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Claire Thompson from the Glens of Antrim has graduated with a first-class honours degree in Community Youth Work from Ulster University. A hard-working mother of two, Claire has been the first person in her family to go to university, in order to further realise her passion of helping young people in need.

Having left school at the age of 16 to have her son Declan, Claire, like the rest of her family, did not pursue further or higher education. After spending several years working with children in various roles she took the decision to return to education full-time.

Claire admits it was difficult trying to juggle studying while working part- time, volunteering and raising a family

“It was extremely challenging at times trying to balance study with everything else that was going on in my life. I have a young daughter Cliodhna, who is eight and my son Declan has just completed his first year of university in Liverpool.

“I worked part-time with Barnados which provided me with the opportunity for further learning and development. There was never a quiet moment!”

In the second year of her degree Claire was diagnosed as dyslexic.

“When I found out I was dyslexic, it was a relief. Up to that point I had struggled to complete coursework and couldn’t understand why I didn’t do well in exams. The diagnosis helped me to understand why I hadn’t done better up to this point as I knew I was bright.”

Claire has secured a graduate role with Start360, Northern Ireland’s leading provider of support services to young people, adult offenders and families in the community, following a placement there during the final year of her degree.

“While completing my degree I had the opportunity to work with Start360, which helped me to grow both professionally and personally. I couldn’t believe it when they offered me a job. I love it! The mission statement of the organisation is ‘Change starts here’ which is a value that is very close to my heart. The majority of those who seek our services have mental health issues or are unemployed. I can make a real impact on their lives by providing support and just being that steady person in their life.

“Mental health is the same as physical health, we all need to be supported. Completing my degree has changed my life and has provided me with confidence I need to help to change to the lives of those in need.”