Bridie Sheridan smiles proudly as she is photographed amongst some of the young people that local group Youthlife has helped over the past two decades.
In its 21 year history the Derry charity has assisted more than 9,000 young people deal with issues ranging from grief and loss, to divorce and separation.
And last week, the group which was formed in 1992, marked their 21st birthday with a special function at the Delacroix.
The charity was established to help young people deal with grief from suicide but has now widened significantly and offers multi-level support structures for young people dealing with loss and/or grief issues.
Mrs. Sheridan said: “We now offer a wide range of programmes to help young people deal with loss and bereavement. Those emotions can be caused by a number of factors: death, separation or divorce.”
Youthlife also assist young people in care.
“These young people are often dealing with a loss of identity, loss of family ties, family home, their peer relationships or have had to change schools,” explains former general nurse Mrs. Sheridan.
The Bishop Street based organisation employs two full time and one part time staff, five councillors, eight facilitators and have the support of no less than 70 volunteers. Those volunteers staff offer what is a valuable resource for both Youthlife and their young people, a drop in cafe which opens every Friday and Saturday night from 8.30pm to 11pm.
“The work of those volunteers is incredible,” said the project manager. “We have so many people who are looking to assist the project, it is just fantastic. The cafe which the young people use could not function without their support. We have 30 young people who use the facility every weekend. Those young people are both the heart and the face of our organisation. We believe passionately in them even when they don’t believe in themselves.
“We work with a lot of young people who are on the edge of life and they always return our faith in them in spades.”
That work has seen Youthlife awarded with the coveted Stephen Lawrence award in 2010. The award is presented to projects in which young people help other young people.
“It was a nice acknowledgement,” smiled Mrs. Sheridan.
“There is a lot of pride which comes from watching the visible change in those young people who come through our projects.
“To be part of that process is very rewarding and very humbling. The young people trust our organisation with what is a very deep and intimate part of their lives as they attempt to overcome their loss. The transition from the stages of grief to healing can be overwhelming. There is no doubt that we are making a difference.”
The group offer training to those who move through their services so that they in turn can offer support to others.
Mrs. Sheridan said: “The largest sense of pride, in 21 years of service, comes from being able to watch the young people grow, heal, then help others who are undergoing the same tests, all through their involvement with us. Peer support has a massive part to play in the healing process.”
The charity offer social and emotional care and support through their drop in service. “A friendly and welcoming informal approach is best initially,” said the project manager.
Youthlife also offer accredited Open College Network courses and a mentoring service is also available.
The next level of support is in training the young people so they may offer peer support in a ‘Growing Through Change Project.’ These help the young people not only recognise the five stages of grief, as first outlined by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, namely denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The charity then work on a sixth stage; Reaching out.
“Those six steps form the core of our work,” said Bridie.
“We offer a residential for those young people and families bereaved by suicide called ‘safe futures.’ We aim to help participants understand why they are feeling as they are, that this is normal and that they wont always feel as such.”
That is achieved by volunteers and those attending the course openly discussing their own personal experiences in a safe and supportive environment.
A third level of support is available through group therapeutic sessions, namely the WAIN project. The Where Am I Now? programme allows people to discuss their pain and loss in a supportive friendly and professionally supervised environment. This is also supplemented by the one-to-one counselling service offered by Youthlife.
The long term aim of Youthlife is to establish a one stop shop which meets the needs of the young people in our city.
“Here we are in an ideal location, just off the city centre, we have a fabulous space and hopefully we can secure the right funding in order to help those young people who come to us. Our aim is to become what The Nucleus once was only I suppose larger. I never thought 21 years ago that we would be able to sustain the project never mind grow it into what we offer today. There is pride in that but mostly we are delighted to have helped those 7, 000 young people who availed of the service.
“At the function in Delacroix, which was organised by the young people from Youthlife, I was delighted to meet many mammies and daddies, successful career people, who had come through our service. It was a wonderful night to mark a wonderful achievement.”
If you think Youthlife services will be of benefit to you, or simply to find out more information, contact them on 71377227 or email firstname.lastname@example.org