'I'm fierce proud of what we've achieved': Cork couple says giving back to community is rewarding experience

'I'm fierce proud of what we've achieved': Cork couple says giving back to community is rewarding experience

Helen and John Fox of Rochestown Community Development Group at Rochestown village green in Cork.

A retired couple, from the Rochestown community, says giving back to the area they live in is a rewarding and satisfying experience that benefits their local society.

John and Helen Fox have both been volunteering in various organisations over the years and in 2017 they founded the Rochestown Community Development Group in the hope of tackling dereliction in the area.

John, who is originally from the United States, namely Michigan and Pennsylvania, worked as a town planner for Cork County Council in years gone by and Helen, formerly of the Douglas area, is a retired Special Needs Assistant.

The couple, who met in Germany while working for the US Air force, have been involved in the Scouting Association of Ireland for over 20 years, teaching children important life skills such as cooking, camping, orienteering and how to light a fire.

“It was hard work, but great craic too,” John said, reminiscing of his time with the Scouts. “It was all about teaching kids to have confidence.” 

Involvement in Douglas Community Association 

The couple were also involved in the Douglas Community Association (DCA), which was set up by Helen’s mother, Mary Hanley.

Helen said she got roped into helping out with the volunteer organisation when the old hall needed to be extended.

“John and I hosted four Open Gardens as fundraisers for the Douglas Community Association each year, and I organised several fundraisers at the Community Centre and one big event in the park. As a member of the committee, and with John’s cooperation, we raised the most finance for the DCA project.

John and Helen held garden parties at their home to raise funds for the DCA with live music from Helen’s sister’s husband and food from the local shops and stores.

“At the last Open Gardens fundraiser, Micheál Martin attended,” John said.

“His twin brother is involved in the organisation and he got him to come along.” 

John said over the years he and Helen helped to raise thousands of euro for the DCA that went towards building a new kitchen for the Douglas Meals on Wheels organisation as well as contributing to other projects.

Helping others 

Painting picnic tables with Rochestown Community Development Group at Rochestown village green in Cork were (from left) John and Helen Fox, Joanne O'Callaghan, Liz Horgan, Marie Kenneally, Donal Collins and Pauric Macklin, chairman. Picture Denis Minihane.
Painting picnic tables with Rochestown Community Development Group at Rochestown village green in Cork were (from left) John and Helen Fox, Joanne O'Callaghan, Liz Horgan, Marie Kenneally, Donal Collins and Pauric Macklin, chairman. Picture Denis Minihane.

John and Helen both said they grew up surrounded by an ethos of helping others.

“It was the way we were reared, community involvement was very normal for us both. It makes me feel good to play a part in our community, where we can achieve the goals to improve the facilities needed in the area where we live with other like-minded people,” Helen explained.

John said the social aspect and the challenge of the project were what brought him back again and again to helping out locally.

John said, for him, he thinks giving is the highest form of receiving, while Helen said it’s a great feeling to get good work achieved for their community.

The camaraderie of other like-minded people, the joy of achieving, seeing the community enjoying our efforts and the positive feedback it brings.

"It’s great exercise, it’s sociable, and it’s getting practical work done for the whole community,” Helen said.

John said he and Helen have made a lot of friends through their volunteer work.

“We have made a lot of friends, it is a big part of our lives.”

A sense of pride 

John said there is a great sense of pride to walk past the work that the Rochestown Community Development Group has done locally and to know that the local community will benefit from the work that they have done.

“I’m fierce proud of what we have achieved, It is great to see people reaping the benefits of our volunteering. You do it for the community. That’s why you do it.”

John, 75, said it is getting tougher to stay committed to the volunteer work of the organisation as he and Helen, 72, get a little older, but said they have no intention of giving it up any time soon.

It is more difficult now, things like cleaning up around the steep river bank, we are not young and we have back issues, but we are staying with it. We are still very active and intend to remain involved.” 

Helen and John Fox of Rochestown Community Development Group helping with the painting of picnic tables at Rochestown village green in Cork. Picture Denis Minihane.
Helen and John Fox of Rochestown Community Development Group helping with the painting of picnic tables at Rochestown village green in Cork. Picture Denis Minihane.

The Rochestown Community Development Group is now run by Chairperson Paraic Macklin with Helen as secretary, John at hand for guidance and retired architect Ger McCarthy, the oldest member of the group, an advisory on all things design-focused.

John is also on the board of Management at the Rochestown Educate Together National School where two of his grandchildren go to school.

“This is my second four-year term. I am not a very active member anymore but it is still nice to be involved.”

The couple said that a key aspect of their enjoyment in volunteering is seeing the community come together.

"The local businesses always donate to the group, we get sandwiches and coffees from Cinnamon Cottage and the Centra whenever we are out and about doing a few bits. It is good for business, but it is also good for the community and it is nice to see everyone on the same page,” John said.

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