Category Archives: Charity

Alcohol-related websites

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So I haven’t been getting out much with the camera lately unless I manage to clear out of Dodge completely for a few days, as I have been very busy, especially in work.

One of the main reasons for this has been due to managing a project to redevelop Alcohol Action Ireland’s website and to develop a new website, DrinkHelp.ie, as well as establishing a social media presence for both sites.

It’s been a very interesting project and it it at all went “live” earlier today, which is great! The usual teething problems need to be sorted, but they will be. I hope people find the new sites useful and engaging.

As many of you kindly helped me out back at the planning stages by filling in a survey I put up here, I said I would let you see how it all turned out, but I am keeping this post brief as the sites should speak for themselves – if they don’t I’m in trouble!

Feedback, as ever, is welcome!  Oh and normal photographic programming will resume shortly!

Alcohol Action Ireland and its Facebook page

DrinkHelp and its Facebook page

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Cultivating hope

BETTY Doyle had just about reached the end of her speech when she began to lose her battle against the tears that had been welling up.

The manager of the women’s refuge in Wexford was paying tribute to two women who had been great supporters of the centre before their untimely deaths through illness in 2009, Emer Lovett (38) and Marion Gowan (49).

Betty told those at their annual barbecue last Friday that they were “two wonderful women” and the refuge was going to plant to holly trees in its new garden to honour and remember them.

“My last memory of Emer was a vision in red beside the Christmas tree in White’s (Hotel), laden down with presents for the mothers in the refuge,” recalled Betty. “This was what she did best, always caring and supportive.”

Betty said that Marion was a warm and funny person who loved coming into the refuge once a week to cook with the women staying there.

“The families loved her, but then we all did. Even in sickness she still came in to say hello,” she said.

“We talk about them all the time as if they were still with us. Both women loved Christmas and the evergreen holly will remain visually beautiful all year round, just like Emer and Marion.

“This year for our children we intend to have a Christmas tree in the garden to help fill their lives with hope and joy,” said Betty, as the tears finally got the better of her.

Dermot Gowan, husband of the late Marion Gowan, plants a holly tree in her memory, as (from L to R) Alestren and Berndaette Lovett (brother and mother of the late Emer Lovett), Betty Doyle, refuge manager, and Gusy Smyth, board chairman, look on.

Hope is the lifeblood of a place like Wexford Women’s Refuge, which is always full of women and children who have come from – or more often fled – very difficult circumstances. Domestic violence is driving increasing numbers of women to seek refuge in Wexford and throughout Ireland.

When it’s packed full of women and children all struggling to come to terms with what has led them there and all trying to cope in their new environment together hope and joy must feel like very distant prospects.

That’s where the staff, led by Betty, comes in. That’s where the volunteers, whose spirit was best exemplified by Emer and Marion, come in.

Last Friday there was hope and joy in what is often a very traumatic place. This was because the spirit that moved Emer and Marion to enter the refuge and brighten up the lives of those who stay there is still strong in the community that surrounds it.

The evidence of this was in the refuge’s new garden, which, Betty noted, had always been their “wild waste area” and over the course of years had become completely overgrown and rampant with weeds.

This “wild waste area” was located on a steep slope up behind the refuge and there was very little anyone could do with it. Betty said that “futile attempts had been made to tame the jungle that prevented light from entering the rear of the building for nine years”.

However, one man looking distinctly unimpressed with vista said “I’m going to do something about that”. Liam Keating had intended going to the Wexford Races that day, but instead found himself at the barbeque in the refuge, of which he is a staunch supporter.

Betty found out that Liam was serious when she arrived in one morning and saw a mini-digger scaling the steep slope. “We closed our eyes and waited for the digger to turn over!” she recalled.

However, it didn’t and out of a slope full of weeds was cut a large space, a blank canvass on which to get to work. And get to work they did. Liam oversaw the project and also rolled up his sleeves with the same determination that has proved so successful for him in his business endeavours.

Paul Caulfield, Derek O’Hehir and a number of other local men also got stuck in and from a waste of space they created a garden. There is also a cabin, beautifully decorated, and intended as a haven for mothers who need a place for reflection or just some peace and quiet.

Local artist John Byrne, with the help of some friends, came along and lent their creative talents to ensure that the garden is appropriately decorated, with the likes of Peppa Pig and Nemo now featuring prominently, along with other bright characters and colourful creations.

I looked at the before and after photos with Liam last Friday and the difference a year on is remarkable. He was reluctant to take too much credit for the project, but he can’t really avoid it now as the refuge has named it after him!

Liam said that he sought support from several tradesmen and businesses in Wexford so that his vision could become a reality. There was no talk of recession or resources when the question was put to them – they all got gave generously of their skills, time and, in some cases, stock, to help the refuge.

The staff of the women's refuge in Wexford

Betty made an important point about the garden project – it is solely the result of the hard work and generosity of men. This is not an insignificant point at a place where the majority of women and children find themselves because of men.

The manager of the women’s refuge said that a number of great men have walked through the doors of the refuge over the past year to work on the project.

“That in itself is not an easy task for any man. Yet they accomplished what they came to do with dignity and respect,” said Betty.

She pointed out that Liam hadn’t just seen a hill full of weeds last year – he had seen a genuine need.

“He has carefully observed how the mothers paced up and down by the back door, sometimes in the pouring rain, attempting to make or take a phone call,” said Betty.

“The call couldn’t be taken in the bedroom, there are children around. In the kitchen and sitting room there are other residents and children, all going through their own trauma,” said Betty.

“There is nowhere to sit in peace, to take a call from a parent or sibling. There is no place to shed tears privately. I found Liam’s insight, empathy and holistic approach amazing,” she said.

“So Liam built a house and made a garden and from this day on it will be known as the Liam Keating Garden.”

Liam, just to the right of the plaque bearing his name, at the official unveiling of the garden.

The refuge is continuing to look forward and despite constant funding issues due to government spending cuts (without the support of local organisations, businesses and volunteers it would simply not be able to stay open), it still has ambitious plans, as the chairman of its board, Gus Smyth outlined.

Gus said the vision for the future is to transform the refuge from communal accommodation into self-contained flats.

‘We’re trying to get away from treating women as victims and trying to help them, with their children, establish a life for themselves,’ he said.

Meanwhile, up in the garden, grass continues to spring up where once weeds had completely taken hold.

Engaging the living and the living dead

We were taking a stroll in sunny Dublin on Saturday when we noticed an unusually high volume of the “living dead” in the city centre.

Now I’m not about to make some grand philosophical point about our society, I’m talking about the real deal here – zombies!

We quickly ascertained, through excellent investigative work (asking people!), that all the zombies were making their way – slowly, purposefully and menacingly – towards St Stephen’s Green for a charity walk in aid of two very worthy causes, the Irish Cancer Society and the RNLI.

The sight of these kind-hearted zombies out in the sunshine certainly turned a lot of heads as the city was teeming with shoppers and visitors from early morning.

Being a brave blogger, I decided to venture into the heart of the darkness in St Stephen’s Green just before the zombie walk was due to begin.

There were a large number of zombies there and the majority of them had gone to great lengths to ensure they were as convincing as possible. The make-up and costumes were great and I was very impressed by their efforts, particularly those committed few who stayed in character and were a lot of fun to watch.

Second only to zombies in head count terms were photographers, of the professional and passerby variety, including yours truly until my phone really got into the spirit of things and died! It was easy to see why so many snappers went along. It really was quite the spectacle and everyone was more than happy to pose and show off their scary side.

The attention that this event garnered throughout the day (many people stayed in costume and we even saw some zombies at a gig in Marlay Park that night) is a  great example of  how engaging a fundraising campaign can be.

Charities are operating in a crowded market and in a hugely challenging environment where there’s a greater demand on their front line services, while people have less money in their pockets to donate.

Putting the FUN into fundraising (if you’ll please pardon the pun) is a surefire way of engaging people. The zombie walk did that, as did the recent “Where’s Wally” world record attempts, which I took part in myself.

That particular fundraiser took place in different locations in Ireland (Cork, Laois and Dublin) in conjunction with the Street Performance World Championships (SPWC) and was designed to keep that entertaining event a free one for us all to enjoy, with a portion of the €12 cost for each Wally costume also donated to Africa Aware. Last year the SPWC went for a mass space hopper world record as their fundraiser and it worked quite well too. Also, see this previous post for another good example.

Saturday’s event in Dublin was good fun and it wasn’t just for sci-fi fans and goths I should point out! It was a real family event and there was a great mix of people taking part, as well as a fantastic atmosphere. Zombies get bad press, but the ones I met were lovely!

I’m not suggesting that a fundraiser has to involve fancy dress or mass gatherings of zombies or children’s book characters etc. and I’m not advocating gimmicks either, I’m simply making the case for good ideas.

A good idea can elevate your campaign, whatever it pertains to, into the minds of a public incessantly battered with more messages than we’ve ever had to cope with before. Harnessing good will is not as easy as you might imagine, you need to be engaging.

If you can capture someone’s attention – and more importantly their imagination – you not only boost vital fundraising, but also greatly increase the awareness of the excellent, life-changing and life-saving work that so many charitable organisations in Ireland are carrying out at home and abroad.

Now I’m well aware of the great work of the RNLI and the Irish Cancer Society, but if I hadn’t seen zombies wandering around on Saturday I wouldn’t have known there was a fundraising walk on for them. I wouldn’t have been there to put a few bob in the bucket either.

The two events I’ve mentioned here also did something else very important. They engaged far more young people than most other fundraisers in Ireland do. There were fresh faces (behind the zombie make-up!) everywhere on Saturday. Just what any charity wants to see as it looks to increase awareness and build relationships.

Charities, no matter how big or small and whether they are local, national or international are tasked with an increasingly difficult mission in communicating clearly the great work they do and the results they achieve with your donations. This message should not be trivialised in any way.

But, while your work may be hugely important, to combat information fatigue and get people to participate in your fundraisers you’ve got to ask a key question: “what makes us stand out from the crowd?”

Though, as is always the case in life, bear in mind that whatever you do, not everyone will be happy – particularly if you mastermind the invasion of a tranquil and sunny St Stephen’s Green by the living dead…

Baring all and risking all for charity

I have spoken to two Wexford people in recent days whose charitable endeavours have involved taking to the sea and both of them had interesting stories to tell.

One of these people, 74-year-old Olive Vaughan from Kilrane, shed her inhibitions and her clothes in aid of cancer research.

Olive took part in the “Dip in the Nip” in Sligo last weekend and had a wonderful time. She went there with her brother Cyril and his wife Maureen, who is currently recovering from cancer.

All three took part in the mass skinny dip and their unusual choice of headwear meant they were able to pick their derrieres out of the many that appeared in the photos in the national newspapers today!

You can read all about how Olive got on (and see some cheeky photos) in the Wexford People on Wednesday, where you’ll also find the story of Pat Whitney (see below), who should have worn a bit more when he entered the water in Curracloe recently.

Pat will turn 60 soon, but he’s showing no signs of slowing down and the end of his cycling career last year has seen him switch his considerable energy and attention to open water swimming.

If you are partial to a dip yourself then please support Pat’s swim in aid of the Tracie Lawlor Turst for Cystic Fibrosis at Curracloe next Saturday. I’ve been in there a couple of times myself recently and it’s not that cold, though if you’re staying in for a while wear a wetsuit!

And you thought “golf widows” had it bad…

BADLY disorientated with hypothermia, Pat Whitney heard a familiar voice on the other end of the line when he dialled 999 from Curracloe recently.

Most people would have thought they were hallucinating in the same scenario, but then most people are not married to Ambulance Control Centre workers.

The Enniscorthy man’s wife Marie picked up the phone and couldn’t make much sense of what her husband was saying on the of the line, but she deciphered enough to get an ambulance out to him quickly.

The 59-year-old’s body temperature had dropped to a dangerously low 32 degrees after he had discarded his wetsuit in favour of his togs and went for a long open-sea swim in choppy water.

‘I felt as if I was drunk,’ recalled Pat. He said he got ‘a bad dose’ of hypothermia and was approaching a point where heart failure or slipping into a coma becomes a danger.

He said he was so disorientated it took him half an hour to get from the water to his car and in the meantime he was exposed to a harsh north easterly wind.

He recalled tha he met another man while he was out swimming (from Ballinesker to Curracloe and back) and he had told Pat he must be ‘hardy’ for swimming without a wetsuit. Apparently that’s not quite how Marie sees it!

He was back swimming in a few days and the incident hasn’t put Pat off his newfound passion, after he was forced to give up his first sporting love, cycling, last year.

‘I had to put the bike away last year. Both knees were gone after 35 years of racing and falls,’ said Pat, joking that he and Marie have spent much of their marriage in A&E due to his sporting interests.

To keep fit he took up swimming and quickly developed a love for sea or open water swimming. ‘I’m not waving the white flag just yet,’ said Pat, when asked about his ambitious plans for the coming months as he prepares to turn 60.

First on the agenda is a charity swim he has organised in Curracloe, which will take place on Saturday, July 2 (three weeks before his 60th birthday) at 5 p.m.

Pat has organised the swim as a precursor to, and fundraiser for, a sponsored swim he is doing in aid of the Tracie Lawlor Trust for Cystic Fibrosis next September, when he will be one of a group from Co Wexford who will swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco.

Registration for the Curracloe swim next Saturday will take place at The Winning Post in the main car park. There is a short swim and a long swim. The long swim is approximately one mile the short swim is as long as you are able for or comfortable with.

The entry fee is €25, which includes refreshments in Hotel Curracloe, who are sponsoring the event, after the swim.

Not content with the San Francisco swim, Pat is also hoping to mark his 60th birthday by being part of a team to swim the English Channel.

To qualify as a member of this team he will have to complete a two-mile open water swim – without a wetsuit – in Kinsale, Co Cork, on Saturday July 9. Although he said he’s not faring too bad – those hoping to swim solo across the channel have to complete six hours.

In the meantime, Pat is continuing his training in earnest and when she can Marie now walks along the shore to keep an eye on him!

Contact Pat on 086-8172231 or Ian Lawlor on 087-2696983 for an entry form or further details about next Saturday’s charity swim in Curracloe.

Registration forms can also be downloaded here.