A WEST Cork award-winning student volunteer was honoured at a gala awards ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History during the 20th annual presentation of the US Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.
Michael Keohane, 17, from Baltimore was presented with a special commemorative trophy by Prudential Financial CEO John Strangfeld during the evening event, and personally congratulated by Good Morning America co-anchor Robin Roberts.
Michael and Gorey student Sophie Donnelly were named top youth volunteers by Ireland’s Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards programme in March. They received awards, including the all-expenses-paid trip to the events in Washington DC.
Michael said: ‘Our time in Washington was not only a once-in-a-lifetime trip, but the best experience I have ever been given the pleasure of being a part of. Finding one highlight from the four days is near to impossible. But what stands out for me is the close bonds I made with the other honourees from all over the world. They inspired and taught me a great deal.’
Michael, a sixth-year student from St Fachtna’s De La Salle in Skibbereen, promoted youth mental health by helping to found and establish the ‘Youth in Action’ project ‘Skibb Scenes’ in January 2013, offering cinema facilities and a social outlet to young people in the local community.
Michael set up supportive workshops around the theme of ‘Skibb Smiles’ and, through the Cope Foundation in Skibbereen, worked closely with clients with intellectual disabilities.
In August 2014, Michael took on his biggest challenge with the Aurelia Trust and travelled to Romania to work with young adults with disabilities who had been institutionalised from birth. Through his fundraising and awareness-raising activities, Michael was approached by the Southern Star to become a youth reporter, and wrote several articles about the tasks that face young people in the local community. ‘My own past experiences have inspired me to work hard for the charities that I am involved in, and I want to continue to promote positive mental health awareness for the young people of Skibbereen,’ he said.