By Tony Dewhurst
The second Football League Trust National Citizen Service Graduation Ceremony, sponsored by npower, saw hundreds of teenagers celebrate their special day in the IndigO2 at London's 02 Arena.
This summer, the O2 Arena hosted artistic gymnastics, trampoline gymnastics and basketball finals during the Olympic Games, and then wheelchair basketball during the Paralympics, but this time hundreds of teenagers from across the nation took their turn on the podium as the venue's new stage stars.
Launched last year, the National Citizen Service brings together 16-year-olds from different backgrounds in a programme of challenge and learning, enabling them to develop the confidence they need to become more involved with their communities and to become more responsible citizens.
And the teenagers, attached to 15 football clubs, showcased their incredible work at the glittering awards bash ahead of England's 5-0 World Cup victory over San Marino, where they were honoured as VIP guests at Wembley Stadium.
The Graduation Ceremony was hosted by BBC sports presenter, Manish Bhasin, who said: "All these young people deserve special praise."
Proud graduate Dana Earl, an NCS volunteer from Plymouth Argyle, said the scheme had inspired her: "The National Citizen Service was a life-changing experience for me."
"I made a lot of new friends, people I don't normally hang around with. I would recommend NCS to everybody 100% - if I had chance to do it again, I would."
Christie Lynaugh from Scunthorpe United, said: "The National Citizens Service was a brilliant experience. It challenged me and pushed me."
In South Yorkshire, the National Citizen Service team from Barnsley helped renovate an allotment used by adults with learning difficulties, while in the West Country, the Plymouth Argyle NCS volunteers worked alongside St Lukes Hospice and The British Red Cross.
Nick Hurd MP, The Government's Minister for Civil Society, praised the 'incredible work' done by the graduates and thanked The Football League Trust for their fantastic support.
He said: "Over the summer I've met hundreds of young people all over England taking part in the National Citizen Service.
"Everyone I spoke to was overwhelmingly positive about the National Citizen Service.
"NCS is about giving young people the opportunity to do something fun and challenging but also to empower them, so that they know that they can make a difference in their local community."
Mr Hurd added: "I'm sick and tired of hearing about the negative stereotype of young people, these fantastic youngsters volunteered nearly three quarters of a million hours of their time to do great work to help make their community better."
At Sheffield Wednesday, NCS volunteers dedicated a fortnight of their time at Richmond Park, helping the park rangers with gardening tasks and creating a mosaic which will be on display to welcome people into the park.
Former Home Secretary David Blunkett, who visited the NCS scheme at Sheffield Wednesday, said: "It is fantastic to see such committed and motivated young people giving something back to their communities through the National Citizen Service."
Sky Sports News TV presenter Millie Clode, a National Citizens Service ambassador, brought a touch of glamour to the proceedings.
She presented Leyton Orient with the 2012 Social Action Project of the Year prize and said: "I wanted to support this incredible scheme because The National Citizen Service is a way of giving young people the life skills and confidence they need.
"They are truly inspirational teenagers and they should all be proud of their achievements."
The enthusiastic audience were treated to a special dance routine by NCS Leyton Orient graduate Caleb LaFronte and Orient volunteer Deborah Oloyede said: "Winning the award is something we'll remember for the rest of our lives."
Great Britain Olympic football stars, Ellen White and Steph Houghton, gave out the award for Team Of The Year, won by Rotherham United, who produced a young people's newspaper - with 20,000 copies circulated to the local community.
Georgie Davis, from Charlton Athletic, lifted The NCS Graduate of the Year prize, presented by Clare McDougall, Head of Community and Education at npower.