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Children of Courage 2019: Celebration of inspirational young people

There were several tearful eyes at the 2019 Children of Courage Awards on Wednesday, as guests heard some truly inspirational stories.

Held at the Urban Hotel by the Rotary Club of Grantham Kesteven, the eighth annual awards celebrated the achievements of six young people, each put forward by their school or college.

They were: Zen Esponilla, of Walton Academy; Jon Cronin, of Ambergate Sports College; Joshua Czarnecki, of Sandon School; Joshua Oates, of Grantham College; Mackenzie Mason, of West Grantham Academy St Hugh’s; and Luke Holland, of King’s School.

Children of Coureage (7775313)
Children of Coureage (7775313)

Following lunch and addresses by event organiser Marion Strange and club president Libby Simpson, the ceremony began, with each youngster receiving a certificate, award and a pen created especially for the event by Trevor Tillison. The gifts were present by Mayor of Grantham Lynda Coutts and chairman of South Kesteven District Council George Chivers.

Each student was introduced by a member of their school’s staff, who had nominated them and who all had wonderful words of praise for their Child of Courage.

Afterwards, a speech given by Paralympic star Sam Ruddock was a highlight. There was a thunderous round of applause as he sat back down, following a speech that had special words for each youngster.

Signing off, he said to them: “When the challenge comes, don’t step back, step forward and test yourself and see what you are made of.

“I implore you to keep doing what you are doing. Step forward and give it everything you’ve got.”


Jon Started at Ambergate Sports College in June 2011 and is now in Year 11. He has a warm personality, is a role model pupil and is currently Ambergate’s head boy after being nominated by pupils. Jon has moderate learning, emotional and behavioural needs. He has faced adversity in his personal life but has not allowed this to negatively impact the person he is. He is inspired to help others as much as possible to ensure that they do not suffer in any way. Assistant headteacher/Senco Alison Redfern said: “Jon’s strength and perseverance throughout his life has shaped the polite young man that he is today and to nominate Jon for the Children of Courage Awards is a small sign of the admiration we all have for him at Ambergate.”

Speaking after the awards ceremony, 18-year-old Jon told the Journal: “I feel absolutely honoured to be here and I can’t thank everyone enough.”


Josh has been part of Grantham Additional Needs Fellowship (GANF) since 2011, firstly attending Ambergate Sports College and now attending Sandon School. Sara Ellis, Sandon’s assistant headteacher, said: “We have been very fortunate to see Josh grow and develop into a wonderful young man throughout his years at Grantham Additional Needs Fellowship.” Josh has a diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder and has historically found it difficult to manage his emotions. Through close work and support throughout his time at GANF, Year 13 student Josh has pushed his personal expectations of himself, now enjoys going to coffee shop and was nominated by his peers as Sandon’s head boy for 2018.

Joshua, 18, said: “It’s brilliant to have been part of the awards. It feels nice to be recognised.”


“Mackenzie has a determination and resilience that I have not seen in such a young person for some time,” said form tutor Andrea Mitchell. He has had a difficult home life which meant that Year 8 student Mackenzie did not have the support network at home to get him into school on a daily basis. Following the unexpected absence of both his parents, Mackenzie has been looked after by a family member and through the support of friends, family and extended family he now goes to school every day. Ms Mitchell said: “Regardless of what has happened, in or out of school, Mac always has a smile on his face and will seek ways in which to manage his feelings and emotions so he can stay in school and learn. Despite the hardships and loss he has experienced, he has never once asked for anything except a smile and a friendly word. A pleasure to have made his acquaintance.”

Year 8 student Mackenzie sadly lost his parents, grandparents and an auntie in the space of just a year. Despite his difficult home life, he has gone on to improve his school attendance to 98 per cent.

He said: “I’m proud of myself. I think it’s quite nice to see what other people have gone through.”


Luke, 17, has cerebral palsy but has not let the condition stop him. When introducing him, his teacher, Elizabeth Dixon, called him “an inspiration to everyone”.

He said: “I’ve really enjoyed today, it’s been really good.”


Joshua has been a valued member of Grantham College for over three years now and, along with some learning difficulties, is registered blind and he now has only five per cent sight. Despite his ongoing health conditions, the 19-year-old continues to participate fully in all areas of college and the local community. He is a very hardworking, polite, active young man and his behaviour in college is an example to all. Simple things like reading a book, sitting an exam, writing, using a computer, and even getting around college often prove quite a challenge. Josh is a very keen sportsman, an enthusiastic cook, a member of Grantham Youth Bowling Club and the Lincoln Disability Football Club. Learning support assistant Lisa Gerassimov said: “Josh has been nominated for not allowing a lifelong progressive condition to dominate his life and to prove to us all that whatever life throws at us, we make the best of it.”

Joshua, 19, has only five per cent of his central vision remaining and has learning difficulties. He said: “Because I don’t look like someone who is disabled I’m always behind everyone else, so this had made me feel like I’m part of something.”


Back in October 2017, Zen was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, an aggressive form of cancer that spreads throughout the body at a fast rate. This meant that she missed 14 weeks of school – half-way through her GCSE studies. This being said, when Zen was well again she returned to school and consciously threw herself back into her studies. Nothing fazed her and most things would be tackled with tenacity and resilience in order to ‘get thingsdone’. Walton Academy head of house Kim Dolby said: “Zen has always been a delightful student. Her polite nature and approachable manner have enabled her to make a huge group of supportive friends who have all helped her through the tough times.” Now in Year 11, Zen is a very creative student, taking both art and textiles. Taking such subjects is highly challenging in terms of the time needing to be committed to meeting the ever, ongoing deadlines of projects. Not only does she manage it but whatever she does, it is with flair.

Zen, 16, has battled with an aggressive form of cancer but bounced back and is doing well in school. She said: “It’s been really good to get an award.”

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