Pioneer youth worker thanks young people for being so resilient during pandemic

A pioneering voice behind the inaugural Thank You Day has thanked young people for “holding on” during the coronavirus pandemic.

Gavin McKenna, 31, founder of youth project Reach Every Generation, said “there’s so much to thank (young people) for”.

Mr McKenna (pictured left with colleagues Aaron and Ben) is one of 13 original proposers of Thank You Day, an occasion now backed by celebrities which aims to build on the community spirit many relied on during lockdowns.

And in the spirit of gratitude, Mr McKenna highlighted the sacrifices made by the younger generation over the last 15 months.

“I know a lot of people that did shopping for their neighbours that no one really knew about,” Mr McKenna told the PA news agency.

“I know there are young people that didn’t get the grades they were looking for, that had to deal with so much.

“The one thing about being young is how free you are – that got snatched away from so many young people, and that’s the time they’ll never get back.

“So I just wanted to just stop and just say thank you to them.”

Reach Every Generation was founded to support young people within the youth justice system, fighting social issues such as crime, violence and exploitation.

“We believe that it is paramount to not only offer hope and opportunity to the young people directly, but also empower and equip professionals that work with such young people daily,” said Mr McKenna.

The project also offers assemblies to raise awareness, as well as a mentoring and coaching programme to support children and young people who are at risk of, or actively involved in, crime, serious violence, and exploitation in Essex.

Mr McKenna, from east London, is using his lived experience and specialist knowledge to influence societal change, but the pandemic made his work harder.

“We saw young people that were being trafficked on county lines… they were becoming more available,” he said.

“They were online a lot more. They weren’t going to school anymore, and sometimes school is that place where things can be noticed.

“We had less engagement with young people because everything went online. So yeah, we struggled so much with trying to engage our young people and reduce those risk factors around them.”

Thank You Day is set to go ahead on July 4 with a range of activities including litter picking, street parties and a barbecue led by Levi Roots.

To mark the occasion, Mr McKenna is helping to put on a charity football match to “bring people together”, adding that the inaugural celebration gives him the opportunity to show his gratitude.

“Young people in particular, they’re always on the margins of society,” he said. “We see that whether they’re good or bad.

“We almost expect too much from them. ‘You go to school, you work hard, you need to do this, you need to do that’.

“Actually, no one ever stops and says, ‘You know what, I appreciate the fact that you’re building a brighter future. Thank you for taking care of the environment. Thank you for caring so much about the way that the world is going’.

“Because actually we’ve got a generation of children (that) care. They care about feminism, they care about if men respect women and the gender pay gap, they care about the social injustices that previous generations have seen and not really cared about.

“So I think there’s so much to thank them for, give them a little bit of encouragement.

“We want to build a brighter future through the next generation, so let’s encourage them. Let’s encourage them to continue fighting for what’s right.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2021, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Gavin McKenna / PA.