Last year (2018), the 11th annual Volunteer Ireland awards honoured a dozen people for their voluntary contributions, but who took home what prizes?
Volunteer Ireland Awards is a major annual initiative to celebrate volunteers in Ireland. The awards – held by Volunteer Ireland in December – shine a light on the remarkable work of volunteers around the country by honouring them on a national stage.
For the 2018 awards, there were more than 500 volunteers nominated. Of these, 33 were named as finalists, invited to a ceremony where 11 won in their categories and Mary Fitzgerald was named as the overall Volunteer of the Year.
Children and Youth Winner: David O’Hara
He is the handyman, the class clown, the extra pair of hands, the homework genius and a great support to staff.
Where other volunteers like to take a few weeks’ or months’ breather, David keeps going, and it is invaluable to the organisation to have at least one familiar face for the children throughout the year.
David recently completed a master’s in community and youth work, which ties in very well with his work.
Health and Disability Winner: Mary Arrigan-Langan
In 1981, Mary Arrigan-Langan set up Octopus Swimming Club for people with physical disabilities.
She has been involved for 37 years, providing weekly swim sessions and hardly missing a session in all that time.
She also volunteers with other groups.
Mary is great at pushing the boundaries and getting people to be ambitious.
Arts, Culture and Media Winner: Louise Borre
Louise has been volunteering since she was seven.
Louise works part time (paid) at Cosáin Community Wellness Centre and continues to volunteer many hours once her shift is done.
Social Work and Social Inclusion Winner: Sheila Busher
Currently, Sheila organises two nights of FoodCloud deliveries to more than 160 families who text in if they wish to receive a delivery six nights per week.
Whatever the hour, if someone is in trouble, homeless or vulnerable, Sheila is there for them.
She also has the backing of many volunteers and the local community to help her provide support.
Campaigning and Awareness Winner: Laura Brennan
Laura has terminal cervical cancer and advocates in favour of the HPV vaccine. She uses the media, public speaking opportunities and social media to appeal to parents to protect their daughters from HPV and cervical cancer.
Laura took the initiative and contacted the HSE in September 2017. At the age of just 25, she was determined to tell her story to every parent in Ireland who was about to make the decision whether or not their daughter was to be vaccinated against HPV.
Sadly, it has been announced that Laura has succumbed to her cancer. She died today, Wednesday 20 March.
Sport and Recreation Winner: Sinead Kelly
Four years ago, Raphoe Town FC had fewer then 10 girls playing football. Sinead took the initiative to set up and organise a Soccer Sisters programme and kept going even when hospitalised.
Sinead has positioned the club in the heart of the community, building strong and positive links with local schools and clubs. There are now more than 30 girls playing on the team.
Volunteer Manager of the Year Winner: Sara Murphy
Victim Support at Court is a voluntary service that provides court accompaniment and support to victims of crime. Sara manages victim support in the Criminal Courts of Justice, which deal mainly with murder and rape trials.
Sara’s supportive, warm and empathetic nature, as well as her knowledge of the court system, led to her being offered a part-time role managing the volunteers in the Criminal Courts of Justice and helping with training of new volunteers.
Safety and Emergency Services Winner: Nancy White
Nancy single-handedly brought together a group of volunteers and set up the Lorrha Community Responder Group.
She also gives an incredible amount of time to groups.
Under her leadership, five new defibrillators have been acquired for the Lorrha area, and the group has already responded to more than 30
emergency calls under the direction of the National Ambulance Service.
Animals and Environment Winner: Maeve O’Donoghue
Maeve volunteers in the local dog pound and seeks, wherever possible, to reunite pets with owners or have them rehomed.
By law, dogs who are in the pound only have to be kept for a certain number of days and then they can be rehomed or put to sleep.
She works closely with the dog warden and does her utmost to get every dog out of the pound alive. She visits most days, takes photos of strays and posts the pictures to the Mullingar Dog ShelterFacebook page.
Community Winner: Cormac Sertutxa
Cormac is one of the Irish Red Cross’s busiest volunteers. As the health and social care officer responsible for developing services in Co Kerry, he spends every day focused on his role.
Cormac has also volunteered with other organisations, including Southwest Motorsport Rescue Unit, Cycle Against Suicide, Killorglin Community First Responders, Keel Castlemaine Youth Club and Killorglin KDYS’s
Updated, 1pm, 21 March 2019: This article was updated as news of Laura Brennan’s passing filtered through to the Changing Ireland offices. The entire team here is saddened to hear of the Brennan family’s loss and, indeed, Ireland’s loss. Thank you, Laura, for all you have done.
Body photos: Volunteer Ireland