Care home staff in tears as Sunderland teenagers use their summer holiday to support local community
The city’s teenagers have been spending their summer working on community projects to improve the quality of life of Wearside residents.
As part of the National Citizen Service (NCS) scheme run by the Foundation of Light, 130 Year 11 and 12 students spent their summer holidays working on a range of community projects including making a memorial mural for a much loved deceased resident, creating a secret community garden, decorating a music studio and putting on an activity week for residents at the Seafarers Way Care Home in Hendon – many of whom suffer from Alzheimer’s.
One of the projects youngsters worked on was creating a sensory garden for residents at Whitby Drive Care Home in Washington which provides palliative care for people with learning disabilities.
One of the youngsters involved was 16-year-old Annalise Almond Rey who is due to start at Sunderland College in September.
She said: “One of the residents called Jan liked to tug on the hair of the care-workers and so we tied ribbons and other materials on the the trees for residents to touch and feel.
"We also installed lights in the trees and transformed a muddy patch of land into a flower and herb garden to help stimulate all their senses.
"A lot of the residents are on the autistic spectrum and so doing something like this was really helpful for them in improving their quality of life and making them feel better during their care.”
Annalise hopes taking part in such projects will help improve people’s perception of teenagers.
She added: “The small number of young people who give others a bad name seem to be the ones who stand out but hopefully this shows that most young people do have a social conscience and want to help others.”
Also volunteering on the Whitby Drive project was 17-year-old Southmoor Academy Sixth Form student Libby Jobling who said: “It was good to see the difference we made and the impact of the garden.
"It was nice to see everyone so happy and all the residents seemed to really enjoy the garden. All the families who came to visit seemed really pleased with what we had done.”
It was a sentiment shared by staff at the Washington based care home.
Colin Elliot, grants and fundraising manager at Community Integrated Care who oversee the care home, said: "Everyone is absolutely thrilled with the work the young volunteers have done to the garden at Whitby Drive.
"They have created a wonderful tranquil space for the people we support, with sensory areas and secluded areas, so there is something there for everyone to enjoy. They have also created a wonderful, fitting memorial area in memory of one of the people we support who sadly passed away recently.
"Working with NCS and the Foundation of Light has been an amazing experience. What the volunteers have created will make such a difference to the lives of the people who live at Whitby Drive and we can’t thank them enough."
As part of the project all the young people had to raise a combined total of over £2,000 to fund their community initiatives. Fundraising events included sponsored walks, bike rides and a drag show.
NCS manager at the Beacon of Light, Craig Martin, 48, said: “I’m absolutely overwhelmed with pride at what these young people have achieved in all their projects. I know that staff at the care home were in tears when they had finished.
"They have really surpassed what was expected of them.
"NCS is about developing youngsters as people to help them prepare for the world of work or the next stage of their education. They meet new people from other schools and can build friendships for life.
“It develops skills such as teamwork, communication and budgeting. It’s amazing to see the difference in some of these young people over the duration of the NCS programme.
“Many of them have really grown in confidence and self-esteem.”
One of those to excel on the programme was Sunderland College student Demi Hair.
Demi, 17, said: “I’m quite shy but during the project I’ve really grown in confidence in talking to new people. I’ve really enjoyed the community projects and it’s nice to see your achievements at the end and what a difference it can make to people’s lives.
"I also enjoyed the activities programme and in particular the kayaking. I would recommend the NCS to any young people.”
The success of Sunderland’s NCS programme has also seen many young people who’ve been past participants then return to work on the scheme. Having taken part in 2019, Theo Weiss, 18, spent this summer working as a team assistant on the Foundation of Light’s programme.
He said: “I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to get involved in delivering the project. It’ brilliant to make a difference to people’s lives and you get a real buzz from seeing smiling happy faces.”
Theo hopes the skills he has developed will stand him in good stead as he looks to pursue a career as a personal trainer.
He added: “It really develops your problem solving and communication skills and I’m now really confident in speaking to large groups of people.”
The NCS was founded in 2009 to “help young people achieve their potential and build bridges between communities”. Since then over 600,000 young people have taken part in the scheme.
More information about upcoming programmes can be found on the NCS website.