A celebration of our teenagers

Most youngsters are not in gangs, nor are they all carrying knives, as some in the media suggest. Nina Lakhani and Jack Sidders meet young people who are public-spirited and purposeful
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The Independent Online

Charlotte Parker, 17, Herts: The volunteer

"I'm one of those people who likes to be involved in loads of different things, at school and in my spare time. Just after we started secondary school, a girl called Emily collapsed in the playground and died.

I didn't really know her that well, but I wanted to do something because I suppose I like helping people. It is kind of important if you want to be a doctor. But I totally admit I first decided to help out with the disabled kids to help boost my CV. I got in touch with WorldWide Volunteering and they set me up with a local school for children with disabilities. At first it was quite nerve-racking as I had never really known any disabled people before and I was embarrassed to ask questions. Lots of the kids were blind or deaf as well as being in wheelchairs, so I had to find new ways to communicate. I love taking the kids out for walks when it is nice and doing arts and crafts when we can't get outside. It's an amazing experience and a really humbling one. I'm thinking about taking a gap year and am looking into an orphanage for disabled children in India where I might be able to volunteer."

Daniel Portingale, 19, Bristol: The musician

"I was one of those clever kids who messed around too much and left school with Ds and Es in my GCSEs. I got fired from my job at M&S and started drinking every day because I had nothing else to do. I was always in trouble and got arrested a couple of times for fighting. Mum and Dad were on my back to get a job, when a mate told me about the Prince's Trust. I eventually joined the Youth Steps programme which is an introduction to youth work and also started my own music group. About seven 14- to 19-year-olds meet every week to work on their music at the youth centre. Most of them are into rap and grime so we help on song structure and DJing skills. I really want to set up my own studio because all we've got is a bit of equipment down at the centre. It needs a lot of money, so I am trying to put together some bids with other organisations. The kids in the area are not that bad, but the media lead people to think we all carry knives. That's bad for young people but it's also bad for old people who are too scared to leave their homes."

Pip Goodwin, 18, Liverpool: The actress

"My dad left a few weeks after I was born and I grew up with my mum and stepdad in a pretty rough area. The bullying at school was horrible; they picked on me for anything and everything, and I left school when I was 12. Luckily I found Communiversity – a community college – where I got into acting in plays and musicals. I really loved it and it built up my confidence enough to go back to school. But I got pregnant not long after, was bullied again and dropped out. Luckily, Communiversity let me back in while I was pregnant, and with my family's help I returned to classes part-time seven weeks after Lewis was born.

I've since got a place at Hugh Baird College to study performing arts and I've started volunteering with young kids, putting on plays and art workshops. It's amazing to see their excited faces because you know they're having real problems in their lives. I don't know why I won the Young Achievers Award, but from now on I'm going to take every opportunity I get. I'll be applying for drama schools soon because my dream is to end up in the West End."

Josh Mesout, 15, Bournemouth: The fundraiser

"I know a lot of people who volunteer have experienced suffering or deprivation of some sort, but I have never really had that in my life. I had always thought maybe I'd like to help other people but it was only after a talk at school that I did any thing about it. We didn't know what sort of project to run, so Young Citizens Bournemouth suggested a few ideas and one of them was helping an orphanage in Chennai in India. We are trying to raise £13,000 to fly out, to help buy sport and music equipment, and we want to spend time with the local children. I know it will be an eye-opening experience as I did a week's work experience in Bournemouth with a youth worker, which was totally different from what I thought it would be. I didn't quite realise how it would change my perspective, seeing deprived areas I didn't know much about. I know India will be shocking at first but we are ready for it. The whole project is youth led and we have already been working on it for eight months. We are off in October and I can't wait."

Maisey Andrews, 16, Cardiff: The youth campaigner

"Older people won't come where I live because they say it's full of Asbos – that's what they call us. But we aren't bad kids; we just don't have any where to go so we hang around the streets together. People think we're in gangs and they call the police, but it's not like that at all. Yes, there have always been a few bad kids, just like anywhere, but we aren't all like that. I think it might come from what people read in the papers about gangs and knives.

Me and some friends decided to do something about it and came up with Goodies in Hoodies. We had 25 hoodies made up with 'Goodie' written on them, put them on and then went out and showed people we weren't all bad. We had a bike that blended smoothies; we gave out teas and coffees, and did some face-painting. The police and the fire brigade came down with some councillors and even our MP. We got £500 in funding so it was all free, and we've got money left to do more events. We wanted to show the older generation that just because you wear a hoodie, it doesn't make you evil."

Kevin Mukendie, 17, Barking: The footballer

"It was pretty hard growing up because I had a lot of things going on, trying to protect my little brothers and sister from the fighting between my parents. When we moved to Barking in 1997, this estate was really rough and there were a lot of gangs, loads of knife crime and people were getting killed. There are still problems, but it's been getting better. I decided I didn't want other kids to go through what I had, so I joined Big Deal Peer Educators about three years ago. We go around doing loads of workshops and basically help young people with their problems. We don't tell them what to do but we give them good advice. I think the media use stereotypes because they don't really understand what is happening on the streets. My cousin was stabbed last September but it's complicated; it's not like people are just going out and randomly stabbing each other. I'm in sixth form now doing Business, but I'd like to become a professional football player. I used to play for West Ham but now I'm at Grays Athletic. If I don't make it as a professional maybe I'll run football workshops to get kids off the streets."

Ezra Tren-Humphries, 17, Leeds: The academic

"I was a bit of a Goth at school so I did get bullied, but it was mainly the kids on the estate who gave me problems. They would follow me and throw things at me, call me names. Half the time I would turn around and realise I knew them; my mum who's a youth worker had probably helped them in some way. That is part of what made me want to get involved in the Bang Bang project which organises gigs with other youth groups. My mum's work has been a massive inspiration to me. And if the death of my dad has affected me at all, it has made me want to get into the creative industries like him. He used to do a lot of street theatre where I was born, in Brixton. I would say the media's view of teenagers is distorted. Yes, there are a lot of gangs around here that fit the media view, but there are lots of young people who like me would rather stay in and revise because they know what they want to do. My sixth-form tutor has suggested me for Oxbridge to read English and that's what I'm working towards."

Iain Brown, 17, Kettering: The Neighbourhood Watch organiser

"It's still pretty quiet where we live, but the town has really changed and it's not as safe for the kids to play outside any more. I've always liked doing things to help people and decided I wanted to be a policeman when I was 15. When I heard our Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinator was retiring last year, I applied and got the job. There isn't a lot of crime where I live, but we do get the odd burglary and car theft, and when that happens, I put a note through everyone's door, telling them what happened and to be more careful. I'm also on the management team which means I help set up new schemes across Kettering and Corby. My favourite bit is liaising with the police; they tell me what's happening across the county and I let them know about any problems at my end. Some of the kids laugh at me at school and call me a grass, but I don't care. I really want to be a policeman and a bit of bullying is not going to stop me. I'd like to think the little bit I do helps to make my neighbourhood a nicer place to live.