Robbie Donnelly is currently the Chairperson of Offaly Down Syndrome. For 'Tribune People', we caught up with Robbie as Offaly DS mark National Down Syndrome Awareness Month.
October is national Down Syndrome Awareness month, and to celebrate this, Offaly Down Syndrome produced a video 'Inclusion in the Workplace', to help promote inclusion in the workplace for people with Down Syndrome.
For this week's 'Tribune People', we caught up with Robbie Donnelly, the Chairperson of Offaly Down Syndrome to chat to him about the video, their #ThumbsUp4ODS' and also about the Offaly group what they are up to for the coming few months.
The branch is going from strength to strength and the future is looking bright for its members, which includes 15 adults as part of a 50 strong family group.
Robbie became chair of the organisation after the outgoing chair, Siobhan Bulfin, stepped down. Robbie himself had been involved Offaly DS a number of years ago after his own son, Henry was born with Down Syndrome. He left when now four and half year old Henry was hospitalised on a long term basis. However, he came back about two years ago where he became the events and social media co-ordinator.
“I was happy to take over from Siobhan..... Our team is just brilliant. We all work really well together. We all come up with different ideas and try and roll with them,” Robbie enthused. For people, who don't know, Down Syndrome Ireland Offaly branch is a community focused group established in 1984. Their parent link programme welcomes new families to the community and provides much needed support and advice, to guide them through the start of their journey.
They are dedicated to being the primary source of information and support to people with Down Syndrome, their families and the professional community, working towards an improved quality of life for our members along with a respect and acceptance of people with Down Syndrome as valued members of society. They place the person with Down Syndrome at the centre of everything they do and recognise the value and uniqueness of every person with Down Syndrome.
With this mind, the branch provides numerous services to its members including subsidised private therapies i.e. speech and language, occupational therapy and the home teacher initiative under 12 years but to name but a few. All of these have to funded and this is where the branch's continuous fundraising efforts come into play including the latest #ThumbsUp4ODS campaign.
Robbie said people can simply take a thumbs-up self for Offaly DS, post it on their own Facebook page using the tag, nominate three other friends to do the same and text ODS to 50300 to donate €2 to Offaly Down Syndrome.
Offaly DS has to basically raise approximately €35,000 per annum to continue all of their therapies, events and outings. 100 per cent of donations to Offaly Down Syndrome goes to the branch, according to Robbie. Previously, they undertook the 'Rock Your Sock' campaign as part of World Down Syndrome Day on March 21. This raised €13,000 but their fundraising campaigns have to continue annually.
A lot of people do ask Robbie what the money is for and he's quick to explain the branch provide a lot of speech and language therapy, play, music therapy and as well as art and dance classes. There are social events for both the junior and senior members as well as their families and siblings.
With this in mind, Robbie then chatted about the importance of parents being able to talk to each other and “find out those bits and pieces of information, they might not otherwise come across”. So with this in mind, regular coffee mornings and social outings are organised for the parents as well to they can sit around have a chat, a catch up and pick each other's brains. “Nine times out of ten, someone will walk away from this with a phone number of speech and language therapist, or an idea on toilet training, or something like that. We do that for the parents.
Robbie, for example, outlined how last Saturday, they organised a 'sib shop' for the siblings, where they can bring the siblings of the children with Down Syndrome and have seminar for the parents on how to include the siblings more without them becoming young carers. In the afternoon, there was a workshop for these siblings so they could blow off a bit of steam and have some fun. And just become kids again, which is so important.” There's also the much loved Christmas and Halloween parties as well. “We try to involve all of the family, that helps everyone and in return they support us with fundraising efforts over the course of the year, bucket collections, etc.”
Earlier, we touched on the National Awareness Month and how Offaly DS was celebrating this with their new video. Robbie explained they wanted to do something for their adult members. “We have had quite a few adult members come back on board with us. We wanted to do something for them. They want to be included in as much as life as possible,” he continued.
The aims of Offaly Down Syndrome is to promote inclusion in society and the workplace, to enhance adults with Down Syndrome's capacity to participate fully in society as independent adults, to develop beneficial relationships with employers, which will help promote inclusion in society and to develop wider opportunities for meaningful employment for adults with Down Syndrome.
According to the Chairperson, this is why they came up with the video. “I would say there are probably businesses, who would like to do this as part of their charity footprint but they just don't know how to do it. The video is a way of educating them and the public about what people with Down Syndrome can do, how you can get involved. It was great and it was also good for us.
The video follows the lives of ten adults with Down Syndrome on one day in September to see their impact on society in the workplace. There was a florist, a retail assistance, a kitchen porter, a receptionist, a newspaper delivery man, a retired lay and an award winning sportsperson as part of the initiative. It has been very successful so far and Robbie is encouraging people to continue sharing and liking the video which can be found on the 'Offaly Down Syndrome' or the 'Midland Tribune' Facebook page.
Looking to the future for Offaly DS, Robbie pointed out the branch would love to secure a premises, a home so to speak. “At the moment, it's baby steps. We would love a postal address for the association, to store our t-shirts, have a desk and a computer,” he explained. The long term aim would be secure a space to hold their committee meetings or hold their music therapy sessions. “However, at the moment, all offers will be greatly viewed and assess if there's anyone out there, who can facilitate this,” Robbie said.
Unfortunately, the branch aren't in a position to simply go and rent a premises as the funds they raise go towards provide essential services such as their home teaching programme, which costs €1,000 per child per year and they have nine children using the service. “All of this has to be fundraised for. We don't want to be paying out this in rent for a premises. I know there're places out there that are empty and we are open to discussions with any property owners, willing to talk to us on this,” he pleaded.
Having a premises would make such a difference to the organisation, logistically, administration and also would allow them to have a drop in centre in the future. Robbie points out that if a person has a baby with Down Syndrome today. The only thing most people know about Down Syndrome is that they look “funny” . You don't understand and you are given a leaflet in the hospital and what we want to do is to be able to get out there and help people. We have Clare Lawlor on our committee, who is the go to person for families, who have had a baby with Down Syndrome. We find out about them and we let Clare know and she goes to the family and talks to them. To have an office space, with a sofa and tea and coffee facilities to facilitate these meetings, would be amazing. These are a main aims at the moment.”
Then, Robbie let it slip that ten years down the road, they would love to have a little coffee shop, to a have a charity shop, which would provide employment opportunities. He then talked about a great model in Jersey, where he is from and it's all staffed by people with intellectual disabilities. “They are all working and being taught a trade, which is so important for people's self esteem and people's well-being and mental health. It builds confidence, social skills and this is all therapeutic, which is our main aim. We want to get away from what Down Syndrome was to people, fifty years ago where people were literally locked in the house.”
With a busy couple of months ahead of them, Offaly DS are looking forward to continuing to grow their organisation, helping families, supporting their members and having a bit of fun along the way
Concluding, Robbie took the opportunity to sincerely thank everyone for their continued support to Offaly DS over the last 34 years. “We hope everyone will continue to do so into the future,” he added. If you are interested in employing someone with Down Syndrome, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or if you wish to get in contact with Offaly Down Syndrome, please email email@example.com or check out 'Offaly Down Syndrome' on Facebook.