had no direction, motivation, inspiration or drive. As soon as she became interested and more involved in her group’s community project though, her attitude changed drastically.
Commenting on Stevie’s behaviour before and after the project Karen Wood, Volunteer Coordinator at Pallion Action Group says,
“You couldn’t have got Stevie out of bed in the mornings – she would have partied till 7 in the morning and had no interest whatsoever in getting involved with anything. Now, she’s actively involved in the community - she even recently went camping with a group of young people where she was up at 7:30am every morning!”
Stevie has gained so much from ‘The Spark’ project - not only professional skills where she gained level one writing as well as character references for jobs but she gained a huge amount from it personally too.
“Stevie was pretty much a loner and would never have mixed with the people like she does now. It’s amazing to see the difference in her, she’s even inspiring other young people from the community to get involved in PAG and volunteer.
We’re nominating her as ‘The Young Champion for Alcohol’ too because she’s completely changed her attitude towards drinking and is really showing a good example to other young people.”
Stevie’s motivation and confidence levels have drastically improved since The Spark - through PAG she’s now working towards her Duke of Edinburgh Silver Award and since The Spark she’s also completed her paediatric first aid, sports leaders’ award, safe guarding children, equality and diversity, introduction to youth work and a level 1 in drug awareness.
“I’m currently unemployed and looking for work as a youth and community worker. I’ve got to get as much experience as I can so that I can develop my skills – getting creative running events really helped me with that.
I’ve realised that taking drugs and drinking alcohol isn’t the only way to have a good time. The Spark showed me I can have fun organising events and getting other young people to do stuff at PAG and in the community too like doing up people’s gardens. I love coming to PAG everyday.”
Stevie's life has changed so much. As well as a drastic change in attitude, confidence, drive and motivation she's also achieved her level 1 writing, literacy and numeracy.
It really opened up her eyes beyond Sunderland too. Through the project she met a number of different people from different areas of the country. Some of them told her about a volunteering project in Africa and she jumped at the chance to get involved. She filled in the application form on her own, something she would never have had the confidence to do before and was accepted on to the programme. On the 6 January 2010 Stevie flew to Kenya and lived with a host family whilst she volunteered to build drinking wells and schools in the local area. The extreme poverty she was exposed to had a huge impact on her and she's now doing presentations for other disadvantaged young people about her experience.
She's become a real volunteer ambassador for her community where she is promoting volunteering to young people who are a risk of being excluded from school and helping to deliver various activity programmes for disabled people. She's currently on a couple of different courses to increase her chances of employment and has also joined a lesbian and gay group to get support and support others who are struggling with their sexuality.