Kim Kelly, BA’92, BSW’02, M.Ed.’08, believes that the best way to remember a loved one you’ve lost is to say their name and to keep the best qualities of that person alive.
A native of Cape Broyle, N.L., Ms. Kelly comes from a proud Southern Shore family and a tightly knit community. The tragic loss of her brother Brendan to suicide in 2000 profoundly affected her life and the lives of all those who knew him.
In 2015, Ms. Kelly decided to create a student award in memory of Brendan, to honour him through Memorial – a place close to her heart that is also Brendan’s alma mater.
Community-minded and a dedicated fundraiser, Ms. Kelly has been part of several fundraising initiatives within the university, including as vice-chair of the staff and faculty initiative supporting Memorial’s Dare To campaign from 2007-13.
This experience was one among many others that pointed her in the direction of supporting students as another way to remember her late brother.
“It was important for me to create a legacy and for people to remember the things he did in life, not solely focus on how he died,” said Ms. Kelly.
“I believe the greatest way to do that and to honour him was for his name to be said and to be memorialized through an award in his memory.”
Supporting education, particularly a Memorial University education, is something Ms. Kelly strongly believes in and she knows Brendan, who received his bachelor of arts at Memorial in 1998, would echo that sentiment.
In 1995 Ms. Kelly, who is a registered social worker, began working at Memorial as a residence life officer. Between her time as a student and her live-in employment, she lived on campus for approximately 16 years.
Currently, she is the bachelor of social work student services co-ordinator and chair of admissions with Memorial’s School of Social Work, a position she’s held for the last eight years.
“It was really important that we give this award to a student who was going to continue that legacy of service.”
Together, Ms. Kelly and her partner, Mike Maher, BA’04, created the Brendan Kelly Memorial Award. Valued at $500, this award is given annually to a social work student.
Preference is given to students hailing from the Southern Shore, who are completing a practicum or have expressed an interest in the area of mental health.
More than $8,000 has been raised for the award through an album, The Best Part of Me, written by Ms. Kelly’s mother, Sheila, and featuring her brother Scott.
With production help from Ronnie Power of The Irish Descendants, and the support of many friends across Memorial’s campuses, it was truly a community project. The album is dedicated to Brendan with proceeds supporting the Memorial award in his name.
Helping those at risk
Three awards have already been presented to students at Memorial. Ms. Kelly feels that it is important that the award go to someone studying social work.
“I’m really happy that this award is going to a social work student who wants to help people at risk for suicide or to build resources for those in need,” said Ms. Kelly. “Brendan was all about volunteer work and he contributed greatly when he was alive, so it was really important that we give this award to a student who was going to continue that legacy of service.”
Thomas O’Brien grew up in the community of Tors Cove and was the inaugural recipient of the Brendan Kelly Memorial Award in 2015. The award holds a lot of meaning for Mr. O’Brien, who recalls how he decided on social work as a career.
“Coming to terms with my sexuality in a small area where everyone I knew was straight is the biggest challenge I have ever encountered in my life,” said Mr. O’Brien.
“I reached out to a social worker who was performing mental health counselling and after months of work with him, I felt safe, secure and healthy enough to come out to my family and friends. It was also the time when I looked at social work as a possible profession for me.”
As someone who has struggled with his own mental health, Mr. O’Brien says he was especially moved to receive the award. It has motivated him to become more involved in the field of mental health and to support people in their time of need.
‘How will we be remembered?’
It’s everything that Ms. Kelly hoped for.
The creation of Brendan’s award has always meant to honour his life and to help students positively impact their community.
“One of the things we wonder during our life is, ‘How will we be remembered?’” said Ms. Kelly.
“I think that a scholarship or an award is an excellent way to remember someone and to create a legacy. We can all have a positive impact. I think we need to challenge that within ourselves and see how we can all contribute to the students at Memorial.”