All-Ireland Youth Volunteers of the Year announced at virtual awards' ceremony

All-Ireland Youth Volunteers of the Year announced at virtual awards’ ceremony

15 September 2020

Two outstanding youth volunteers from Belfast and Cork have been announced as the winners of the 2020 Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards, the only all-Ireland youth initiative of its kind celebrating young people’s inspirational volunteering efforts.

Aaron Smith, a sixth-year student at St Louise’s Comprehensive in Belfast and Liadh Hanley, a sixth-year student from St Angela’s College, Cork were selected from hundreds of youth volunteers across Ireland and recognised for their exemplary work in their local community.

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the awards celebration was a little different this year, marking a unique milestone for the Spirit of Community awards, with the celebration taking place virtually, celebrating the creativity and commitment of Ireland’s top young volunteers.

Aaron, an advocate for mental health, dedicates his spare time to ensuring young people’s voices are heard by equipping them with the skills needed to engage and inform policy makers. Suffering with depression and anxiety disorder after the loss of a close friend, Aaron turned to volunteering for help and joined a cross-community programme, Uniting Communities Young Leaders in which he delivers workshops to other young people.

Liadh, a talented writer and truly compassionate student from Co Cork, has successfully published a children’s book, ’Upside Down,’ which aims to highlight misconceptions about people with disabilities and pays a special homage to her brother James who has Down Syndrome. Also volunteering in Roots Coffee House, Liadh has racked up 200 volunteer hours while fundraising for many charities including the Hope Foundation, the Cork Simon Community and Pieta House.

In recognition of their volunteering work they have demonstrated in their communities Aaron and Liadh received €1,000 to donate to a charity of their choice, a gold medallion and a crystal trophy for their school. In addition to this, both students also received an additional €1,000 in prize money for their selfless efforts.

The two-day virtual event kicked off on Monday 14th with a workshop from inspirational speaker Annette Kelly (Little Penny Thoughts), who gave the finalists the chance to share insights on their unique volunteering experiences. The next day, honourees enjoyed inspirational words from guest speaker Adam Harris which gave the students and their families the chance to acknowledge their achievements and connect with each other live from their homes and schools across Ireland.

“Both Aaron and Liadh are amazing students and inspiring role models in their local communities,” said Naomi Hegarty, vice president, Risk & Privacy, Pramerica Systems Ireland and executive sponsor for the Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards. “All of our 2020 finalists carry out exceptional volunteer work with the ultimate goal of making the lives better of those in need. It’s great to see their achievements being celebrated and I look forward to hearing about their continued good work in the future.”

“If there is anything the last few months have shown us, it is the absolute value of volunteerism, the difference that it can make in communities and the importance of recognising those contributions and achievements around us. We also know it is particularly important that we have shining lights working to respond to challenges as they arise within our communities,” added Hegarty. “These awards acknowledge the commitment and dedication of young people in today’s society who see challenges as an opportunity to make a difference and provide solutions within their local communities, making them a better place.”

Pramerica also awarded the top two Junior Honourees, Charlotte Gallaher from Dublin and Sophia Shally from Mayo who both received an additional €500 for their chosen charity.

The awards are run in partnership with the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) and the General Teaching Council for Northern Ireland (GTCNI).

For more information, follow the Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or visit

The 2020 finalists included:
  • Lidia Ballocchi, Sixth Year, Assumption Grammar School, Co. Down
  • Sasha Barrett-Ferris, Sixth Year, Sullivan Upper School, Co. Down
  • Gavin Bennett, Third Year, Ard Scoil Chiarain Naofa, Co. Offaly
  • Jemma Campbell, Sixth Year, Our Lady and St Patrick's College, Co. Antrim
  • Rebecca Colley, Sixth Year, Castleknock Community College, Co. Dublin
  • Jessica Collins, Fourth Year, Skibbereen Community School, Co. Cork
  • Keira Culleton, Third year, Loreto College, Co. Derry
  • Jamie Duffy, Sixth Year, Beech Hill College, Co. Monaghan
  • Lauren Gaynor, Sixth Year, Loreto Grammar School, Co. Tyrone
  • Charlotte Gallaher, First Year, Our Lady’s School, Co. Dublin
  • Liadh Hanley, Sixth Year, St. Angela's College, Co. Cork
  • Rebecca Irvine, Sixth Year, Carrickfergus Grammar School, Co. Antrim
  • Grainne McGlynn, Fourth Year, Rosses Community School, Co. Donegal
  • Julie Reddan, Sixth Year, Borrisokane Community College, Co. Tipperary
  • Jake Redmond, Sixth Year, Larkin Community College, Co. Dublin
  • Aurora Riddiough, Fifth year, Ballycastle High School, Co. Antrim
  • Sophia Shally, Third Year, St Louis Community School, Co. Mayo
  • Aaron Smith, Sixth Year, St Louise's Comprehensive College, Co. Antrim
  • Emma Smyth, Sixth Year, St Louis Grammar School, Co. Antrim
  • Teagan Stanley, Fifth Year, Newtown School, Co. Waterford