Helping hands across the city

A charity that is celebrating its first birthday in Cork has helped disadvantaged people across the community. SHAMIM MALEKMIAN finds out more
Helping hands across the city
Serve the City Cork volunteers, Céline Forez first left (front ) Cory Hovivian first left (back), DJ Hovivian third right (front)

FOR volunteers at Serve the City Cork, helping Corkonians knows no boundary as they lend a helping hand to anyone who might need it.

The city’s new charity is a branch of a large group called Serve the City International: a Brussels-based non-profit organisation committed to serving cities across the world.

This month marks the first anniversary of the opening of a Serve the City branch in Cork.

Alan McElwee, director of the group’s Dublin branch whose efforts led to the opening of Serve the City branches in Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford, says their group differs from other charities in that they don’t focus on serving specific groups.

“We offer help to all disadvantaged groups, our volunteers will even go to have a cup of tea and just talk to an elderly person who is lonely,” Alan says.

Volunteers at Serve the City Cork paint houses of elderly or disabled individuals, do their grocery shopping and try to help refugees and asylum-seekers living in direct provision through the process of “social inclusion”.

“Sometimes, all a person needs is someone to talk to, through our befriending service we allow our volunteers to befriend marginalised and vulnerable groups in the community,” Alan says.

California-born Cory Hovivian and his wife DJ have been coordinating the group’s Cork branch since it opened in February, 2017.

Four years ago, a job opportunity brought Cory, DJ and their children from Los Angeles to Dublin. Having worked at various charities in the States, they immediately got in touch with Serve the City Dublin to be a part of serving their new city.

When they moved to Cork, Alan saw it as a perfect opportunity to open a Serve the City branch there with Cory and DJ as its organisers.

Cory says his primary concern was to make sure that they were not “duplicating” an existing charity in the city.

“We thought, if we are going to start a Serve the City down here it should be something that is importantly needed because there are already some amazing charities in Cork,” Cory says.

Cory and DJ got in touch with the city’s well-established charities.

“We told them what Serve the City was, told them that it was worldwide and it could be useful here in Cork, and we got a resounding yes from them, so we felt that we had the support system to go ahead and set it up,” DJ says.

Fighting loneliness in vulnerable groups and individuals is among Serve the City Cork’s top priorities.

“People matter,” DJ says, “I think so many systems and things are minimising human relationships, I think that aspect needs to be fought for and Serve the City tries to fight for humanity.”

Cory and DJ try to encourage kindness in their children by including them in their projects.

DJ adds: “My grandmother was a woman who fostered over 300 children in her life and continually gave back, and I was a part of that experience, so likewise, we take our kids on the projects with us, we always say things are caught, not taught.

Alan McElwee Director of Serve the City Dublin
Alan McElwee Director of Serve the City Dublin

Inspired by Cory and his group’s efforts, some of the Corkonians they have helped over the past 12 months have decided to volunteer for them.

Cory says they realised that helping others does not need to be a “complex” task and can be as simple as keeping someone company.

The couple speak fondly of a occassion a few of them went to paint a small room for one of their “help seekers”.

“We were crammed in a two metres by three metres room, and there were six or seven of us trying to finish painting a room, we were climbing all over each other.

“When, afterwards, I talked to volunteers they had all enjoyed it,” Cory says.

“When volunteering is not a task, and it is an experience that you enjoy, that creates a strong community."

Migrants have a strong presence in Serve the City Cork. Céline Forez, a rugby player from Belgium, is one of the most active volunteers.

“I thought they painted buildings and I’m pretty strong so I thought, let’s do this,” she says smiling.

Growing up in a tiny village in Belgium, Céline says she had no clear perception of what it was like to be homeless or lonely. After making a trip to Brussels and witnessing a darker side of life, however, she promised herself to help others as much as she could.

“I couldn’t even eat outside seeing that there are people who don’t have anything to eat,” she says of her life-changing experience.

Painting the houses of disabled people and talking to senior citizens who have no-one to talk to, are Céline’s favourite projects.

“I also hope that someone would call us and just ask if we could go and clean their place,” she says. “I would love to do that because if you’re depressed and alone, you don’t want to clean your room or even wash yourself.”

Cory, DJ and Céline all hope that Serve the City Cork will grow bigger so that they can help more people in the city.

However, with more than 300 hours of service, the group’s first year in Cork has been a productive one.

To volunteer for Serve the City Cork send them a message on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/servethecitycork/

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