Sinead Finnerty and Darragh O’Brien are co-workers at the Daughters of Charity Oakridge children’s services which is based on the Navan Road in Dublin, a school for teenagers with learning difficulties. Over the last two years they have facilitated Gaisce participants with volunteering at the centre, Sinead says, “Some of our students would not have an opportunity like this to be around kids their own age who did not have a disability.”
The connection with Gaisce initially started when a colleague of Darragh and Sinead was approached by some Gaisce participants who were interested in volunteering within the school, “It was a very organic thing. The first year we had four boys who volunteered through Gaisce and this year we had four girls from Trinity Comprehensive in Ballymun,” Darragh says.
In terms of the benefits to their own students both Sinead and Darragh are really clear in what the Gaisce participants bring, Sinead says, “The Gaisce students offer something that no professional could bring to our school leavers here. They offer positive relationships, an opportunity for our students to hang out with their peers and experience normal, daily life.”
Darragh explains how when their students and the Gaisce volunteers get together they do simple things like go for a coffee, go to the park, play video games or take the bus together. “Sometimes things don’t need to be structured. Something as simple as just hanging out and playing video games is what the students here want to do.”
Both Sinead and Darragh go on to explain how the Gaisce volunteers have enabled their students to become more independent and how they have helped to improve their life skills, “We wanted our students to learn how to take the bus and where to go and what stop to get off. The Gaisce volunteers were brilliant in helping with that aspect. They would travel with them and teach them where to be, when to ring the bell and where to get off.”
The benefits are two-fold in terms of what the Gaisce volunteers get from helping out within the school, Sinead says, “It really opens their eyes. It shows them the world from our own student’s point of view. It’s something beautiful to watch those natural relationships form with teenagers. It’s very hard to make them happen but Gaisce is really enabling that for our students.”