By Geraldine Grennan
At a time when young people have never had more opportunities, they are also facing huge challenges which their forefathers could never have even dreamed of.
One young man who is acutely aware of the many challenges ahead, and who is trying to make a difference is Moate Community School fifth year student, 16-year old Jack Slevin.
A native of Rosemount, and a self-confessed “GAA head” Jack was one of 82 young people to graduate from the the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG) last October with a Foundation Certificate in Youth Leadership and Community Action last year.
The graduation was the culmination of a year-long programme pioneered by the GAA and Foroige to honour the legacy of one of the most inspirational and influential GAA players of his generation, the late Dermot Earley, who was once described as “the greatest GAA player never to win an All-Ireland.”
Earley, who was a highly decorated member of the Irish Defence Forces, and served as Chief of Staff from 2007 to 2010, died from a rapid degenerative brain disease -- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) in June 2010 aged 62.
Jack Slevin, who is the only son of John and Mary Slevin from Rosemount, and the youngest of a family of three, still isn't sure why he decided to apply for the Dermot Earley Youth Leadership Initiative when he was in Transition Year in Moate Community School, but he says it was “one of the best decisions” he ever made.
“One of my mam's friends brought it to her attention, so I decided to fill in the online application form and I was delighted when I was accepted, and I did all my training in the GAA Clubhouse in Tubber,” says Jack, whose tutors were Catherine Redmond, Barbara Dooley and Emma Rafferty.
One of the most startling things that Jack Slevin learned as part of his course was that young people now spend up to 23 hours a week on their mobile phones. “When you think about it, that is almost the equivalent of one full day every week spent on the phone and talking to nobody” he points out.
However, as a young person who also enjoys the many positive benefits of social media engagement, Jack points out that he is “just like all my friends... I love my mobile phone just as much as my friends, but I am also a great believer in sitting down on a one to one and actually having a chat instead of talking to all these virtual friends, many of whom are not really friends at all.”
Jack Slevin, whose Dad is a farmer as well as a building contractor, is fortunate to come from a family where sitting around the kitchen table for family meals and for a cup of tea and a chat has always been an integral part of family life.
“I drink lots of tea,” says Jack “and I think tea and talk go hand in hand...drinking tea is such a cultural thing in Ireland, and I don't think we do enough of it, and there are definitely people who live in houses where there is very little communication and that can lead to lots of problems down the line.”
The aim of the Dermot Earley Youth Leadership Initiative– which is specifically geared towards young GAA players between the ages of 15 and 18 - is to foster the values that the late Dermot Earley epitomised both on and off the playing pitch, and to instill them into a new generation of young Irish leaders.
As well as having to give up his weekends to attend workshops during his Transition Year, the young Rosemount GAA player – who was captain of the Under 16 Cill Óige football team when he started the programme - also had to participate in 20 hours of self-directed and reflection learning, which culminated in what he describes as “a fabulous day out” in Galway last October when he graduated with a Foundation Certificate in Youth Leadership and Community Action.
Jack says the graduation was “just like a proper Graduation Day, with a gown and all” and his parents even bought him a new suit for the special occasion!
His proud parents attended the graduation, as well as one of his sisters, 20-year old Megan, who is currently studying Science Education at DCU. His other sister, 23-year old Shannen, was unable to attend as she is studying for her Masters in Social Care in Liverpool.
“It was a really great day and I got to meet loads of people my own age” says Jack “so I was delighted to be part of it.”
As a means of putting his leadership skills into action, Jack Slevin had to participate in a Community Action Project, which is how he found himself sharing a stage with six-time All-Ireland medal winner and author of highly-acclaimed book “The Choice” Philly McMahon, at a Wellbeing event organised by Rosemount GAA last December.
“When I was in TY we did one Young Social Innovators class per week, and we did a project on mental health, and that got me interested in this whole area. particularly in relation to young people, so I decided to focus on this in my Community Action Project,” he says.
“At the end of the Leadership Initiative, I had to come up with some idea that would benefit my community and my area, so I decided to give a presentation to my Cill Óige teammates and coaches on the area of bullying and mental health and, while it was very nerve wracking, it went down really well, and everyone seemed to get a lot out of it,” says Jack.
“Bullying is an issue that everyone is aware of, but it is very concealed and hidden, and unless we bring it out into the open and talk about it, it is only going to get worse” says the young GAA player, who passionately believes in actually talking to people.
“If you meet somebody and you just simply say 'hello' you might be the only person to engage with them for the whole day, so I think we need to be kinder and nicer to everyone we meet as we never know what is going on in anybody's life,” says Jack.
Throughout his young life, Jack Slevin says he has been “very fortunate” to have had very positive role models in his parents and family, teachers and also his extended GAA family and he says he is indebted to his coaches, particularly Vinny Fox, for the continued support and encouragement.
As for his future, Jack Slevin admits that he “doesn't have a clue” what he would like to do, but he mentions veterinary or engineering as “possibles” and would also like to get involved in under-age coaching at some stage.
With his positive outlook, and his empathy for those less fortunate than himself, the future is definitely safe in the hands of young people like Jack Slevin.