The Dublin City Good Citizen Awards ceremony took place in the Mansion House on the 18th May 2016. The awards acknowledge and celebrate the contribution made to Dublin city by countless hidden heroes of everyday life. We are presenting a profile of the winners who stood out in making a big difference to the lives of others.

Sandra Dillon – Disability

I’m Sandra Dillon, from Glasnevin, and I’m a mother of three children. I volunteer in mental health – I’m with the Suicide Support and Prevention Network, I’m a See Change ambassador, and I’m involved in helping children with special needs. My own son Nicholas has Asperger’s Syndrome. He’s an amazing guy.

We put the teenagers forward for nominations first, they don’t get any recognition. One of the parents said ‘We’re going to put you forward as well…’ and I said ‘No, please don’t…’ I can only presume they went forward and did anyway (laughs). They’re very kind. They don’t know how much they support me, as well. We’re all on the same journey. I’m honoured. And very humbled. Nicholas was nominated too – to be honest, I’d love to see him win.

Sandra Dillon and her son Nicolas with an tArdmhéara Críona Ní Dhálaigh and Councillor Mary Freehill

Sandra Dillon and her son Nicholas with former Lord Mayor Críona Ní Dhálaigh and Councillor Mary Freehill

My son is eighteen now, and when I started on this road, I was at a loss, because it was a whole new experience for me. He didn’t have a lot of friends, and as he got older I began to look for something that would support me, as well as support him. I took inspiration from Professor Carmel O’Sullivan in Trinity, who runs Aspire, which uses drama to help people with Asperger’s to develop their communication skills – Nicolas has been going there since he was little – and decided to set up a club. Kids need to be together. And it went from there.

We do a lot of different things; we have a horse-riding stable management therapy project, and run allotments throughout the summer. We’re always looking towards the next thing. People have been tremendous. We started off with 5 or 6 children, and there were a lot of challenges along the way. We let the kids be leaders, and that’s very important. Now there can be 15 to 20 kids involved at any one time.

My involvement with special needs brought me into the mental health area, as that’s an issue with these children as they get older. A lot of special needs children can’t access mental health services. These kids are often seen as a burden, and it’s an issue that really needs to be addressed. Schools need to adapt more, for a start. And attitudes need to change.

My daughter has since gone on to be an occupational therapist, because we were always in the doctors’ offices or the hospital since she was little. Now she asks me to come into St. Vincent’s, where she works, to talk to parents, and that brings me right back to where I was when I started. And that’s why I took up volunteering. I had to get involved. And now I feel I owe it to others to share the knowledge I’ve gained. And hopefully it won’t be as hard for them. There was a lot of struggle along the way.

I never knew I was missing out on life until I started to volunteer. It brought back the laughter. It empowered me, and gave me a lot of confidence. I really do enjoy it.

Sandra won the Dublin City Good Citizen Award in the Disability Category. This category recognises the high level of dedication to those who provide social outlets to people who have a disabilities that can be sometimes overlooked and left out socially.

Good Citizen #4: Jimmy Bolger

My name is Jimmy Bolger, and I live in Crumlin. I belong to the Crumlin Youth Band we take kids off the corner and teach them how to read music and play instruments. We keep them safe, so they’re not running about the roads at all hours. The kids all love it. In years to come, the music will stand to them. The beauty of it is that a lot of them stay with us, there are a load of former band members on the committee.

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Good Citizen #5: JP Swaine

I’m JP Swaine, and I’m the co-founder and director of the First Fortnight mental health charity, we run an annual arts festival and an art psychotherapy service. It all came about from me wanting to create a different approach to provoking conversations about mental health. I’m a mental health professional, but also have a family history of mental health problems, and have lost a sibling to suicide. I felt back in 2009, when we started to think about doing the festival, that mental health communication was still in what I call the ‘leaflet’ phase – you might find a couple of leaflets in a hallway, but it wasn’t something that people were actively engaging in, or being provoked to engage with.

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Good Citizen #6: Pat Hooper

My name is Pat Hooper and I’m a retired insurance manager, I’m also a former Olympic athlete and Irish marathon champion (NB: Pat represented Ireland in the 1980 Moscow Olympics). For my whole life, I’ve been involved in Raheny Shamrock Athletic Club both as an athlete and a coaching official. I’m also the treasurer - they’re in the process of building a new club house. I’m also involved in a few other local charities. I suppose one of my best­known achievements is that I’m the founder and race director of the Axa Raheny 5 Mile Road Race, which is the biggest sporting event held in the Raheny area - last year it attracted over 4,000 competitors.

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