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Eighteen young men and women with intellectual disabilities grasped every ounce of courage they had to enter the Rotary Best Speaker Awards.

Running it for the second year, Plimmerton Rotary held Wellington heats as well as the National Finals on Saturday 28 May 2016. The heats for the Wellington participants took place in the morning and the top three place-getters were chosen to enter the finals in the afternoon. They were joined by a further five from the North and South Island who had already got through their regional heats.

A video of the whole event is available on request, but in the meantime, this 6 minute extract will give you a taste of the pride, astonishment, humility and amazement we all experienced as we laughed at their creativity and cried as we got a taste of the mountains they all have to climb. And you can see photos of this happy event here.

This initiative was originally sparked by a small paragraph in Rotary Down Under in 2014 about a fledgling Lincoln Rotary Youth Project - a public speaking opportunity for young folk aged 16–30 with an intellectual disability.

The Plimmerton Rotary Youth Committee, spearheaded by Julie McLagan, picked up the idea and ran a successful pilot in 2015. Feedback was so positive and encouraging from participants, their families and support workers, that the club has now taken on this project as an important part of its annual programme. “I know that such projects do Rotary proud!” said Julie.

The whole day was a very happy success. Each participant was presented with a framed Certificate of Merit. There were trophies and prize money for each of the national place-getters. The project was fully sponsored by local businesses. Tommy’s Real Estate picked up the main costs. One parent said, “Many thanks to you, your team, and Rotary for the wonderful speech competition held this afternoon. We were very impressed with everybody we met and with the obvious effort that you had all gone to, to make it such a special occasion. The corsages were a lovely touch, as were the name tags, the generous afternoon tea, the technical support, the various roles you all played, not to mention the very generous prizes.”

The eventual winner, Katrina Sneath from Johnsonville, Wellington, is pictured here. She has quite recently been appointed a Youth Parliamentarian and is already very proactive in her role.

The second place-getter was Jeremy McKenzie from Whakatane (pictured here). He talked about his passion for geography.

Samuel Goddard from Christchurch was placed third. He told us that he has Aspergers and that his dream is to become independent.

His mother said, “…It really was very special and lovely to see these young adults being given an opportunity to shine. I know Sam has gained so much confidence from the whole experience.”

Editor’s note: You can read the article about Samuel that appeared in the New Zealand Herald on 10 May here

The feedback has been amazing and very humbling. Here are just a very few extracts from the many we received …

“…One of the outcomes we would all like is for our young people with disabilities to be fully integrated into the community. This competition is one way of contributing to that end and illustrating just what these young people are capable of. Our community is all the better for it.”

“…Thank you again for giving Matthew this opportunity. His confidence has gone ahead in leaps and bounds. Starjam are doing a story on him. It is our wish that his story will give hope to other families whose children are diagnosed autistic. He entered the competition to boost his confidence as he is going to be best man at his brother's wedding early next year.  He tells me his speech is going to be awesome - and I am sure it is."

“Thank you for giving me a privileged opportunity. It was awesome listening to all the other contestants.”

“I made myself come,” said a participant who arrived knowing no-one. And as she left, her parting words were, “It was the best day! I loved it.”

“Before this he didn’t say much. We couldn’t not come. It has been the making of him!” said a beaming father of a family of four who all flew up from Christchurch for the day to support their son/brother.

 “I felt so humbled by the experience.  I had tears in my eyes, the experience was beautiful and the recognition and opportunity given to these young people just can't be expressed in words,” said a Rotarian spectator.

“We’re already planning for next year. It will be bigger and better from us,” said the organiser and co-ordinator from the Bay of Plenty

It was such a happy result that each participating area had a place-getter in the Finals, even though that is one aspect we could not have organised! It was a great day! Certificates and trophies were clutched close. The smiles were huge, the hugs many and warm.

Before concluding the day with a scrumptious afternoon tea, we were entertained by StarJam, a not for profit organisation that empowers young New Zealanders with disabilities to achieve their full potential through music and performance workshops.

The next step is to spread the word to Rotary Clubs throughout New Zealand to widen the opportunity for many more IHC youth by having more regional heats. Julie McLagan will be glad to hear from anyone around the country who’d like to be involved next year. You can contact her here

“Hopefully next year many more Rotary Clubs New Zealand-wide will support this very worthwhile project and more young people will be encouraged to take part”, she said. "We can make such a difference in the lives of the participants and their families.

“Rotary has the power to dip deep into the community to harness resources and to really make a difference. I was so happy to see this opportunity to help others in society where there is a need. I am fully aware that, like many others, our contribution will only be a drop in the ocean. However, as Mother Teresa said, ‘Without that drop, the ocean will never be full.’ That is why I am a Rotarian.”

Be very, very touched

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