To celebrate International Youth Day, we’re showcasing some amazing groups working with young people in Northern Ireland.
Courtney Cooper from Newtownabbey was getting in trouble at school and finding it hard to cope after her older brother started a downward spiral after taking drugs. But thanks to the support of Monkstown Boxing Club, funded by National Lottery players, she’s become a young woman with a great future ahead of her.
Courtney was just 8 years old when her brother first started using drugs, too young to understand his behaviour. But as time went on, the stressful environment started to affect her mental health.
Courtney explains: “My brother was around 14 when he started taking drugs. He would come home stoned or high and my parents would get upset or argue with him.
“I didn’t even understand what drugs were at that age but I knew his behaviour wasn’t good and I could see the negative affect it was having on my parents.”
When Courtney’s brother was 16 he dropped out of school and moved out of the house. Courtney was dealing with a lot of difficult feelings about the situation, but wasn’t able to express them. She started getting into fights and neglecting her education.
“I might have looked tough on the outside but I was anxious on the inside and I felt alone. I bottled my feelings up for a long time, and at times it all felt too much where I felt like I was going to burst.
“I was afraid that my friends wouldn’t understand and I was worried that people would feel sorry for me or call me an attention seeker.”
But then, during her second year at Abbey Community College in Monkstown, Courtney decided to join Monkstown Boxing Club’s afterschool programme. Last year the Club received almost £600,000 of money raised by National Lottery players for their #INYOURCORNER project, a five-year project working with young people like Courtney to improve their health and well-being and increase their employability.
For Courtney, Monkstown Boxing Club became a lifeline.
“I was excited to go every day and slowly my bad attitude started getting better. I got help doing my homework and I’d have fun playing games or doing some boxing, which was great for letting go of any stress I was feeling.
“Then I started going in the evenings and weekends as well. I started feeling good about myself and I felt safe coming here. My youth mentor Amy is brilliant – she always listened to me and called me out on my bad behaviour and tried to get to the root cause of it.”
Courtney started working harder at school and with help revising at the club she achieved high scores in her GCSE exams in August. She is now studying for A Levels in Applied Science, Business Studies, and Travel and Tourism.
“My next goal is to do well in my A Levels and I’m aiming even higher after that – I want to get a scholarship and go to University in New York or Canada to study Drama and Stage Studies.”
Now Courtney volunteers at the Club and has become a mentor and role model for other young people.
“I help the younger kids with their homework and run activities for them. It’s helped me mature because I know they are looking at my behaviour and I need to be a role model for them. I’m the youngest in my family so I’m not used to that.
“I use my experiences to give advice to young people about drugs too. I tell them about my brother and how drugs can ruin lives and they listen because I’m their age and I have a real story to tell.”
Paul Johnston, manager of Monkstown Boxing club said: “Young people are involved in every aspect of the project, from the initial ideas, to helping us deliver it. They are at the centre of the whole project and are building their confidence to help themselves and their peers.
“Courtney is a real life example of someone who has come through our previous Box Clever project, and who has excelled and is now feeding into the future for other young people through this project and thanks to Big Lottery funding.”