It's the final call to nominate unsung heroes from across Northern Ireland for the Belfast Telegraph Making The Difference Awards.
Since the launch in September amazing people, organisations, schools and even streets have been praised for their efforts in improving the lives of others across the province.
Readers now have until next Friday (February 4) to put forward the name of the person, group or business in one of 11 categories — from Spirit of Youth to Carer in the Community.
Three finalists will then be chosen from each category and a winner selected by our judging panel.
The overall winner of the Making The Difference Awards, in association with Spar, will then be chosen and revealed at a gala awards night in the Grand Opera House on Wednesday, March 9.
Among those in the running is Ita Rafferty for Best Carer.
Ita, from the Newry and Mourne area, together with her husband, cares for her daughter Bernice who was paralysed in a car accident.
“She is a strong lady who always speaks highly of others and very often gives encouragement to other family carers,” according to Lorraine Murphy, who nominated her. “Ita is an inspiration to all the people who have met her and know her.”
And Tavanagh Street in Belfast has been put forward for the Best Street category.
“It is such a joy and a sense of security to know that you can call to a neighbour’s home and be welcomed as a member of family, and that goes on daily within the Village community,” Margaret Couchman said.
Bronagh Luke, corporate marketing controller at award sponsors, the Henderson Group, said they have been overwhelmed by the response from the public.
“In our first year of sponsorship of the awards, we have been astounded by the amazing efforts of people, businesses and projects across Northern Ireland that give their time day-in, day-out to help others,” she said.
“We have received numerous entries from people in their local communities and we are proud to be part of an initiative which acknowledges the dedication and passion of these individuals, businesses and projects.
“We feel it is vital to harness strong community spirit and believe these awards offer a great platform to do so.”
Best Street: We want to find the street where there is an amazing sense of community pride, shown through activities like clean-ups, street parties or activities which involve everyone in the area.
Best School: A school that has an ‘outreach’ project which involves pupils going into the community to spruce up gardens, raise money for local causes or has gone ‘green’ within the school.
Best Volunteer: Someone who has worked tirelessly for a charity or in the voluntary sector for many years or has proven to go above and beyond their role.
Best Neighbour: A person considered to be the ‘heart’ of the street. They look after other neighbours, either by running errands, give lifts or are just always there to help and listen.
Best Enterprise: This business takes charity fundraising seriously. They have either done something for the environment or ‘give back’ to the local community through school programmes.
Best Art/Sport/Community Project: We are looking for the artist who runs classes for underprivileged children or the elderly, or the sports coach who teaches football to young people — someone who helps give groups fresh purpose.
Spirit of Youth: This is for a bright spark who has demonstrated great achievements at a young age. Either they have joined an orchestra at 15, or achieved great academic, sporting or artistic heights.
Service with a Smile: This is the ambulance driver, shop owner, home help, or meals on wheels worker who gives everything they have to their job and the people they help.
999 Hero: Someone who, through an amazing act of bravery, has saved a life. They can be either a member of the public or emergency services personnel.
Best Garden: This ‘oasis’ does not need to be acres of landscaped beauty, but it could be the little urban garden that brightens up dull streets or a small back garden.
Carer in the Community: We want to find an amazing person who has dedicated their time to looking after someone in their home.
Making The Difference Award: The overall honour awarded to the outstanding individual, organisation or project that has made a huge contribution to the community.
How to get involved
Nominations can be made by anyone who knows a person, project, business or a even a street they believe worthy of an award.
The public can enter two ways: Write a nomination in no more than 200 words, stating the category and contact details of nominator and nominee and send to Making The Difference Awards, Belfast Telegraph, 124-144 Royal Avenue, Belfast, BT1 1EB. Or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org .
As well as choosing a winner for each category, a winner of the overall Belfast Telegraph Making The Difference Award will be picked by judges.
The Northern Ireland Community Rescue Service is a charitable organisation operated by volunteers across Northern Ireland.
Established in co-operation with the police, it provides help to search for missing persons throughout Northern Ireland.
Nominated by the Rev Kenneth Crowe from Bushvale Presbyterian Church in Stranocum, Ballymoney, he said: “In September 2008 an agonising tragedy struck in the lives of Clive and Margaret Elliott when their 14-year old son James drowned in the River Bush, just a short distance from their home.
“When the enormity of what had happened sunk in the Elliotts became committed to ensuring that some good might come of the tragic loss of their son.
“The Elliott family threw their support behind the Community Rescue Service, which had played an important role in the operation to search for James.
“Both Margaret and her daughter Sarah joined the CRS and have become committed members of the organisation.”
Ita Rafferty, together with her husband Martin, have cared for their daughter Bernice for 17 years after she was paralysed in a car crash.
Bernice was a backseat passenger in a car when it left the road and hit a tree.
“I will never forget receiving the phone call that no parent wants to hear,” Ita said.
“Bernice was taken to Craigavon Area hospital and the doctors told us it was not good news. The night before she was going to her school formal and looked beautiful in her red dress, the next night she was paralysed.”
Nominator Lorraine Murphy from Newry and Mourne Carers said: “Ita is happy to help her daughter by providing personal care, a loving home and company on a full-time basis. Ita’s husband Martin has been her rock and they care for Bernice as a team.”
Stepping Stones coffee shop in Lisburn has helped young adults with learning disabilities across Northern Ireland.
It has been running for more than eight years and offers a unique experience for customers, who get delicious food while helping young adults with learning disabilities progress through an NVQ qualification in catering.
Emma Moriarty, who nominated the coffee shop, explained: “Each customer placing an order is helping trainees in the shop to develop their confidence, self-esteem and communication.” The young adults also receive other training which includes working with others, food hygiene and customer service.
A derelict space in Cloughmills was transformed into an area that gives the community a sense of pride.
The ‘incredible edible’, as it is known locally, is maintained through a vibrant partnership between the community, local businesses, young volunteers aged 12-17, and Ballymoney Borough Council.
The “oasis of calm and colour” was nominated by Declan Donnelly, who said: “As the new fruit and vegetable garden grows, so does an enhanced sense of pride.”
Open days have been held where the young and not so young experience how easy it is to grow food, and hens have been added too.
Joey Magee, from Whitewell Crescent in north Belfast, is the kind of neighbour everyone deserves.
According to his nomination, he goes “above and beyond” for all the people who live in his street, and his friends.
Nominated by his neighbour Geraldine O’Kane, she said that Mr Magee is a “fantastic man” who is a truly great example of what makes a good neighbour. “Joey is the kind of neighbour that anyone would want,” she said.
“Joey and his wife Hilary are always there to help anyone. Nothing is too much trouble for them.
“When it was snowing he would have made sure his elderly neighbours were okay, had food, milk and were not cold.
“He is very caring and deserves to be acknowledged for all his help over the years to his neighbours.
“We are lucky to have him. He truly deserves to be nominated.”
Cross-Community drama company, Fusion Theatre Group in Co Antrim, has offered thousands of young people the chance to travel, meet new people and have experiences that “may not normally be possible”.
Based in Lisburn and catering for children and young people aged seven to 24, it was originally based on an idea by Rosiland McCleary and her sister Anne.
Nominated by Rebecca Leonard, she said the group is now 10 years old. “We have now won a number of awards and the group not only gives young people a platform to socialise, but an opportunity to gain theatre training and perform to an outstanding level.”
Dromara Primary School has had a positive impact on its pupils and the whole community.
Through the school’s hard work it has turned a derelict field into a hub of activity.
The pupils and teachers have also helped to turn an overgrown area that had been used for underage drinking along the River Lagan into a scenic walkway for the local community to enjoy.
Principal Stanley Poots said: “Perhaps the greatest impact has been on the 16 to 25-year-olds of the village who were prone to anti-social behaviour — they have been encouraged to play football in the evenings and this has led to a better relationship all around, with vandalism being reduced.
“The creation of Lagan Park has been a huge influence for good on the community and one that continues to owe a great debt to its funders and the primary school.”
The area has suffered from |deprivation but Tavanagh Street in Belfast is rich with caring neighbours.
“Everyone looks out for each other and there is a real sense of community within not only Tavanagh Street but the wider community,” according to nominator Margaret Couchman.
“Despite the area looking bleak with the regeneration process, the sense of community is still prevalent within the people,” said Margaret.
“Especially during terrible weather, the neighbours looked out for each other.
“The young get such a bad press but many of the young people were fantastic.
“It is such a joy and a sense of security to know that you can call to a neighbour’s home and be welcomed as a member of the family, and that goes on daily.”
Service with a smile
This nomination is not just for one, but an entire team of smiles.
The children’s renal team at the Royal Victoria Hospital has been praised for being “dedicated and caring”.
Nominated by Andrea Bingham, she said: “They have made a huge difference in our lives and I can’t begin to express my gratitude.
“This year has been a phenomenal year for the team, with at least eight kidney transplants — an amazing number compared even to the UK statistics. I believe it’s the highest number to be carried out in one year in Northern Ireland.
“I have first-hand experience of the wonderful work that these people do as my five-year-old son Ben was the youngest person to ever receive a live donor transplant in Northern Ireland. Ben has been under the care of Dr Mary O’Connor at the hospital from birth and has fought through his bladder being brought out onto his tummy and a gastrostomy tube being put into his stomach.
“And a lot of the reason that he is a healthy, happy five-year-old who went from being tired all the time to running around playing football and eating for the first time, is the marvellous care that this team has given him.”
Best spirit of youth
Teenager Chloe Coyle is an exceptional talent who sang her way to the hearts of thousands of people.
The Castlederg schoolgirl beat five other finalists to be crowned winner of RTE's All Ireland Talent Show last year. Chloe, who attends St Eugene's High School, is a huge talent in musical theatre.
She joined the school choir when she was six years old and was soon singing solo for the first Holy Communion class.
During the competition, she was compared by the judges to “an angel” whose performance was “flawless”.
Vice-principal of St Eugene's High School Collette Rush nominated her and said she is a “wonderful role model”.
“There is a great sense of pride for what she has achieved,” she said. “She is a delightful young person who works very hard. She truly is a great person who deserves to be nominated for this award.”
After winning the show, her mentor Dana said: “She is such a special girl and a special artist.”
Marian Nicholas is regarded an “extraordinary woman”.
Nominated by Lynsey Murray from Mencap, the mother has been described as “caring, committed, courageous, determined, energetic, and all with humour”.
Ms Murray said: “Marian, like many women, has many roles.
“She is a mother, nurse, a businesswoman, volunteer, befriender, member of numerous voluntary committees, fundraiser, activist and champion of the rights of the disabled.
“In all of these roles Marian stands out as an example to others. Her achievement is all the more extraordinary when it is appreciated that one of her four children is a severely disabled young adult.”
She added: “Through her involvement in Mencap, Marian has campaigned for a better life for people with a learning disability and their families.”
She spoke up against the closure of summer schemes for children with severe learning difficulties and for better conditions in, and ultimately the replacement of, the old long-stay hospitals.