TWO Fermanagh teenagers have spoken out about the positive impact that the HEROES inclusive youth project has had on them following their involvement.

Joe Doherty and Donal McManus, both aged 16 and from Enniskillen, took part in the EU PEACE IV-funded inclusive, cross-community, cross-Border project that supports young people with and without learning difficulties with personal development, citizenship and good relations.

HEROES stands for 'Helping Equality, Respecting Others, Enabling Success', and the project allows young people to take part in group work, individual mentoring, cultural trips, and free residentials.

Joe, who has autism, joined the project six months ago. Talking about his experience, he said: “I really enjoyed my time on the HEROES project. It was a lot of fun to make new friends and the activities we did were always amazing.

"It helped me to gain more confidence in myself. I was shy and did not talk to a lot of people before, but now conversations with members of the group increased my confidence.

“I have autism, and sometimes I feel different [from other people], but the members in the group made me feel less different, and helped me to feel comfortable.

"It is a lot of fun and gives you additional skills. I would definitely say for any young person thinking of joining HEROES to go for it.”

Outlining his favourite moments from the project, Joe listed “the virtual campfire sessions when we toasted marshmallows, the sports day, the combat corps paintballing, and archery at the Share centre".

He added: "Learning about different cultures and community organisations was really interesting, and so was the Christmas dinner in the Taphouse, mostly because I got to eat a lot of food!”

Donal is a local student who also took part in the HEROES Project. He said: “HEROES helped me to connect with people I wouldn’t usually meet, as they were from different schools.

"I am used to mixing with people with a disability, so that wasn’t really unusual for me, but in this group I got to know people better, as we had a chance to talk about lots of things, including what challenges we all faced.

"Everyone was really friendly and the activities were very inclusive.”

Talking about the positive impact HEROES had on her son, and encouraging other parents to sign their young people up for the project, Joe's mum, Gina Parkinson, said: "The HEROES youth project helped my son to believe in himself, gain confidence and show him that he can be socially accepted. It made him feel that he belonged in the group.

“I would highly recommend parents to get your young person signed up to this project.

"It gives them a self-worth, appreciation and respect for others. They truly are their own heroes.”

Learning disability charity Mencap NI is the lead partner in the HEROES project, along with the Devenish Partnership Forum in Fermanagh, Londonderry YMCA, the Health Service Executive in Donegal and Sligo, and the Special EU Programmes Body.

Melissa Hanley, HEROES Youth Worker with Mencap NI, said: “We want young people from all communities and abilities to get involved in the next HEROES project group so they can develop their confidence, have new experiences and build positive relationships that will last.

"During lockdown, we developed a wide range of fun and interactive Zoom online meeting sessions, but we are looking forward to working face-to-face with the young people, now that Covid restrictions are lifting.

"We want the young people we work with to have an amazing experience they won’t forget.”

The HEROES Youth Project is currently recruiting for its next group of young people in Fermanagh to join the project and become their own hero.

For further information, email, call 0792 036 1707, or visit