From Ireland, Person of the Year: Irish Senator Joan Freeman


Joan Freeman, Irish Senator and founder of the suicide prevention group, Pieta House, will come to Chicago to accept her award as Person of the Year.

The modest Senator from Ireland lost a sister to suicide and struggled to understand it. Eleven years ago she founded Darkness into Light to bring the subject of suicide out of the darkness and try to do something to prevent it.

Her group and mission caught on in Ireland when they started the Darkness into Light 5K walk to raise money for suicide prevention. Now, Darkness into Light walks are taking place in the USA. With the help of Chicago Irish Immigrant Supports Michael Collins and Paul Dowling, the 3rd Annual walk will take place at Chicago Gaelic Park on May 6th. if you would like to take part click here!

In Joan's own words:
"Following the death of my sister, the months flew by in a blur. It's strange how such a significant time in my life can be so eroded from memory. I remember a distinct feeling of isolation, of loneliness. Suicide was not spoken about, the subject was so taboo. I had my brothers and sisters for support, but I was hungry for other people's stories too, for some shared experience.

It was years later, as I stood on a height and watched 10,000 men, women and children, all donning bright butter-yellow t-shirts, that I truly understood the power of community, the strength in numbers. I knew I was not alone in my experience, and I hoped that 10,000 other people felt the same way. To this day, that sense of camaraderie is one of the most compelling aspects of Darkness Into Light. No words can convey this experience - you just have to feel it for yourself."

It's been a busy year for Joan. In May, 2016 she was nominated by Fianna Fail's Michael Martin to become an Irish Senator and Taoiseach Enda Kenny agreed to it. She put her money where her mouth is and  donated her 65,000 euro salary to her charity, Pieta House. She was in Chicago promoting the Darkness into Light 5k Walk just last month and agreed to come back in October to accept the iBAM! award. “I was appointed Senator because of Pieta House so it’s only right that Pieta House and the community benefit as a result of this,” she said.

“I’m only reflecting what the people of Ireland have done over the last ten years by giving so much. It costs Pieta House approximately €1,000 to provide a programme of therapy to one person from start to finish so this money will go towards helping people who need the service.”

In the decade since it was founded, Pieta House has helped over 20,000 people in suicidal distress or engaging in self-harm. More than 5000 poeple accessed the service in 2015.

Joan's career has been varied. "My first introduction into the workforce was when I was 13, delivering leaflets for my local supermarket. Then at 17, I took up a position volunteering for the Irish Epilepsy Association. Then in my early 20s I worked for a small television production company, which is where I learned much of my ability to speak in public. A few years after I was married, whilst working in our family owned grocery store, I trained to be a marriage counsellor. I went onto study psychology and at the tender age of 40 received an honours degree in the subject followed by a Masters.

So as you can see, I have had many random, strange, fulfilling, satisfying jobs over the years!! And then I found my passion – Pieta House.

I suppose what I love the most about my career now, is the people I meet – whether they are clients, politicians, people from other organisations, new therapists, or all those wonderful people who for some reason, take Pieta House into their hearts, and who say and do very kind things for all of us who work here. Yes, it’s meeting people I love the most."

If you would like to attend the iBAM! Gala Awards Dinner on Friday, October, 27, 2017 and see Joan in person, click here!