Jess was nominated for the prestigious award for her exceptional work as a Young Leader, Volunteer Youth Worker, and Early Help Support Worker, supporting young and disadvantaged people in her local community and nationally.
She started her journey to becoming an advocate, mentor and supporter of young and disadvantaged people five years’ ago when she was elected as a member of the Kent Youth County Council in the Shepway District. Despite this achievement, Jess found it challenging to balance all of her responsibilities.
“I’m a Young Carer, and at the time school was a hassle for me, there was just a lot going on and I didn’t have time for it. I had other priorities, and I was struggling to manage. I was told that I was never going to achieve anything, so I thought, 'why bother?'” explained Jess, who found support through HeadStart Kent’s ‘Speak Out’ programme.
She continued: “The HeadStart programme, ‘Speak Out’, has been really important to me. It made me feel like I was part of something.
“It was like a dysfunctional family where we all played our parts! I was ‘Auntie Jess’ and a lot of the other members came to me to talk about their problems.
“I have been able to use my own experiences and struggles with mental health, to help others. I proved everyone wrong despite my mental health problems and my additional needs. I felt like I was making a difference to my community.”
In 2017, Jess became a Young Leader for HeadStart Kent and a Senior Member at the Shepway Youth Hub. These roles provided Jess with a platform to support other young people, and the opportunity to get involved in a wide range of projects, including the design and delivery of training workshops for Senior Managers and Directors at Kent County Council (KCC).
Talking about the training, Jess commented: “I was involved in designing ‘Co-Production’ training and delivered this to a group of Senior Managers and Directors within Kent County Council. This training has since been rolled out across the County.
“We aimed to ensure young people can make a difference in promoting youth voice and engagement. New opportunities for young people have come out of this, and more is now happening in KCC to ensure the voice of young people is considered in all decision making, not just within youth services.
“I feel like I have really made a difference to services in my County and that young people are finally making it known that they have voices too.”
Following the success of the training, Jess was invited to speak to key decision-makers at the Houses of Parliament about ‘Co-Production’, her HeadStart journey, and why young people need to have access to projects and opportunities such as HeadStart Kent and the Kent Youth County Council.
In March 2019, Jess was selected to be part of HeadStart Kent’s ‘Big Conversation’ panel. The annual event brings young people from across Kent together to explore how they can improve their own, and support their peers, in enhancing their emotional wellbeing and resilience. Jess noted: “It was an amazing way to end my youth voice journey, answering the questions that young people want to be answered regarding mental health, resilience, and other important topics to them.”
“Working with young people isn't just a job to me, it's a commitment that I have made to support young people so they don't have to go through the trauma that I went through,” said Jess, who has been recently employed as an Early Help Support Worker.
She continued: “To know that young people feel valued and have a voice means I have done my job and that means more than can be put into words!”
The National Diversity Awards 2020 voting closes on Monday 8 June. To vote for Jess, visit The National Diversity Awards website.