ALL eight students who graduated from the Field of Dreams’ initial two-year Horticulture and Work Skills programme got paid employment.
Based in Curraheen, the Field of Dreams — a brainchild of Down Syndrome Ireland — Cork branch runs courses for students with Down Syndrome who have finished school, with the aim of getting them into the world of work.
Eva O’Donovan, their Employment Specialist, explained that many businesses around Cork have really gotten behind the initiative.
Eva helps students at the Field of Dreams transition from a learning environment, to work placement, to a paid working position.
“I think there’s been a massive change in the last five years. Before it was all behind the scenes, people were a bit uncertain. I think if I’m there working alongside them, it just eases the whole transition, because they’re just people at the end of the day and there’s a job out there for everybody.
“I provide dual support for both the employer and the adult who’s placed in employment. I act as a middle man for the two parties so I can organise work placements, job opportunities,” Eva said.
“It’s great to be able to get a couple of hours during the week, and I just go along with them, so when they’re starting, I start as well. Any issues or anything at all, I’m there to ask questions and make it easier for the employer so they don’t have to assign somebody specially,” she added.
Jennifer O’Halloran is one of the first batch of graduates. She got a part-time, 16 hours a week job as a Clerical Officer in Cork County Council: “I was so lucky to get my dream job working in an office with the Council. It’s great, I love the work.
“The people there are fantastic and fun. I file paperwork, sort post, do computer work. I love it.”
Mariah Couch is another of the graduates. She works two hours a week in Café Velo. “I really enjoy working here in the Cafe, the team are lovely, and it’s nice to be able to earn money working.”
Sharon Mulcahy, Project Development Manager for Down Syndrome Cork, Field of Dreams, is one of the people who has been involved with the facility from the start. She, alongside Care Coordinator Debbie Kelleher, ensures the facility runs smoothly and the students enjoy themselves on a daily basis.
Sharon says they’ve re-evaluated the programme they offered to the initial eight participants, and it’s now designed specifically to cater for people with intellectual disabilities.
Monday and Tuesday sees the students from the work skills and horticultural programme on site. That course is aimed at people who would be ready to move into the workplace in the coming years.
The activation programme takes place on Wednesdays. It’s at a gentler pace and is all practical work, which includes arts, horticulture, and cookery. Thursday is dedicated towards the literacy and technology programme, which will lay foundations to go to the work skills programme.
“Somebody could start off for a year on the activation programme, and we’d get to know them in a practical sense. They could move on to the literacy programme to gain their basics for hopefully going into the work skills to move on into the workforce. It’s catering for all their needs,” Debbie said.
“You have slim pickings of programmes designed for people with Down Syndrome. There’s none apart from this,” she added.
Sharon says the practical work is very important: “How can you go and work if you don’t have physical resilience? How can you stand for four hours a day without building up the resilience. Even the movement about the site (at the Field of Dreams) is sometimes slow, but it’s at their pace. The horticulture provides huge opportunities.”
Dave O’Callaghan teaches work skills as well as literacy and technology in the Field of Dreams. A science teacher by trade, Dave moved to the UK where he worked in curriculum planning for special needs education.
When he moved back to Ireland and subsequently got the job at the Field of Dreams, he said he was delighted: “This was the perfect environment for me. It’s absolutely fantastic. I’ve never been happier in teaching in my life.
“You come down here and there’s no stress. When you’re in an environment where people want to be taught it’s so much more enriching. I wouldn’t go back to mainstream education again. This is definitely the environment for me,” he said.
Dave is assisted in the classroom by tutor Paul Ahern, who got involved because he wanted to give back. “My sister Laura is 20, she has Down Syndrome, so the family are involved. I wanted to give back so I got involved as a volunteer last January. I came on board with the tutoring when the classes started in September,” he said.
“Five days a week our programmes are full with volunteers,” Debbie said.
“What I’m amazed at is how people are so generous. We wouldn’t be able to run here without volunteers,” Sharon added.