On Tuesday 5th July 2022, myself and Cal Healy, Vice Chair of the Grant Making Committee, were pleased to present a grant of €5,000 on behalf of the Hospital, Saturday Fund, to Cork Life Centre towards creating their sensory room. We also unveiled a plaque in honour of the Hospital Saturday Fund for our support of the life centre over a number of years. Later in October, I went back to visit and see the finished space, and it was great to see how the children are already benefitting from such a fantastic project.
Cork Life Centre is a voluntary organisation offering an alternative learning environment to young people who find themselves outside the mainstream education system.
The Charity caters for children between the ages of 12-18 years who, for various reasons, have not thrived or coped in a mainstream educational setting. Reasons for this include children suffering from mental illness, learning difficulties, autism, and poverty. Several of the students studying at the Centre are also homeless.
Left to right: Paul Jackson, Group CEO, The Hospital Saturday Fund, Rachel Lucey, Deputy Director, Dee Wright, Charity Manager, Don O’ Leary, Director, Cork Life Centre, Ana Maria Vega, EA to the Group CEO, and Donna Potter, Head of Human Resources.
The Centre and its volunteer staff offer students 1:1 tuition in Junior and Leaving Cert subjects and support them in their preparation for these State Exams. The approach to education is a holistic one. The value is in the social education of young people as much as the academic.
I met Don O’ Leary, Director, and Rachel Lucey, Deputy Director. The Centre is rather like a very large house full of children carrying out different types of activities. Some children even work on a large motorbike, which had been used to ride around the world and had been donated to the Centre. Don explained that the majority of children had mental illness issues due to their living/home circumstances. Don feels that these children struggle in mainstream education, not due to lack of intellect, but due to the welfare issues that they face which cause educational problems. The Centre has managed to send a number of students to university, some have even studied law. Don said he is realistic and knows that the Centre cannot help everybody. Don explained that the children studying at the centre had found the pandemic particularly challenging with a number of children (during the initial lockdown) having to seek hospital treatment for their mental health. This didn’t happen during the further lockdowns because the Centre reintroduced its face-to-face counselling. I spoke with Don about Jenny Dowler, CEO of Dogs for the Disabled, and her offer to bring some dogs to the centre to meet and support the children. I had met Jenny in Cork the previous day. Don thought this was a fantastic idea!
Unfortunately, Don is terminally ill with cancer, and even so, he has not missed a single day at the school since his diagnosis last year. In fact, Don’s only absence from the Centre was when he recently drove a truck full of medical and other vital supplies to Ukraine. Don is an amazing individual and a real force of nature. I think the kids at the Centre are going to miss him terribly.
The new addition to the centre is the sensory space. This room will make a huge difference, particularly for younger children and those with autism. The grant received by Hospital Saturday Fund will go towards the development and equipment of the important space.