Enthusiasm for helping others
03 September 2019 | Midlands
How Nikita went from troubled teen to inspirational mentor.
When Nikita Biggs was 12, her future did not look especially bright.
She had been excluded from school several times, and was drifting into antisocial behaviour.
She recalls: “I used to get into a lot of trouble, hang around on the streets in a gang, drinking and smoking.”
But with help from an inspirational charity, she turned her life around, and today, aged 27, she works with them to help young people facing the same challenges she did.
The Derby-based charity, called Enthusiasm, helps to raise aspirations and build self-esteem among young people.
Its team, including Nikita, now a youth mentor, engages with those at risk of becoming involved with gangs and also offer family sessions, parenting lessons and a youth club.
As part of her role, Nikita meets regularly with three teenage girls to discuss their fears or worries and to provide a positive role model for them.
She says: “I have been working with the girls for two years and they are 16 now. They are great girls, but benefit from being mentored. I tell them to walk away from trouble and try and avoid giving in to peer pressure.
“We discuss school and what they need to do to achieve their goals. Every Friday night I take them out for a bite to eat. It is good bonding. One of the girls was going to drop out of school and not do her GCSEs but I’ve convinced her to stay put and give it her best shot.”
Nikita also helps organise ‘Girl Code’ nights, a workshop where groups of girls come together and have a sleep-over at the youth centre. “We do make-up, get nails done, dance and talk. It is a chance for girls to open up. And whatever happens at Girl Code, stays at Girl Code.”
Around 250 young people access Enthusiasm’s services on a regular basis. Most are referred from organisations including the police, anti-social behaviour teams and local schools.
They provide dedicated mentors to support 20 young people aged 11-25 involved in gangs and work in partnership with Derby City Council, Derby College and Derby County Community Trust to reduce the risk of offending and reduce arrest rates.
Mentors will draw up an action plan in partnership with the young person which includes a range of interventions and activities to address their behaviour.
Enthusiasm was founded by social entrepreneur Joe Russo in 1992 and he now runs it with his wife Heather. Joe grew up on a council estate and initially wanted to help kids who were struggling like he did at school. He started with just a youth club before the charity evolved to offer a range of services.
“I was spurred on to help those youngsters who had the potential to go off the rails. I could have done but luckily had a supportive family. However, I have encountered many young people who didn’t have strong networks in place and no positive role models. They face a poverty of hope and opportunity. I wanted to change that.
“I remember Nikita first coming along. She was really misunderstood. But she has been on a long journey and is now a brilliant mentor.”
And Nikita recalls: “Enthusiasm offered a safe space to be when I was younger. I was living with my dad, and doing badly at school. I heard about the youth club that Enthusiasm was running and started going. I really enjoyed it, so much so that I started volunteering. I would help sign people in when they arrived and worked the tuck shop. Joe’s wife Heather took me under her wing and really helped me with one-to-one mentoring. Now I am able to give back and help others like me.”