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

SOPHIE REAL BLOG PIC

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…