I was 23 years old when I joined the army. It was something I had always wanted to do. Over the next 12 years, I worked hard to establish myself and develop my career. I was dedicated in my training, eager to learn and grateful to be doing a job that I enjoyed and was good at.
In 2012, my working life in the army came to an abrupt end when I was severely injured by an IED explosion which resulted in a brain trauma injury, loss of hearing in my right ear and nerve damage to my back, hip, knee and ankle. I'd suffered irreparable physical damage and I felt devastated. It was difficult to accept that I wouldn't be able to do my job or play sport anymore, but I was determined not to let my injuries dictate my future.
Thanks to incredible support from Help for Heroes, I was slowly able to get my life back on track. The military charity provided me with the physical and emotional support I needed and helped to revive my confidence. I began playing sport again, and was delighted to be involved in the Invictus Games in 2014, winning a gold medal in sitting volleyball.
Despite my achievements in sport, I was struggling to make the transition back into civilian life. I craved purpose, I wanted to help others and give back to local communities. That's when I found The Prince's Trust. Help for Heroes works with The Trust to enable wounded, injured or sick (WIS) personnel to get involved with the youth charity's Team programme, a 12-week personal development course for unemployed young people. I was given the opportunity to go on placement on Team at Stockton Riverside College, supporting disadvantaged young people to gain the skills and confidence they need to find work.
The experience has been eye-opening and extremely rewarding. However, it is also a very challenging role. A lot of the young people have faced huge barriers, including battling issues such as homelessness and depression.
Many have struggled without qualifications or employment opportunities, which in turn affects their self-esteem. They are often very much like I was when I left the army; lacking in confidence and not sure where they fit into the jobs market. I have to work hard and be open with them to gain their trust. Over the subsequent weeks, in which the young people complete vocational experience placements, team challenges and a community project, there is such a transformation. It's incredible really, to see the young people develop new skills, gain experience and most importantly, regain their self-belief.
For me, working on team has given me back my dignity. I am so proud of the young people and what they achieve during the programme, and there's nothing more rewarding than seeing them move into employment and a successful future after completing the course. Help for Heroes recently agreed to boost their partnership with The Trust, which I was delighted to hear. The awarding of an additional £495,000 to the charity will pave the way for a further 135 WIS personnel to be placed in assistant and mentor roles on Team.
This partnership can be life-changing both for WIS personnel and the young people on team. From my own experience, I've got my confidence back and I've realised that my encouragement and motivation has the ability to inspire others. Going forward, I intend to continue working with on Team before pursuing a career in education - something I would never have considered before getting involved with The Trust.