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40 Stories: The young mum and young adult whose difficult paths led them to Community Links

PUBLISHED: 07:00 03 January 2019

Zoraida Colorado, who works on the policy team. Picture: Tony Boyle

Zoraida Colorado, who works on the policy team. Picture: Tony Boyle

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Canning Town charity, Community Links, is celebrating its’ 40th birthday.

Project officer Tola Jaiyeola. Picture: Tony BoyleProject officer Tola Jaiyeola. Picture: Tony Boyle

To mark the milestone, it’s created the 40 Stories project, sharing 40 inspiring tales from those whose lives have been changed by the organisation. The Recorder spoke to just a few of those featured, to find out what difference Community Links has made for them.

“As a child my mum worked with young people at a project in Redbridge for teen parents. I used to go with her after school and in the holidays. Being in that environment and seeing those young people progress really inspired me.”

Tola Jaiyeola, 25, is a project officer on the charity’s employability and youth programme. She started volunteering when she was 21, while balancing a full-time university course and working in a shoe store on evenings and weekends. At a time in her life when she was finding the transition between childhood and adulthood difficult, Community Links proved to be the turning point.

“I think everyone goes through that faze when you’re in your early 20s, going from living in your parents’ home, being someone’s child, and suddenly fending for yourself,” she said.

Zoraida Colorado, who works on the policy team. Picture: Tony BoyleZoraida Colorado, who works on the policy team. Picture: Tony Boyle

“I was balancing working, studying and volunteering. I didn’t have a storybook childhood, so it wasn’t always easy.

“I last minute got pulled onto a project called Future Links. That was a big challenge for me. Being the same age as my eldest students - one was even older than me – was hard. But then someone I’d helped on that course ended up getting a job with us.

“When you’re giving that much time to a group, you invest in people. So when you see someone succeed, it feels good.”

Tola switched from volunteering to full-time employment after a year and a half, and now, she’s coming up to her fourth year with the charity. Despite being there for so long, and meeting so many people, she said there’s always space for surprises.

Project officer Tola Jaiyeola. Picture: Tony BoyleProject officer Tola Jaiyeola. Picture: Tony Boyle

“The thing I’ve learned the most is you can learn something from anyone,” she said.

“Even though I’m the one in the position taking the sessions, I’ve always ended up taking something from them myself. I didn’t expect to learn as much as I have here.”

Zoraida Colorado’s journey to Community Links was equally challenging. The 42-year-old gave birth to her daughter in 2002, having just moved to London from Colombia. She was a new mum in a new city, with no friends, family or support network.

“It was really difficult for me to be a mum for the first time,” she said.

“Back home you have all your family to support you but my partner and I never had that.

“I was a little bit depressed and it was difficult. I decided to volunteer at Community Links.”

Zoraida started volunteering, helping people with literacy difficulties fill out forms and child tax credit claims. While it was hard leaving her daughter, the work gave her a new lease of life.

“It was a relief to be able to do something different,” she said.

“It gave me the chance that I needed. Because I had come from a different country, I had no experience here. It was just ideal for me.”

After less than two years of volunteering, Zoraida secured a paid job on the policy team. In 2010, the charity won funding for a project to increase the number of women having breast cancer screenings, and Zoraida played a key role in the programme. The team had an increase target of three per cent – by the end, screenings were up 16pc.

“It was just amazing how much we had increased in the area,” she said.

“Being at Community Links has always been a massive learning curve but it has been amazing. I have contact with so many brilliant people and the one thing we all have in common is that we care about the patients and the whole community. It’s about finding people you have something in common with, who all face the same challenges and have the same goals.”

Look out for a book of the 40 Stories project, which Community Links will be publishing in the new year.

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