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YOPEY creates tomorrow’s great citizens today

By Hannah Fortin and Rhianne Jones, sixth-formers at Ely College

A young man who has become a mentor to the victims of homophobic bullying is Cambridgeshire’s Young Person of the Year.

Adam Olivant won the top prize of £800 in the Cambridge Regional College/Linx Pearce Young People of the Year, held at Ely Cathedral on Wednesday (1 October). 

The 19-year-old gives young people the support he was denied while a child at schools in Haverhill where he said "my life was made hell by bullies". When he was a child, Adam said he knew he felt different but he did not know why. Other children spotted this and bullied him both physically as well as mentally.

 

By the time he had moved on to Long Road Sixth Form College in Cambridge, Adam had come out as gay. At the sixth-form college he set up a Beat Bullying group and converted a Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) group into a Gay-Straight Alliance.

Having left college this summer and started a job in IT at Addenbrookes Hospital, he is continuing to mentor the victims of bullying online for the charity Beat Bullying and may go back to Long Road to help the groups he started.

Judges, who included the Queen’s Cambridgeshire representatives, mayors and MPs, as well as young people, were particularly impressed by Adam’s tackling of homophobia.

Some of the judges’ comments were read out to the 250-strong audience in the cathedral’s Lady Chapel. They included the strong comment "Adam shows a profound understanding of a deep-seated evil in our society" and the praise "to overcome your own issues and help others with similar issues shows a special quality".

The judges also liked that Adam had turned an LGBT into a Gay-Straight Alliance as "this is far more solution-based than victim-focused".

Tom Green, a Deputy Lieutenant for Cambridgeshire, who presented Adam with his award, said: "It was not the bleakness of the back story that got the judges’ vote. It was what the young person does to help others and the the sophistication of that offering that wins through."

Adam, of Shetland Road, Haverhill, estimates he has mentored about 100 young people, both victims and bullies, and he has left behind a thriving Beat Bullying group at Long Road, although he says the LGBT group is struggling.

Adam told the audience of mayors, business people, fellow finalists and supporters: ""I feel sorry for the bullies – they focus on people's weaknesses and not their strengths. But bullies are still people and there is a reason why they do it. That doesn't make it okay though."

After winning and being given £400 for himself and £400 for Beat Bullying, he said: "It is truly amazing to find out that I was the winner of the YOPEY. The money that has kindly been donated by the sponsors will go towards training new mentors to help others."

As a child Adam felt isolated and struggled because he felt there was no support to stop the bullying. He was physically attacked as well as called names. 

"I didn't have a group to go to. So I felt it was important that others didn't struggle in the same way. That’s why I set up the Beat Bullying and Gay-Straight groups at Long Road."

Second place and a prize of £400 was won by blind dog ‘whisperer’ Zak Soan, of Whittlesey.

The 23-year-old’s victory was announced by Mrs Linda Fairbrother, High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire. 

She said: "All the judges were struck by this young person’s incredible journey and courage."

Zak lost 80 per cent of his sight to a rare disease at the age of 18. He lost his job, some friends and suffered depression.

Mrs Fairbrother said: "He is rebuilding his life and not letting his misfortune define him. He is so determined!"

Today Zak has his own home in Cemetery Road, Whittlesey, has a steady girlfriend Lauren Hailstone, who guided him on to the stage at the awards, and volunteers two days a week at a dog rescue centre.

The founder of the Animal Helpline centre in Wansford said: "Zak has the amazing ability to detect dogs' emotions and react with them. He is constantly learning about dogs while passing on his experience to owners. He is invaluable."

Lynn Bradbury added: "We would not be able to do half the work we do without his input. It's good to see a young lad who has suffered give his time to help."

Zak, who donated £200 of his winnings to the centre, said: "Dogs definitely helped me cope with becoming nearly blind."

About coming second, he said: "I'm shocked because I've never come this far in anything before."

The audience was surprised to hear that despite being registered blind, Zak walks between 15-25 dogs a day in woodland behind the centre.

"The land is quite rough with sticks and stones sticking out in places, but once I have walked a particular path I remember it," said Zak. "If I fall over I just hang on to the dog and get back up again."

The Junior YOPEY – for the most inspiring entry aged up to 16 – went to Harry O’Driscoll, who camped in the garden of his Buckden home for a whole year to raise £10,155 for his gymnastics club.

He was presented with his £200 prize by Paul Doody, the Marketing Director of YOPEY sponsor Linx Printing Technologies.

Mr Doody said: "For a boy of his age to persevere for a year is outstanding. The adventure could easily have lost its appeal, but his determination to succeed does him great credit." 

Mr Doody, whose St Ives company pledged to YOPEY in 2015, said: "All the finalists are truly inspiring!"

Fourteen-year-old Harry, of Lincoln Close, said: "Sleeping in the tent was scary during thunderstorms, but I had friends to stay with me some of the time."

The £10,155 he raised went towards an £800,000 extension to Huntingdon Gymnastics Club, which has become more popular since two of its members – Lewis Smith and Sam Oldham – won medals at the 2012 London Olympics. Harry, who has been a gymnast since he was five and trains at the club 20 hours a week, said: "I did it so the elite athletes could train without children getting under their feet."

He is donating £100 of his winnings to 1st Southoe & Buckden, who taught him how to camp, and putting the other £100 to a sports bicycle "with which I might do another fundraiser".

Joint third were Harriet Smith and Ameila Smith, who each won £100. 

Harriet, of Wigmore Drive, Peterborough, donates £20 of her weekly £60 pay from a part-time job in a restaurant to Thorpe Hall Hospice. She also climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa and raised another £14?? for the hospice.

The 18-year-old, who volunteered at the hospice for only two weeks last summer, said: "The work Thorpe hall does is incredible. I would love to volunteer there again."

She is donating £50 of her prize money to the hospice and using the other £50 to pay for commuting to Northampton where, after leaving Stanborough School this summer, she has started training to be a primary school teacher.

Amelia, of Weatherfield, Stansted, is the sole carer for her disabled mum Petra and travels 70 miles each day by bus to study at Cambridge Regional College. The 17-year-old said: "Me and mum are like best friends, especially since my older sisters let for uni. We are very close and never fight." 

She gets up every weekday at 6am to prepare her mum for the day and catch a bus to Cambridge. When she returns she serves dinner to Petra but she also goes out to play netball and sing in a choir.

The judges were impressed how Amelia balances her life between caring, education and pastimes, but felt the teenager was let down by society leaving her to care for her mum alone.

Both Harriet and Amelia were presented with their prizes by Anne Constantine, Principal and Chief Executive of YOPEY sponsor Cambridge Regional College (CRC). About Harriet she said: "It is wonderful to see a young person who has grasped that by helping others you often get back more than you put in."

About Amelia the CRC principal said: "I am particularly pleased to be presenting an award to one of our outstanding students."

Eleven other young people were runners-up in the 2014 Cambs YOPEY and given surprise donations for their good causes. They were:

Caroline Daboo and Katie Holmes, of Cambridge, £50 for Girlguiding Cambs East 

Nicole Wolfe, of Alconbury, £50 for Lisa Kent Trust

Callum Brown, of Haddenham, £50 for Soham Friends Project

Peterborough schoolboys Sercan Ustuner and Zeeshan Waseem £50 for Wateraid and Eduaid

Beth Spalding £50, of Huntingdon, for Headway Cambridgeshire

Ronnie Hill, of Wisbech, £50 for Winnicott Foundation

Kirsty Middleton, Adam Hiles and Emma Evans, all of St Neots, £50 for Upside Down Club

In a new initiative by YOPEY founder Tony Gearing 11 young people were given ‘seed corn’ grants of £25 each to start community projects. They were:

Katie Brown of Buckden

Lily Andrew-Martin, Daniel Flack and Owen Davis of Sir Harry Smith Community College, Whittlesey

Maggie Powell and Jessica Stanbridge of Cromwell Community College, Chatteris

Jordan Holmes of St Neots

Matthew Waller of Colne

Michael Farrow of Welney

Shannon Barrow of March

Sohei Omoto of Impington Village College

Maria Wray of Great Cambourne

Tony said: "Without the financial help of our sponsors, we would not be able to do this work. More and more young people are taking part and becoming role models for their generation. YOPEY is creating tomorrow’s great citizens today!"

(Cambs Times) As well as CRC and Linx, the international supplier of industrial printers based in St Ives, the other sponsors were LifePlus of St Neots, Hutchinsons of Wisbech, G’s Fresh of Ely, TTP Group of Melbourn, ARM, Building Services Design, Cambridge Assessment, Kiss Communications, Stratagem IPM and Mathworks, all of Cambridge, and Peterborough Regional College. 

(Cambridge News) As well as CRC and Linx, the international supplier of industrial printers based in St Ives, other sponsors included LifePlus of St Neots, G’s Fresh of Ely, TTP Group of Melbourn, ARM, Building Services Design, Cambridge Assessment, Kiss Communications, Stratagem IPM and Mathworks, all of Cambridge. 

(Peterborough Telegraph) As well as CRC and Linx, the international supplier of industrial printers based in St Ives, the other sponsors included Hutchinsons of Wisbech, G’s Fresh of Ely, ARM of Cambridge, and Peterborough Regional College. 

(Hunts Post) As well as CRC and Linx, the international supplier of industrial printers based in St Ives, other sponsors included LifePlus of St Neots, G’s Fresh of Ely, ARM of Cambridge, Peterborough Regional College. 

To find out more visit http://www.yopey.org/

More information on the Cambridgeshire YOPEYs

 

 

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