She has never celebrated Christmas before, but finally Zinnia Young can enjoy the festive season following a brilliant year after overcoming her struggles and hardship.
The 23-year-old has had a sensational year - getting her own flat, picking up three awards, representing the UK at an international meeting and surrounding herself with people who care about her.
Zinnia shared her story with the Sunderland Echo earlier this month as she hopes to inspire others going through a difficult period in their lives.
She’s been bullied, put into care, homeless, and forced to give up her baby girl - but determined Zinnia has turned her life around.
And now she is enjoying her first Christmas with boyfriend, Jordan Watts, and his family.
“I’ve never celebrated Christmas before,” said Zinnia, who is in her second year of a painting and decorating apprenticeship with North East Autism Society.
“I didn’t know about Christmas until I was nine when I was with my foster carers. I was forced into it and it’s never been something I’ve enjoyed.
“Every year people have tried to force me to do Christmas.
“My boyfriend and his family have been so supportive of me and they’ve never tried to force me to do any of it.
“They asked if I would join them on Christmas day and I said yes. They’ve always been there for me so I thought if I’m going to spend my first Christmas with anyone it’s going to be with them.”
Zinnia added: “The thing that’s stood out this year is being surrounded by people that care. Having a job and everyone at work is so friendly, I’ve got into a relationship with my best friend and the team at Centerpoint (a charity which supports young people who are homeless) are like family to me.”
It’s been a fantastic year for Zinnia and earlier this month she was one of two people for the UK to travel to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, to represent the country at the Youth Build International’s Global Opportunity Youth Initiative.
At the convention, 24 young people from 12 countries gathered together to discuss how YouthBuild International could help the areas they live in.
Zinnia travelled from Newcastle to London and on to Philadelphia having never travelled alone before.
“I was travelling alone for the first time. It was difficult at times as there were issues with the flight being delayed once I got to London.
“I’d just take five minutes and work through it.
“It’s shown me that I can do it. If I want to go to a concert in London I know I can go on my own and I don’t need someone else.”
Although she struggled to take to the stage to present her ideas with Marcus Anderson, who lives in London, after a computer glitch meant she wasn’t able to see the presentation until just hours before she had to stand up an present it.
“I was really anxious and I didn’t feel confident about what we were discussing to go up there. I had a panic attack but I took five minutes and I was able to go up there an introduce myself and let Marcus take the lead.
“It was a massive thing for me and I feel more confident for it.
“The whole programme has helped me with my confidence and my mental health. Everyone has been so supportive and I didn’t let anything stop me from getting up there.”
Zinnia won the Youthbuild UK’s 2018 Young Builder of the Year award at a ceremony in the House of Commons.
Tim Cross, president of YouthBuild International , said: “There are over 350 million young people in the world today who are not connected to opportunities for training, school, or formal work. This challenge calls for urgent, organized action that must be informed by the lived experience of this global youth constituency.
“It was insightful hearing the analysis and ideas for action from the youth delegates, and we are excited to have launched a permanent network of global opportunity youth who will guide the work as we carry it forward in 2019.”