Angela Chada and Helen McKeever. Story S.Bell. Photography Mark McCormickBy Ronnie Millar, IIIC Executive Director

On September 20th 2013, one of the Irish International Immigrant Center’s partner organizations in Northern Ireland, Springboard Opportunities, combined celebrations for its annual Inspirational Awards with those of the United Nations’ International Day of Peace. Over one hundred people attended Belfast City Hall where they engaged in a moment of silence led by Belfast’s Lord Mayor, Mairtin O’Muilleoir; supported award recipients and heard stories of young people from both the north and south of Ireland who fought severe hardships and went on to inspire others. Later that night, thousands of visitors converged on Belfast city center to celebrate Cultural Night, an initiative of art and other cultural organizations to spread entertainment, discovery and adventure across Ireland.

The Inspirational Awards event was a great testament to Springboard’s commitment to peace-making and youth development; especially as it took place in the midst of peace negotiations on parades, flags, emblems and other issues related to the past. The political talks are being facilitated by U.S. Special Envoys Richard Haass and Megan O’Sullivan, who arrived in Belfast on September 17th, hoping to resolve the issues between parties.

Three days later, on September 23rd, Springboard celebrated its 21st anniversary and the end of the Wider Horizons program at Stormont Building. With Northern Ireland’s two Junior Ministers, Jonathan Bell MLA and Jennifer McCann MLA, in attendance, program participants told their stories of transformation and hope and of the positive impact Springboard’s staff had on their lives. The Ministers congratulated Springboard and presented awards to 21 graduates of the program.

The weekend was a remarkable confluence of celebrations and events.

Springboard is truly a great catalyst for change largely due to the experience and skills of their staff over 50% of which are former participants. Twenty-one years ago, the organization hoped to one day “shape each young person with dignity.” Looking back on its journey and the lives that Springboard has touched, it should surely be commended and congratulated for its tremendous success.

Today, many young people in Ireland, North and South, still need the support of organizations like Springboard and our other partners, Tyrone-Donegal Partnership and Clanrye. Young people benefit greatly from the opportunity to travel overseas to places like Boston, Pittsburg, Canada, South Africa and Germany. These life-changing experiences provide excellent opportunities for them to learn and grow personally and professionally.

We are all very grateful to the International Fund for Ireland for their support of the Wider Horizon’s program, and it is incredibly disappointing to see the end of its funding due to new priorities. Over the past two decades, 17,000 young people in Ireland have benefited from the program, and more than 80% have gone onto higher education or into the workforce. They have made huge contributions to hundreds of community-based organizations and host families. All of the partner organizations are compelled and committed to find new ways to continue working together and to creating opportunities for our next generation.

Congratulations to the staff and board of Springboard. To paraphrase U.S. poet Stanley Kunitz, we say to you, “look behind to gather strength to proceed on your journey. The next chapter in your book of transformations is already written! You are not done yet with your changes!”