We hope these stories will shine a light on how the YMCA has been working to give meaning and direction to young people in Cork. There is a lot of abstract talk about outcomes, evidence and measurement in all sectors of society including youth work; we think stories give give a much better feel for the real work based on relationships. Our work has been characterised for a number of years now by an integrated range of services in a family atmosphere where young people can avail of of multi-layered assistance from people they know and trust, creating stronger individuals ready to play their part in society.
Jacky began STEP in January 2010 and graduated in June of that year. At that point in her life she was living in residential accommodation (Cork Foyer) and was being supported by North Lee social work department. She had a history of intermittent homelessness and issues with drug and alcohol misuse, leading to a number of incidents which brought her to the attention of the Gardai. Overall, Jacky had a lot of challenges dealing with stressful situations and often became very angry as a result.
It was while on STEP that Jacky was introduced to the dion project. First contact with it was very informal and a very good relationship with her began to develop. She also linked in with the Youth Information Centre for her further educational and training needs.
In September 2010 Jacky began a 3rd level course in St John’s Central College and also secured accommodation, linked to her college place.
She is currently working on a full-time basis, has been living in stable accommodation since September 2010 and is in a long-term relationship. She is doing very well on all levels and still links in with the dion project on a regular basis for continued support.
Jacky identifies the YMCA as a very important source of support in her life and she “checks in” on a regular basis when she feels she needs to.
Sinéad’s initial contact was with the Counselling Service and then the dion Independent Living support service. She also sought advice from the Youth Information Centre on a few separate occasions. When she first started counselling in the YMCA Cork she was contemplating suicide and was very low. She attended regular counselling with the YMCA counsellor who she describes as “an unbelievable support to me. I always felt safe in the counselling room and never felt like I was being judged”.
Through this dependable source of support Sinéad was able to fight through all the problems she was having including family issues and problems with alcohol and drug dependency. As a result of attending counselling her entire life has improved. She gained the confidence to return to education and also learnt how to deal with all her problems. “I now have the skills I need to deal with other problems that will come up in life, work or education. I honestly feel like I was given a second chance at life”.
While attending counselling Sinéad also met with the dion project worker. He had a wealth of local knowledge which enabled her to change her situation into a positive one quickly. The place Sinéad was living in was not safe. The worker helped her to find the information she needed and was there any time she contacted him to offer his support and advice on her housing problems. He also provided assistance in contacting the Community Welfare Officer and in completing forms. “It meant so much to me that I was not alone”.
Finally, Sinéad called into the YIC (Youth Information Centre) on several occasions with many questions initially in relation to working abroad as a young person and received up to date advice in relation to visas and work agencies.
Years later Sinéad also received advice in relation to her entitlements as an unemployed person looking to attend college, information on the VTOS scheme and also details on colleges in Cork and beyond. She was assisted on a number of occasions in relation to college applications, form completion and lots of other general information.
“I never felt like I was being rushed and the staff were friendly and helpful which is exactly what I needed when nervous and worried about improving my situation. The YMCA has helped me so much over the last few years. I hope that others will get a chance to meet people who are as kind and caring and be helped by them to improve and even save their lives; as they did for me”.
Ken found an alternative to his world of drugs and drinking by getting involved in the music scene in YMCA Cork. He now describes the craic in producing and performing a bigger rush than drugs. He also has loads of new friends, a new safe hang-out space.
Before his time on STEP Mal was mixed up with the wrong kind of people using the wrong kind of substances. He was stuck in a deep depression which he did not see himself getting out of after previous failed attempts to change his lifestyle.
Once accepted onto STEP Mal decided to make the most out of it and he did. Throughout his entire time in secondary school he was either suspended or was messing around. On STEP every assignment he was given he completed on time or ahead of schedule, but behind all of the assignments Mal was also taking the steps he wanted to improve his life. He also became involved with GroundFloor and recorded a song, which was performed at the STEP Graduation. This gave him confidence to further develop his interest in music.
By the time Mal finished STEP he was 1 year clean of heavy substances and 8 months clean of marijuana. While on STEP he also gave up cigarettes and alcohol. During the course Mal was given a job as a Computer Technician following a 4 week work experience where he worked up to 60 hours a week to prove himself. Several months after finishing STEP Mal is in college training to become an IT Support Expert.
Mal believes there’s a reason the course is called STEP because it helps you to take the required steps to improve your life!
Mal also really benefitted from attending counselling and is still accessing this support many months later which is helping him to maintain the positive changes made in his life. He asserts that the atmosphere within the YMCA and the interest that all of the staff and projects have shown in him has increased his confidence. He has even helped solve some computer problems for different projects and for staff within the YMCA.
“Soo Ki’s story”
Soo Ki has many lovely memories of the time spent doing the STEP course. She is a foreign national who moved to Ireland a few years ago and English is not her first language. It was her dream to study in Ireland and to get a recognised education which wasn’t easy with a language barrier. She met the STEP Co-coordinator in 2009 and got the chance to do the STEP course. It helped her so much to improve her English language skills, communication and computer skills and to study many other modules such as Heart ‘n Soul. The course increased her general knowledge and opened her eyes and helped her to see the world in different ways. The course also helped her to get to know more people, to improve her social skills and build confidence. After successfully completing STEP she started college, doing a FETAC L 5 course and three years later she is studying at FETAC L 7.
Over the last number of years the staff in the Youth Information Centre provided useful information on and support with student grants and useful links & websites for young people. While Soo Ki was doing the STEP course, she met a YMCA counsellor who helped her through some very tough times, including dealing with the loss of someone very important in her life and encouraged her to get back on track and to work on building up her inner strength, self-esteem and assertiveness. The Dion project coordinator also assisted with financial difficulties and other issues, which helped Soo Ki to survive.