County Down Youth Volunteers Honoured at Virtual Awards Ceremony.
Lidia Ballocchi and Sasha Barrett-Ferris from Co.Down were selected from hundreds of youth volunteers across Ireland and recognised for the exemplary work they carry out in their local communities at the 2020 Pramerica Spirit of Community Virtual Awards Ceremony, held on Tuesday 15th September.
Lidia and Sasha have been chosen as two of 20 exceptional young people from across Ireland, who are considered to be some of the country’s most outstanding youth volunteers, working to make a positive impact on their local communities.
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.
Assumption GS Pupil Is Honoured
Lidia Ballocchia, a sixth-year student at Assumption Grammar School, began volunteering at a local St Vincent De Paul charity shop, where she spent her weekends volunteering, giving her time and learning crucial life lessons along the way.
Volunteering in such an environment, Lidia was a helping hand and an ear to listen for those who would visit the shop and believes it has had a massive positive impact on her own life.
Lidia then began volunteering at a dementia ward in the Downe Hospital in Downpatrick which sparked her interest in going to the Holy Shrine of Knock in Co. Mayo in order to help elderly pilgrims on their journeys.
These experiences also impacted Lidia’s decision to fundraise for Saphara India 2018 and spend three weeks in India, where she supported the education of young women from impoverished areas. Lidia believes these experiences are the reason she is the person that she is today.
Sasha Barrett-Ferris, a sixth-year student at Sullivan Upper School, has been volunteering with Guides and Scouts from an early age, teaching girls from deprived areas the essential skills needed for life and helping them to grow in confidence.
Also passionate about helping the homeless and poor, Sasha volunteered to make Christmas Food Parcels and gift bags for Dundonald food bank so struggling families could still enjoy the holidays like everyone else.
Late at night during the cold winter season, Sasha kindly offered up her own free time to hand out blankets, gloves, toiletries, food and other goods to those living on the streets of Belfast.
Sasha is currently making a YouTube video of this to show how a small act can make a big difference; and ultimately inspire others to do their bit to end homelessness.
For the past six years, Sasha had been volunteering at RSPB’s annual Big Wild Sleep Out, in Omagh and Cultra. Putting up tents, leading children’s activities and games, running the campfire and encouraging families to enjoy nature whilst educating them on how to preserve it.
Sasha also has a keen interest in sport and has led the NICS Hockey Club at a disability hockey summer scheme for the past three years.
The scheme allows one to one coaching for children and young adults, to allow them to engage with sport and unlock their full potential. With her brother, Sasha also donates some of her spare time fundraising for Mental Health UK and once raised £800 from a JustGiving Page
The two All-Ireland Youth Volunteers of the Year named at the event were 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.
They each 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 awards which are run in partnership with The National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD), The General Teaching Council for Northern Ireland (GTCNI), also recognised 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 event kicked off on Monday 14th with a virtual mindfulness workshop from inspirational speaker Annette Kelly (Little Penny Thoughts), who gave the finalists the chance to share insights on their unique volunteering stories. The awards event held on Tuesday 15th September saw honourees enjoy inspirational words from guest speaker Adam Harris and it gave both them 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 Naomi 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.”