Walter Wood from Armagh went into the care system at just three years old, and a disrupted upbringing left him struggling to cope. But, thanks to the help of YouthAction Northern Ireland, Walter has transformed himself into a role model and mentor to other young people.
In 2016 YouthAction were awarded £599,999 of money raised by National Lottery players to run their Everyday Life project. The four year project supports isolated young men who are involved in or at risk of becoming involved in violence to improve their lives.
Walter got involved with YouthAction when he was 18. He joined their Young Men Talking project, also funded by National Lottery players.
Walter said: “Being in care for most of my life gave me low self-esteem, a lack of drive and a bad attitude towards authority figures.
“Michael McKenna from YouthAction invited me to come along to do some activities. They were taking a group fishing which I was really excited about because I’d tried it when I was younger and loved it, but I never get the opportunity to do it.
“One of the things we talked about was violence, how to combat it and how to deal with different situations. It’s helped make me calmer and improve my communication. I joined in discussions about the new project, which Big Lottery Fund is funding, to give ideas about what young men want and need – it’s great to be listened to and know that I’m contributing to something that’ll help other young men.”
In the past few years, Walter has transformed his life.
“I’m now on a paid work placement with YouthAction as a Young Men’s Peer Mentor. I help other young men by talking to them and giving them advice. Some of the young men I mentor are in the care system so I’m in a good place to share my experiences – I’ve been there, done it and got through it. They look up to me as a role model which makes me feel good.”
Michael McKenna from Youth Action said: “We are delighted to receive this funding for the new Everyday Life project. Young men are leading this and it is grounded in what they see as key issues.
“They are bombarded with so many messages about being male – that you have to be strong, and to not show your feelings. But we are helping them see that being strong is about how you show your feelings. We want young men to understand that at times they may not feel OK – but don’t let it build up and come out as violent behaviour. Instead we’re supporting them to talk about those feelings.
“When we were developing this project with the young men, they told us that they wanted support with good mental health, and we know that violence can come from poor mental health. That’s why it’s one of the areas we are focusing on.
“They also told us they would also like to get out into the community and do positive things. Young men are often portrayed negatively – but through this they’ll be doing the things they are interested in to make their community better. That could be volunteering in youth clubs or community organisations, cleaning up local parks or working with older people.”
Now Walter is embarking on a path he never would have dreamed of.
“Working for YouthAction has given me so much satisfaction and has shown me that I want a career helping other young people. I’ve now got a place on the Ulster University Certificate in Youth and Community Studies and it’s thanks to the opportunities YouthAction has given me.”
Thanks to National Lottery players, YouthAction are able to help young people like Walter not only overcome their own obstacles, but to become role models for others. YouthAction have involved the young men they want to help in every stage of the project, listening to their ideas to create a project that makes a real difference to the people involved.