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Ireland’s Top Youth Volunteers Announced


Youth volunteers from across the island of Ireland whose work includes volunteering with the homeless, and raising awareness of organ donation have today been announced as the finalists of the 2017 Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards. The only all-Ireland youth initiative of its kind, the program rewards post-primary students for outstanding acts of volunteerism and the positive contribution they make in their local communities and further afield.

“The 20 finalists are extremely passionate about the work they carry out in their local community, and their stories are truly inspiring,” said Andrea McBride, vice president, Pramerica Systems Ireland. “From supporting young people with Down syndrome to travelling to work in an orphanage abroad, they are aiding a broad range of charities and organisations through their selfless acts of volunteerism.”

“It’s humbling to see the commitment and dedication from these young people, and we are honoured to recognise the volunteering they are doing in their local schools, communities and abroad to make the lives better of those less fortunate than themselves.”

The post-primary students, who hail from all corners of Ireland, will be presented with €500 and an engraved silver medallion at the gala awards ceremony on 23rd March at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Dublin with special guest speaker Irish international rugby player, Jordi Murphy. At the gala, two of the 20 students will be named All-Ireland Youth Volunteers of the Year, receiving €1,000, a gold medallion, a crystal trophy for their school and an all-expenses-paid trip to the United States in May to participate in the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards ceremony.

The programme is run in partnership with the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) and the General Teaching Council for Northern Ireland (GTCNI).  The programme is also supported by Volunteer Now, Volunteer Ireland, Scouting Ireland and Foróige. 

For more information about the 2017 Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards, follow the Pramerica Spirit of Community Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter feed @Pramerica_SOC, or visit

The 20 finalists are:
Emily Duffy, from Newcastle West, Co.  Limerick, a sixth year student at Desmond College, volunteers with the Mendicity charity and developed the Duffily bag designed to protect homeless people that is now manufactured by service users of the charity. 

Emily was initially moved by the high levels of homelessness in her community which she learnt about through her school, and was motivated by the struggles faced by homeless people daily. She began volunteering with Mendicity, a charity that employs homeless men and helps enable them to start a new life. Working closely with the service users, Emily ensured that her invention met their needs and requirements and also developed a production process with them to ensure efficient production. Emily spent countless hours on the final design and production of the Duffily Bag that now protects homeless people from the harsh conditions they experience living on the streets. She also undertook a significant fundraising campaign to allow for the distribution of the bags and together with a mentor, has also had the bags delivered to refugee camps in France in Calais and Dunkirk. 

“Emily has made a difference to our world. Her actions have improved the lives of countless people, said School principal Vourneen Gavin Barry. “There was no gain or advantage in this for Emily except that she wants to make the world a better place. She is a wonderful young woman.”

Ashling Dunphy, from Carrick-on-Suir, Co Tipperary, a fourth year student at Comeragh College, motivation for volunteering first came from the negative profile of young people in her town and to alter stereotypes with which young people are often associated.  
In January 2016, Ashling’s town was devastated by Storm Frank and the footage of local families being evacuated from their homes inspired her to help the clean-up operation, and to assist those who had lost their homes, or whose homes had been damaged to start putting their lives back together. Ashling’s initiative started with a post on Facebook and grew to a fully-fledged operation with her leading a team of 11 young people. She worked closely with Foróige and Carrick-on-Suir River Rescue and liaised with authorities in terms of regulations and permission to carry out the work. A huge part of her clean-up initiative was offering comfort and support to those affected, especially the elderly, who named Ashling and her group ‘the Angels in Wellies.’
“Ashling is a very caring and genuine person who only wants the best for people in her own local town and in Ireland,” said Deputy school principal Kathleen O’Donovan Ryan. “She is a true gem and someone very few teachers will ever have the good fortune to encounter in their teaching career. For me, she has renewed my faith in young people and given me hope for the future.”

Eric Flaherty, from Portumna, Co. Galway, a sixth year student at Portumna Community School, produced a CD to raise money for the Share A Dream Foundation (SADF) after his seven-year-old sister was diagnosed with a brain tumour. 

When SADF made his sister’s dream come true by giving her a Pug for Christmas, Eric wanted other families to experience the same joy. Along with his friend they recorded and released a CD with all proceeds going directly to SADF. Eric secured sponsorship for a day in a recording studio, designed the artwork, arranged a launch night, contacted local media and engaged local businesses to support the launch of the CD. Over 500 copies of the album were sold and along with downloads, Eric raised over €4,000 for the charity. 

“A gifted musician, Eric used his talents to create something new to enable others to ease suffering, to lighten a burden, to bring joy where there was sadness and make a childhood more than it was,” commented School principal John Long. “Eric has shown the power that young people have when they reflect on their experience, use their talents to act together, harness the support of their families and seek to make life more bearable for others.”

Lisa Gallagher, from Belmullet, Co. Mayo, a fifth year student at St Brendan’s College is involved with Erris Children of Chernobyl (ECC) and volunteers with the Burren Chernobyl Project. Motivated by her Mum who founded ECC in 2003 sending aid to Belarus and bringing children to Ireland, Lisa was inspired by the children that she met and wanted to travel to an orphanage herself.

Following months of fundraising where she raised €12,000, in May 2016 Lisa and a group of school friends travelled to Gorodishche Orphanage in Belarus to help the nurses there and give one-to- one attention to the children. Over the course of the week Lisa developed a special bond with the children spending time with them and making them smile over the simplest of activities. The trip made Lisa realise that it’s the small things in life that make a real difference and hopes to visit the orphanage again in the future.

Commenting on Lisa’s volunteer work her teacher Stephanie O’Sullivan said, “Lisa is without doubt one of the most inspirational and passionate people I have ever had the pleasure to teach over the years. My proudest moment was seeing Lisa deliver her heart-warming account of her visit to Belarus. This young girl who had worked so hard to secure her vision has changed the lives of so many people.”

Chelsea Gibson from Cashel, Co. Tipperary, a sixth year student at Cashel Community School, has been volunteering in her community for nine years and is inspired by finding new and innovative ways to help others. 
Chelsea began her volunteering career with the Order of Malta and is heavily involved in cadet training, the senior unit and community care. As an Order of Malta cadet she is often to be found attending duties at national and local events including the National Ploughing Championships. She is also a member of her local Youth Project, for which she sits on the Junior Board of Management and has trained specifically to be able to volunteer for seasonal camps for primary school children and those with disabilities. She also works with the Youth Work Ireland National Youth Action Group which works to ensure that voices of young people in this country are heard.
“Chelsea is a wonderful example of someone choosing to ‘do all the good that you can, when and wherever you can,’ said Deputy school principal Margaret Moore. She is an extremely self-effacing young lady who has met significant challenges in her personal life. Instead of using these as an excuse to abdicate from the responsibilities of young adulthood, she has used these experiences to grow and develop into an extremely emphatic young lady.”

Aoife Gillespie from Stranorlar, Co. Donegal, a sixth year student at St Columba’s College, Stranorlar has been volunteering her entire life and is motivated when she sees the difference it can bring to the lives of others. 
Aoife is the deputy mayor of the Donegal Youth Council (DYC)and has worked with numerous organisations including the Health Service Executive (HSE) and the Road Safety Authority (RSA) to highlight mental health issues, internet safety and road safety. Having personally witnessed the tragic impact of cyber bullying and road traffic accidents in her local area, Aoife used the impact that these events had on her to raise awareness of these issues among students, politicians and other organisations nationally. Through her work with DYC, Aoife also worked with their Shake Up Sports initiative to encourage young people who have dropped out of sports to try new sporting activities. She has also been involved with Cycle Against Suicide and Donegal Road Safety.
“Aoife has contributed in a very positive way to life at St Columba’s,” says Guidance Counsellor Georgina White. “Her volunteering shows a selfless willingness to contribute for the overall good of other students and the school in general. Aoife enjoys helping others and she is a caring person by nature.”

Chantelle Hutchinson from Belfast, Co Antrim is a sixth year student at Ashfield Girls’ High School and was motivated to volunteer by witnessing the plight of those less fortunate than herself, such as those who are homeless, who have disabilities and even those suffering through crises abroad. Chantelle believes that everyone deserves equal opportunity and it was important to her to be actively involved in bringing this about. 
Chantelle volunteers with Northern Ireland Children’s Enterprise (NICE) where she works tirelessly on a number of projects at home and abroad. She has volunteered at the Welcome Centre, a homeless shelter in Belfast, travelled to New Orleans to help those affected by Hurricane Katrina, and was part of a team that travelled to Poland to help build and renovate flats for young offenders. She is also a volunteer coach with PeacePlayers and works with a senior team, Champions for Peace, in addition to taking part in peace trips to Cyprus where she volunteered with cross community workshops to help break down divisions within the community there. Chantelle also dedicates time to Friends of Cancer. 
“Chantelle is an exemplary pupil in every respect in her time at Ashfield Girls’ High School,” said School principal Alison Mungavin. “Despite facing very difficult personal difficulties, she has always shown a positive and caring attitude to life and to others.”

Caitlin Kane, from Belfast, Co. Antrim is a sixth year student from St Louise’s Comprehensive College and was motivated by a simple question put to her by a mentor at St. James’s Community Forum. When asked how she contributed to her community, she couldn’t answer. Caitlin took that moment and adapted her lifestyle from what she considered a ‘cool teenager’ just hanging around streets with her friends, to a hardworking and valuable contributor to her community. 
Caitlin used her experience of anti-social behaviour and its impacts on communities to highlight the realities of drug and alcohol abuse and the homelessness crisis in Belfast. She engaged with external agencies to gain advice and information for her and other young people at the St James’s Community Youth Forum on how best to aid homeless people, and how they as a group could adapt their approach to people in this vulnerable position. Caitlin began by distributing warm clothes, sleeping bags and hot food to homeless people in the city and she also embarked on a fundraising campaign to enable Eoghan Kenny, from Mallow, Co. Cork, a fourth year student at the Patrician Academy, was motivated to give back to his community following a devastating fire at his school.

her to further her work. This included ‘Welcome to Belfast’ gifts for refugees and she has also organised a Christmas dinner for young people in her community in a local restaurant. 
“Caitlin has developed into a stronger, more mature, responsible young lady who wants to give something back to her community,” said School principal Mary McHenry. “She is making a positive contribution to her school and her community and has made huge positive changes to her own life and others.”


Bartek Karpinski, from Castleblayney, Co. Monaghan is a sixth year student at Castleblayney College. His personal experience of immigration in Ireland led him to work within his own community to change the approach of people towards non-nationals arriving and living in the country.
Arriving in Ireland from Poland with his family 10 years ago and with limited knowledge and little English proficiency.  Bartek bravely committed to after-school activities and the local GAA club in order to improve his English, make friends and settle in with his new community. He believes he can lead by example for younger generations who may be struggling in similar situations and ‘being different’. 
Bartek takes part in a number of volunteering activities, most notably with the Castleblayney Enterprise Centre for whom he has actively participated in the organisation and implementation of local festivals and events. He has also volunteered with the Irish Farmers Association’s Mental Health Walk, the Local Community Parkrun which takes place every Saturday in his town in addition to volunteering work for his local parish church. 
“Bartek is obliging, helpful and selfless. All of his successes and achievements are hallmarked by these traits of character,” said School principal Gerard Hand. “When he leaves school at the end of this academic year our school, our students, our staff and the wider community will be much the better for having known him and his myriad of good words for other people.”

Eoghan Kenny, from Mallow, Co. Cork, a fourth year student at the Patrician Academy, was motivated to give back to his community following a devastating fire at his school. Eoghan is dedicated to volunteering in order to positively impact his community and he does this any way he can. His volunteering activities can’t be limited to one organisation or group of people. He helps out at his local church and gives his time to read at mass and he is member of the Mallow Parish Pastoral Council. He led his school council in organising Christmas food hampers for local Mallow charities and gave his time to help at a Christmas party for the elderly in his area. Eoghan also trains the local under 11’s hurling and football teams for two hours twice a week and he is also volunteering with the organisation team behind Munster Maths and Science Fair. 
“Eoghan has so much to give and we are very fortunate for having him as part of our school community,” said teacher Annette Harte. “People who make changes at local level are the very people who go on to inspire others. Eoghan epitomises what community spirit is all about.”

Hannah Lyons, from Eglinton, Co. Derry, a sixth year student at Thornhill College, Derry, volunteers with ChildLine and Foyle Down Syndrome Trust.  Inspired by her parents, who made huge sacrifices and fostered children when she was growing up, Hannah realised how privileged she was and wanted to become a more active member of the community.  

At the Foyle Down Syndrome Trust, Hannah supports young people with Down syndrome to reach their personal goals, encourage participation and ensure everyone has fun while also helping them make greater strides towards independence. Volunteering with ChildLine once a week, Hannah operates the switchboard and is the first point of contact for children in need. She wants to be able to counsel for ChildLine in the future as she believes it is such a necessary and important service.

“As head of sixth form, Hannah has made a very positive contribution not only in school but to her local community through the wide range of voluntary work that she has been involved in,” said Sixth Form Head Declan McCay. “Her inspiration comes from home, her parents have looked after young people in very difficult situations and Hannah simply wants to do the same.”

Clíodhna Malone from Newbridge, Co Kildare, a fifth year student from Holy Family Secondary School, began volunteering at the age of nine to help her brother who has autism, and her friend who has Down syndrome. 
Clíodhna volunteers with Jumping Jellybeans which is a club for children with special needs and encourages the children there to take part in the classes and helps them follow instructions. She is a buddy to many children at the club who have autism, Down syndrome and chromosome disorders. Through her work at the Club, Clíodhna was introduced to CARA Projects, a charity that completes volunteering projects in Kenya. In February 2016 she travelled to Nairobi to volunteer at a Girls Refuge Centre. She was the youngest member of the team and she raised over €2,000 for the organisation. 
“Clíodhna has consistently shown herself to be a caring, compassionate, positive and co-operative person,” says School principal Angela Ryan. She is bright articulate and hugely empathetic to the needs of those around her.”

Eimear Mansfield from Waterford, Co. Waterford, a fifth year student at Newtown School, Waterford, was inspired to volunteer after a visit by Jonathan Irwin of the Jack and Jill Foundation to her school. She was deeply affected by the story of his son Jack and was motivated to do what she could to make a difference to the lives of children and their families. 
Eimear set up an initiative called ‘Hares on the March Waterford’ with her classmates which was a variation of the existing Dublin initiative. The project was logistically challenging as it involved sending plain hare statues to different schools in the area to be decorated by students, sponsorship by local businesses, and finally, placing the hares at different locations across the town as landmarks on a 5km fitness trail. To do so, Eimear liaised with primary and secondary schools, scouted key locations and secured permission at high-profile spots with high footfall such as the Waterford Crystal Visitors Centre, and also negotiated sponsorship with local businesses. The project raised nearly €14,000 for the Jack and Jill Foundation, and Eimear continues to raise awareness of the charity through talks and presentations in surrounding schools. 
“Eimear was a superb leader in the Hares on the March Project,” said School principal Keith Lemon. “She inspired the rest of the TY students to work with her and create a project that was one of the most talked about and unique projects ever done in our school by TY students.”

Rachel McGowan, from Derry, a sixth year student from St. Cecilia’s College, volunteers with a unique holistic drop in centre for young people who are affected by addiction called HURT (Have Your Tomorrows). 

Inspired when the founder of the group spoke at one of her school assembly’s, Rachel was motivated to try and help her peers who were becoming involved in alcohol and drugs. She is now a qualified mentor and delivers talks to youth groups on the dangers of alcohol and drugs.  She designed and produced a poster and DVD regarding foetal alcohol syndrome. Rachel is also a keen member of her school choir and wrote a single to raise funds for the HURT centre.

“Rachel’s contribution to her community is nothing less than outstanding”, said school principal Martine Mulhern. “A modest girl, Rachel benefits all those she works with and continues to give people in her local area the most important gift of all…her time!”

Matthew McNeive, from Knock, Co. Mayo, a sixth year student from St. Louis Community School, Kiltimagh, was diagnosed with kidney failure at birth.  As a result of receiving a transplant, he wants to raise organ donor awareness and inspire others to live a healthy active lifestyle. 

Having been on dialysis and in and out of hospital for most of his life, once Matthew received his transplant he was motivated to heighten the awareness of organ donation and the importance of carrying a donor card. He also wanted to encourage those on the transplant waiting list to not rule out playing sports and continuing to have an active lifestyle. Through competing in The European Transplant and Dialysis Sports Championships in Finland Matthew hopes to inspire others and get them thinking about sports again.

“Matthew is an inspirational young man,” commented School principal Cahil Doherty. “Not only does he excel in his work raising awareness of organ donation, he is fully committed to voluntary programmes within his school as well as working with his local Foroige club. Matthew gives willingly to others and is a true ambassador for overcoming adversity.”

Dylan Nesbitt from Convoy, Co. Donegal, a fourth year student at Deele College, Raphoe, is a dedicated member of his local GAA club and began showing up at the junior teams’ training to help out as he knew the club was under resourced from a coaching perspective. 
Seeing the impact of his volunteering on both the club and the junior members, Dylan was inspired to commit to the club the best way he could on a long term basis. To do so, he undertook hours of official training, from coaching to child safety, in his own time to ensure that his work would have the most positive affect possible. Dylan spends a lot of his personal time outside of school at the club helping out and foregoes socialising and spending time with his friends to do so. 
“Dylan is very dedicated young man who loves a challenge and has such a caring heartfelt attitude to life that would inspire many people,” said School principal Joe Boyle. “Even in the face of a lot of personal loss and challenging times he comes out with hope that endures and carried him through.”

Olivia Price, from Belfast, Co. Antrim, a sixth year student at Our Lady and St. Patrick’s College, Knock, volunteers with people with learning difficulties and dances in nursing homes for the residents over the Christmas holidays. 

Olivia’s motivation to volunteer derives initially from growing up with her two cousins who have autism and her aunt who is profoundly deaf. Her Mum, who is a nurse, has also been a great source of inspiration. Olivia also spent the summer helping Spanish students improve their English and volunteered at the ‘The Bounce! Festival’, an event designed to showcase disabled artists using a range of art forms.

Speaking about Olivia her School principal Dermot Mullan said, “Olivia’s voluntary work over the past five years is testimony to her spirit of independence and willingness to make life better for others. Her commitment and dedication to helping others is well documented and she has a genuinely caring nature.”

Lucia Quinney Mee, from Ballycastle, Co. Antrim, a sixth year student at Cross and Passion College, had her first liver transplant at the age of eight. Following two additional transplants, Lucia is extremely passionate about the incredible gift that organ donation is and in 2015 set up the campaign ‘Live Loudly Donate Proudly’. 

Lucia believes that education is key and strives to get organ donation onto the national school curriculum to encourage young people to have educated conversations with family and friends regarding their decision about organ donation. A keen swimmer, Lucia has also competed in the British and World Transplant Games which highlights that the gift of life allows people not only to live, but to thrive.  Having just been selected for the 2017 World Transplant Games in Malaga, she wants to make organ donation the norm rather than the exception with ordinary conversations leading to extraordinary gifts.

“Joyful, vibrant and committed” are words Principal Paul McLean used to describe Lucia. “She has accomplished and experienced more in her short years than many of us will over the course of our lives. Lucia has demonstrated an extreme ambition to give back to the donor families who gave her life and to inform others to have a considered conversation with loved one about their wishes.”

Daniel Ritchie from Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim, a sixth year student in Carrickfergus Grammar School was motivated to do more for his community through the YMCA and had several discussions with his leaders there as to how he could apply his skills. Daniel knew from his personal experience with having a parent with a disability that there was a real need for help in this area. 
Daniel dedicated his time to the YMCA youth club and to the Get Set for Community Action programme which was supported by the British Olympic Committee. The Get Set programme involved the roll out of two Olympic-themed events for two vastly different groups; 100 adults with severe mental and physical disabilities known as Carrickfergus Senior Gateway, and the 30 elderly residents of One Irish Gate in Carrickfergus. Daniel helped design and activate a Mini-Olympic night for Gateway with appropriately adapted activities for all the disabilities of participants to ensure that all 100 could take part and enjoy the event and have a positive experience. He also devised an Olympic-themed quiz for the elderly residents of One Irish Gate. He took this challenge very seriously, dedicating hours of his time to delivering questions that could be understood by residents but that would also challenge and intrigue them. 
“Daniel is a gem,” says School principal Kieran Mulvenna. “He is a quiet, self-effacing and earnest young man, who unlike many others, turned the suffering of a long-term debilitating illness by his father into a life-affirming positive. I know that he will continue to give his best, quietly and caringly.”

Martha Tuohy, from Portumna, Co. Galway, a fourth year student from Portumna Community School was inspired to volunteer after the serious diagnosis of her friend’s little sister. Witnessing the ordeal experienced by her friend and her sister led Martha to volunteer for the Share a Dream Foundation (SADF). 
Martha, with her friend, devised ‘Unplugged’, a charity CD in aid of SADF. Together they selected a range of songs, travelled to a studio in Dublin and recorded ‘Unplugged’ for the Share a Dream Foundation. In order to maximise sales and donations they devised a marketing campaign and made their CD available digitally. They relied heavily on social media and spent countless hours promoting the CD with media outlets and radio stations explaining the cause behind it. Thanks to their hard work, their CD sold out by the end of the first week. The sales raised over €4,000, enough funds to make two dreams come true. 
“I believe what Martha has done is an example of the best of what our young people can do,” says School principal John Long. “She has shown the power that young people have when they reflect on their experience, use their talents to act together, harness the support of their families and communities and seek to make life more bearable for others.”


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