This is a landmark year for the Brothers of Charity, Newcastle West, who celebrate 30 years of enhancing the lives of services users and their families from around west Limerick.

Historically people with an intellectual disability had to move away from home and live in institutions, often as far away as Dublin. As small children they left their families as there was no service available to children or adults in west Limerick. The Brothers of Charity service in Newcastle West was set up in 1984 to facilitate adults from West Limerick to live at home or in their local area. This was made possible by the dedication of a small group of people who showed dedication and determination and some of whom are still involved today.

Going Forward Together is the ethos of the Brothers of Charity, and this ethos is depicted in visual form inside the door of the organisation’s facility at Lacey’s Cross. The Brothers of Charity Service aims to support individuals who have an intellectual disability to have a full quality of life. The activities of the Brothers of Charity Services in the Limerick Region are guided by a strong commitment to the values that recognise all people first as individuals. The organisation endorses full inclusion for individuals with disability in all aspects of community life while ensuring their rights are understood and upheld. In partnership with individuals, families, professionals, organisations and state agencies, they seek to shape policy decisions and to increase the opportunities for inclusion, independence, productivity and personal life satisfaction for individuals with intellectual disability.

The first service in Newcastle West 1984 was in a Shannon Development unit in Sheehan’s Road. Two staff and three service users started on that day and the activities introduced were craft-based like sewing, printing, window boxes and woodwork. The service has long since moved to Lacey’s Cross and today has a staff of 26, catering for more than 60 service users.

Throughout the years the service has progressed in line with best practice. Aoife Keogh is area manager for the Brothers of Charity Newcastle West; she has been with the organisation in different roles for the last twelve years and has witnessed the many changes in the development and enhancement of the service in that time. “The focus for many years was on workshop environment and the development of work skills in the hope of obtaining work for people within the community. While this was very successful for some individuals who did in fact obtain and retain employment in the community, others required a different type of service,” she outlined.

Aoife explained that the focus has now changed and the serivce is working towards creating independent people and is based on plans that the people who use the service develop themselves with the help of the staff of the Brothers of Charity. “It is a focus on social skills and life skills and how people interact in and be part of their communities and with that we try to give people skills that they will need to be more self sufficient and not dependent on other people. This is done by establishing opportunities for new experiences, by being inventive and persistent and by having high expectations of success.”

The new approach is working very well with some service users in their home houses with support from their families “We have people who are living in their home houses but on their own with support from the community and their family. We have a group of people who live independently in housing in Newcastle West; they live independently in appartments, some shared and some on their own, and they have their own lives. We help them occasionally with things like banking, cooking and transport, as individally they have different needs, and we support them that way,” Ms Keogh said.

There are over 45 activities happening in the service on a weekly basis. These include leisure activities like swimming, horse riding and bocce; skills development like computer training, cookery and literacy; and social development through community participation. The provision of this service is enhanced through the support of families, friends, fundraisers, volunteers, students, local community groups and local employment groups.

In recent years among the major developments at Lacey’s Cross are a new sensory room and a life skills room. “We were able to provide those due largely to the fundraising activities, we are very lucky to have got funding from Wyeth Cycling Club which helped build the life skills room. We got some money from a family when a member of their family that used the service passed away and that helped build the sensory room. All the other new initiatives like the computer room and the multi sensory garden were put together by kind donations from people, those who put on fundraising events for us locally, and through grants, and help from organisations like West Limerick Resources. We are deeply grateful to all those who support us in those organisations, to our volunteers, to TUS and the Rural Social Scheme, the students in the local schools and everybody who helps throughout the year,” Ms. Keogh explained.

To mark the 30th anniversary, a series of events will be going on between now and the end of the year to which everybody is invited.

An open air Mass has already been held this month in the grounds at Lacey’s Cross. Today Wednesday June 25th an art exhibition of work by people attending the Brothers of Charity will be on display in the Red Door. The exhibition will open at 7 p.m. and all are welcome.

On Thursday July 24th there will be an open day where people will have the opportunity to visit the service and see what happens there.

September 6th will see the 5th annual cycle. This event is the only fundraising the Brothers of Charity Newcastle West hold each year, and again the public support would be greatly appreciated.

On November 6th there will be a gala ball in the Devon Inn. At this event the Brothers of Charity will launch a photographic exhibition which will then move to the Red Door.

In December there will be an end of year Mass to finish the celebrations.

The Brothers of Charity, Newcastle West, would like to invite everybody to join in all their 30th year celebrations between now and the end of 2014.