Teen who befriended dying pensioner wins runner up ranking in awards that recognise young people giving back

Erik Kerr has been crowned a runner up in the YOPEY awards.
Erik Kerr has been crowned a runner up in the YOPEY awards.

A teenager who befriended an elderly man until his dying day came third in Hertfordshire’s Young People of the Year awards.

Erik Kerr, 17, was one of almost 40 sixth form students from John F Kennedy School who took part in the trial befriending scheme at Highview Care Home in the town.

Mia Ward teaches sign language.

Mia Ward teaches sign language.

But only Erik, who was nominated for the Young People of the Year award - better known as YOPEYs - by the care home manager Tracey Axten, continued to visit after the project had finished.

Tracey said: “Their friendship proved that no matter the age difference a special relationship can be formed.”

Erik befriended 88-year-old war veteran widower Douglas Hosier, who at that time was suffering from the early stages of dementia.

Douglas told Erik about his younger days including how he met his wife Eileen in Boxmoor, where they both grew up.

He served with the Royal Navy as an Able Seaman and told how he manned the guns on a destroyer and shelled the Germans on D-Day to protect the Allies landing on the Normandy beaches.

Although Douglas became seriously ill very rapidly that did not deter Erik, who showed compassion, empathy and respect, from visiting.

Erik said: “I continued to see Doug even if he was unconscious because I believed that he wanted some company even if he couldn’t talk to you.

“When I first met Douglas I was expecting someone who didn’t have much life left in him, but instead I got a man so full of energy and hope that he

could make you smile just by saying hello.”

Douglas passed away in May.

YOPEYs, with more than 40 judges including Hemel Hempstead MP Mike Penning, recognise young people that give to others. The awards were presented during a lavish ceremony in Herts.

Among the runners up was Mia Ward, of Hemel Hempstead, who teaches hearing people sign language to bring the deaf and hearing worlds together.

The profoundly deaf 18 year old, who was a winner in this year’s Gazette sponsored Pride in Dacorum awards, was given £50 for the Phoenix Group for Deaf Children, of which she is a founding member.

Erik won £100 for his good deed.

Yopey founder Tony Gearing said: “Erik and Mia are both exceleent role models for other young people to admire and copy.”

Nominations can already be made for next year’s YOPEYs by visiting yopey.org.

Yopey is sponsored by Hatfield-based Mitsubishi Electric, Smith-Milne & Co, a Rickmansworth accountancy firm, North Hertfordshire Homes, Johnson Matthey of Royston, B3Living of Broxbourne, Orange Amplification of Borehamwood, McNicholas of Elstree, Renault of Rickmansworth, Vinci of Watford, and Runwood Homes for the elderly.