Today, Gemma Okrasa-Priestley is happy and secure, has a young daughter and works for the famous Sheffield sweet company, ‘Simpkins’.
Ten years ago, she was 17 years old and facing the prospect of life on the streets. She left the family home at the age of 15 and after staying with her sister for a while, she eventually tried to rent a place of her own.
However, she found it difficult to manage payments and after just three months she found herself homeless. She was placed in a bed and breakfast on the other side of Sheffield, away from her friends and family.
“I was in a strange place with strange people and I was scared and lonely – I had nobody and nobody seemed to care. I sat in my room and self harmed nearly every night, thinking how rubbish my life was, thinking that I was going nowhere.
“I had no money, no food and I eventually got thrown out of the bed and breakfast for having a take away in my bedroom. I hadn’t eaten for three days and had just scraped enough money together for something to eat.”
The authorities said there was nothing they could do to help Gemma but after two days with nowhere to go she was finally referred to Roundabout and went to live in our emergency hostel.
“Yes, I was scared, but the staff made me feel welcome and introduced me to other residents. Their support was available 24/7 and during the day there were life skills activities which were both fun and educational.”
Gemma was given her own key worker to help her find proper accommodation and support her as she attempted to find work. She also received counseling for her confidence issues and to help her stop self-harming.
“They do their best to get you back on track and help you with any other problems you may have. It’s a shame there aren’t more places like Roundabout as there are many more young people who would benefit.”
And that is why, so many years later, she is fundraising for the charity that gave her a fresh start in life. She has decided to run a raffle where all proceeds are donated to Roundabout, to help us continue the vital work that turned her life around.
“At 17 I found myself homeless and on the streets with no where else to turn, but Roundabout gave me a safe place to stay and all the help and support I needed to get my life back on track,” she says.
“Now at 27 I am hoping to give something back so I have spent all week visiting shops and local businesses and making hundreds of phone calls to get some amazing prizes to put in a raffle!”
She has done incredibly well and has collected a variety of prizes including Sheffield Wednesday tickets, Leadmill Comedy Club tickets, a Yankee Candle gift set and a Family Skate ticket for Ice Sheffield to name just a few!
Our Chief Executive, Ben Keegan, says he is overwhelmed by Gemma’s enthusiasm and determination to make the raffle a success.
“Gemma is a fine example of what can happen when a young person gets the help they deserve at the most vulnerable time of their life,” he says.
“She came to Roundabout with literally nothing but today she is giving something back. We are proud of her achievements and delighted that even after so many years she still remembers how Roundabout helped her.”
To support Gemma’s fundraising efforts and see a full updated list of prizes, simply visit her Just Giving page. Here, you can make a £2 donation to purchase a strip, which is 5 raffle tickets! Enter your full name and contact number and you will be in with a chance of winning one of the incredible prizes!