THIRTY years working in the voluntary sector is an achievement not many can claim, and the ones who can are often too humble to boast about it.
That's certainly the case with Peter Cox who has put in 30 years working with community organisations and at aged 54, he is showing no signs of slowing down.
Peter is now the centre manager at Family Carers Ireland in Cork.
After winning the overall award at the Lord Mayor’s Civic, Community and Voluntary Awards, Family Carers Ireland is going from strength to strength and with Peter at the helm, it is sure to continue its successful streak.
Originally from Carlow, Peter moved to Cork at the age of 24 to take up a volunteering position with the Simon Community.
“I had been involved in my local parish in my younger years and I had an ambition to work in Ethiopia on the famine plains.
“My plan was to try out volunteering for three months and see how I got on.” Peter ended up staying with the Simon community for 16 years.
“I volunteered for two years and then I promoted to Project leader.”
Twenty-six years later Peter is still here, married to a Kerry woman, with three proud Cork sons.
As project leader with the Simon Community, Peter encountered a number of emotional moments, both good and bad.
“You end up building relationships with the homeless people you are working with and it can be very special.” One thing Peter noticed was it made you reevaluate your own blessings.
“I didn’t come from a rich background but working with the Simon community made me realise how well off I was.” Of course, Peter admits, there were challenging moments, but he also said he grew to love the place and the people in it.
“The emergency shelter on Johns St was exciting. Volunteers came from all over the world to do something worthwhile.
“There was something special about the people who came to work at the place. They were totally committed.
“People shared their lives with you and that was a privilege.”
Peter said volunteering really opened his eyes to the world. “I was just a country boy and it gave me an education.
All of a sudden I was dealing with drugs, alcohol and personal problems and what’s more I discovered I was good at it.” One of the hardest things that Peter had to deal with in his time with the Simon community was watching homelessness pass from generation to generation.
“It was a real challenge when you see the second generation, like a father and son or daughter. That is the sad aspect of the work.” Another side of the job that Peter found difficult was attending empty funerals.
“There was a lot of sad and tragic circumstances that surrounded a lot of these people.
“I would go to funerals and there might be three people in attendance, barely enough people to lower the coffin into the ground.” Peter said he was sorry he never kept a diary of his volunteering experiences. “I could write a book with the amount of stories I have, good and bad, but at the time I didn’t want to.
“I felt it would have been disrespectful to the people I was working with. These stories were their personal lives and I felt uncomfortable about sharing them even with myself.” Eventually Peter decided to leave the Simon community.
“I didn’t want to get burnt out and also there comes a time when new blood is needed with fresh ideas.” An opportunity with the Carers Association, which is one of the two organisations that amalgamated to form Family Carers Ireland, came up and Peter made the jump.
I interviewed for the position and got it. I felt it was a natural progression for me. It was a different type of clientele, but they were still struggling with the same issues.
“Struggling to care for someone with some sort of ailment and I was struck by the lack of support these people were getting in their homes.
“So many of them doing their daily work, struggling and trying to juggle the role of caring.
“I had a lot of admiration for those people.” Working for the Carers Association involved lobbying for the rights of carers and providing a listening ear.
“Sometimes people find it easier to tell a stranger their problems, but also people often wait until they are in full crisis to reach out.
Organising outings, evenings with food, nights out was all part of the role with the Carers Association.
One of the things we offer is a home respite team. This is where we employ a worker to come in and help out in the home to allow the carer to take a break.
After three years with the Carers Association, Peter decided to try a new challenge and took up a position with Respond as Community development worker and estate management.
“Again I was dealing with the socially deprived and at this stage I had quite a lot of experience of interacting with people who were struggling with various things.” After three years a position became available with the Carers Association and a letter was sent from the Cork division of the organisation, with a number of carers signatures requesting that Peter be rehired.
“I was very proud of that, I didn’t expect it. It was a nice thing for them to do and it made me feel very special.” Twelve years later Peter is still with the organisation fighting for the rights of carers and doing all he can to help those who need him.
Despite his love for volunteering and his great passion to help others, Peter doesn’t recommend people to work in the voluntary sector.
“It is very frustrating, there is no security and everything is dependent on funding.
“Working in the voluntary sector is a huge commitment, it is not just a five days a week job. You are always on call, at night, at Christmas.
“It’s a vocation but I envy people in the public sector with their 9-5 and job security.” Acknowledging the constraints of his position, Peter went on to say nights like the Lord Mayor’s Award ceremony made it all worth it.
“Nights like that highlight the importance of voluntary organisations. Without them nothing would be done and it is good to see people out and about and having a good time.
After all, laughter is the best medicine.”