TWO brave children had people in tears and then on their feet at the sixth annual Pride of Milton Keynes Awards.
Four-year-old Jenson Belkevitz won the People’s Choice award and was highly commended in the Child of Courage category.
Jenson suffers from a progressive retinal dystrophy which has left him totally blind. However, he has been praised for his cheeky spirit and wonderful nature which has seen him become one of the most popular boys at his school.
Millie D’Cruz Parsley, seven, won the Child of Courage award. She suffers from Metachromatic Leukodystrophy, a degenerative disease that depletes the central nervous system.
Despite her illness she beamed with pride when her name was announced – a smile that was so bright it lit up the stage.
Sam Pirani, Premier Newspapers commercial director, said: “Tonight’s award winners are people who have shown extraordinary community spirit, great bravery and there’s a reason why this event is called Pride in Milton Keynes and we should be proud to have these people in our midst, doing what they do to make life better for all of us.
“I guarantee you’ll leave here tonight with pride in your heart, and that’s a feeling that’s hard to beat.”
The event’s headline sponsors were Costa Coffee and Kensworth with Sandy Gourlay, retail development manager at Costa, thanking everyone for celebrating people’s proud achievements.
Jenson’s mum, Cheri Loeber, speaking after Jenson won his award, said: “After we’ve all been through it’s fantastic and I can’t believe he won two awards. He’s off to hospital for lots of tests on Wednesday and Thursday so this is a really nice touch before he goes in, a nice feel good night before he goes to hospital.”
Cheri described Jenson’s deterioration as quick but said he still enjoys playing with his friends and knows who each of his Thomas the Tank Engine toys are simply by touching them.
Cheri said: “He is brilliant with his touch. He will find you a train out of 51 he has, he’s just like any other boy.”
When he collected his People’s Choice Award people got to their feet for an emotional standing ovation and the applause saw him break out a heart-melting smile.
Over the past few years people have been working tirelessly to raise money to get Millie potentially life-saving treatment in America.
Her parents, Twila and Phil, told The Citizen how Millie was diagnosed with MLD in July 2010 and they were told she would lose various motor skills within the first two years – it sadly only took ten months.
Twila said: “She was told that she would lose the ability to swallow within 18 months, but that actually happened within a year. In that time she’s actually lost 95 per cent of her abilities.
Her dad Phil said Millie was unbelievable in how she had coped with her problems and said it was her smile that kept them going.
The Young Achiever award was won by Shona Shah, a 15-year-old girl who has been raising money for charity by volunteering to teach dancing and has herself performed at other charity events. She as been teaching workshops at different schools for several years and raised a significant amount of money for charity through setting up a website for people to donate.
She said: “I was so excited and happy to win. I love to see the children smile when they feel they’ve achieved something. I love teaching and the children I teach are so lovely.”
Rachel Medill, from charity Ride High, was Volunteer of the Year. She said: “We help Milton Keynes’ most disadvantaged children some of whom are depressed, suicidal or badly self-harming and we provide a safe place for children to have fun and learn key social skills. To know you’re making a difference to a child not just on one day but to their prospects in life is really what it’s about.”
Adult Achiever was won by George Booty whose Bus Stop Free Drop in and Counselling Service was also highly commended in the Community Company of the Year, losing out to eventual winners, Milton Keynes Dons Sport and Education Trust.
As part of the Street Ministers project George gives his time at weekends to help vulnerable people late at night in the Theatre District and the Xscape area.
George said: “We go out at weekends and help vulnerable females who are isolated or hurt late at night and help them so they are safer. Out of the Street Ministers the Bus Stop Drop In Centre was born so we are really proud of what we have achieved. I was really shocked as there are so many people who have done such amazing work.”
Rob Harriman, Safer Communities Warden, was highly commended in both the Service with a Smile and Making MK Safer categories. He deals with many issues such as redway safety, highways, litter, dog fouling, energy saving and graffiti etc. He has been instrumental in setting up projects within the city.
He said: “I am absolutely delighted and shocked as I’m just doing my bit out there in the community and I love serving the public. The names in the categories I know them all and the great work they do. I didn’t think for one second that would happen.”
Community Project of the Year was won by the Milton Keynes Play Association Summer Play Project. They run several projects for children and young people across the city. Teams of six playworkers head out to local parks, play areas and green spaces, and set up and run free play sessions for local families that can see more than 14,000 children given safe, fun play sessions in their localities.
They said: “It’s come at a time when there have been a lot of cuts in this industry so for these to be still taking place it’s fantastic and very fulfilling.”
Adam Woodyatt who hosted the event, said: “It’s been really nice to come back here again. Some of the stories, not just the winners and the highly commended but those who have been nominated are really heartwarming.
“I’ve done awards like this before and you just hear some fantastic stories, despite the state of the economy people are still willing to do something for other people, it’s brilliant there is a lot of good being done around the city.”
Money was raised on the night for Warwickshire and Northamptonshire Air Ambulance, a charity that Adam is a patron of.
See the gallery here