Teenagers doing good in the hood.
PUBLISHED: 09:41 24 January 2011 | UPDATED: 09:45 24 January 2011
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Teenagers huh? If they're not out mugging grannies then they're addicted to violent virtual reality games, or slumped in front of the tv 24/7.
Or are they?
ROWAN MANTELL meets local teenagers who run youth groups, volunteer in charity shops and excel at school. These are teenagers with attitude - an attitude of doing their best and looking out for others.
Forget teens shooting up, and think teens shooting down – stereotypes, generation gaps, and misconceptions.
Underneath the hoodies (they may or may not be wearing) most of our teenagers are thinking of others, helping local people, working hard at school and working out how to be useful, happy, healthy and fulfilled members of their communities.
These teenagers rarely hit the headlines; they are too busy hitting academic targets or hitting out against injustice.
Alex O’Connor has already got a career underway, helps out with a youth group and fits in voluntary work at a charity shop whenever he can.
Alex, of Kestrel Close, Mulbarton, began working for EDF energy at just 17, and is now based in Portsmouth, and training as an electric engineer.
“I will end up working at Sizewell B nuclear power station as a maintenance technician,” explained Alex. “But for the first two years I have been posted down to HMS Sultan in Gosport, Portsmouth for basic engineering training.”
This uses Royal Navy facilities and Alex already had a head-start because he has been able to find his way around a working ship since he was just 10.
At 10 he joined Norwich Sea Cadets – spurred on by a cousin. “I loved it and got so much out of it,” said Alex. “It’s based at the grey ship on Riverside and I’ve had the chance to do some pretty amazing things!”
He has taken part in voyages from Scotland and to Bruges, represented the region in a national kayaking competi-tion and enjoyed residential sailing courses.
And when he moved to Portsmouth he transferred to a local Sea Cadet unit.
“I still enjoy it now as much as I did then and don’t feel it is a ‘commitment’ as such but more of a hobby,” said Alex.
He has recently helped raise money for forces’ charities and completed a first aid qualification. He has also given presentations to younger cadets on first aid and on engineering.
“When I turned 18, and changed to the staff side of things, I took on the role of the unit stores officer,” said Alex. This means he now gives up some of his spare time to keep a check on everything his unit has borrowed from the Royal Navy - from items of uniform to entire boats.
“I’ve made a lot of friends through my time in the Cadets,” said Alex, “And I really like its military ethos. It has helped me become the person I am today, and I would like to help other cadets become the best they can, through Cadets.”
It was while working towards his bronze Duke of Edinburgh’s award that Alex began helping out at the East An-glian Children’s Hospices charity shop in Wymondham. But he found he enjoyed the work so much that he stayed on as a volunteer long after he had clocked up enough hours to win his award.
“I quickly grew to like the amount of responsibility I had been given. I grew friends with the staff and I enjoyed having the freedom to see my own job through,” said Alex.
Even now he is working in Portsmouth he regularly returns to help at the shop when he is back in Norfolk.
“I enjoy talking to the public and getting to know them, and having a laugh with the staff. Most are in their retire-ment, and some of their stories put our funniest moments to shame!” he said.
But might older people have the wrong idea about teenagers?
“I think the media may have over-hyped the bad side of teenagers,” said Alex. “A lot of teenagers I know do a lot of community work and get hardly, if any, praise for it. Yet if someone was to be anti-social that goes straight onto the news bulletins.”
Next year Alex will travel abroad as part of his training. In the longer term he plans to stay with EDF Energy – and with the Sea Cadets and the charity shop.
Norwich 19-year-old Beth Salmon had planned to be at university right now. Instead she is in a Blackpool night shelter.
Beth is spending a year as a volunteer with a charity which helps homeless and vulnerable young people, working with people of her own age, but whose circumstances are very different from her own previous life.
Back home in Norwich Beth had a happy friend and family-filled life, and achieved two A*s and an A at A level. But rather than going straight to university she decided she wanted to try something different for a year.
She is still surrounded by fellow teenagers, but these young people find themselves homeless, jobless and some-times completely isolated from families and friends.
The Blackpool charity, Streetlife, runs an emergency night shelter and a drop-in day centre. It also offers activities, counselling and a route to qualifications – all designed to help homeless and vulnerable 16-25-year-olds.
Beth is a “volunteer in training” with the charity. Her tasks range from cooking meals to chatting to clients, and from running the drop-in-centre to admin.
“I wanted to have a gap year which was totally different from anything I had previously done,” said Beth. “I also wanted to do something that was out of my comfort zone.”
She is particularly enjoying working with people of her own age. “Although they are in many ways just like me, they have had such different opportunities,” she said. “And although my job is to assist them, I find they are help-ing and teaching me much more.”
It is not easy though. Some nights too many youngsters arrive needing help.
Beth explained: “The hardest thing is turning people away from the night shelter. If there are more people than beds the overnight workers have to assess who is highest priority. Sometimes the decisions can be tough and it’s difficult turning anyone away onto the street, although we can give them food and blankets.”
Beth comes from a family who all regularly give their time to help others. She has helped at a church community meal and with a Brownie pack in Norwich. Her older sister spent a gap year teaching in Africa.
After her year with Streetlife Beth plans to go to university to study social sciences.
“I really don’t know what I want to do in the future, but my experience at Streetlife has convinced me that I want to do a job involved with helping people,” she said.
Rachel Martin is in the 6th form at Thorpe St Andrew High School – and on its fund raising committee. The 17-year-old from Little Plumstead has helped organise a dance and quiz evening to raise money for this year’s chosen charity, The Hamlet Centre.
She also helps out at a local charity shop.
“It was something that I was interested in and I thought I would gain life experience and skills – and I could put it on my cv!” said Rachel, who is studying for A levels in design technology, photography, geography and dance and hopes to go to university to study interior design.
“And I really enjoy it,” she added. “Everyone is friendly and it’s good to see that so many people give things to the charity. It’s nice to think that I’m helping a bit too.”
Dressing up in an elf costume was not originally part of the job description – but it is where volunteering to help in a charity shop led 17-year-old Kirsty Ward.
She found herself organising a super-heroes fancy dress fun run and raising £900 for Nansa, after starting to help out in its charity shop.
“I decided to volunteer at the Nansa charity shop because my boyfriend’s mum works at the Nansa Family Centre and she was always saying what a fantastic charity it is,” said Kirsty.
The charity, the Norfolk and Norwich Scope Association, was set up more than 50 years ago to help local children and adults with cerebral palsy and other disabilities
And this Christmas Kirsty dressed as an elf at a Christmas celebration for some of the children.
Kirsty, of Hellesdon, is studying child care at Norwich City College and eventually hopes to become a primary school teacher. She is also planning to put her child-care skills to good use by volunteering for Nelson’s Journey, the Norfolk charity for bereaved children.
She is doing her bit for teenagers too – by being just one of our many terrific teens. She said several of her friends did charity work too. “People do think the wrong things about teenagers,” said Kirsty.
Do you know a terrific teenager? We would love to highlight the work of more of our teens.
So if you know a young person whose work, at home or at school, and in the local community or for a fairer world, is worth celebrating – please email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Rowan Mantell at Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich. NR1 2RE.
This Wednesday in Life Matters in the Evening News, meet more teens hanging out in the hood - and doing good.