This month we host Debbie Pezzani, CEO and Co-Founder of Teens Unite in our Coffee Chat. CAN community proudly helped Teens Unite raise funds with a Christmas pop-up shop in Old Street and Borough.
Teens Unite supports young people fighting cancer to live their best life: the chemotherapy, the hair loss, scars and operations are just part of the fight they face. The depression, anxiety, guilt, loneliness, physical disability and fear of never having children of their own one day, are sometimes the bigger battles for them to face.
The charity is now fulfilling its vision of opening the UK mainland’s first, purpose-built retreat for young people who have been diagnosed with cancer: The House of Teens Unite.
1) Your typical day
No two days are the same at Teens Unite, but that is one of the things I love about coming to work: it keeps things exciting.
On a typical day, I will arrive at the office and catch-up with the team; I will fill them in on meetings I have had and any follow-up work that needs to happen. After catching up on some emails, I usually have meetings booked in the diary: sometimes with existing supporters and sometimes with new partners to see how we can work together to help raise vital funds and awareness.
I will often join a team member to run the activities we organise for the young people we support, which brings them together with others their age who are fighting cancer. This is the best part of the job: I love getting to know the young people and supporting them throughout their journey.
2) You’re responsible for…
As the CEO and Co-Founder of Teens Unite, I work alongside the Trustee Board and Senior Management Team to ensure we are delivering our strategy and reaching our goals; from hitting fundraising targets and increasing our service output to raising brand awareness.
3) How do you feel working for Teens Unite?
I founded Teens Unite almost 13 years ago, alongside my friend Karen Millen OBE. It was my passion back then to make a difference to young people fighting cancer and it remains my passion today. I am in a fortunate position to be working in a job I love, that is genuinely making a difference to the lives of others.
I feel privileged to meet and spend time with such inspirational teenagers and young adults. What is special about Teens Unite is the ongoing support we provide: it means that we get to know the young people over several years. We become a vital support network, helping them through the highs and lows of their cancer journey.
4) Your greatest achievement
Without a doubt, founding the charity is mine and Karen’s biggest achievement.
Teens Unite was founded in 2007, initially supporting 12 young people who had been diagnosed with cancer. The charity started operating from ‘office space’ in my home. In 2011 we opened our offices in Broxbourne and now 12 years on, we are striving to open the UK mainland’s first, purpose-built retreat for young people who have been diagnosed with cancer, which will be known as The House of Teens Unite.
I am proud to say that we have now supported over 1200 teenagers and young adults. When you see how far these young people have come and how they are progressing in life with the help of Teens Unite, it brings the biggest smile to my face.
Teens Unite has grown so much over the past 12 years and I could not have done it without a dedicated team and such committed supporters by my side.
Teens Unite has now entered an exciting new chapter as we have secured 7.5 acres of land to build The House of Teens Unite. There’s still a long way to go before this can happen, but it is high on the list of greatest achievements!
5) Your greatest challenge
Quite simply, raising funds is an ongoing challenge.
Teens Unite receives no statutory funding: we are a self-funded charity working tirelessly to raise every penny needed to deliver the activities we organise for young people fighting cancer. For every pound we raise, 89p is spent on charitable activities.
We have now set ourselves our largest fundraising challenge to date as we strive to raise the funds needed for the building to commence for The House of Teens Unite.
6) What have you learnt so far?
Over the years, I have had to come to terms with the fact that we can't change the fate of the young people we support or the medical challenges they have to face. But what we can do is to ensure they are living the best life they possibly can.
The time I have spent with the young people over the years has given me a greater understanding of what they are missing and how Teens Unite can meet their social and emotional needs.
As a result of cancer treatment in young people 80% experience anxiety and depression, 95% experience a negative impact on their physical ability and 87% have lost contact with their peers.
I have learnt the value of the activities we organise, and we have developed them over time to ensure they benefit the young people as much as they can. Not only are they brought together with other young people who genuinely understand, but they also learn new skills, challenge themselves, recognise their potential and see that there is life beyond cancer.
7) Your plan B…
There is no Plan B! The incidence rate of cancer in teenagers and young adults has increased by 28% since the 1990’s and seven teenagers hear the words “you have cancer” every day in the UK.
Of those diagnosed 84% of teenagers and young adults survive their diagnosis for at least five years but need ongoing support to overcome the long-lasting and often life-changing side effects.
That is why we desperately need to build The House of Teens Unite so that we can make a difference to more young people.
8) Coffee or Tea?
Coffee – milk, no sugar.
9) Your favourite quote…
“Live your best life.” This is the ethos at Teens Unite. Tomorrow is never guaranteed for any of us, so we need to make every day the best it can be.
10) Your inspiration?
Without a doubt the young people supported by Teens Unite are my inspiration – they are at the heart of the charity. Their determination, strength, courage and bravery never cease to amaze me.
They push me to achieve goals in my personal life and drive Teens Unite forward. I have now completed seven overseas cycling challenges for Teens Unite, which have been such tough experiences, but nothing compared to what the young people endure. They are at the forefront of my mind and always keep me pedalling.