When Gemma Ayres was forced to give up her A-Levels due to a medical condition, she didn’t know what her future was going to hold.
As friends continued their sixth form studies at Lynn’s Springwood High School, the 18-year-old began struggling with depression as her life faced crumbling down around her.
“I felt quite low, I felt as if I wasn’t going to be able to get any kind of job,” explained Gemma, who suffers from painful muscle spasms and cramps due to cramp fasciculation syndrome.
But now she has not only developed skills for work and life, she is set to help others after being picked from thousands to become a National Citizen Service (NCS) leader.
Gemma, from Terrington St Clement, decided to take part in NCS – a government-backed skills programme for 16 and 17-year-olds – in the summer, a couple of months after leaving sixth form.
She enrolled on a three-week programme, which involved taking part in adventure activities, before planning and carrying out a team project to help the community, namely redecorating Barroway Drove village hall.
When the programme came to an end, Gemma and her team organised a further community project off their own backs, a onesie-themed fundraiser in Lynn town centre which raised £72 for the Stroke Association.
She said: “NCS was amazing. With support from the leaders and my team members, I was able to achieve things I didn’t think would be possible with my condition.
“It’s had a massive, positive impact on my life. I’ve gained new skills and met some fantastic people.”
Then Gemma was picked from all those who had taken part in the scheme in the UK to participate in the NCS Leaders programme in October and become an ambassador.
The programme builds on the skills learnt during the NCS scheme further, and maintains a network of young people nationally to represent the project and encourage others to get involved.
Not only that, Gemma has also applied to join the NCS National Youth Board to help shape the future of NCS across the country.
“I would love to see an NCS for people with disabilities,” she said.
“2015 looks a lot more positive for me now, and I hope to get involved with as many opportunities with NCS as possible. I can’t recommend highly enough to other people.”
Her mum, Mandy, was thrilled when Gemma said she wanted to take part in NCS.
Mandy said: “I didn’t know too much about it, but when I looked into it, I thought it would be ideal. Gemma was feeling quite anxious about her future when she had to give up sixth form and I was a bit the same.
“By taking part in NCS, it gave her something to put on her CV, shows she has worked as a volunteer and well within a team.
“When Gemma first mentioned enrolling, a number of her friends were also interested, but they pulled out due to A-Level commitments.
“She nearly pulled out too as she didn’t want to do it on her own, but one of the leaders convinced her she would be fine and that everyone else on the programme would be in the same boat.
“I’m immensely proud of what she’s achieved.”
For more information on NCS and to take part, visit: www.ncsyes.co.uk