Sunday 19 May 2019

Students who make difference honoured

Students from secondary schools across Fingal have been honoured for their outstanding commitment to promoting inclusion and challenging disadvantage. Catherine Reilly reports...

Students at five secondary schools across Fingal have been honoured by disability organisation Prosper Fingal in the inaugural Making a Difference Awards.

Prosper Fingal has established the awards as part of its 40th anniversary celebrations taking place this year. The initiative, which will run annually, recognises students who have demonstrated outstanding commitment to promoting inclusion and challenging disadvantage. Winning students are selected by a process within schools.

The winning students at Portmarnock Community School were the members of the Homelessness Committee: Samantha Cole, Aoibheann Crean-Lynch, Aaron Cullen, Ailise Dalton, Sara de Carolis, Adam Doyle, Diana Filip, Ava Fitzpatrick O'Donovan, Jordan Hollywood, Jacqueline Lane, Will Mulligan, Caitlin Murphy, Caoimhe O'Reilly, Zach Whelan, Jade Woods and Lily Yu.

These Transition Year students coordinated with local food providers to have leftover food donated to a soup run in Dublin city centre. Among other activities, they organised two huge collections during the year involving the school community, local businesses and past pupils to support a Halloween and Christmas party for over 1,000 children living in emergency accommodation. The initiative was started by Caitlin Murphy.

Prosper Fingal service-user in Portmarnock Eoin Hall presented the award at the school's TY graduation evening. Eoin's speech about his own volunteerism in the community, including at Meals on Wheels, drew prolonged and heartfelt applause from a large audience of students, parents and teachers.

Adam Doyle said his involvement in the committee impressed upon him the numbers of people sleeping rough and the detrimental effect it has on them. Jacqueline Lane said their generation must highlight social injustices to safeguard future generations.

Aaron Cullen added that initiatives such as the Prosper Fingal Making a Difference Award 'definitely drives students forward, to see they are being recognised at the end of it'.

At Skerries Community College, the winner was fifth year student Liam Byrne. Prosper Fingal service-user Megan Guildea presented the award.

According to the school, Liam was selected based on a number of qualities, including his ability to lift morale and his consideration for the well being of others.

'Through his willingness to help and encourage, he displays unlimited kindness and respect to all staff and students. His genuine nature and generosity emphasises his ability to strive for and truly make a difference in both the school and local communities,' stated the school.

At Fingal Community College, Swords, the winners were Barry Laffey, Conor Fox, Alexandra Starbuck, Eve Mongey, Vilte Bivainyte and Karolina Czajkowska, who demonstrated great leadership skills in the school's Peer Mentoring Programme. Rachel O'Connell, a Prosper Fingal service-user who completed her Junior Cert in the school in 2003, made the award presentation.

Barry said he and his fellow students had given 'extra support' to first students who needed help.

The award recipient at St Joseph's Secondary School, Rush, was sixth year student Jack Hussey. Prosper Fingal service-user Martina Kelly, who has collaborated with St Joseph's TY students in respect of an annual play they stage together, presented the award.

The school described Jack as a born leader who is 'unbelievably considerate' of others. 'Jack was a core participant in the TY Prosper programme where his generosity, inclusivity and caring personality really came to light. That same year, he became an active member of the school's St Vincent de Paul committee and has been fundamental in driving this initiative ever since, which ensures in excess of 200 local families receive a Christmas food hamper every December.'

Jack said he was 'overwhelmed' to hear the kind words spoken about him. He said awards such as this can be a great boost for people. '

At Loreto Secondary School, Balbriggan, the award recipient was Sarah McKenna. 'The Transition Year students along with other year groups in the school recognise her for her friendliness and good humour and many of her peers have their own personal story of how she has personally included them in school life,' stated the school. Introducing the winner, fellow student Cliodhna Bowers underlined Sarah's encouraging and positive attitude.

Sarah said: 'I really didn't expect it. I try my best to be friendly with everyone. I am so delighted. I don't really like to see people by themselves - it is nice to know someone is out there thinking of you.'

CEO of the Prosper Group Pat Reen said the organisation is keen to engage with young people on its story. Currently, Prosper Fingal provides services and supports to approximately 300 adults with an intellectual disability in north Dublin. It aims to promote and ensure service-users' full participation and inclusion in their own communities.

'We are 40 years a-going and we said we should look at the leaders of tomorrow and see how we can get them invested in the Prosper Fingal story. So, the schools project was formed, and we have selected five very fine schools,' said Mr Reen.

'All of the schools picked very different winners but what was common between them was they all found people in their school making a huge difference. And we know that those young people will go on to be great leaders in the community in the future and we are hoping they will bring the Prosper Fingal story with them.'

In tandem with the awards event, Prosper Fingal now has four ambassadors in each of the five participating schools, who are sharing information with peers on the work of the organisation.

'We have already been contacted by other schools to be part of this initiative because they see the value of it,' Mr Reen added.

The inaugural schools' project at Prosper Fingal is being coordinated by Lisa Stapleton.

Fingal Independent