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A Night at the YOPEYs!

Kate and I enjoyed an inspiring evening at the Hertfordshire Young People of the Year Awards last week.

It was humbling to hear about the amazing work of young people across the county.

One of the young volunteers, who helped arrange the event, has written the article below, summarising a fantastic evening - Alessio, thank you for letting me share your work.

Hertfordshire Young People of the Year awards also known as ‘the YOPEYs'

Report by Alessio Lettieri of St Michael’s High School in Watford

Hertfordshire youngsters did the county proud on Thursday evening (16 November 2017) during the Young People of the Year Awards ceremony hosted at Moor Park Mansion, Rickmansworth. Judged by a panel ranging from the Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire to past winners, such as Yolanda Wintle, Ollie Floyd and Keshet Dor, the finalists walked away with a variety of awards and high praise.

Ten finalists were nominated for the top prizes of Junior and Senior YOPEY award but there could only be one winner for each.

The Senior YOPEY Award went to Jodie Goodacre, 22, of Bishop’s Stortford. After battling with mental health issues of her own and being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, Jodie became an inspiring voice for young people, encouraging them to speak up about their mental health. She hoped that the increasing awareness of this through her campaigning would help “reduce the stigma attached to mental health”. Despite feeling “nervous and overwhelmed” at the beginning of the evening, soon after her victory Jodie was feeling ecstatic, describing the experience as “surreal”. When asked about how she felt being award the top prize, Jodie stated that “this award is not just mine but its everyone's that came here with me and supported me to get me where I am today”. There is no doubt she will continue to be an inspiring voice for young people and mental health for many years to come.

The Junior YOPEY Award went to Annie-Rose Cutler, of Watford. The 17-year-old “turned her personal adversity into a force for good”, said Sir Michael Penning, the MP for Hemel Hempstead, who presented the courageous young woman with her award. Annie said: “I care for my mum Tracey as she is unable to move around freely, as a result of Osteo and Rheumatoid Arthritis. This causes her to be immobile and in constant pain”. Annie has been a member of the Hertfordshire Young Carers’ Council since 2010 when she was just 10-years-old, and refuses to let her role as a young carer restrict her. She is currently campaigning for greater awareness for those in a similar position.

Runners-up included Ruby Crowe, who helps young pupils at her school in Hitchin to learn about languages and other cultures. The 16-year-old is part of Project Polyglot, a programme that sees older pupils from Hitchin Girls design and teach language lessons to younger schoolchildren. With her infectious enthusiasm and desire to make the world a better place, Ruby aspires to become a teacher in the future, saying that she loves “seeing people improve and helping pupils to develop at school.”

Other runner-ups included Beth Davidson, of Welwyn Garden City. The 20-year-old’s impressive efforts of working alongside children with special needs got her shortlisted as one of the 10 finalists. At the age of 10, Beth learnt sign language so she could communicate with a fellow pupil with Down Syndrome. She now works as a a teaching assistant at Lakeside School, helping young children who have similar needs and aiming to break down barriers of silence. Nominated by her mum Liz, she said Beth is passionate about caring for children with special needs and “always goes the extra mile to find ways of making contact with something hidden deep within them”.

Young People of the Year (YOPEY) was established in 2005 by founder Tony Gearing as a way of giving young people a fairer image in the media. He hopes that by ‘revealing, recognising and rewarding’ young people, he will inspire others to follow positive role models in today’s world.

Although there were two overall winners of the evening, all 10 finalists were fantastic and awe-inspiring in their own way, helping to combat the negative image of the young portrayed in the media. In a heartwarming speech made by the Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire, he described all finalists as having “extraordinary courage, resilience and determination” who “turned troubling times into a tool for good”.

What might be the final Herts YOPEYs were put on by about 30 students from St Michael’s High School in Watford.

YOPEY founder Tony Gearing concluded by saying this might be the end of Hertfordshire Young People of the Year but not the end of YOPEY. The Herts YOPEYs may be folded into a wider regional YOPEY covering the East of England or Greater London. Meanwhile Tony wants to concentrate on growing YOPEY Befriender.

For more stories and hundreds of photographs, click here.

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