Cork life centre director honoured with civic award

On Friday 28th of January we gathered at Cork Life Centre as a community(immediate & extended) to celebrate our Director Don O’ Leary being honoured with a Civic Award for his contribution to education. It was such a special occasion and for Don was about acknowledging the role that so many people have taken in the growth and development of our work and community. This is demonstrated in the text of the speech he gave on the day below:

Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur ríomh and t-Árd Mheara Colm O Ceallachair, na comhairleoirí cathrach Corcaí agus cuairteoirí uile.

Is fear brodúil Corcaí agus poblacht mé agus tá ollmhór meas agam ag na tradisiúin agus post an t-Árd Mheara Corcaí post a bhí glacadh are Dhabi fear a bhí an-bhrodúil ins an post Prionsias MacSuibhne agus Tomás McCurtain.

Firstly I will echo Caoimhe’s warm welcome to the Lord Mayor, city council and our invited guests. Many of you will know how I feel about personal awards but I am deeply proud to receive and share the Lord Mayor’s Civic Award with the whole Cork Life Centre community.

My belief about any award or accomplishment is that no one achieves anything on their own so my words will be mainly about naming and thanking people without even attempting to thank everyone!

Thanks to my family Betty, Don and Eilis for their on-going support and to my extended family-delighted to have some aunts and uncles here today and missing two cousins Dympna and Sinead who couldn’t be here but have been my guardian angels in recent months.

 I couldn’t possibly invite everyone today who has played a role in my journey at the Cork Life Centre but I look around and see so many who have. To name not all but a few:

Dr Sharon Lambert of UCC who I originally met out working in the community but thankfully have continued to know as a colleague and friend-as an academic she does more for the community than most and I am blessed to know her. Important to mention her daughters Sarah and Grace who are amazing climate change activists and have stood in for me in lots of marches! Professor Ursula Kilkelly of the School of Law UCC whom I cold called many years ago for help with a rights based project and continues to take my calls to this day and has with her colleagues provided invaluable opportunities for our young people to have their voices heard on the issues that impact their lives.

John Murphy from EPIC who is a tireless advocate for children particularly those in care and is always at the end of a phone to provide support.

Mary Crilly from the Sexual Violence Centre a personal hero of mine who supports and walks with victims of violence on their darkest days and continues to insist upon a society where such a service should not be needed.

Catherine Morley who was involved with the Cork Life Centre from its earliest days and in more recent years through her role with Jigsaw who have continued to give our young people a key role in shaping their service through their YAP and other projects.

Catriona Twomey a long time friend of mine and the centres who is always ready to work together to support the most vulnerable in Cork starting with a hot meal but extending far beyond.

Seamus representing Meitheal Mara who continue to offer our young people the opportunity to row their river, build boats and with all this build confidence and skills.

Anne Marie Quilligan one of the most inspiring advocates I know who is pioneering and tireless in her advocacy for the rights of young travellers to real education opportunities.

Fellow educators from North Mon Primary School-Carl and Colin have shown me over the years what it really means to support children as part of a school community and to go the extra mile. Colm O Connor and Pamela O Leary from Cork Educate Together Secondary School with whom we share a passion for encouraging young people to be advocates and an openness to questioning our education system in its current form.

Dr Larry Jordan former principal of Christian Brothers College who in my time at the centre has been unfailing in his support for our students and service both in terms of a sizeable financial contribution and in constantly looking for other ways to connect. Year on year CBC PPU sponsors one of the most important events of our year-our annual awards night.

Paul Moynihan who is here wearing two hats today-in his role with City Council but also as a member of the North Mon PPU-with his fellow member Barry Hill they have forged wonderful connections with us in recent years and supported us to honour our founder Br Gary O Shea.

Familiar faces from Amazon Customer Service and from the Cork Lions Club-the Cork Life Centre would not still be open without the support of businesses, philanthropists and other benefactors. Important to mention the extraordinary family behind Tomar Trust and also Leslie and Carmel Buckley in that vein too. And of course our Trustees the European Province of Christian Brothers who support us financially but have also handed us an ethos and model that has sustained us for more than 20 years.

The purpose of my list is not to embarrass people(although I may have succeeded in that too) but to point out that Edmund Rice famously said ‘The Seed Will Grow’ and our work could never have grown without the kind of people I have mentioned here who form our wider community and family.

Now to the inner circle or immediate community-our staff team is constantly evolving and with many being volunteers can change each year but what is constant is their care and commitment to our students. And of course we have a team of staff who have been with us for 10 + years all of whom started as volunteers and many of whom continue to lack the security of tenure they deserve. Being a brilliant volunteer doesn’t put food on the table-that is why we spent last summer battling for consistent and fair funding.

Every member of staff on our team whether they are here for 4 hours a week or 40 brings something to the work-I would like to publicly acknowledge in particular three long-serving staff-Craig, Thomas and Rachel. There is nothing better than working with people who feel like friends and family and I can say all have been steadfast colleagues and friends.

I want to publicly acknowledge Rachel my Deputy Director’s role at the centre-if someone had told me 12 years ago she would move into this role I likely wouldn’t have believed them because while skilled and enthusiastic she began life in the life centre as something of an introvert. Any of the students here today will tell you she is anything but quiet now! I would not have been able to accomplish what I have in my role without Rachel, Thomas, Craig and so many other staff-too many to mention individually.

Final word always has to be to our students and their families. They are the magic ingredient that makes the centre work and it is they who get us out of bed in the morning. Every day(even the tough ones) it is a privilege to get to work with the amazing young people and it is so important to have students past and present with us here today.  

I’m going to wrap it up now because I have surely waffled enough but I do hope I have made the point clearly that whoever might be here receiving this award like myself they could not have done so without the support of so many people that they have been lucky enough to encounter along the way.

Our service cannot survive without a community of people and it also cannot survive and prosper if not funded properly-so I invite all those present to stay with us and support us in our on-going advocacy for recognition and suitable funding.

I want to thank Cork City Council and their CEO Ann Doherty for this occasion and to pay tribute to the work they have done in celebrating the 100 year anniversary of 1921. Both locally and nationally I would love to see us realise the most basic parts of the 1916 proclamation “ To Cherish all the Children equally’’ One of the most effective ways to do so would be to enshrine the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into our legal framework. As Cork City moves to make Cork a child-friendly place-a very positive move they could make this one of their aims and I would invite them also to bring children’s voices to the forefront in how we plan and make decisions for our city-they are the experts on being a child in Cork. 

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