“I came from a dark place over the last ten years and to be respected and treated like a human being is indescribable.
With the support of co-ordinator Jenny Ryan and my group I feel the sky is the limit, nothing’s out of reach”.
Those are the words of one of the 30 people from all over the area who are availing of a stepping stone back into education through Making Connections South Tipperary, a training initiative that works with adults who have experienced substance or alcohol misuse, homelessness and associated mental health issues.
In a warm and welcoming environment based at the Wilderness Youth and Community Centre in Clonmel, with outreach services at Elm Park in Clonmel and one day a week in Carrick-on-Suir, ten modules are delivered through FETAC-accredited education. These include computer literacy, maths, communications, career preparation, cooking, art, health and fitness and personal effectiveness. Many learners have received certification, progressed further in education or entered the workforce, which is a world away from their previously low level of education, with many having left school early.
“We’re reaching hard-to-reach people who have been marginalised in so many areas and who have really lost their confidence”, says co-ordinator Jenny Ryan. “It’s not your average training programme, it really works. Rather than having a negative experience of education they gain enthusiasm for the programme and want to take it further. Addication had gotten in the way of their education and it’s a way back for them”. “You filter out the chaos in the lives of the learners”, says assistant co-ordinator Orla Amos.
Most of the learners are referred to Making Connections by local agencies such as the Substance Misuse Service, the Clonmel Community Based Drugs Initiative, the probation service, Cuan Saor, Tipperary Drugs Outreach Service and the Simon Community. A learner-needs assessment is followed by an introduction to the small group classes. One-to-one tuition is available if required.
“Some of the learners complete up to four modules”, says Jenny Ryan. “The aim is to stay engaged with them for a year or longer so that they secure a FETAC level three in employability skills. Learners are treated with respect and in strict confidentiality and the programme is non-judgemental. It’s not a full-time course and learners are here of their own choice. They don’t get paid for coming here”.
Jenny hopes that the initiative - which is funded by the Education and Training Board (ETB) and managed by the Waterford and South Tipperary Community Youth Service - could be expanded to accept more learners and possibly include an outreach service in Cahir.
The success of the programme has been recognised by its nomination for an Aontas Star Award as part of the Adult Learners Festival. The only project in Tipperary to be shortlisted for the final eight, it was nominated in the Munster small/medium organisa