My name is Kate Kelly and I’m from a small rural village in South Kilkenny. I started my Gaisce journey in 4th year in secondary school, all the way back in 2011. From the moment I started my Gaisce journey I knew I would strive to complete my Gold Award. While the gold takes a lot of commitment, requires you to step out of your comfort zone and tests personal strengths, the benefits of completing your Gaisce Gold Award is without a doubt one of the best things I have ever decided to do.
Through Gaisce, I got involved in many community projects and developed new skills that changed my outlook on life. I had already finished my Bronze and Silver awards, so I was beyond thrilled to see a Gaisce Society in UCC. Nevertheless, I was now in a strange and challenging environment struggling to adapt to my new lifestyle living away from home. When I first came to college in 2014, I was finding myself quite lonely and isolated. When you are feeling down it can be very difficult to motivate yourself to do anything
Throughout my youth, sports had always been a big part of my life, being involved with camogie, Gaelic football and horse riding. Once I started my Gold Award, and I had that weekly motivation to take the time out from my busy week to do an hours exercise, the improvements for both my mental and physical health were immediately clear. My stress levels became much lower, in turn aiding my study patterns and overall general mood. Without taking part in my Gold Award, I would have found it very difficult to find this motivation. Taking part has really taught me that I can overcome challenges that will face me in life.
I have always felt a great sense of community in my village and I wanted to give back to my camogie club I’ve been a part of it since I played under-12s. I was elected PRO of the club, which meant I could manage my tasks from college. I think sometimes that we are quite oblivious to how much work goes into clubs, committees and local projects. I soon learned from the great community of activists also involved and I got to work with people that I would not even have met if I hadn’t been inspired by Gaisce to join my club’s committee. I put a lot of hard work into this role and it paid off as I was re-elected the following year.
My most difficult challenge was my new skill, which I decided would be to take part in political activism and debating. I joined a political party to enhance and aid me with studying politics in college. I built up the courage to speak at small meetings before eventually growing enough confidence to speak in front of large crowds and then to debate publically. Being involved in this has opened huge opportunities for me, with the highlight of my whole journey has been winning UCC Model Dáil best individual speaker.
This challenge has had a massive impact on my life, as I am now Chairperson and on the national youth committee of the political party I joined. Without the motivation of Gaisce, I would not have had these opportunities and achievements opened to me. It has boosted my self-esteem, I have made many friends who have similar interests to me and of course, now I have a platform where I can campaign for issues that I am concerned about, such as LGBT rights, homelessness and progression for youth initiatives. My new skill has truly shaped my entire future for the better.
The residential project where I volunteered with Care of the Aged Waterford and Meals on Wheels allowed me to meet new people from all different backgrounds, cultures and age groups. The kindness, compassion and generosity of the management, staff and volunteers are something I will remember forever and is something I strive to apply in my life.
The adventure journey is always my favourite part of the awards as it’s so varied and you get to meet new people and explore an incredible experience together. I remember standing on the peak of the Wicklow mountains during my bronze award and thinking “I want to see every part of this amazing country” and I have been inspired to travel as far and wide as I possibly can, seeing the best Ireland has to offer. For mine, I have been able to take in the glorious Ring of Kerry and be part of the 35th 1981 Hunger Strike Commemorations in Belfast.
Not only have I made and had friendships blossom through Gaisce, it also has shown me a completely new way of life. Seeing what others sacrifice to make a community group work, the hours kind and generous people put into charities, the motivation to keep yourself exercised and healthy, it has been a constant source of inspiration. Gaisce has built and shaped me as a person, I am forever grateful for the skills, friends and memories I gained throughout each award. I cannot even put into words the opportunities Gaisce has opened for me. The only extra advice I could give to gold participants is to be creative and really put yourself out there.
Kate Kelly – 2016 Gaisce Gold Awardee