Millands, Gorey, Co. Wexford
053 94 21092

Speech by Father Forde

Speech by Father Forde

Saint Aidan's Twenty-Five Years Anniversary

Greatly Enhanced Services for the Disabled The disabled need to begin to write their own history and experiences Greatly Enhanced Services for the Disabled The disabled need to begin to write their own history and experiencesKeynote speech by Fr. Walter Forde at the celebrations to mark the 25th Anniversary of St. Aidan’s Day Care Centre Gorey on Thursday November 30th 2006. Fr. Forde, a founder member was on the Management Committee of the Centre for 17 years.

(The Centre was originally called an Activity Centre and was the first such non urban community based facility of its kind in the county and was officially opened by President Hillery on 29th November 1981)

{Fr. Walter Forde The Presbytery Castlebridge Wexford

I am at a stage in life now when I have the great pleasure of being invited back to some organisation I was involved with years ago and discover that it has gone from strength to strength and has progressed beyond our wildest expectations. There is no Agency or undertaking of which this is more true than St. Aidan’s Day Care Centre. The developments over the last quarter of a century have been truly staggering; not just this impressive Campus with the Centre for Adults with learning disabilities; the pre-school unit; the Day Care programme for the elderly but also the four Community Homes, the Respite House, the Training Centre on Market Square and the Outreach in Camolin. With a staff of 80 full time and 21 part time; and an annual budget of €3.3 million and 180 recipients of services it is one of the biggest community based undertakings in County Wexford.

I want to tell a story against myself. In Spring 1981 we had got approval from the Health Board for our blueprint for a Day Activity Centre for the Disabled; our fundraising was well advanced and the County Council offered us a site of approximately half an acre in Ramsfort Avenue. I was pushing strongly for acceptance of that site but fortunately I was out voted on the Management Committee and then David and Deirdre Bolger very generously donated this magnificent site with space for massive development. My mistake was to think that the opening of the Activity Centre was an end point rather than a beginning. Many social and community undertakings are like that; you can never predict in advance the range of activities that you will become involved in; the scope of the services you will have to provide and the number of new programmes you will have to initiate.

Today we celebrate a quarter century of love and care; courage and determination, vision and generosity, imagination and creativity, experimentation and advances on many fronts. So many people have made their way better, individually and socially as a result. Without St. Aidan’s Day Care Centre these past 25 years many, many peoples lives would be less rich; less happy and less fulfilled. May I salute all the people who made this happen, past and present members of the Management and Fundraising Committees led today by Kevin Swords and past and present staff under the leadership today of Maura Kelly. Just briefly I wanted to refer to some of the members of the first Management Committee; Ella Warren the first Chairperson in the mid 1970’s of the Association for the Handicapped and Kevin Cahill and Denis Molumby who drew up the plans and acted as Clerks of Work for the first building here. I have very warm and positive memories of the first Management Committee: of the calming leadership of Chairman Ned O Reilly, the passionate commitment of Michael Hobb, the no nonsense dedication of second Chairman Fred Swords; the management and financial skills of long time Treasurer Brendan Mulcahy; the administrative efficiency of Isolde Byrne, the quiet strong support of Seamus Dooley and the unrelenting drive of Sr. Antonia. All these are sadly no longer involved but there are others who still are and I pay tribute to all those and to our first staff John Murphy, Helen McEvoy and Ciss Doyle.

One other thing I want to mention about this Centre. When I was working in Gorey and maybe at times felt tired, stressed, frustrated, the best therapy was a visit here. I was refreshed, uplifted, inspired by the joy, the warmth and the love. The trainees here over the years greatly impressed me. They had less material attachment; they were more aware of God’s presence; less complicated in their faith; less measured in their love, simple and childlike in their ideas and hopes.

Jean Vanier said ‘The basic gift of a disabled person is that of having kept the heart of a child…….the handicapped know that people are all important’. So I want to say a personal thank you to all the trainees for the warmth of their welcome, the strength of their affection and the generosity of their love.

I have been asked to sketch the background and beginnings of this Centre and I will try to do this as briefly as I can.

In this county services to respond to the educational needs of the disabled began in the 1960’s and the 1970’s saw various efforts to respond to their residential needs and their occupational and employment needs. One man stands out as a visionary and trailblazer in County Wexford. That was Fr. Tony Scallan then a Curate at Enniscorthy. In Gorey there was a small committee in place since1974 which had been doing some fundraising and arranging transport for some locals to Special Schools in Enniscorthy and Wexford. In the late 1970’s we initiated a Crafts and Social afternoon weekly in Loreto Primary School and the Community Development Group started a programme of Summer Swimming Lessons in the Courtown Hotel, for the handicapped. This convinced us of the need for more permanent provision in Gorey. Already under the aegis of the County Wexford Community Workshops there were Workshops in Enniscorthy and New Ross and a Rehabilitation Institute one in Wexford town. We felt that something different was needed in Gorey. We asked the National Rehabilitation Board to do a feasibility study for us. This showed that there were 110 disabled people living in the greater Gorey area, (eleven mile radius) and that 52 of them would be agreeable to attend. On the basis of this we prepared a detailed submission for the Health Board. Could I also pay tribute to the Health Board’s openness and support at that crucial stage? In fact the Management Committee for the Centre had some very fine Health Board officials working on it. In my years there were people like Tony Connolly, Michael Boland, Con Pierce, Dr. Nora Liddy, Dr. Maureen McCartan, Dr. Rodgers, Dr. Kennedy. We worked as equals and it was genuinely a real partnership in caring.

We developed the concept of a Day Activity Centre to cater for handicapped adults who would not be in a position to sustain the level of activity appropriate to a workshop but whose potential was such as to enable them to benefit physically, socially and psychologically from alternative activities. We felt that all categories of disability – physical and mental handicap and mental illness would be incorporated. In our submission to the Health Board we emphasised the need for occupational outlets and social training and aid and respite provision that their families would welcome. We were developing a new model of provision; in fact the first such non urban community based Centre in the country. It was freestanding in that it was not linked to a hospital or other institution. We were very proud within the first few years to have people come from all over Ireland to look at this new type of provision. Within nine years we had added a pre school unit and a Day Care Centre for the Elderly. And as you know these services have since been extended and streamlined and the residential units have been provided.

Let me add a few further sentences about our philosophy.

The most important single concept/ideal/approach which drove the great advances in social and community services from the 1960’s onward was summed up in the phrase ‘community care. In general this is taken to mean care in one’s own homes literally by one’s family or the family supported by social work personnel and community based facilities. This method of care is contrasted with that given in an institution for a variety of reasons. It is seen to be preferable to institutional care and if given early and efficiently may prevent the need for institutional care. The beneficial effects of this policy in the care of the elderly, child care, care of the disabled, care of the mentally ill and so on are now obvious in this community. This was the thinking that was at the heart of our efforts. Perhaps an even more important meaning contained in the phrase ‘community care’ is this. The whole community has the obligation of caring for those in need in their locality. We felt that the Centre here was a concrete example of Gorey facing the needs and problems of our community and channelling local energy and responses to respond.

One other basic perspective we had was this; disabled people had been too often seen as ‘patients’ or ‘problems’. We felt they were individuals with the same needs, same emotions and basically the same potential as the rest of the community. A disabled person has all the same needs as the able bodied and has them at the same time. The disabled are not burdens to be borne in charity but unique individuals who need help to develop to their full potential to make their contribution to society. Attitudes to the disabled might be much more healthy and accepting if we realise that any definition of disability is a matter of placing an arbitrary borderline through a continuum. All of us at the some stage in our lives and in varying degrees will be disabled and needing help and support.

An inauspicious starting time

The 1980’s was a desolate, depressing and deprived decade; the worst time to start a major project and statutory funding was fairly restricted. As a result we had to undertake a major fundraising programme. We estimated a capital cost of £120,000. The Health Board promised £50,000. A substantial amount of the remaining £70,000 was raised in Gorey but in conjunction with C.W.C.W. with Brian Cleary as Chairman, we undertook meetings and fundraising in every parish and curacy in County Wexford and we slightly exceeded our target. There was a very strong back up team of voluntary helpers: not members of the committee but people who from the beginning were crucial to our fundraising; Martin Connolly, Owen Kenny, Jim Lucas, Paddy Darcy, Pat Kinsella and several others. I can equally remember when we were involved in the County wide collection how Sean Stafford enthused and drove us onto greater efforts. Day to day funding was also problematic. In our submission to the Health Board we estimated our running costs for the first year as £21,000 of which we committed to raising £6,000. Because we were pressed for money we also decided that we would only get by, by having a network of volunteer helpers, a number of whom gave in the region of 20 hours a week each acting as tutors in crafts, woodwork etc. with the trainees. Without this part time voluntary staff people like Sr. Antonia, Josie Nolan, Evelyn Kinsella, Paddy Swords, Kevin Cahill, Denis Molumby and others we simply could not have begun or continued. But we did, on a wing and a prayer and since then developments have been an incredible.

Today is about looking back but it is also about looking forward.

There have been significant advances in Ireland in thought and practice in these two and a half decades. There is thankfully an increased presence of minority groups in public life. The context for people with disability has changed rapidly and dramatically. Advances in technology, new understandings of civil rights, new professional studies and methodologies have changed the caring landscape. There is also a welcome new group consciousness and assertiveness. There is a new identification of individual and different needs and effective and appropriate responses are being devised.

New opportunities for self expression by the disabled are of the greatest importance. The disabled need to begin to write their own history and experiences, create their own images in literature and art, and develop their own understanding of disability. What questions, insights and perspectives would be advanced if people with disabilities in all their diversity were placed at the centre of the education, social planning and life of the Churches. This is what authentic and comprehensive inclusivity means. It would be very significant if the disabled too could speak about their emotional, social, spiritual and relationship need. The last quarter of a century has been one of increased awareness and services. My hope is that the next quarter of a century is one of greater self expression and a greater social role.

As always I have gone on much too long. Let me finish with something Senator Edward Kennedy said a few years after this Centre opened and which has a relevance and resonance today ‘May it be said of us today that we found the faith again. May it be said of us in dark passage and in bright days, in the words of Tennyson that my brothers loved and that have a special meaning for me –

‘I am part of all that I have not. Though much is taken, much abides.

That which we are, we are, one equal temper of heroic strong in will to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield’

And he went on…

‘For all those whose cares have been our concern

The work goes on, the cause endures

The hope still lives, the memory lingers on and the dream will never die.

Thank You

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