SUMMER IN DUBLIN

John Harraghy, Head of Child Care St Augustine's School Blackrock Co. Dublin & Mary de Paor

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SUMMER PROJECT 2000 AT ST AUGUSTINE’S

‘Summer projects’ began in the Liberties area of Dublin in 1973, when the Catholic Youth Council assisted local people to develop a programme for about 200 young people for the summer months.

A summer project is a planned programme of recreational, educational and community-based activities for children or young people, organised by adults. A variety of activities take place, ranging from home-based activities such as arts and crafts and indoor sports to outdoor activities such as swimming and visits to historical places of interest. Every project is distinct and has its own particular atmosphere. What is important, however, is that the spirit of cooperation, togetherness and doing something worthwhile makes projects unique and valuable.

St Augustine’s School introduced the idea of an ‘integrated’ summer project in 1997. Integration, in this context, aims to ensure that students from St Augustine’s interact and participate with their peers in the community and that the local community becomes more aware of St Augustine’s and its services. The idea worked well from the outset. This year the project expanded to three weeks and included the introduction of a residential facility for young people who otherwise would not have been able to take part.

Organising a summer project involves ‘four Ps’: planning, programme ideas, pay, and then pray! A good programme is imaginative, with a blend of old ideas and some new and unproven ones. There must be a balance to cater for children of varying ages from 8 to 15, and to cater for boys and girls. Flexibility and organisation usually keep things on track. One of the most important features of a good summer project is the ‘learning dimension’, and most projects include visits to historical sites, teamwork activities and some drama.

This year, the St Augustine’s programme was designed to challenge participants to become involved in activities they would perhaps have been reluctant to try before now. With the assistance of Dún Laoghaire Youth Service, we were able to offer rock-climbing, sailing, canoeing and hill-walking for some of the project participants. The ‘learning zone’ included drama workshops and visits to Wicklow Gaol, Newbridge House, National Sealife and the Fry Model Railway Museum. Some students asked to make farm visits and to go to the zoo–as in most summer projects, the attraction of animals continues to enthuse children.

Our integration target worked well–one-third of the children in the project this summer were from the local community (but not pupils of St Augustine’s). Although integration may cause difficulties for adults, it is not an automatic problem. Participation in events such as summer projects encourages young people to develop new friendships.

The summer project also acts as an element in the induction process for new students who will be enrolled in St Augustine’s in September. This has worked well over the years, and seems to be particularly helpful for students who have had attendance difficulties in the past.

Where do we go from here? A link-up with other summer projects in the area has been suggested–especially with community-based projects. The involvement of parents and volunteers requires further attention. Perhaps the greatest challenge is to involve the young people themselves in organising aspects of the project. Some senior students have expressed an interest in becoming involved as helpers in future projects. We also intend to look at suggestions about developing aspects of the project during the rest of the year–this could be another valuable link with local children in the larger community.

At the end of Summer Project 2000, one of the participants remarked: ‘What a pity every day couldn’t be a summer project day!’ And a parent commented: ‘My daughter gets a chance to mix and socialise with her peers. This is probably the only opportunity open to her to do so. The activities are diverse and well-planned. The staff are efficient, cheerful and very caring.’

THE GLEN GROUP CAMP

Summer projects don’t just ‘happen’–they involve the hard slog of highly committed initiators and project leaders. The St Augustine’s Summer Project (described across the page) succeeds because of the vision and commitment of staff members, with the assistance of bodies such as the Dún Laoghaire Youth Services. The Glen Group Camp is another example of what some people are willing to do, in order to meet a recognised need.

Noeleen Berry was determined to find something in summertime Dublin specifically for young adults with special needs at home during the summer while their usual service providers have a break. She couldn’t find anything, so she set about designing that ‘something’ herself- The first Glen Group Camp was held in July 1999–five days of outings and activities for eight young adults, which was hugely successful..

This past summer–Year 2–the camp extended to two weeks, with twelve campers and the necessary complement of magically-recruited assistants: a designated pal for each camper (plus two floaters), a leader, a bus-driver and a nurse. Apart from one nearly quiet morning of yoga and circle dancing at their ‘base camp’ in Taney, Dundrum, the two weeks were full of hectic activity. They tried out the Blessington Lake waterbus, made two visits to the zoo (it has really expanded this summer!), had a full day of swimming, crazy golf and bowling in Courtown, were treated to a barbecue in the garden of the Kingston Hotel, relished the sights and sounds of the Ceol exhibition and went up the new tower at Smithfield, and were taught lawn bowls and cricket by enthusiastic members of the Leinster Sports Complex in Rathmines (encouraged by their manager, Linda).

So, how is it done? Well, the camp uses every ounce of energy that Noeleen Berry and her committee have, and for much of the year, not just for those two summer weeks. She herself says that she no longer has friends–they’re all committee members! (Such ‘former friends’ include Mary Brogan, Mary Ryan, Frieda Reid, Geraldine Vaughan–and a host of other supporters.) The campers pay a small fee, which doesn’t cover anywhere near the full cost of transport, venues, insurance and staffing costs. Annual fund-raising includes a sponsored walk in September, a table quiz and a St Patrick’s Eve céili–in addition to folders-full of requests for grants and donations. This year, the Glen Camp acknowledged the support of several groups, including the National Millennium Committee, the local VEC, Southside Partnership, the Red Cross and other voluntary bodies. All the staff members give some of their precious holiday time to the camp–some receive a modest wage, but others insist on working completely voluntarily. Some are experienced care workers, and the others soon learn the ropes (Noeleen thinks a pre-camp staff training day would be a good idea …).

That brings us to next year, and beyond.… Camp participants insisted that their bookings for next year should be noted before the last day of Camp 2000! What are the committee’s plans now? Well, as this is being written, they’re busy planning the September sponsored walk and a parents’ evening. Campers exchanged phone numbers and addresses at the camp–it is hoped their families will help them to keep in touch, getting together occasionally during the year. Noeleen will try to give it a few more years, but she admits that the effort is very tiring, and eventual burnout is likely. She wants the valuable role of the Glen Camp (and any other similar camp) to be recognised and put on a sound financial footing.

Noeleen’s dream is that some day (soon!) ‘I would like people to be able to pick up the phone and book a holiday for their son or daughter, or brother or sister–so, just like anyone else, they can look forward during the year to a fun break from their home or usual service.’

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