Saturday 20 January 2018

With a permanent premises Youthreach can get back to working towards core goals

Mandy McMahon, Lisa McMahon, Polly McMahon and Fran Malone
Mandy McMahon, Lisa McMahon, Polly McMahon and Fran Malone
Elaine Whelan and Martin Wickham
Padraig Doran and Denis Murphy
Suzanne Shallow, Sasha Sludds and Bobby Sludds
Caitlin Savage, Denise Savage, Ciara Walsh and Michelle Walsh
Marianne Rogan and Katie Kehoe
Marie Nolan, Eilish Liddy, Phil O'Mahony, Karl Fitzpatrick, Cll Jim Moore, James Browne TD, Kevin Lewis, CEO, WWETB; Cllr Michael Sheehan and Mary Walsh at the official opening.

Youthreach Wexford has been on the move since 2013 but with a new permanent premises in Whitemill Industrial Estate, staff and students now have a place to call home.

It was a momentous occasion for all at the further education facility when the ribbon was cut on their new premises recently. The doors were opened to employers, parents, local councillors and other guests, who got a glimpse into the ongoing work that staff and students do.

'Having the permanent premises means a hell of a lot to us,' said Youthreach Coordinator Phil O'Mahoney. 'We can offer our students much more stability now.'

Youthreach Wexford has its roots in Keelogues, where it remained for almost 20 years. In 2013, they moved to Larkin's Cross and later, to a rented building at Kent Stainless in Ardcavan. After a long struggle to secure a permanent premises, they finally moved into Whitemill Industrial Estate last June where they share their building with Youthtrain.

The bright new building caters for 30 early school leavers who wish to complete a Leaving Cert Applied or QQI Programme. Students learn a whole host of subjects under the one roof including art and craft, IT, maths, German, Irish, horticulture, English and catering to name a few.

Activities in each new room vary by the hour. An arts and crafts room brimming with colourful paintings, unique models and lino cuttings also serves as the centre for the German language classes. Another general purpose room hosts Irish lessons, while the maths room also serves as the place where students immerse themselves in personal reflection. This module encourages them to reflect upon their time at Youthreach and ask themselves how they can improve in certain areas. A common area and an engineering room are currently bring shared with Youthtrain, as is the recently-opened training kitchen. The new kitchen is a 'dream come true' for resource teacher Sinead Breen Denton.

'It's just brilliant. We have so much space now,' she said. 'We teach the students how to cook everything from scratch using fresh local ingredients.'

Sinead has been teaching catering classes for Youthreach students for over 17 years and throughout this time, has seen many of the young people shine in the kitchen.

'I have an ex-student working in Kelly's Hotel, another in Tides in Rosslare, one in Wexford General and one as the Head Chef in Rockin' Joes,' she said. 'It really proves the point that these students do have skills and can do really well.'

The facts and figures also point towards the positive. Since the first sitting of the Leaving Cert Applied in 2000, 175 students have successfully completed the LCA programme. Through this, they have not only learned a wide array of subjects, they have also prepared themselves for the workplace by completing several blocks of work experience in local businesses.

'Most of them get on extremely well,' explained Health and Fitness Tutor Anne Ryan. 'Some of them even end up with full or part-time jobs afterwards. It's a great way for them to gain a good work ethic.'

However, Youthreach have a much wider scope than one that is solely academic or employment based.

'It's not like school,' said Phil. 'Along with regular learning, we also look at the holistic side of learning. The soft skills that we teach them here can't be measured.'

This holistic side includes daily sport and exercises classes led by Anne, during which students learn the importance of keeping fit and healthy.

'We try to address the idea of having a healthy mind, body and spirit,' she said. 'We do 30 minutes of exercise each day. That could be circuit training, yoga or walking.'

Other non-academic activities that students participate in include a car safety course, SPHE, anger management modules, Quit for Youth and a relationship course. A 16-seater bus also allows them to go on trips to libraries, parks and other local attractions.

The organisation also has close links with the Cornmarket Project. Through a series of visits, students get to know more about Cornmarket and the work that they do. According to Phil, the aim is to show students that there is accessible help and support out there for them long after the LCA is finished.

Though they are thrilled with their progress and new premises, staff at Youthreach feel that they still have a way to go in terms of facilities. They currently share several of their rooms with Youthtrain, while others are quite limited in capacity. If funding allows, they hope to be able to expand on what they have.

'It would be great to have our own canteen where the students can go for a cup of tea between classes. A games room where they can relax and hang out would also be good,' said Phil. 'Hopefully we will get the engineering room sorted soon too. We need to separate the woodwork from the engineering for obvious reasons.'

Whether these wishes are delivered or not, Phil is still proud of what Youthreach have achieved despite several hiccups, space issues and many moves.

'We have packed and unpacked three times,' she said. 'What we have done here is tremendous.'

Anne too is happy with their progress. For her, the new premises will help them to continue to strive for their original goal.

'One of our biggest successes is creating a safe space for students where they can thrive in themselves and become the person they aspire to be,' she said. 'We create a safe space where they don't feel like people are judging them.'

'We are going to continue to do what we set out to achieve.'

Wexford People

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