IT was standing room only at the Fr McGrath Centre. St Joseph’s Road, Kilkenny on Friday when a magical group of people were recognised for their long-standing work for the centre, the parish and the people of Kilkenny. Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald presented three lifetime achievement awards to the legendary, Con Downey, the remarkable Mike Kelly, the caring Sr Mary Bourke and a very special youth achievement award to JJ Phelan who has displayed leadership beyond his tender years and is beacon of hope for the future.
It takes 400 volunteers to run the many, and varied, family and older persons support services now operated from the Fr McGrath Centre, The Neighbourhood Hall and St Catherine’s Halting Site. The centre’s Board of Management decided that it needed to publicly acknowledge the remarkable contribution of volunteers to families in our parish over the past 17 years. “We estimate the voluntary time given to us by volunteers over the last seventeen years and in the various services we now operate is more than a hundred thousand hours. Many hundreds of volunteers have passed through our doors over that time and sadly some of those volunteers have now passed on,” centre manager Steve Murphy said.
“Each and every one of those volunteers deserves to be personally honoured for their contribution to our parish, our children, our families and our older people, and this night was organised as an opportunity for our centre to say a big and grateful thank you to all of them.
“However, to honour each of our volunteers personally was not practical or possible tonight, so we have decided to present a special Youth Achievement Award to one of our young volunteers, and a ‘Lifetime Achievement Award for Services to Children’ to two very special volunteers who played a key role in getting our services off the ground and who were central to bringing the many hundreds of our volunteers through our doors.
The first award of the night went to 19 year old, JJ Phelan, the oldest of three children, but uncle, cousin and friend to many in the community. JJ together with his brother and sister have been involved with the centre since they were infants attending our playschool. JJ was one of the first children in the homework programme and remarkably at 12 years of age, became one of the first ever ‘trained Junior Leaders. “He has since unselfishly given up many hundreds of hours of his spare time to help us run and develop programmes for younger children in our community,” the chairman of the Fr McGrath Centre, Pat Brennan said.
“JJ, who tragically lost his mother, Anne, at a young age, has since been a rock to his father, brother and sister since that terrible day in their lives. As a junior leader and young person he has been a tremendous role model to young people in our community. He has a personality dominated by consideration and kindness to others, especially to younger children and his many cousins. This kind nature coupled with an unselfishness that has seen him give up much of his free time to help develop and run programmes for children in our community helps explain why he is so well liked and admired by his peers, and why he is such a worthy winner of our ‘Special Youth Achievement Award for Services To Children.’ Ladies and Gentlemen, JJ Phelan,” Mr Brennan said.