PICTURES: All the Offaly winners at the inaugural Laois-Offaly Garda Youth Awards

Express Reporter

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There were 10 Offaly award winners at the inaugural Laois and Offaly Garda Youth Awards which took place at the Killeshin Hotel, Portlaoise, Co Laois on Friday last, February 22.

It was attended by over one hundred and fifty guests, which included young people, their families and friends. The event
celebrated the achievements of the recipients, aged between 13 and 21, across four categories; individual award, special achievement award, group award and community safety awards.

Sponsored by Supermacs, the evening was a resounding success and thoroughly enjoyed by all. Gardaí from Portlaoise, Tullamore and Birr District Community Policing Units, Juvenile Liaison Officers and members of the organising committee, were all in attendance along with Superintendent Anthony Pettit, Portlaoise, Inspector Oliver Baker, Tullamore and Inspector Eamon Curley, Birr.

Chief Superintendent John Scanlan, Divisional Officer Laois Offaly, who initiated the Awards within the Laois Offaly Garda Division, Minister for Justice Charles Flanagan TD, Pat Mc Donagh CEO, Supermac’s presented certificates to all of the awards recipients on the night.

The Offaly winners were:

Mollie Yates was a district award winner for Birr. The Banagher College Leaving Certificate student was diagnosed with Autism in her mid-teens. Molly took on a leaving cert project to raise awareness in the school and community about Autism. Mollie raised €1,000 to equip a multi-sensory room in the school for students with Autism, she did this by organizing 6 bake sales. Mollie is an inspiration to her peers and other students facing difficulties. While this project was a leaving certificate task Mollie went above and beyond to leave a legacy after her in the school. Mollie is arranging to bring Adam Harris, brother of Minister Simon Harris and advocate for Autistic issues in Ireland, from “As I am” to speak to all of the students in the school. The judges said: "This type of personal endeavour is what makes Mollie stand out in her community. Mollie will change many
lives, both of people with and without Autism by raising awareness and by the provision of a calm space in the school. Mollie's disability has become her ability."

Amanda Cullen is a Tullamore District Award winner. Nominated by Kevin Farrell of The Acorn Project Edenderry, Co. Offaly.
Amanda has overcome a lot of difficulties in her life. When she was younger she describes herself as being angry and hostile and she hated school. She believed education was a waste of time and did not see herself ever working, believing that social welfare payments would provide her with an income. Then she began attending The Acorn Project in Edenderry. Gradually, she
enjoyed going there and began looking at herself in a different light. Amanda started to feel a sense of pride and realised that she had value. The idea that she could have a career and plan a future took root. At first, she was scared in case she failed but she is thankful for the great support from the Acorn Project. Amanda began work experience in an accountancy firm and now works there part-time as a trainee and hopes to eventually work there full-time. The judges said: "She is held in high regard by her employer and is to be sent forward to train for a professional qualification as an accountant. Amanda wanted to show her younger sister that anything is possible. She describes her walk to get the bus to work, as a short walk, but it is a walk against the tide. Every step is a step of discovery. She is discovering how wonderful the world can be for her and
works now, not just for herself, or her family, but for her entire community. She describes herself as being in a very happy place and that this, in turn, gives hope to so many people from her estate. She describes her transformation as being from a hopeless case, to being the hope giver."

Ross McLoughlin is a fifth-year student in Gallen Community School Ferbane. He is from Derryneavy, Pullough. In Gallen Community School, Ross became involved in the student council in first year and is now a senior member. He was elected a
school prefect this year. He is not only a great student leader but also a wonderful actor and received great praise for playing a character so unlike himself, the “Artful Dodger” in the school production of Oliver which was staged last week. Last year, as part of a Foroige Leadership initiative, Ross wanted to ensure younger children in his community were aware of and
appreciated their cultural and historical past. He recognised that he could preserve some local Oral History by interviewing and
recording some older people in his community. He compiled this work together and presented it in booklet form to his former
primary school St Mary’s Pullough where it is used to help teach social history of the local area. The judges said: "For the example of student leadership in Gallen Community School, for the appreciation of his community and the importance of preservation of local history for younger generations, for his capacity and potential for community leadership in the future, Ross McLoughlin is a worthy recipient of this Birr District award."

Edenderry Youth Action Group are Tullamore District Award winners. They were nominated by Anna O’Neill of The Acorn Project, St. Josephs Hall, Edenderry, Co. Offaly. Edenderry Youth Action Group are a dynamic, self-driven, visionary group.
They have made immense and lasting advancements in the provision of youth services and facilities for the youth population of Edenderry. Their achievements mark them out as being true community leaders at a young age. They have played pivotal roles through peer research and fundraising in establishing the Centre Field – which is an all-weather pitch in Edenderry and
also Edenderry Youth Café. These facilities have become a vibrant hub of activity in the centre of the town over the last ten years. Over 1,000 young people now avail of these services on a weekly basis. Edenderry Youth Action Group also have an interest in health and associated matters. They have produced and edited videos on three occasions to enter into the Irish Cancer Society ‘X-hale Awards’. In 2017 they won the overall Youth Award for their video highlighting the dangers of smoking to young people. The judges said: "They are currently in the process of developing a video which will focus on the risks and consequences for young people in sending inappropriate images from their phones. Edenderry Youth Action Group respond to the needs of the youth in the Edenderry Community and they continue to reshape the youth landscape in North Offaly."

Adam Hart is a fifth-year student at St. Brendan’s Community School, Birr. Adam has a great interest in technology and I.T and was a founding member of the school's Media and Digital Leader teams. As part of his role, Adam coordinates a group of fellow students to publicise school events, by providing reports and photographs on all major school events such as the annual school musical, sporting and cultural activities, visits and workshops while all the time adhering to the national guidelines. In consultation with key members of staff, Adam has been instrumental in the introduction of video service for the Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat social media platforms. This ensures the whole community is kept up to date with the latest school news. In doing so, he continues to demonstrate good practice and has earned the respect of the students and staff of St. Brendan’s for his diligent work. At a time of so much debate on the advantages and disadvantages of social media and technology, Adam has become a key person and leader in the promotion of online safety in the school. Adam does this through his work with the schools Headstrong Committee programme of lessons for classes. The judges said: "Adam excelled so much in this field that he was selected as a Webwise Ambassador. In his Ambassador role, Adam participated in training at Google HQ. Future plans include inviting members of An Garda Síochána to speak to students about the importance of internet safety, and reinforcing key messages through an internet safety campaign at St. Brendan’s Community School."

Adam McGlade is the Divisional Award winner after an extraordinary act on a football pitch. On Saturday, October 20, 2018, Adam was playing an U16 soccer match with his club Derry Rovers football club at their home ground in Edenderry. A
corner kick was taken during this match and following on from this, there was a clash of heads between the Derry Rovers goalkeeper and an opposing player. The goalkeeper was knocked out and remained unconscious on the field. Adam was the nearest player to the injured goalkeeper when this occurred and saw him collapse. The injured player was lying face down and Adam immediately turned him over realising the serious nature of the injury. Adam called for help from the side-line and management team. The injured player's tongue had moved to the back of his throat and was obstructing his airway. Adam took it upon himself to administer first aid to the injured player and move his tongue forward and in doing this, opened up his airways and prevented him from being starved of oxygen. Adam was subsequently joined by two first responders remained there until an ambulance arrived. The injured player was unconscious for 45 minutes. Paramedics requested a helicopter for a medical evacuation to Tallaght Hospital, such was the seriousness of the injury.  The judges said: "There is no doubt that the quick intervention from Adam and the correct administration of first aid saved the injured player from far more serious consequences. The injured player (Dara Swaine) has since made a full recovery and is able to join us here this evening as a guest of Adam's." The remarkable aspect to this incident is that one week previous Adam had undertaken a First Aid Course as part of his Transition Year School Programme in Oaklands Community College. "He applied the knowledge and skills he learnt and showed great bravery and courage at such a young age to help save the life of his teammate. Adam is a very unassuming young man and is a very worthy winner of the Laois/Offaly Overall Individual Award."

Grace Johnson is a 6th year pupil in Colaiste Naomh Cormac, Kilcormac and a Birr District winner. Grace is recognised by her school as a fantastic pupil who engages positively with all aspects of school life, both inside and outside the classroom. Grace puts great energy into the badminton club and the Student Council in the school and is currently Chairperson of the Student Council. Grace was nominated for this award for her outstanding contribution to her school and her community, Mount Bolus. Like other areas around the country, Mount Bolus is quite a rural village. The work and positive contribution that Grace makes is a shining example of what Young People all over the country can do to engage with and improve their community. Grace is involved in a number of aspects of her community and has many roles and responsibilities. Grace is in charge of P.R. for her local Tidy Towns and St. Patrick’s Day Parade committees. She volunteered and worked at the I.F.A.
stand at the Tullamore Show and Ploughing Championships. She is also Treasurer of local Badminton Club, doing huge work keeping this vibrant club going. Last year Grace organised and ran a coffee morning in aid of the Irish Cancer Society in memory of her late grandmother. This event raised over €1,200 and it will become an annual event. Grace is also a member of Mount Bolus Christmas Light Committee. The judges said: "Grace is an outstanding young person who makes her community a better place to live and is a worthy recipient of a District Award."

Oisín Feery is a Tullamore District Award winner. Two years ago, 17-year-old Oisín joined Special Olympics Ireland through the Esker Autism Centre, in Ballinamere National School Co Offaly. He began his sporting career with the organisation as a kayaker. His achievements in this short time have been outstanding, from winning two gold medals at Provincial
level in 2017, to winning two gold medals at National level in 2018. Oisín has now been selected to represent Ireland at the World Games in Abu Dhabi 2019. He will be the first athlete from Ballinamere to compete at a World games. Like any other athlete, weekly club training sessions and monthly squad training sessions are a core part of Oisín’s routine. He is continuously
improving his techniques and times on the water kayaking, as well as increasing his focus on health and nutrition. Oisín has since joined the Special Olympics Ireland Athlete leadership programme. As part of this new role, he delivered a speech at the launch of the 2018 Sean Kelly cycling tour of the Midlands which was organised to fundraise for Special Olympics Ireland. The judges said: "Oisín is a leader with Special Olympics and his community which is visible through his support of younger athletes and his commitment and dedication to his chosen sport."

Martin McDonagh is a Tullamore District Award winner. Martin has overcome many difficulties in his life. He has become an inspiration and role model to young people and adults from the traveller and settled communities. Martin has achieved above and beyond his academic potential in school. From third year on, he worked with dedication, great application and determination. He had an exemplary attendance record at second level and was rewarded a third level place at Maynooth University. Martin is very proud of his ethnic identity and has been hugely immersed in the work of Offaly Traveller Movement. He has volunteered in a number of capacities throughout his teenage years and has demonstrated great leadership skills. He was hugely involved in contributing to the content, development and production of ‘Breaking down Walls’ a video aimed at highlighting suicide among young people in the Traveller Community in Ireland. This video inspires a message of
hope and resilience. Martin became the first young person from the Traveller community to join the Advisory Panel in Jigsaw Offaly and has since gained a position on The Jigsaw National Youth advisory panel. The judges said: "This level of volunteering has required serious commitment and has shown Martin to be a true advocate for youth mental health."

Daniel Daly is a transition year student at Banagher College. Daniel has been blind since he was five years of age. He attends Banagher College as a mainstream student. Last year Daniel undertook a project researching whether Banagher Town was an accessible place for people with visual difficulties. Daniel started with the county development plan and worked from there, researching accessibility in the town. Daniel's goal is to be able to walk from school to SuperValu independently. This is a big ask as at present there is no way for a visually impaired person to cross the street independently. The project has involved liaising with community groups, individuals and the local county council. Daniel hopes to improve access for all people in the town of Banagher. This project was undertaken by Daniel with the help of some peers. “Through Daniels vision” a sensory map of the town has been created by the group. The project is evolving with Daniel's needs and capabilities. The judges said: "Daniel has raised awareness of the challenges faced by people with disabilities and promoted the importance of accessibility. Daniel is a remarkable young man who has not let his disability hold him back."