Strengthening People: Curtis’ Teenvine story

Rounding up our focus on Teenvine Plus this week is the story of Curtis from Coventry.

A young man with autism, he has faced a number of obstacles over the last year, exacerbated by the pandemic’s effect on his school and home life. A story so common for young people across the country. Listen to Curtis’ experience here.

You can also read what Teenvine Plus manager Naomi Madden has to say about our journey with Curtis and how strengthening young people with learning disabilities and autism, so they can take charge of their own lives, has a huge impact on their prospects of a positive future.

Teenvine Plus is part of our Strengthening People action strand at Grapevine and is funded by BBC Children in Need.

Read more Teenvine articles here.

Curtis’ story, told by Naomi Madden (Director of Projects at Grapevine)

Curtis came to us in the late Autumn from his special school on the outskirts of the city from an isolated family struggling to find hope. Curtis told us: “What’s the point? I don’t need to do anything, what does it matter? I don’t matter anyway.”

A young person who had given up on hopes and dreams. Not an uncommon challenge for organisations working with young people, SEND and mental health.

But we got to know Curtis and his family. It was hard work at first to get him to open up but we persevered.

We talked to Curtis in all kinds of places and situations, in parks, town, the shops, sometimes even on a bike struggling to keep up through the narrow lanes of Willenhall, but here we heard it all.

We mapped things out and created a plan with Curtis. We focussed on dreams not labels, possibility not barriers. We introduced him to others through his love of gaming. He made many friends. He was part of something.

Curtis’ dream was to be a chef. We took action, community said yes and we connected him to a local restaurant. This link gave opportunity, a chance to learn, try and believe in his dream.

Where is Curtis now? He’s probably with a friend in the park. He might be out on his bike riding home from the restaurant. Curtis is positive about school, his future and knows where he wants to go. He has a best friend for the first time.

He and his family have positive connections. He goes frequently to the restaurant helping, learning and experiencing his aspiration in real life. He believes in his dream.

But let’s go back to that initial picture just for a moment. Curtis is a young person from one of hundreds of thousands of families that come into services every year. Families weakened by isolation, poverty, disadvantage or condition.

But here’s the thing. If you work from the condition or the classification; this bit’s housing, this bit belongs to the disability team, this bit’s clinical, that bit’s safeguarding. You miss the opportunity to treat the ‘why’. And this is not surprising as when you put it all together, it’s too much to solve so the why is overwhelming.

With heavy problems what do we do?  We look to strengthen people, we spark community and we shift power where it’s needed most.

We go to the root of the issue, hearing it all in spaces and places that matter to them, looking where problems can be solved. We listen for the ignition points, the aspirations, ideas, the areas of possibility and opportunity. And alongside people we look up at the system through their eyes, for where it can bend and flex to work better.

Community grows problems if not treated right. A bit like a thick blanket cut up, that helps some but not all.

But community can also be the answer when woven together. When people are strengthened by opportunity, ideas and inclusion. Community helps people belong. And belonging can heal.

We need community now more than ever.

Could you or someone you know offer opportunity, experience or hope to a young person? If so, please get in touch