What are our Spirit of Community Alumni up to now?

We recently caught up with some of our Spirit of Community past finalists to find out about their current volunteering activities

 

Molly Gilmartin was a 2012 finalist from Belfast

Molly is now in her 5th year of medicine at Oxford University. During her time as RAG President she raised over £75,000 for a number of charities. She is also a member of the board for the Future Fertility Trust and recently presented at the British Association of Paediatric Surgeons on the development of the fertility preservation service in Oxford. Molly is now working with them to build a fundraising campaign to help expand their services and research.

Molly Blog pic

 

Adrian McMyler was a 2016 junior finalist from Buncrana, Co Donegal

Last year Adrian organised a Strictly Come Dancing fundraising event to raise money for those affected by cancer in his local area. Adrian raised an amazing €14,000 from the night and is now hoping to raise even more money at the ‘Strictly jiggly’ event on 11 February.

Adrian Blog pic

 

 

Carla McErlean tells us about her volunteering inspiration and experience

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A 2016 All Ireland Youth Volunteer of the Year- Carla McErlean, from Kilrea Co. Derry is a sixth form student at Loreto College, Coleraine, Co. Derry and was chosen as one of the winners of the 2016 Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards. Since the loss of her best friend in September 2014 to a brain tumour, Carla was motivated to do something out of the ordinary to make her friend proud by raising funds for cancer charities. Carla organised various events with her closest friends in memory of her friend Anna, raising over £11,000 for Cancer Fund for Children. She also coordinated ‘The Goosebury Festival,’ a special event held at Anna’s house which raised over £20,000 for Cancer Fund for Children and the Cancer Unit in Belfast.

"In March 2013, my best friend Anna McAllister was diagnosed with a brain tumour. She fought exceptionally hard until she spread her wings on the 19th September 2014, 18 months after she was first diagnosed. To me, her bubbly personality and radiating smile that shone through no matter how tough her life had got was enough to challenge me to do something out of the ordinary, just to make her proud. A skydive was something Anna had always wanted to do when she got better and so in her memory we went flying with our ‘little goose’. 

On 8th November 2014, in order to raise money for Cancer Fund for Children, a local charity that provides support to children and young people affected by cancer, I took part in a ‘Superhero Skydive’ accompanied by five of my best friends (called ‘The Gooses) and four family members, raising just over £11,000.  Additionally, in May 2015 I helped in the organisation of Goosebury Festival, again hoping to raise funds for both Cancer Fund for Children and the Children’s Cancer Unit, Belfast.  Other fundraising events organised by ‘The Gooses’ include tea parties, a celebration of Anna’s 18th birthday, nights out and street collections. 

Following my fundraising efforts, I humbly received a nomination for the ‘Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards’ from my school Principal, and unbeknown to me, I would be selected as one of the top 20 finalists.  Attending a thoroughly eye-opening awards night in the Solis Lough Eske Hotel, Donegal, in March 2016, I met and got to know some of the most inspirational young people this small country has to offer.  A series of ice-breaker games and giggles later, Niall Breslin (Bressie), gave an extremely humbling speech about his own first-hand experiences with mental health issues, something that has stuck with me ever since.  Without a doubt, the unique experience of participating in the 2016 Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards is something that I will treasure and to top it all off, I was selected as one of two All-Ireland Youth Volunteers of the Year, winning a once in a lifetime all-expenses paid trip to Washington D.C. at the end of April to take part in the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards ceremonies with honourees from all over the United States, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, China and Brazil.

For me, volunteering is something that has helped strengthen and inspire me to get through one of the most difficult periods of my life.  Keeping Anna’s memory ignited, as well as helping local children and young people facing similar situations in the process is something that is offered through volunteering and this is enough to encourage me, amongst others, to engage in these fundraising activities, not to mention the personal rewards gained.  I would strongly encourage all young people to get involved with your community and do a little bit, to make a big, big difference.  "

 

Sophie Donnelly tells us about her experience with the Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards

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Sophie Donnelly 19 of Gorey, Co. Wexford was a winner in the 2015 Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards. A former student at Presentation Secondary School, Co. Wexford, Sophie developed a keen interest in volunteering and is involved in raising awareness about mental health.  

How did it feel to receive the Pramerica Spirit of Community Award?

In March 2015 I was honoured to receive the Pramerica Spirit of Community award and receive the title of 2015 All Ireland Youth Volunteer of the Year. It was a very special moment to receive such a high accolade and I was lost for words on the night. Michael Keohane from Cork also won alongside me on the night, which was an extra special moment to share such as prestigious award with him. Michael has now become a lifelong friend.

How has your involvement in the Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards had a positive impact on your life / career?

The Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards was one of the greatest experiences of my life, it has given me the self-belief and confidence to keep going in volunteering and challenge myself even further. I've met so many new friends and learned of many new ways to both travel the world and different ways to volunteer.

Tell us a little about yourself.

Since losing my sister to suicide, I have immersed myself in raising awareness of how common mental illness can be, and promoting the message ‘it’s ok not to feel ok.’ I am passionate about breaking down the stigma and breaking the cycle of the increasing number of suicides across the island of Ireland. Over the past few years I’ve volunteered for various charities including Cycle Against Suicide, Console, Pieta House, St. Patrick’s Mental Health Hospital and Walk in my shoes.   

How have you been raising awareness about mental health?

While I’d love to explain the work I have been involved in previous to the awards, I’m instead going to share my journey after the awards. After being named 2015 All-Ireland Youth Volunteer of the Year in March 2015, I attended the Prudential Spirit of Community awards in Washington D.C and I donated my €1000 prize winnings to Console Wexford.

April:

  • I completed a 90ft abseil off the roof of Croke Park onto the pitch for the Charity Headstrong.
  • I organised along with my mental health team members at school to host a ‘Be Happy Week’ to encourage positivity around the school. I also invited guest speakers to my school to share their stories on mental health and to share with the students that it is a topic that we should feel comfortable to talk about.

May:

  • I took part in a 5km fun run at Phoenix Park with 500 students from around the country for the charity Cycle Against Suicide (CAS). Later on the same day I joined Jim Breen the founder of CAS on day 1 of his run around Ireland.

July:

  • In July I went to Pune India for 2 weeks.  I spent two weeks volunteering in a school/crèche called ‘Tara Mobile’ for children living in slums around a construction site. While the parents worked the children came to us. At the school I spent the mornings helping to plaster the inside walls of the school and in the afternoons after lunch I played games with the children and taught them the alphabet and counting. I also donated clothes and toys to the local orphanages and slums. In addition, a few of us gathered all of our remaining money together at the end of our trip and gave it to a young mother which would allow her to send her two children to an English speaking school. It was an amazing experience.

October

  • Once I was home from my volunteering in India I was keen to get stuck into action again. Within a few weeks I booked to spend a month in Tanzania. I flew out in mid-October and came back home in November. In Tanzania I carried out Voluntary Work experience at Iringa Regional Referral Hospital from 8:30-2pm Monday - Friday in the paediatric and Obstetrics & Gynaecology wards. In my spare time at the evening I volunteered at two orphanages, a 0-6 & 6-12. At the 0-6 each week I donated rice, sugar, baby formula, biscuits etc and then played for a few hours with the children and cuddling the babies. At the 6-12 orphanages I carried out community involvement which varied each week including washing furniture, washing flowers and helping with the cooking and washing clothes. On my last day I used 90% of my remaining money to buy baby clothes and under wear for the babies at the orphanages.

What advice would you give to other students considering entering the 2017 Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards?

For anyone who is involved in volunteering, the Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards is a fantastic programme and I would urge you to go for it. Through the Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards I have gained so much independence and confidence. I have made lifelong friends and memories and it has been a great year of non-stop adventures and happiness and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Each time I volunteer at home or abroad I learn something new and for me, it’s seeing others smile that makes it all the better.

Time for the next adventure…

Leigha Coade tells us her experience with the Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards

Leigha Coade 4Leigha Coade of Armagh, Co. Armagh, a student at St. Catherine’s College, was named an All-Ireland Youth Volunteer of 2013 for her work volunteering with children, fundraising events, a local charity shop and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

How did you hear about the Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards?
My school informed me.

Who nominated you?
My head teacher

What activities were you nominated for?
Fundraising mostly. And charitable volunteering.

How did you find out you were a top 20 finalist in the 2013 Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards?
My school received a letter and informed me straight away!

How did you feel being named 2013 All-Ireland Youth Volunteer of the Year?
Overwhelmed!

Tell us about your Washington, D.C. trip.
I had the best time ever! We got to meet so many inspirational people, and got involved in lots of activities.

What impact has the entire awards process had on you?
It gave me great self-satisfaction and makes me want to continue with my work as All-Ireland Youth Volunteer.

What would you say to other students who volunteer to encourage them to get involved?
Just do it! Don't even think about it as the results are amazing. You feel so good in yourself from giving something back.

What have you learned about yourself / the bigger picture?
I have learnt I can really push myself to reach the top. It only takes the small things.

What are you doing now - education, life, volunteering?
I am studying for my A2 Levels in secondary school. I am continuing with my fundraising for the CF Trust.

Orla Jackman tells us her experience with the Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards

Orla Jackman 4Orla Jackman, of Tullow, Co. Carlow, a student at Tullow Community School, was named an All-Ireland Youth Volunteer of 2013 for dedicating herself to raising awareness and funding for childhood cancer.

How did you hear about the Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards?
My school chaplain told me about the Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards.

Who nominated you?
My school chaplain Ms. O'Connor and principal Mr. Thornton nominated me for the Pramerica Awards.

What activities were you nominated for?
I fundraised for St. Johns ward, the cancer ward in Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin, as I was diagnosed with leukemia and spent nearly three years in St. Johns Ward and also at Barretstown Camp - a camp for kids with serious illnesses. I felt I just wanted to give something back. My volunteerism included two tractor runs, two cycles, auctions, raffles and a field day. I also designed the cover of a chemotherapy booklet and organised for my auntie to make Freddie bags, which the children use to keep their 'Freddie line' in. To date I have raised a little over €60,000.

How did you find out you were a top 20 finalist in the 2013 Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards?
My principal stopped me in the canteen while I was on my way to class and he asked me to come to his office with him and he told me I was had won €500 and I was picked as one of the 20 finalists in the 2013 Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards.

How did you feel being named 2013 All Ireland Youth Volunteer of the Year?
We attended the gala awards ceremony in March at the Lyrath Estate Hotel and when I heard 'and the winner is from Tullow Community School…' I was thinking ‘oh my God, that's me!’

I was in shock! I couldn't believe it! After hearing all the wonderful work the other 19 volunteers had done I was definitely not expecting to win. To think that I was named the All-Ireland Youth Volunteer of the year was just amazing, I just couldn't believe it. I was so excited when I heard that I was off to Washington and €1,000 was going to my charity.

Tell us about your Washington, D.C. trip.
On 3rd May 2013 I set off from Dublin Airport on a six-hour flight to Arlington. When Leigha (the other All-Ireland Youth Volunteer of the Year from Northern Ireland) and I arrived we were brought by the private taxi service to The Marriott Hotel just outside Washington, D.C. We arrived much earlier than everyone else so we decided to go shopping in Pentagon City so we took the metro! The next morning we went down for breakfast and afterwards we went to meet the international volunteers from Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and India. We exchanged gifts and had a short meeting. After our meeting we all did a short interview for YouTube. We had a free afternoon so we decided to rest, as we were tired after our long flight. That evening we went to an icebreaker where we were introduced to every other volunteer. We had our dinner and had some activities that night.

The Americans loved our accents! We had an early start the next morning as we were off to Arlington Cemetery. There we went to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Four of our volunteers placed a Spirit of Community Awards wreath on the grave. We then we to see JFK’s grave and took some photos.

After Arlington cemetery we headed for The Hard Rock Cafe! It was amazing everyone was up dancing with the staff! It was great fun! After the Hard Rock Cafe we were brought to Capitol Hill where we got our group photo! We all came back and headed for the 14th floor in the hotel for the project sharing event. Here we all sat in groups and told everyone what work we had done.

That night we headed to the National Awards where we met Hollywood actor Kevin Spacey who was the guest speaker. He was amazing. We got to talk individually to Kevin and got photographs with him. We heard everyone's amazing volunteer work. As we were the internationals we were presented with a star-shaped Tiffany & Co. crystal. We had food there and headed back to the hotel. The next morning we had another early start as we went to an elementary school where there we donated books and read to children.

We then went sightseeing around Washington, D.C. We went to see the White House and also the Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Memorial and the Korean War Memorial. In the afternoon we went to the U.S Awards Ceremony in the Chamber of Commerce. There we had a meal and the top 10 U.S. honourees were announced.

That night we all went on a riverboat cruise around Mount Vernon we had our dinner on the boat and had a party! That was nearly one of the best parts of the trip! We had so much fun! The next morning, our last day, the 102 American honourees returned home.

Our flights weren't until later that night so we the international honourees were taken on a surprise trip! On the bus we found out that we were going to be going Inside the White House! We were all so excited! It was amazing! We had a tour around the White House and then went for some food! Next stop was home! So Leigha and myself headed back to the hotel to collect our suitcases and said our last good byes! We headed off to Arlington Airport to get out flight to Boston and then to Dublin. While we were in the taxi, the taxi driver told us that Brad Pitt had sat in the seat Leigha was sitting in! We couldn't believe it! It was an amazing experience that I will never forget! I would go back in a heartbeat again. It was an unforgettable trip of a lifetime.

What impact has the entire awards process had on you?
Winning the Spirit of the Community Awards has been a huge impact on me, because when I won the awards I was in the newspapers and on the radio, everyone seemed to know about it. Some people did not realise the work I had done so winning the awards helped hugely as people wanted to help out and get involved even more. Just two weeks ago I had my third cycle, which had over 300 cyclists! I really think winning the Pramerica Awards helped hugely with my fundraising.

What would you say to other students who volunteer to encourage them to get involved?
I would definitely recommend and encourage anyone to get involved in the Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards, as it is a fantastic achievement and a trip of a lifetime to Washington, D.C. You get to meet so many great people and visit so many great places!

What are you doing now - education, life, volunteering?
I'm just after going into 5th year in Tullow Community School, two weeks ago I had my 3rd cycle 'Cycle with Orla for Crumlin with British and Irish lion Sean O'Brien'. An amazing three hundred cyclists took part. It was an amazing day so far we have raised €10,000 and we were still waiting on sponsorship cards to come in.