Colm Mooney, 18, of Castleknock, Dublin, and Lisa O'Reilly, 17, of Ballykeefe, Co. Limerick, were named All Ireland Youth Volunteers of the Year last night at a ceremony at the Hilton Hotel in Belfast to mark the second annual Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards.
"These extraordinary young people exemplify the spirit of community that is so important to the future of our cities, towns and rural areas. By honouring them, we hope not only to give them the recognition they so richly deserve, but also to inspire others to follow their example," said Henry McGarvey, managing director of Pramerica Systems Ireland, which sponsors the Pramerica Spirit of Community programme in partnership with the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) and the General Teaching Council for Northern Ireland (GTCNI). The programme was introduced last year to encourage youth volunteerism throughout the island of Ireland and to identify and reward young role models.
Colm and Lisa were among 20 Finalists from both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, who were honoured at the event for outstanding volunteer service. Each of the Finalists received a personal award of €500 and an engraved silver medallion presented by Mc Garvey and the North's Education Minister Caitriona Ruane MLA.
Colm and Lisa also received engraved gold medallions, crystal trophies for their schools and €1,000 grants for charitable organisations of their choice. They also will be flown to Washington, D.C., in early May to take part in a gathering of top youth volunteers from several other countries at the recognition events for the Prudential Spirit of Community awards, sponsored by Prudential Financial, Inc.* (PFI), the parent company of Pramerica Systems Ireland.
"I am amazed by the strength of character and human kindness displayed by the young people here tonight. It is quite remarkable to meet 20 outstanding young people who are so dedicated to voluntary activities in so many different areas," said Minister Ruane. "I truly believe that all of them will continue to give so generously of their time to charity and I am thrilled that the Pramerica Spirit of Community Award exists in order to recognise their excellent work. It is a fantastic collaboration with involvement from the GTCNI and the NAPD."
Colm, a sixth year student at Castleknock Community College and a cancer survivor was instrumental in creating a booklet about cancer that was written specifically for teenagers. He is being honoured for his commitment, strength and determination to share his experiences. He is also a volunteer with the group CanTeen Ireland and has raised €22,000 for cancer research.
The booklet, 'What's Going On? A Guide for Teenagers with Cancer,' was particularly important as there was no up-to-date literature in Ireland for teenagers suffering from cancer. Colm was a member of the Editorial Committee and used his own experience with cancer to re-edit the booklet, which was officially launched at a ceremony at the Mansion House in Dublin last September. Colm was a featured speaker at the event.
Since then, the booklet has been read by teenagers throughout Ireland. In addition, it has been distributed to consultants, surgeons and nurses to give them a deeper understanding into the mindset of a teenager with cancer.
Lisa, a sixth year student at Salesian College, Pallaskenry, Co. Limerick, is being honoured for her work with people with HIV and AIDS in southern Africa and also for raising enough money to build six hospice homes. She also volunteers in her home town of Ballykeefe with the deaf and with the elderly.
June 2006 saw Lisa travel with her teacher, Fr. Martin McCormack, to Swaziland, Lesotho and South Africa where she witnessed first-hand the devastation of HIV and AIDS on babies, children and young adults. She was impacted so much by what she saw that she devoted herself to raising money to build hospice homes in Swaziland. To date, Lisa has to raised €66,000 - enough money to build six homes.
Lisa also volunteers in a local school for the deaf one evening a week and at St. Paul's Nursing Home for the sick and elderly after school each day, and she spearheads the Shoe Box campaign in November and December.
Lisa plans to revisit Africa after her Leaving Certificate and maintains that her "enthusiasm and refusal to give up on the Africa project got people on board."
The selection committee that chose the two All-Ireland Youth Volunteers of the Year included Nobel Peace Prize Laureate John Hume, NAPD Director Aine O'Neill, GTCNI Chairperson Sally McKee, Concern CEO Tom Arnold and McGarvey of Pramerica.
"NAPD is delighted to be associated with the Spirit of Community programme," said O'Neill. "The role of school leadership includes encouraging students to engage in positive action beyond the classroom. Spirit of Community creates an excellent opportunity to do this. By instigating this scheme jointly with NAPD and GTCNI, Pramerica is creating valuable links between school leaders across the island of Ireland."
McKee said, "The Spirit of Community Awards recognises the positive contribution that many young people make to their local communities. The form of active citizenship which it promotes is a central feature of citizenship education in Northern Ireland's schools, which encourages young people to engage positively with their communities for their mutual benefit. In promoting this award, in partnership with GTCNI and NAPD, Pramerica is providing important recognition to young people and their schools."
Application forms for the awards programme were distributed last autumn throughout post-primary and second-level schools on the island of Ireland. 20 Finalists were selected in February, based on criteria such as personal initiative, creativity, effort, impact and personal growth. The Finalists were presented with Certificates of Achievement at their schools by officials of Pramerica, NAPD and GTCNI and received further recognition at last night's dinner.
Read more about the 2008 Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards Finalists here.
Also serving on the selection committee are NAPD President, Aine O'Neill, GTCNI Chairperson, Sally McKee, Concern CEO Tom Arnold and Henry McGarvey, Managing Director of Pramerica.