A PHILANTHROPIC woman is stepping down from the charity she founded more than 10 years ago after changing the lives of thousands of vulnerable woman and young people.

When Jessie Joe Jacobs started A Way Out in Stockton, the small community project had only £42 in the bank. It has grown to become an award-winning organisation employing 22 members of staff and bringing £500,000 of funding into the town.

As a former ‘Social Entrepreneur of the Year’, Miss Jacobs is remaining tight-lipped about what she will do when she when she steps down as chief executive in April, however, she has pledged to continue playing an ambassadorial role.

"Whatever I am doing I still want to contribute to the regeneration and transformation of the North-East,” she said.

“Everything I have seen over these last few months and even years give me the sense that something special will remain here and that it is time to hand over the reins.

“We have an incredible team some inspirational projects and a strong sense of togetherness. It is with this confidence I have decided to step down as chief executive in April of next year.”

The charity, based in Castlegate Quay, was launched in 2002 by Miss Jacobs when she saw a 15-year-old girl working as a prostitute. It now runs projects to engage young people before they get involved in serious addiction, crime or sexual exploitation.

“More than 5,000 people have been reached through our work, numerous families and young people whose lives we have helped transform,” she said.

Highlights include being invited to the wedding of a woman she first met when living on the streets and hadn’t seen her son for a year. “Seeing her take to the floor for her first dance after being reunited with her family was amazing,” she recalled.

“Seeing an end to addiction, poverty and sexual exploitation among women and young people in Stockton has been what I have given my life to for over 11 years.”

“It will be sad to no longer be at the forefront of all that happens here but my heart will continue to be for our work.”