It’s a testimony to the non-stop work of the Foyle Parents and Friends association that they’ve been in existence for 50 years - without a single paid member of staff.
The oldest volunteer organisation in the city, the group exists as a lifeline for parents and carers of those with physical, sensory and learning disabilities.
Mary O’Neill, whose daughter Shauna suffers from Cerebral Palsy, has been a member of the group for the past 12 years. As a user of the service, and a carer herself, she knows only too well that you can’t put a price on what Foyle Parents and Friends do. She also knows, that without the generosity of local people, the group wouldn’t survive.
That’s why this week everyone involved with the group has been celebrating a funding windfall of almost £20,000.
Firstly, the group were presented with a staggering £14,500 from Sainsbury’s on Strand Road, who had chosen them as their charity of the year. Then in a further boost, proceeds from fundraising on behalf of Laurence’s Bar in the Waterside amounted to £4,500.
“We’re absolutely over the moon,” Mary told the Sunday Journal, after receiving the cheques.
“This money will enable us to run a five week summer scheme for 180 children with disabilities and their siblings. That’s an amazing thing to be able to do and all of us who care for a young person with a disability know exactly the difference that scheme will make.
“We want our children to interact and socialise. That’s what we’re all about. This money will make a massive difference to us over the coming months.”
In 50 years, Foyle Parents and Friends have lobbied for many changes in official attitudes to disabilities. Today, they’re fighting a fight of a different kind as welfare reform continues to target the carers of some of the most vulnerable members of society.
“Funding is definitely the biggest challenge we face. The harsh reality is that a lot of carers are in mental anguish because of cuts to their benefits. I’ve had a call from one woman in the middle of the night who just couldn’t cope any more.”
Mary says that’s where the work Foyle Parents and Friends do can help ease some of the burden.
“We pride ourselves on providing the most practical help. It could stepping in to let someone go and have their hair done, or providing a few hours of respite so that a couple can go to the cinema. Many of our volunteers are special needs assistants in Foyleview School and they are all trained and vetted to the very highest standards. We also have amazing support from Michael Dobbins, the Foyleview Principal.”
Mary has also extended her appreciation to Sainsbury’s shoppers and all those who have contributed to the group in great or small ways over recent months.
“If each one of those people could see what a huge difference their money makes they would be amazed. We want to thank absolutely everyone who has helped,” she said.