A troubled teen who feared his future lay in prison has turned his life around and is now up for a national award for helping other people.
Jake Curston has been shortlisted for the Affinity Water Young People Of The Year Awards – aka the YOPEYs.
But the 17-year-old admits it has been a long journey from his difficult schooldays when he battled with ADHD and Tourette’s to becoming a role model to his peers.
Jake, who lives in The Wye in Hemel Hempstead with his five brothers and one sisters plus mum and dad, said: “I wasn’t easy to deal with and got into trouble, week-in week-out.
“When I got to the Dacorum Educational Support Centre (DESC) I decided I would turn my life around and got my head down, did what I had to and worked hard.
“Dad was worried I would get into real trouble and so did I, but looking back I didn’t realise just how much I was affecting other people’s lives.
“I am now into my second year studying sports science and hope to go on to an apprenticeship, get a foundation degree or go to university, then teach sport or become a personal trainer or coach.
“Now I say to other young people going through what I had, ‘I was in the same boat. I have done what you are doing now, I have felt the pain you are feeling now but go along the path I have, take the help and advice, work hard and you will get where you want to be’.”
Jake was nominated by Eva Rodriguez, Youth Connexions personal adviser at DESC.
She is one of many who speak highly of Jake’s transformation.
Dad Karl said: “Jake would get frustrated at school and his ticks would come out when he was under pressure and he would swear.
“The teachers did not have the time for him.
“Then he moved to DESC where they had the time to find out what was bugging him and we have seen the old Jake, getting into trouble, basically a nightmare and who I thought could end up in prison, transform into a better person, caring and more understanding.
“I am so proud of what he has become.”
Meanwhile Julie Wilcox played a key role in Jake’s journey.
As the Prince’s Trust coordinator at DESC and a riding instructor, she introduced him to Gaddesden Place RDA where he became a volunteer helping disabled children enjoy riding and being around horses.
She said: “I took a group along and they all did well but Jake was exceptional leading the horses or walking by their side with the young rider on.
“Then Jake turned up on Saturdays and got more and more involved helping with the horses.
“He has grown in confidence and that rubs off on the riders and they want him to lead them and when he isn’t there they are disappointed. We understand that work and studying now take up a lot of his time but he will always be welcome here.”
Jake said he can’t get there as much as he would like, “But every Saturday I have free I try my best to get along and help out.
“There is a range of disabilities among the riders and we make sure they have as much fun as possible and get an experience they might not normally have.
“I get a buzz out of seeing the riders grow in confidence and the smiles on their faces. I have even had a couple of rides myself and it really is good fun. When I was the old Jake I could never have seen myself doing that.”