Share training scheme blow for youngsters with learning disability
An imaginative and unique three-year job and lifestyle training scheme at the Share Centre near Lisnaskea for 24 young adults with a learning disability who attend three days a week will end on March 31st next unless another funder is found.
For most of the 24, it will mean staying three days at home, for others, attending a day care centre they already attend the other two days of the week. One of them, Barry Teague, from Lisnaskea told the 'Herald' he would prefer continuing with the STEP programme, as it is called.
It's an acronym for Share's Training Towards Employment and, as Oliver Wilkinson, the manager of the Share Centre explained, it was funded for three years by the Big Lottery as a one-off.
He had no doubt about the benefit and the value of the scheme: "The Big Lottery have given us three years' funding for which we are extremely grateful. It worked out at approximately & pound;35,000 a year for three years to provide employment training at the Share Centre for up to 25 young adults with learning disability, covering training in catering in our kitchens, grounds maintenance, reception duties, in our leisure suite and in our outdoor and arts activities.
"Over the three years, it has proved a great success. We feel we have an excellent relationship with parents, carers and with the individuals themselves. The whole basis of this is about treating these young adults with dignity and respect. Every year, they have the opportunity to meet up with 15,000 visitors who come to our Centre from all over Ireland and, increasingly, with our international visitors".
Mr Wilkinson explained that some & pound;1.2m was needed to keep Share on the road, out of which some & pound;47,000 came from government. The rest had to be fundraised, hence its inability to continue the STEP programme after 31st March. He explained that Share's own staff gave of their time freely to support the scheme.
That team is headed by Ryan Wilson who is the project coordinator for the STEP programme who came to Share five years ago to do an outdoor pursuits training course and, having qualified, was appointed an outdoor pursuits instructor.
His own job is now on the line as well and, according to Oliver Wilkinson, his departure would represent a major loss: "There are very few people who would possess all the skills that he has. Those skills are very expensive to secure, train and support. The very thought of losing that experience is just so difficult for an organisation like Share to cope with".
Ryan, meanwhile, explained that 95 per cent of the trainees had a learning disability, so the STEP programme offered job sampling in a variety of areas, including office administration, catering, house-keeping and grounds maintenance.
Brian Whittendale (32), from Newtownbutler, who is a wheelchair user and a gold medal winner in last year's Special Olympics in the 25-metre wheelchair race, is the helpful voice on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays when one rings the Share Centre. His nimble fingers on the switchboard are a treat to watch.
"I love what I am doing", he told the 'Herald'. "If I hadn't this, I'd just sit at home and I don't want to do that. I enjoy working with people".
Over in the kitchen, Barry Teague had a fistful of cutlery in his hands when we interrupted his work. He explained that he worked a 9-5 day the last three weekdays, after attending the Killadeas Outreach Unit (which is based at Share) on Mondays and Tuesdays.
"My first job in the morning is filling up the cereal bowls for breakfast and putting the jams and butter on the trays. There's never a dull moment here: if I'm not washing the dishes, I'm scrubbing the floor".
He said he had 'loads of friends', his best friend being Cyril Gunn who was a member of the maintenance team. So, if there was no STEP programme, what would he do?
"I would probably go to the Unit, but I would much prefer where I am, here".
Ryan Wilson told the 'Herald' that trainees, like Brian and Barry were doing very well, and he spelt out the loss to Share if they could no longer attend.
"Without Brian, for instance, we would have no one to answer the phone, and then it becomes a burden on the team and on the staff. He is doing a role that needs to be done and he is very good at what he does.
"We are the only programme like this in Fermanagh. There is no place in the county that offers what we offer".
He then listed the elements of the programme on offer, components such as workability and independent travel (which helps the young adult to and from work safely) which are accredited to the Open College Network NI. Others include IT and computing, money handling and Out in the Community which looks at things such as going to the cinema and buying your ticket. It was left to Oliver Wilkinson, the manager of the Share Centre to have the last word: "We are now at the end of our funding and, hopefully, someone else will pick up the baton and run with it. All offers are welcome. Let us not lose this to Share, let us not lose this to Fermanagh because it is something which can stand up to all the other places and to anything else that is happening in Northern Ireland".
Bernie Teague, Barry's mother told the 'Herald' that all the parents were concerned for their children's future.
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