“I couldn’t have imagined this at all…” She’s the young woman with the overalls, a paintbrush and an infectious smile – and thanks to her steely determination to beat the challenges that life has thrown at her, she’s has been a guest of HRH, The Duke of Cambridge. 22-year-old Zinnia Young began working for the North East Autism Society maintenance team in March 2016 when Centrepoint – the leading youth homelessness charity – supported her in a bid to begin her dream job as a painter and decorator. Zinnia was awarded the prestigious Rising Star accolade at the Centrepoint Awards which took place at Kensington Palace on February 8, and she was presented with the award from HRH, The Duke of Cambridge. “I am really proud – but it just seems so unbelievable. I couldn’t have imagined this at all,” said Zinnia, who currently lives in Sunderland. There were times over the years when things were just so bad that I just thought life doesn’t get better it only gets worse, but it was because of Centrepoint helping me that everything changed. Working for the North East Autism Society is the best thing that has happened to me. Impressed by her resilience and attitude despite adversity, and how well she has done with her apprenticeship at the North East Autism Society, Centrepoint nominated Zinnia for a prize at their annual ceremony which is supported by the Cooperative Bank. John Phillipson, chief executive officer at the North East Autism Society, said: We are all incredibly proud here at NEAS. I’m sure HRH Prince William will feel as we do, that it’s an honour to be around someone like Zinnia who really has accomplished so much – and does it with a smile on her face. Centrepoint provides homeless 16-25 year-olds with support to find work and tackle physical and mental health problems, in addition to a safe place to stay. The Duke has been the charity’s patron since 2005 and the event was hosted by TV’s Jonathan Ross. Zinnia has also benefitted from assistance provided by Talent Match North East, a Big Lottery funded programme offering tailored support to help long term unemployed 18-24 year-olds find work. Zinnia worked with a dedicated youth coach to improve her skills and build her confidence and Talent Match also boosts Zinnia’s wage by £3.55 per hour bringing it in line with the national minimum wage for her age, adding to her financial security. Seyi Obakin, CEO of Centrepoint, said: The extraordinary young people nominated for this year’s Centrepoint Awards are a compelling reminder of what can be achieved in spite of homelessness and all the barriers it presents. Whether through university, apprenticeships or moving on to a home of their own, they have each made huge strides forward and I’m incredibly proud of all of them. We want the same success for every young person but we’re facing a youth homelessness crisis in this country. It’s more important than ever that Centrepoint is able to intervene early and decisively to gives some of the most vulnerable in our society the support to turn their lives around.