Tackle the world and do so with joy, President Michael D Higgins told 33 young people who received a Gaisce gold medal yesterday.
Gaisce — the President’s Award — is Ireland’s national challenge award and recognises achievements by young people who have improved their personal skills, worked in the community and taken part in a travel adventure.
One of the recipients at the ceremony in Dublin Castle, Nicola Pleskach, from Clonmel, Co Tipperary, said Gaisce gave her the push she needed to get actively involved in her local community.
In particular, she has played a leading role in getting more young people to attend Mass in her parish church, St Mary’s.
Nicola, 19, and other members in her community set up “Mass With a Difference” in a bid to get young people to come along.
“We themed each Mass; we chose the readings ourselves and sang songs that had been in the charts but were relevant.”
Gaisce's Awardees 2013 pic.twitter.com/s1xdnwn2Dj— Gaisce - The President's Award (@GaisceAward) November 12, 2013
Nicola, who is studying nursing in University College Dublin, said she would feel “weird” if she did not go to Mass every Sunday.
She also chose to improve her piano abilities and ballet dancing, walked part of the Munster Way, and helped children with special needs to swim.
To complete her Gaisce gold, Nicola travelled to Nairobi in Kenya with the Helping U Grow: Outreach to Africa association, where she spent two weeks working with children in two primary school. “It was a trip I will never forget and I hope to go back.”
James O’Gorman, 21, from Beaumont, Dublin, joined the Garda Reserves for the community section of his Gaisce award.
He was stationed in Store St Garda Station in Dublin where, over an 18-month period, he accompanied full-time gardaí in their duties.
James, who also completed a first-aid course run by the Order of Malta, is still a member of the reserve and hopes to become a full-time Garda.
"It is essential for young Irish people...to become aware of their self-worth", President of Ireland, Michael D.Higgins #gaisceawards— Gaisce - The President's Award (@GaisceAward) November 12, 2013
Siobhán Buckley, 20, from Rathcoole, Co Cork, who also struck gold at the awards, spent a year at Kanturk Community Hospital, where she entertained its elderly patients by playing music, painting pictures, and helping them design Christmas cards and write letters to their families.
Siobhán also took up harp lessons and participated in the Fleadh Cheoil, Na Cúirte Cruitireachta, and the Irish Harp Festival, along with completing the Camino De Santiago pilgrimage walk in Spain.
Siobhán, who is studying music and maths at NUI Maynooth, said the challenge was very satisfying.
“You are doing things that you like so it does not feel like extra chores.”
Gaisce participants contribute around 100,000 voluntary hours in their local communities each year and 6m voluntary hours have been completed since it was established in 1985.
This year, over 20,000 young people applied for the Gaisce challenge.
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