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.
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.