From Galliagh to the White House

Off the Streets staff, from left, Catherine O'Donnell, project manager, Cathal McCauley, co-chairperson, and Martin Connolly, co-chairperson. (0803PG04)
Off the Streets staff, from left, Catherine O'Donnell, project manager, Cathal McCauley, co-chairperson, and Martin Connolly, co-chairperson. (0803PG04)

A leading Derry community worker is to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day at the White House alongside US President Barack Obama and An Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Catherine O’Donnell, manager of the ‘Off The Streets Initiative,’, was selected for the honour due to her contribution to the community through her youth work services.

Catherine, who will also meet First and Deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness at a function in Washington, said she was “gobsmacked” with her invitation.

The trip, funded by the International Fund for Ireland, is part of the Ambit study programme. It will see Catherine and 11 other community workers travel to the USA for 12 days. They will share best model and practice with youth and community groups in Washington and Philadelphia.

Darren O’Reilly of the Rosemount Resource Centre will also be among the Irish community and voluntary workers in the study group.

However Catherine was one of only two in the party who received invites to the St Patrick’s Day event at the White House. She explained: “The US General Consulate called me and informed me I had been selected to attend. I was delighted and honoured at being invited on the trip and even more so when asked to attend the White House. When I asked why had I been chosen to meet the US President, the US Consulate informed me: ‘The President began his career in a community group such as yours.’

“I am really looking forward to meeting Mr. Obama and Mr. Kenny,” said the Creggan mother-of-three. “I had to get lessons from my son who is in the final year of his International Politics degree at Magee! It is a great opportunity to lobby on behalf of Off The Streets, the Outer North and Derry but Northern Ireland also. I’ll be putting the case across that while the ceasefire is a fantastic forwards step, there are still a lot of social issues which need addressed.”

The former Community Development lecturer at Magee has more than two decades’ experience in her sector.

“I am there as much to share my own experiences as I am to learn. It is a real personal challenge but one I am absolutely looking forward to. Professionally speaking it is less of a challenge and more of an opportunity to see how other similar organisations work on the ground.”

Off The Streets is a youth intervention project giving young people alternatives to anti-social behaviour.

“We are about offering young people options which they might not otherwise have, options which will allow them to change their lives,” explained Catherine.