Celebrating Ten Years of Inspiring Youngsters

A decade of inspirational youngsters

Celebrating Ten Years of Inspiring Youngsters

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Rotary Young Citizen Awards, with hundreds of inspirational youngsters nominated by Rotary clubs across Britain and Ireland during the past decade.  We feature how winning the award has made a difference to two of them.

“Winning the Rotary Young Citizen Award has opened many doors for me and given me some fantastic opportunities that would not have been possible without Rotary.  I have since joined Rotary as it was a great opportunity to give back to the people who had helped me throughout my childhood.”

Young Citizen Award winner Maciej Szukala describes how receiving the award back in 2010 has helped transform his life.  At the time, he was a 15-year-old Polish migrant who had come to North Wales aged just 10, unable to speak a word of English.

When starting school he felt isolated from other children and was bullied.  But determined to help ensure other migrant and refugee children didn’t go through a similar experience, he began to help teach them English and how to write and soon his work came to the attention of the Rotary Club of Wrexham Yale who nominated him for the award.

When he won, Maciej said: “I tried to help others to make their lives better. I don’t want people to sit in the corner. Use your skills and do as much as possible. Sometimes people are embarrassed. I would say don’t be ashamed of what you are doing, just do it.”

Following on from his award, he supported migrants in his area through working with the Red Cross and, now aged 22, Maciej has gone on to run a successful legal translation business.  He has also become a member of the new Rotary Club of Wrexham Glyndwr.

Maciej said: “As I have matured, the work I do has too. I first set up my business in 2013 and worked by myself to help the Polish community with legal translations such as translating for solicitors or the police. As I got more work and more clients, I needed more staff and I now currently employ around 10 people and work for nearly 30 businesses preparing court documents and attending employment tribunals.”

The situation that Maciej faced is just as real today as it was six years ago, and this past year there has been thousands of children starting school unable to speak English and finding themselves in a similar situation to Maciej.

He told us, “It’s really important to integrate children as soon as they start schools as it can be such a daunting time being in a new country and not being able to speak the language. Games and sports are a great way to achieve this as they welcome children together while helping them to learn the language.”

When the Young Citizen Awards were created back in 2007, young people were regularly receiving a bad press, with negative stories about youngsters involved in anti-social behaviour and violence towards others.

However, Rotarians were seeing a very different picture and felt something needed to be done to promote the young people who were making a positive impact to their community and the lives of people around them. That is when the Young Citizen Awards were created.

Recognising those under the age of 25, the judges came together and set the criteria of rewarding those who have demonstrated their commitment to citizenship through various activities.

Since it began, nearly a hundred awards have been given out to both individuals and groups, and each one is presented with the accolade at Rotary’s annual conference.  Recipients are nominated by their local Rotary clubs from across Britain and Ireland.

A recipient of the Young Citizen Award in 2008 was Jenna Speirs, who was nominated by the Rotary Club of Rothesay at the age of 13.  Back in 2007, Jenna’s twin brother, Calum, sadly passed away after he suffered an inoperable brain tumour.

Calum’s treatment included chemotherapy and radiotherapy, which he handled with great courage, dignity and humour for someone so young.

It was then his idea to set up Calums Cabin, a sanctuary designed for young people suffering with cancer to escape to and spend quality time and create special memories with their loved ones on the Isle of Bute.

After Calum sadly lost his battle with cancer 13 months after his diagnosis, Jenna was determined that Calum’s memory would live on. At his funeral service, a fundraising appeal was set up to ensure his dream of a home for providing young cancer sufferers with peace and tranquillity became a reality.

When Jenna was awarded the Young Citizen Award, she had already raised £250,000 and plans were being put into place to build what is now Calums Cabin.

We’ve caught up with Jenna ten years on to find out how the build progressed. Jenna told us, “When my parents were initially looking for a place to set up Calums Cabin we were surprised by how much it would cost to transform the idea into a reality.”

“We met with Lord Bute who offered the land at Straad for £1 per annum and we met with architects to help us build the cabin. In September 2008 the foundations were laid and within months the interiors were being finalised. It was such an achievement to witness all our hard work paying off.”

Two years on from losing Calum, the Speirs were welcoming their first family to the cabin and since day one it has been full with bookings. Realising the overwhelming need for a haven such as this, the family set up Calums Cabin Cottage in 2011 thanks to further donations.

Both properties are fully funded by generous donations, and the dream is to build further cabins around the country to ensure Calum’s memory lives on.  All families stay free of charge.

Jenna added, “We are totally amazed at everyone’s generosity and that we managed to get from the initial £20,000 for a caravan to what was needed to be raised to build Calums Cabin and the cottage.”

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“Winning the Young Citizen Award was a huge honour
for both Calums Cabin and myself.”

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“Winning the Young Citizen Award was a huge honour for both Calums Cabin and myself, the properties have allowed children suffering from cancer to make some precious memories. I am now in my final year studying radiotherapy and winning the award has helped me get to where I am today.”

Eve Conway, President of Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland and creator of the awards commented: “Working as a journalist at the BBC, we were hearing frequent negative stories about the younger generation and in the public eye our young population were all getting tarnished with the same image.”

“We wanted to change that perception by creating something really positive to show that there was so much good being done by young people in their local community.”

“I’ve worked with a range of judges throughout the past 10 years who have been inspired by the fantastic work people of such a young age have carried out. Every year when we sit down to judge these awards, it is always such a difficult task as we see so many deserving youngsters and are blown away by the selflessness of these young people.”

“Each winner has gone above and beyond to help others and bring about change.  From overcoming incredible odds, taking on causes close to their heart and raising public awareness; amazing fundraising feats or simply doing something to brighten someone else’s day, we’ve heard inspirational stories and we’re proud that we can recognise them for their fantastic achievements.”

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Young Citizen Awards, a special presentation will take place at Rotary in Britain and Ireland’s conference in Manchester in April.

A showcase video has been put together that follows ten young citizens on their journey since winning the award. The conference will also host this year’s annual awards recognising more inspirational young people who have shown excellence in their community. It’s not one to be missed.

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