An Ingleby Barwick school girl who helps her mum run a local charity has become the youngest ever recipient of a Teesside Hero Award.
Charlotte Sands, who was 14 earlier this week, runs a unique charity project in memory of the young sister she lost when she was just six years old.
Sister Rebecca was just 21 months old when she lost her battle with a rare brain condition called Lissencaphaly in August 2010.
Parents Gemma and Michael Sands set up Remembering Rebecca, a charity to raise awareness of the condition and other neurological diseases.
They have now raised more than £200,000 to purchase specialist equipment for the children of local families who struggle to raise the necessary funds.
When she was just nine, Charlotte put to good use her own painful experience of losing her sister by launching Remembering Rebecca’s siblings project to create activities for the sisters and brothers of seriously ill Teesside children.
She has organised pamper days, pizza making sessions, pottery classes, Build-a-Bear sessions and trips to the cinema and theatre.
Charlotte, who attends All Saints School in Ingleby Barwick, said: “The charity has been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember – I even did a sponsored swim before Rebecca died because we needed to convert our garage into a light room for her.
“But my sister is always my inspiration.”
Explaining why she launched the sibling project, she said: “When you have a disabled sibling, it can be hard, especially if you’re only young too. The focus has to be on the one who is ill and your life can be different.
“When I was little, my parents were in and out of hospital with Rebecca, so that meant other people would often look after me or pick me up from school.
“It’s why I thought a siblings project would be a good idea, to reward the brothers and sisters for being understanding and patient.
“It really helps to make friends with other young people who understand your situation. Many of those we help are now close friends with people they wouldn’t have known without our project.”
Around 60 local youngsters regularly benefit from the siblings project, including a trip to see Cinderella at Middlesbrough Theatre this coming weekend.
Charlotte, who has also twice been winner of the Gazette’s Young Community Champion award, has also recently launched a Sibling of the Month award, rewarding those with ill or disabled siblings with shopping vouchers.
She received her Teesside Hero Award from charitable movement Teesside Philanthropic Foundation, with patron David Carter of local firm Carter Steel presenting her with a trophy, while her prize also includes a £1,000 donation to Remembering Rebecca.
After receiving her award, she admitted: “I just feel honoured to be picked out because there are loads of kids who help so much with different charities.
“Supporting Remembering Rebecca is just second nature to me – it’s part of my life.”
Charity trustee Christina Tomlinson, who nominated her for the award, said: “For a young lady of her age, Charlotte does so much for others. She is so committed to helping others and really cares about ensuring Rebecca’s memory lives on in a positive way.
“Charlotte remembers how difficult life is when you have an ill or disabled sibling, especially the endless hospital stays and appointments. She is so lovely with the children who are poorly and their siblings. She has a special bond with the children and loves to be part of each event.”