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.