Derry woman Siobhan Heaney said she is deeply honoured at being nominated for the Community Games Golden Jubilee ‘Volunteer of the Year Award’ after 22 years of sterling work locally.
Steelstown native Siobhan will head to Athlone next weekend for the announcement of the winner, and the Derry Community Games team have urged everyone to go online and vote for Derry’s “leading light” before the deadline.
The Community Games sporting and cultural organisation is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and in Derry, Siobhan and the rest of the volunteers have witnessed thousands of children progressing through the programmes over the decades.
Siobhan’s children, Seanán, Aaron, Ruairí, Siún, Sé and Oisin are aged between 11 and 27 and have all competed or still compete in the games, while husband Raymond is on the Area Committee. Ruairí is now a National Officer with Community Games and Siún is the County Youth Officer.
Siobhan’s association with the Games began when she was just a child herself. As an adult she got involved at the suggestion of Billy McCallion through her eldest child Seanán’s involvement in gymnastics at Shantallow.
“He asked me if I had ever heard of Community Games and I said I competed three times in it as child in the 100 metres and they were the best memories. From being a parent then I was brought in to the Committee. I was excited. I remembered how good it was as a child, so I wanted to give that opportunity to my own children, so 22 years down the line and six children later, they have all competed in it.”
The Games operate at Area, County, Provincial and National Final levels. Siobhan said: “We work with children six to 16 so for a lot of the younger children it’s their first time being involved in any sport, and it’s all very noncompetitive at that age. It’s more about participation.”
And Siobhan points out it’s not just sports- Community Games also includes arts, choir, model making, drafts, chess, competitions and projects.
The Derry team have also pioneered bringing in the children aged 15 or 16 on to the Youth Committee after noticing this was the age when they were most likely to begin pursuing other interests and falling out of involvement with Community Games.
Traditionally, the Youth Committee was only an option for those 18 and over, but the success of the local move has prompted other areas across Ireland to replicate what Derry are doing.
Speaking about the benefits of involvement in Community Games, Siobhan said: “Children nowadays, they are living in a different era from we were, the digital era, and it’s important for them to have that as well,but it is the whole health aspect of it, and the social aspect as well.
“Even for the adult volunteers, for us too it’s the social aspect of it because we have made good friends throughout the counties and we have been to places we have never even heard of before.
“I think in one way it has shaped how I have been as a person because I went back to Magee five years ago and graduated with my Law Degree and this year just finished my Masters in Law, so I think my experience in volunteering has helped shape the person that I am now today.”
Siobhan said her own highlights over the past two decades include the County Derry Boys Under 16 Relay team securing gold at the last ever event before the Games moved from Mosney. “That was a huge highlight. As adults, you weren’t allowed on to the track but that didn’t stop the Derry people!” she laughs, adding: “Other highlights would be going down on the bus and the singing and all, and some children who never had the opportunity to go outside of Derry and the excitment on their faces because they were getting to go away.”
She also paid tribute to the tireless work of the local team of volunteers including long standing members Janice Cooper and Jim Toland.
Speaking about her nomination for the forthcoming awards, Siobhan said: “I was shocked to be nominated. It’s a huge honour for me, it really is. It’s great. I’m looking forward to it and I’m nervous as well at the same time.
“I never thought that 20 years later I would still be there.”
To vote for Siobhan go to: www.independent.ie/goldenvolunteer/