Remember Us: Meeting the Special Needs of the Community

November 13, 2014 Updated: November 13, 2014

At a recent fund-raising event for Remember Us in Balbriggan, I discovered what a difference an organisation can make to a community. Remember Us is a social group for people with special needs and their families. 

It’s difficult to explain the positive impact this club has made to its members, their families, and the community. Maybe you remember the film It’s a Wonderful Life, where James Stewart plays George Bailey—a man who couldn’t find his place in the world.

Then George is shown what his community would have been like if he was never born, and he realises how much he is valued… It was a bit like that the other evening—while speaking to people at this event, I saw the wonderful effect on people’s lives that Remember Us has had and continues to have, and it all stemmed from one person’s wish that her son should have a wonderful life.

Nora and Paul

That person is Nora Robin, and 16 years ago when her son Paul was 10, she wanted him to have a social outlet, so she tried to get him involved in several mainstream clubs. However, it just didn’t work for Paul at that time. “I wanted Paul to be able to go to a club like other children on the street. To make friends, and not be at home watching television,” says Nora.

Nora went about organising a coffee evening, and the first event saw 15 families turn up. “We were a support group initially because I wanted to speak to other people in a similar situation to myself,” she says.

They met once a month, and from early on a single message was coming out of the meetings: All the parents wished for a social outlet for their sons and daughters. “At Remember Us, we don’t just talk about things for ages…so soon after we had a club set-up,” says Nora with a cheeky laugh.

They started off with meeting once a week on a Saturday, with Fit for Fun and Arts & Crafts, and have grown to 170 families with activities for different age groups five days a week.

“Remember Us provides a social outlet for young people and adults with special needs where they can come to a safe environment and try out lots of different activities. Where they can fit in and feel safe, and where they have friends somewhere that they can call their own,” explained Nora to the audience at the fund-raising event, which was organised to help the club realise its next dream—a premises of their own.

A Place of Their own

According to Nora, many families have said that Remember Us has become a lifeline for them and that they don’t feel isolated anymore, and the young members say it’s their club and their friends. “When Paul gets up on a Sunday, he says, ‘Busy week ahead, Ma!’. I go: ‘What, Paul?’ and he says ‘I’m going to club Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday—I’ll be wrecked at the end of the week!’ I say, ‘You will—and so will I!'”

With respect to the fundraiser, Nora says: “We are here tonight because for a long time, I have known that Remember Us is going to need a home—somewhere we can hold all our activities. Currently we have no fixed base and, hence, we can’t do certain things that we want to do.”

Nora added that the wish-list included a sensory room for children with autism, a games room where they could have a pool table for the teenagers, and a youth cafe for the teens and adult members.

“So tonight is part information and part launching a fundraiser and marketing campaign, so we are looking for each and every person in the community to try and help us out in some way, be it big or small,” said Nora.

In closing she thanked the club’s volunteers: “We have approximately 27 amazing volunteers, we would not be able to run the club without them. They give up their time to come out and help,” said Nora, before asking for a round of applause for them.

Even at the fundraiser, it was plain to see how the members were involved in their club.

Ellen Byrne and Stephen Cashel, both members of Remember Us, spoke about the club and what it meant for them. I shouldn’t have been surprised at how confident and articulate they were, especially in front of such a large audience—if they were nervous they certainly didn’t show it. This was another example of how the members of the club have benefited, and also of how they are included and not put second. It is their club, after all.

Remember Us Volunteers

Dillon Farrell, a 17-year-old student volunteer, said he started as a volunteer when he was in transition year. “You form a bond with the members…they become your actual friends, and it would have been really tough to leave. Even now I still enjoy it—it doesn’t even feel like volunteer work, it’s something I don’t mind doing, I really enjoy it. Whatever activity they have, whether it’s a trip to a farm or a Fit for Fun class, I think it’s really fun.”

Jean Fitzpatrick is also a volunteer, and has a son Enda in the club. Jean only found out about Remember US when Enda was 16, though he was diagnosed with autism when he was four.

“From day one he absolutely loved it,” says Jean. “He’s three years in the club now. Before Remember Us we always did everything in our power to bring Enda everywhere to expose him to things, but this meant that anything he did was always with Mam and Dad.”

Since Enda has joined the club it means that he has a social life of his own, which he never had before. “He never had friends—with the autism, his social skills were very poor, and with the learning difficulty, his comprehension was not great,” says Jean. “Since joining Remember Us, he has been so accepted by everybody…so he classes the other members as his friends now. When I saw how much the club benefited Enda and our family, I wanted to get involved and help more. I’m one of those people—I like to give back,” said Jean.

Remember Us and local Business

Local Councillor Tony Murphy got involved with Remember Us about 18 months ago, and at that time he was the president of the local chamber of commerce. “Nora came to me with this vision of trying to go to the next level with Remember Us, and what it offers the community.” Nora then got the opportunity to speak to the chamber.

Commenting on Remember Us and their efforts to serve those with special needs, Mr Murphy said: “If you invest in a company you want a reward, and I can tell you straight up that they offer the community of Balbriggan and the surrounding area just that. Should I tell you what sold it for me? When I asked Nora—because of where she was at with the organisation—did she turn away many people, and she said ‘No, we don’t turn away anybody.’ That told me immediately that there were no limits. When you have an organisation that has no limits, then it can go to the top of wherever it wants to be.”

Gerry Andrews—Spar shop Owner in Balbriggan

“I’m involved because I think it’s a fantastic local charity. I listened to a Remember Us presentation in Balbriggan recently—I was quite inspired by what they had to say and how far they have already travelled, and even the amount of fundraising they have already achieved. I was very impressed by the whole organisation and thought it was a very worthwhile charity to become involved with.”

Sean Staunton, Manager at Progressive Credit Union

“When we were approached by Nora and Jean, what we were struck with straight away was their professionalism in how they approached the credit union. They knew what they were looking for and how to go about doing it, and so we knew straight away that this was something we wanted to do… The credit Union is a community organisation, and what we try to do as a not-for-profit organisation is to give back a social dividend to the community, and that is part of what we are doing with Remember Us.