Cork Life Centre Director Don O’Leary, with his three year old grandson Cian, as he received an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Arts at a conferring ceremony at UCC in November. Photo: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Lord Mayor’s award for Don

The fantastic work by Don O’Leary from the Cork Life Centre will be honoured by the Lord Mayor of Cork.

Each year six people receive Lord Mayor’s Civic Awards in recognition of their efforts to support communities across the city.

The news came to light during a meeting of Cork City Council on Monday when the Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr Colm Kelleher said: “I am breaking with tradition somewhat by announcing one of the awards earlier in the calendar. It is to honour a man who has been enormously influential in education across the city, a man who with his team at Cork Life Centre has ensured that young people who are facing challenges in their lives, do not lose out on an education.”

The Lord Mayor said when Don took up his role in 2006, there were six students planning to sit the Junior Cert at Cork Life Centre and now there are 55 from first year to sixth year.

He added: “By listening to, respecting and supporting young people, using the Servol Life Centre model, he has guided hundreds of young people, many facing mental health issues or recovering from trauma, to a place where they can visualise a future for themselves, can self-motivate and can continue their education.

“By providing wrap around services for these young people, he has nurtured their self esteem, their self belief and given them the keys to their future. I am delighted to announce that Don O’Leary is one of six recipients of the 2022 Lord Mayor’s Civic Awards for his work at Cork Life Centre,” concluded the Lord Mayor.

In November Mr O’Leary received an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Arts from UCC.

Mr O’Leary has been director of the Cork Life Centre for the past 15 years, during which time the facility has developed a reputation as a unique, child-centred, developmentally-focused model of education, where young people have fun, develop their talents, and belong in ways they never thought possible.

Under his directorship, the largely volunteer-run Cork Life Centre forged partnerships and collaborations with other institutions, including UCC, with the common goal of providing a place of learning for children outside the formal, mainstream education system.

Described by the Children’s Rights Alliance as “a passionate advocate for children’s rights and the embodiment of a child-centred educationalist”, Mr O’Leary recently retired as a member of the Board of Management at Oberstown Children Detention Campus, Ireland’s national facility for the detention and remand of children under 18 years.

While on the board at Oberstown, Mr O’Leary was a strident advocate for better quality care for children in detention including through improved education and post-placement care.