Five courageous youngsters were at the centre of a very special Rotary event last week – and their smiles showed just how much it meant to them.
Lucie Morris, Liam Atkinson, Ruby Kendle and Connie Dawson were guests of honour at the sixth annual Children of Courage Awards on Wednesday. Sadly, the fifth award recipient, Allanna Rowland, was too poorly to attend.
Organised by the Rotary Club of Grantham Kesteven, the awards aim to put inspirational young people in the spotlight – and they collect their award to a song of their choice to make it extra special.
Rotarian Marion Strange is the driving force behind the Children of Courage Awards. She said: “It’s a privilege to be involved. It’s a privilege to work with all these wonderful young people and teachers, and to honour them.”
Each young person is put forward by their school to receive an award.
In Lucie’s case, this was Sandon School, which is part of the Grantham Additional Needs Fellowship. Lucie has limited mobility, severe developmental delay and autism.
Her teacher, Laura Sooley, told those gathered how Lucie has come on in leaps and bounds.
She added: “In the last year, Lucie’s personality has really begun to shine through. Regardless of her difficulties she’s begun to build relationshoips in her own way and she loves to give you a tight hug and can be very affectionate. She also has a mischievous streak and her giggle is infectious.”
Lucie’s parents, Nicole and Greg Morris, were there to share her special day, along with brother James, 5.
Speaking afterwards, Nicole said: “We’re very proud.”
Greg added: “It’s nice for her to be recognised for what she goes through.”
Next to give a presentation was Stephanie Pell, Allanna’s teacher at Grantham College. She told how the Year 13 pupil has refused to let health and housing problems affect her studies, often emailing work in by deadlines when she is unable to travel to college.
Stephanie said: “She’s such a happy, laid-back character, takes things in her stride and has managed to achieve many distinctions while at Grantham College.
“Allanna has had a very tough year with many things occurring in college and outside of college. She travels from Newark to Grantham on a very, very early bus. She lives there in independent housing and has she has lived there since she was 16 years old.
“She’s been of ill health recently and faced many challenges, financially, emotionally – but she always looks on the brighter side of life. She is an inspiration to us all. On the surface you would never know that anything was wrong, she always has a smile on her face and a very infectious positive attitude.”
Next to receive his award was Liam, a pupil of Priory Ruskin Academy who refuses to let cerebral palsy and epilepsy prevent him from enjoying his love of sport. From the podium, the school’s Julie Gray talked of his “sheer determination to succeed”, adding: “We are all very proud of Liam’s outlook and achievements. He’s a very likeable young man who always tries his hardest at everything and always has a smile on his face.”
Liam, 16, told the Journal afterwards: “It was really good to be here today. It’s nice to be involved. I feel proud and amazed. I want to say thank you to everyone.”
Head of house at Walton Girls’ High School Sandie Watkins talked about Ruby’s “strong will” and called her “utterly determined and a passionate and talented performer”.
Ruby has neurofibromatosis and a pilocytic astrocytoma brain tumour, and has ahead of her a year of chemotherapy.
“Despite all of this,” said Ms Watkins, “Ruby has been unfailingly positive and upbeat in the face of all of these barriers, and her strength, her cheerfulness and positivity have been an inspiration to everyone.”
Ruby, 13, said afterwards: “I thought today was really nice. It was nice to hear about what others think of you. I like it that you get to know a bit more about everybody and hear their stories.”
And last, but certainly not least, was Connie, a pupil of West Grantham Academy St Hugh’s who also has neurofibromatosis, in addition to type 1 epilepsy. Learning support mentor Kerry Davies told how Connie taught everyone around her in school to be resilient. She brought a “light, a spark and a lasting legacy” to learning support and around the school.
Ms Davies said: “The magic of Connie was that despite all of her obstacles, she never, ever let the pain show. When in pain Connie would still get up and help other students into the room – although she would often question what they wanted before she let them in.
“When in pain Connie would still insist on helping other students and collect things for them rather than letting them get them themselves.
“When in pain Connie would still be eager to help other students with their work and instead of trying to carry on her own work would insist on trying to help them.
“More importantly, when Connie was in pain she always had the biggest smile on her face. She was just an absolute inspiration to have around.”
Connie, 14, said: “It’s nice to hear about what you actually do for people and what you inspire them to do, how you have an effect and how you make them feel. It was really nice.
“Some people recognise you for the wrong thing and they comment about that, but when they read about you and hear about you they think about who you are and what you have done.”
Following the presentation of awards, Olympic swimmer Sophie Allen, from Fulbeck, was the guest speaker and talked about her own struggles which led her to retire from competitive swimming at the young age of 22 following injury to her hip.
She told the youngsters: “I think it’s incredible that you guys have overcome your personal adversities.”
Together, Connie and Ruby presented Sophie with a bouquet of yellow roses.
Rotary district governor elect Chris Davies summed it up perfectly when she said: “What an absolutely splendid event; it’s wonderful.”
Talking about the Rotary club’s message that ‘brave children are a gift to the world’, she added: “I think we have seen that today.”