Revealing, Recognising and Rewarding Positive Role Models
2017_11-16-Herts Awards Night-AMP- 16-Robert Voss Lord Lieutenant of Herts & Celia Voss

Tribute to past YOPEY winner who has died aged 30

29th Aug 2022 | News

I received this email from the mother of a past Young Person of the Year last week: Hi Tony – Just a little message to tell you my beautiful daughter Stacey lost her fight this morning and gained her angel wings at 5:37 – Regards Sharon

When I started Young People of the Year in 2005, I wanted nominations for young people who were doing good in their communities that I could encourage the media to celebrate as positive role models for other young people to copy.

I suspected I would also receive nominations for young people who were ill or disabled. What my former colleagues in the media call ‘role models in adversity’.

Stacey Johnson was one such nominee. Stacey was born with a skin condition that can lead to cancer. She had been in and out of hospital her whole life. Her school wanted her family to have some good news and so the head teacher nominated the then 13-year-old Stacey for Young People of the Year.

Who was I to reject this bid for something nice to come out of tragedy and our judges agreed. They gave Stacey a spot on the winners podium, although not the top spot. That went to a pair of teenage sisters, who despite their youth had flown alone to Sri Lanka to help in the aftermath of the Boxing Day Tsunami.

I remember, as we were taking down the set, looking up and seeing Stacey’s family standing in a tight huddle. I felt Stacey was taking in what she had been part of. Later I realised she had been inspired by the other finalists. Over the years many YOPEYs – as Young People of the Year came to be known for short – were won by young people who fundraised for good causes.

Later Stacey told me: “The YOPEY awards ceremony was the first time I spoke in public. Afterwards I felt I could do anything because not only my family believed in me, so did others. It gave me confidence.”

In 2008 Stacey entered YOPEY again. This time the focus was not on her illness – even though she had been diagnosed with a brain tumour by then – but on the fundraising she had started since the first YOPEY she had entered. Stacey, with the help of her sister Danni and a friend, collected soft toys and then ran ‘teddy bear tombolas’ at events. The aim was to raise enough money to equip a chill-out room for teenage patients at a London hospital where Stacey was treated.

While definitely worthwhile, the judges decided this was more of an aspiration than a success. The girls had raised some money but not yet enough to make the chill-out room a reality. So, although Stacey had made the final, this time she did not even get on to the winners’ podium.

Stacey was not to be beaten. Showing her determination, she entered for a third time in 2010. By this time it was a different story. She had succeeded in raising all of the money to equip two chill-out rooms for teenage patients at the London hospital and closer to her Much Hadham home at an Essex hospital. Her amazing efforts were also paying for a feel-good garden at a Hertfordshire hospital.

Stacey’s fundraising was so successful it became an official charity called Kisses4Kids. Over the years Kisses4Kids was to raise tens of thousands of pounds to support sick children and teenagers.

All of this was achieved while Stacey was undergoing treatment for the brain tumour, which six weeks of radiotherapy and 12 months of chemotherapy had failed to remove.

I will never forget how proud I felt – and I am sure her parents, mum Sharon and dad Brian, felt even more so – when Stacey walked down the central aisle of the 2010 Hertfordshire YOPEYs, in a beautiful ball gown, to receive the Young Person of the Year award. 

The frequent treatment for the tumour was leaving Stacey feeling sick and weak for weeks afterwards. “Whatever side-effects were listed,” said Sharon, “she got them all from being constantly sick to infection after infection.”

So Stacey made a personal sacrifice: “I want to be as well as I can so I can make children happy, even if they are having a really bad time.

“I discussed ending my treatment with my consultant. I could die next week, next year or in 60 years – we really don’t know.”

So she stopped her treatment to be as well as she could be to run Kisses4Kids and support more sick children and teenagers.

Although Stacey ran Kisses4Kids for 10 years, she never entered YOPEY again. She didn’t have to. She had gone from ‘role model in adversity’ to an out-and-out role model for giving to others, despite her illness.

Eventually her health got too bad to run Kisses4Kids and she ended up in a wheelchair. The charity was wound up and its assets given to a similar charity. This included a caravan where families with sick children can still take much-needed holidays.

My last contact with Stacey was over the booklet I wrote to inspire young people whose mental health suffered during the pandemic. Despite being gravely ill, Stacey contributed to Your Kids Are Not Covid’s Lost Generation. Her message: laugh in the face of adversity, including covid.

She wrote: “I have had many setbacks (in my life) being on and off chemo. The worst was when I ended up in a wheelchair.”

To young people worried about coronavirus, she said: “I would say you will face challenges as you go through life. Be prepared for them as they can strike at any time. My family has always got though hard times with humour.”

I suspected Stacey’s illness was always going to shorten her life so when I heard from her mother that she had died, aged 30. I was not surprised but it did bring back all these happy memories of a young woman determined to do good for others, despite her own troubles.

You have left your mark, Stacey Johnson.

• Anyone can download a copy of Your Kids Are Not Covid’s Lost Generation by making a donation to YOPEY at

https://www.givengain.com/c/yopey/

• Young people can give to others by joining YOPEY and befriending elderly people in care homes at

https://www.yopey.org/join-us/