This week saw the launch of the 2017 Coca-Cola Thank You Fund in Dublin. The fund seeks to give away grants totalling €100,000 to youth charities across the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The tranquil haven of Dublin's St Stephen's Green provided a fitting backdrop for the launch of this year's Coca Cola Thank You Fund.

An inspiring setting

Statues of William Butler Yeats, James Joyce and other Irish literary giants are in earshot as the call went out for community groups to pitch for a share of the €100,000 pot for 2017.

Runaway balloons

Amid the dappled shadows of the park's fulsome sycamore trees, comedian and fund ambassador PJ Gallagher shares jokes with youth leaders and company executives as they pose for pictures with a colourful bunch of balloons.

Comedian and Thank You Fund Ambassador, PJ Gallagher

Balloons that were almost lost to the skies, but for the nimble footwork of Coca-Cola Ireland manager Petre Sandru, who leaps high to recapture them after they slipped from a colleague's grasp. “Did you get that on camera?” he laughs.

“Set up in 2011 to mark Coke's 125th anniversary, the Thank You Fund has already awarded €755,000 to 56 non-profit organisations in the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland.”

The importance of role models
The event was staged as Coca-Cola published new research highlighting the importance placed on role models by young people across Ireland. The study also shows almost half of the island's youth believe their self-confidence could do with a boost.

PJ Gallagher’s role model...

Appropriate then that guests at the launch held aloft pictures of the people who have inspired them on life's journey.

PJ's was not a typical choice. “I picked Jason Byrne the comedian, which people are kind of laughing at me for,” he says.

While he expresses hope his selection would cause great embarrassment to his long-time friend, there was a serious side. “There's not a hope in hell I'd be here today as a comic if it wasn't for him,” he says, crediting Byrne for forcing him to stick at it when he wanted to give up.

Petre Sandru’s role model…

Petre, who hails from Romania, also had a compelling story to tell about his role model – his late father Petre Snr. “He was a physicist, he was head of science for the National Institute of Nuclear Physics in Romania,” he says. “When the big disaster happened in Chernobyl in 1986 he was the head of the multi-dimensional team that was in charge of defending the country against the radioactivity that was coming our way.

“My father also taught me chess. He said it's not only the next move you do, but it's your ability to forecast five or six or 10 moves in advance. That idea transfers to everything in life. That has helped me be a better person, a better businessman and a better father.”

The Thank You Fund in 2017

Set up in 2011 to mark Coke's 125th anniversary, the Thank You Fund has already awarded €755,000 to 56 non-profit organisations in the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland.

Find out more about the Thank You Fund 2017 and how to apply

“My father was a physicist. When the big disaster happened in Chernobyl in 1986 he was the head of the team that was in charge of defending the country against the radioactivity that was coming our way.”

Grants of €5,000, €10,000 and €30,000 will be given to groups fitting this bill that emerge successful from an initial shortlist selection process and subsequent pitch to a panel of expert judges.

Among guests at the launch were representatives of one of last year's winners – Sport Against Racism Ireland (Sari).

Sabina Cotter’s role model: her mother

Sports Against Racism

The organisation was awarded €10,000 for its Diverse City Soccernites - a series of free weekly soccer classes, called Hijabs and Hatricks, for young women of all backgrounds in Dublin’s inner city.

Matthieu Seguin, ‎General Manager at Coca-Cola HBC Ireland & Northern Ireland, explained why the company is so determined to invest in youth.

“We make money with the products we sell to the community, so in return for that we need to give back to the community and grow the young people,” he says, clasping a picture of his role model, Henry Ford.

“This year we are very happy to make available another €100,000 to find ways to build confidence and give opportunities to the young people in our countries to let them demonstrate their skills and capabilities.”

Sabina Cotter’s role model…

The Thank You Fund is supported by the Irish Youth Foundation and Youth Action Northern Ireland.

Sabina Cotter, from the foundation, has brought along a picture of her mother Eileen.

“My mum is a real role model - she is an absolutely beautiful, kind, loving and sincere person and I think if you can bring those values with you throughout your life, no matter what you are doing, good things will happen,” she says.

Ms Cotter said making young people believe in themselves is key. “Self-confidence is so important – that they believe in themselves,” she says. “In Ireland, young people are not as confident as they should be and it's fantastic to have opportunities for young people to go and develop their skills around their confidence and leadership skills.”

Fostering diversity

June Trimble, from YouthAction NI, says the fund gives groups the power to turn ambitious plans into reality. “This year we want to empower young people by developing their leadership skills,” she says. “We also want to help them as they bridge the divide between education and the workplace and we aim to foster diversity and inclusion in their communities.

“If your organisation has an idea that will accomplish these aims, we want to hear from you.”

Find out more and apply to the 2017 Thank You Fund