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A simple act of kindness: Reaching out and making a difference

Would you give your Ed Sheeran concert ticket to a homeless person? This Belfast couple did and they are not the only ones whose generous spirit has changed the lives of others.

Published 03/08/2015

Huge support: Chelsea Smith (right) and her foster mum, Sharon Gallway
Huge support: Chelsea Smith (right) and her foster mum, Sharon Gallway
Huge support: Chelsea Smith (right) and her foster mum, Sharon Gallway
Katie Stevenson and her boyfriend, Frankie, who travelled to the Thinking Out Loud singer's concert last month, had a spare ticket - which could have fetched up to 150 euro, had they opted to sell it to a fan at the gate. Instead, though, they decided to brighten up a stranger's day rather than recoup their losses, giving the ticket to a homeless woman they met on the bridge - and invited her to join them at the event
Creative bond: art therapist Joanne Boal, with former cancer patient Sonia Moore
Creative bond: art therapist Joanne Boal, with former cancer patient Sonia Moore
Birthday treat: 13-year-old Scott Edgar with his dad on an unforgettable day out to a match at Old Trafford
Scott Edgar

A selfless act by a Belfast couple - when they handed a young homeless woman a ticket to Ed Sheeran's Croke Park gig in Dublin recently - prompted a huge response on social media, with the pair praised for their kindness.

Katie Stevenson and her boyfriend, Frankie, who travelled to the Thinking Out Loud singer's concert last month, had a spare ticket - which could have fetched up to 150 euro, had they opted to sell it to a fan at the gate. Instead, though, they decided to brighten up a stranger's day rather than recoup their losses, giving the ticket to a homeless woman they met on the bridge - and invited her to join them at the event.

Katie posted a picture of the happy trio (top), in their seats at Croke Park with the message: "Here we are at Croke Park with Nidva. A little something so small can put such a smile on someone's face".

While such random acts of kindness are heart-warming, they are not the exception. Recently, BBC radio presenter, Stephen Nolan, hit the headlines when it was revealed he paid for a luxury hotel room for a homeless man he spotted shivering in a doorway on a bitterly cold winter's night.

The man who had fallen on hard times was Ryan Pedlow, who later publicly thanked Nolan and credited his generosity for enabling him to get his life back on track.

We talk to three local people about how a single act of kindness transformed their lives for the better.

'My amazing foster mum Sharon gave me a home, not just a house'

Chelsea Smith (21) is about to start a teacher training degree and lives in Dungannon. She says:

I was first put into foster care when I was nine years old. After a couple of years of being fostered, I went to live with my dad in England until I was 14, but then I came back to Northern Ireland.

I was fostered again in Kilkeel, Omagh, Dromore, Loughbrickland, then with an aunt. I have no idea why I was moved on from any of the foster homes.

I would come home from school to discover my bags packed and that was it - I was being moved into another foster home. I moved in with Sharon when I was 15, and she was the first foster carer who treated me like a person, instead of just a job.

Other people (foster carers) tended to do things by the book and follow the rules - while Sharon did that, too, I never felt like just another foster child.

It took a couple of months for me to relax and settle in, because I just assumed I would be moved again really quickly - but that didn't happen.

Sharon has two daughters and I got on really well with them - I still do. I felt like I was part of the family.

I left Sharon's home when I was 18 - although, she was happy to keep me until I was 21, which is possible as long as you're in full-time education - but, by then, I wanted my own home.

I'm still very close to Sharon and the rest of the family. My home is about 10 minutes away from them, and I'm in and out of their house every day. We've already started talking about Christmas and Sharon has asked me if I'm going to be there.

Having that continuous support has made all the difference to my life. I did move out when I was 18, but I've stayed in education and am due to start my teaching training course at St Mary's College, Belfast, in September.

Sharon has always been there, supportive and encouraging - having someone like her in my life also makes me want to do my best, not just for me, but for her, too.

I nominated Sharon for the Foster Carer of Distinction award, which she won recently, because she was the one person who gave me a home, not just a house."

'I’m only on this path thanks to art therapy with Joanne'

Sonia Moore (47), who lives in Lurgan with her son Matthew (24) and daughter Aisling (21), will begin an art degree at the Ulster University in September. She says:

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2012 - I had found a dimple on my breast and just happened to ask my doctor to check it out during a consultation about a back complaint.

Eighteen months of treatment followed, during which time I had two lumpectomies, six rounds of chemotherapy, 25 sessions of radiotherapy and then 18 sessions of drug therapy.

When I was first diagnosed, I had a two-hour talk with a Macmillan nurse and she was the one who suggested I go down to their centre at Belfast City Hospital. But I didn't go down there until I had finished all of my treatments. It's a lovely place. You can go in and have complimentary therapies or just have a cup of tea. It's run by staff and volunteers, many of whom are cancer survivors themselves, so there are plenty of people to talk to.

I liked the look of the art room - I used to be a classroom assistant and I've always liked art. At first, I didn't have the nerve to go in, though. I think that all of the treatment you go through with cancer can affect your confidence, so I was a little shy.

Eventually I did go in and I met Joanne Boal, who works there as an art therapist and she immediately put me at ease. There's no pressure, so you can create anything you like using lots of different art materials. I thought I might have forgotten how to draw, so on the first day I just copied an image from a magazine.

Joanne is incredibly welcoming and offers you one-to-one art therapy, as well as group sessions. She introduced me to everyone else and encouraged me. Before I knew it, I was going there every week and it really boosted my confidence.

You don't have to be an artist, you can just sit and doodle if you prefer.

My art skills slowly started to come back, and Joanne was constantly praising and encouraging me. She would always suggest that I take things just a little bit further. It was her who said I might like to go into art therapy to gain some new skills. After about a year I enrolled to do a BTec diploma in art - it had never occurred to me to do something like that before, but she suggested it.

I just worked to keep myself and my family - getting more qualifications had never seemed an option.

The diploma took me about a year, studying part-time and I still kept going to art therapy with Joanne. She was such a big help and would look at what I produced and make suggestions for my course work.

The whole time I was doing the course I was pinching myself, I never thought I would do anything like it.

The course finished in June and I ended up with a Distinction. In September I'll be going to Ulster University to do a degree in art. I've got a few ideas for when I finish. I would like to go into art therapy, or perhaps work with young people.

I'm really taking things one day at a time. When I was first diagnosed, I didn't know if I would have a year, but now I'm in remission - they say you're never really cured of cancer.

I try not to think too far ahead of myself, but it is important to have a plan, and mine is all thanks to Joanne.

If I hadn't gone to art therapy and met her, then I wouldn't have been on this path. It got me through such dark days. I'm still going to art therapy and still in touch with Joanne, who has become a great friend."

'Bus driver Robbie gave me his ticket to a fantastic day'

Scott Edgar (33) is a web developer and lives in Belfast. He says:

Since I was about seven years old I've been a Manchester United fan - probably because they were the most popular team at the time.

For my 13th birthday, my dad booked tickets with a local tour company to take me over to Old Trafford and watch a game. I was so excited about the trip.

We had a great time on the way over, there was a brilliant atmosphere on the bus and at the hotel because all of the fans travelled over together and sang songs. We all put our hats and scarves on as we boarded the buses for the grounds. The day of the match was my 13th birthday.

There were about half a dozen buses full of people from Northern Ireland heading for the game, and we picked up more along the way. When we arrived at Old Trafford, we saw the match tickets being delivered to the first couple of buses, but then the bad news came - there were no tickets for our bus. It turned out the travel operator had heavily oversubscribed the tour and sold more bus places than there were tickets. In the end there were a couple of bus loads of people who simply weren't getting into the match.

I was devastated. I can remember being interviewed for the local paper and holding back the tears.

There were a lot of very angry people standing outside the ground, trying to contact the tour operator. It was an overwhelming experience. My dad was with me and, of course, he was disappointed that he didn't have a ticket - but he was gutted for me.

Then one of the coach drivers came up to me and my dad, asking if I was okay. My dad explained what had happened and that it was my birthday.

The bus driver was called Robbie, and a regular driver of Ulsterbus tours, so he ended up in Manchester for a lot of the games. Some of the coach drivers bought their tickets from touts right outside the gates - he had bought one for himself that day - they had to wait the length of the match anyway, as they were taking everyone home afterwards.

Robbie said that he couldn't leave a child standing outside the gate on his birthday on his very first visit to Old Trafford, so he handed his ticket to me. He said he had seen Manchester United play before and probably would again, but it might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. I don't know what he paid for the ticket.

It was the best day ever, but it was still quite a scary experience, as I had to go into the stadium on my own when the match had already been on for about 15 minutes.

The match was against Newcastle and Keith Gillespie from Northern Ireland scored a goal for Manchester United. It was a fantastic thing to see on my birthday and I've never forgotten it, even after 20 years.

I've been back to Old Trafford a few times since and the story of Robbie's kindness always gets told in the bar the night before.

Belfast Telegraph

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