​This Christmas we're thankful for your support

Include Youth has had an amazing 12 months and here's 12 reasons why:

1. Christmas wrapped up

Young people from NI NCS Lurgan with John McComb from Include Youth

For the last few years, staff and young people involved in Give & Take: Core across our offices donated items for shoebox appeals, supporting those less fortunate throughout the world. This year we felt there was no time like the 'present' to give our young people some Christmas cheer and embarked on a Christmas present appeal in partnership with Ulster Rugby. The appeal was intended to make sure the young people we work with, who live in care or away from their families, all had a gift under the Christmas tree. Ulster Rugby fans, friends and community-based volunteers got involved and we were blown away by their tremendous generosity, in particular the donations gathered by the young people from NI NCS in Lurgan. Last week were able to hand out more than 100 gifts to young people across our sites and still have a bundle here for Santa to deliver before the big day.

2. 'Computer says no'

Paddy Mooney from Include Youth with donated laptops from Connswater Homes

When the laptops, used by young people for Essential Skills across our employability programmes, plotted against us and decided to break we sent an appeal out asking if anyone might have some old (or new) laptops they would be willing to donate. Connswater Homes donated three; the NIE Staff & Pensioners Charities Fund gave us £678 towards the cost of buying new laptops for young people who attend our Derry office; and Ciaran Boylan, from Locus Management, donated one to help a young person with their studies.

3. Fuelling Futures

Fintru staff giving young people food hampers

FinTru are behind our 'Fuelling Futures' food clubs across our six Give & Take: Core sites, helping us make sure that all the young people involved in our 12-month regional employability programme for young people in or leaving care have access to healthy lunches at our offices each week. FinTru has chosen Include Youth as their charity partner for 2017 and have already hosted two fundraising events and donated amazing food hampers for young people who attend our Belfast office to take home.

4. Ice-cream, you scream

Young people from Meant to Work working with PROUD

Since Meant to Work launched in April 2016 23 young people in the Greater Belfast area have move positively into a range of different jobs thanks to the one-to-one support provided by our peer mentors, Tina and Cherith. In particular, Megan from Proud, a social enterprise start up selling ice-cream, has been providing employability opportunities to young people involved in the project. Megan set up Proud so that young people in East Belfast could gain paid employment, enhance their skills, grow in confidence and come to realise their potential and what they can achieve. I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream.

5. Mad about Dave

When social entrepreneur Dave Linton got in touch to say he'd like to donate some rucksacks to young people in care, we thought: 'This is great! What a generous man.' When he kept getting in touch again and again and again and again with even more bags he wanted to donate, we quickly realised Dave was not only mad about bags, but he was also mad about making a difference to the lives of young people in care. And as an organisation we're just a wee bit mad about Dave. Over the last 12 months he has supported our work, listened to our young people's stories and inspired our staff through his relentless dedication to making sure no child in care carries their life in bin bag.

6. Perfect partners

We are blessed to work with so many amazing delivery partners, from the health trusts to NI Alternatives, Business in the Community to Newstart Education Centre, and our social enterprise partners VOYPIC and VIable. Through these partnerships, young people in Ards got to share their care stories with politicians, social workers and other organisations through North Down Alternative's youth safety partnership and John McComb from Newstart delivered good relations sessions with young people in the Greater Belfast area.Our Employability Service in the Western and Belfast Trust areas saw many young people in or leaving care move into ring-fenced employment. In particular, our work in the Belfast Trust area delivered in partnership with Start360, added to their efforts from the year before by hosting a number of dedicated employability events for young people in care.More than 60 businesses got involved with Aiming Higher, providing work tours, freeing up mentors and taking young people through interview skills and recruitment advice. After almost four years we would like to thank Big Lottery NI for funding the project but most importantly, Business in the Community for introducing young people in care to your vast and diverse business network.

7. The experts

In March we completed (and celebrated) a very successful Strive United Youth Pilot for young people aged 16 to 24 with our community partners, including Newstart Education Centre, East Belfast Alternatives, Lisburn YMCA and Youth Initiatives Poleglass. Strive worked from the principle that young people are experts in their own lives – whether personal challenges or successes, their experience of growing up in a particular community or their experiences of education – therefore were best equipped to shape the programme. Young people who had been on a previous programmes with the partner organisations formed an 'Expert by Experience' group to help design and run the programme, recruiting more young people as the programme progressed to best reflect the views of current participants. Strive was one of 12 good relations pilots delivered under the 'Together: Building a United Community' (T:BUC) strategy and funded through the Northern Ireland Executive and we are exploring ways in which we can take the programme forward in the New Year.

8. The goodbyes

This year we said good bye to two board members whose support for our work and contribution to our board will be greatly missed. Both Chairman Tony Martin and Artie O'Neill have been board members for many years and while we will miss their mix of expertise and experience we look forward to a continued friendship and opportunities to come together again in the future. We would like to thank Tony and Artie for their contributions to our work over the year and wish both every success and happiness for the future.

9. The hellos

We also said many hellos to new board members, including: retired social worker Billy Graham, a friend of old who re-joined our board earlier this year; Liesbeth Vermier, a translator by profession who works as a credit controller with Allen and Overy; avid tweeter Kevin Houston, founder and managing director of Houston Solutions Ltd, who comes with a strong background in banking and management; Nexus Chief Executive Officer, Cara Cash, who has a wealth of voluntary sector experience; and restorative justice advocate Debbie Hammill, a project manager at South Belfast Alternatives.

10. The music

Thanks to support from Beyond Skin, Ards and North Down Borough Council and the Arts Council for Northern Ireland 12 young people involved in Give & Take: Core at our Belfast and Ards offices were able to complete an OCN Level 2 in Understanding Diversity through the World of Music, Arts and Dance (WOMAD) facilitated by Beyond Skin and Bounce Culture. The young people really loved the programme.

11. The thank-you's

'Oldskool raver' Kaycee (Karen) Carton from Coleraine raised £740 for Include Youth by throwing a charity rave at the Atlantic Bar, Portrush. Inspired by a similar fundraiser in Liverpool, Kaycee decided to organise a rave event closer to home to support the work that we do with young people at risk of crime. Robert McCord, from Odyssey Trust, has been a true friend, mentor and advocate of our Aiming Higher project in partnership with Business in the Community since its inception in 2013. He has been a business mentor to a young person during all seven phases of the programme, has led group activities and encouraged other business leaders to get involved. As our Aiming Higher project comes to an end, in the way we have known it, we are so grateful to Robert for all the doors he has opened and young people he's allowed to follow in his footsteps. A heartfelt thank you to Mairead Mackle and Adrian Norton from Homecare Independent Living who took us to Santa's Cottage at Millford Gatelodge and threw an amazing party for young people on Aiming Higher. Like all our Aiming Higher volunteers (of which there are far too many amazing people to mention) we just want to say a massive thank you for helping these young people reach their potential.

12. Ulster Rugby

Last, but by no means least, when Ulster Rugby selected us as their charity partner for the next two seasons a loud celebratory roar was heard throughout our corridors as staff started to realise that people outside of their usual circles really care about the work they do. Ulster Rugby has been incredibly generous to date, with their ticket allocation, work tours, fundraising activities, parties, getting speakers along to our events and introducing their staff to the young people we support. We're just at the start of our journey but are excited for all that 2017 is going to bring.