How Becoming a Patron of Anna Kennedy Online Changed My Life – Steven Smith

 

In the USA, performing charity work is a necessary part of the school curriculum to graduate from high school. Now that is something that we should certainly lobby to introduce over here. Giving just a little back makes a huge difference to others and will make you feel like a million dollars. Even before joining the incredible Anna Kennedy Online (autism charity) it was very important to me that whenever the opportunity arose, I could give back.

 

Having raised money by trekking Peru along The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, jumping out of a plane in the name of the late great journalist Sue Carroll for pancreatic cancer, walking 11000 steps a day for a month in aid of prostate cancer in the name of my late partner and friend Martin Annand or cycling twice from London to Brighton in aid of the Heart Foundation, my cv is already quite extensive. But let’s not be naive here; no one has made me do any of this and for what I give, truly it comes back threefold in the feeling that I might just have made a difference. People have said “Oh aren’t you good!” My reply is always the same, “Not really. I do it because my life has been so lucky and giving a little back makes me feel good.”

In truth, nothing throws up a red flag to me more than someone who is using charity work to validate themselves to others. But then again, if they are bringing some cash in or helping charities then I say “Fill your boots!” With charities closing every week and those that are still running struggling, it´s certainly time we all united to make charities shine.

 

Being asked by a then model friend Samantha Tomlin if I could judge a competition being fronted by Anna Kennedy OBE called “Wear it for Autism” in my capacity as former ‘celebrity hairdresser turned beauty writer’, of course there was no stopping me. My knowledge of autism at that time was about the same as everyone else: Rain Man was a great film. I loved the “The Curious Tale of the Dog in the Night”, my favourite book. It was a fashion show so how difficult could judging be? After all it was what I did.

Oh how wrong can someone be? A week or so later there I was in the presence of the formidable Dr Anna Kennedy OBE and Dr Pam. In front of me was a sack of case studies. Unlike other fashion or beauty competitions, there were no visual aids, just stories which I was to read through and choose the winner. Five minutes and tears were not just rolling down my face, truly, I was an emotional wreck. Towards the end all that remained for me to do was find out how to get more involved in something with which I had had no experience. None of my family or friends had been diagnosed with autism but my empath button was pressing big time. Luckily for me, Anna could see my passion and wanted people who could make a difference and had that empathy that was so badly needed. Anna asked me to become a charity patron. I took my duties very seriously and was at the helm right away, giving a not so great first speech (!), volunteering for Autism’s Got Talent and walking with Anna, her son Angelo and the amazing team for the charity.

What I did not expect was for Anna not only to never take no for an answer, but to fight to get the best out of you. My first speech was so dire, my nerves just kicked in. To my surprise Anna slotted me in to do another, “Last one was ok, this one will be great!” she assured me. Do you know what, the entire theatre gave me a standing ovation. As many congratulated me, Anna just gave me a wink, she knew I had it in me. How Anna has not got me and Aston Avery, another of the charity ambassadors, and the other guys doing “The Full Monty” is beyond me!

 

Joining Anna Kennedy Online meant being part of an entirely new family. Dawn and Keith Avery, and their son and my best pal Aston Avery, became instant connections so that I joined Gateway radio, and together we have a hit monthly show. The other volunteers all became friends. As well as learning about autism and so much more, it allowed me to learn about me. All my life bullying had been prevalent, so with Anna’s co-ordination, the “Give us a break” campaign was born, to say no to bullying. For the first time I shared my own often horrific stories of being bullied in the hope of helping others.

 

All my life it was drilled into me that it was a sign of weakness to talk about how you felt or admit that you had been bullied. Anna and her amazing team taught me that shouting about it is the only way we can make a difference. Anna, you have made a huge difference in not just my life but in the lives of everyone you meet. One very important point: although Anna would single-handedly move a mountain whilst stopping to do an impromptu dance and check her hair is ok, at the helm is her wonderful right-hand woman Lisa Robins, who is always there and keeps it all in check. She is the yeast in the bread that is Anna Kennedy. Huge thank-you to you both.

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