Grace Kearney, behind her desk at Ballymahon's Bridgeways Family Resource Centre. Photo: Michelle Ghee.
Bridgeways Family Resource Centre in Ballymahon has been to the forefront of the community as the Covid-19 pandemic set in and the country went into lockdown but the facility has faced difficulties of its own as a result.
Counselling services have been “out the door”, according to Project Coordinator Grace Kearney, and young people in the community have been craving the company that summer camps could have provided over the last few months.
“We would have always funded our counselling service through renting rooms for yoga and other classes,” Ms Kearney explained.
But, thanks to the pandemic, those rooms have not been rented and the facility is finding itself thousands of euros out of pocket.
Last year, Bridgeways generated a total of €25,000 in income from room rentals, she added.
This year, the facility has barely scraped €2,000, which is a huge deficit for any community facility to suffer.
The counselling service at Bridgeways FRC costs approximately €20,000 to run, according to last year’s figures. €4,000 of that is funded by Tusla, while the other €16,000 is funded by room rentals.
Covid-19 has seen the demand for counselling skyrocket with double the amount of clients availing of the service compared to last year, and a lengthy waiting list.
“Usually I have six clients at a time but this year I have 12 and a waiting list,” Ms Kearney explained.
“We would have always funded the counselling through rental for rooms but this year, that’s coming out of a fund that we don’t have.
“The way our counselling service works is if you can afford to give us money, we take it, but if not, we cover it. But my back is to the wall this year. We have never experienced hardship like this.”
Those availing of the counselling service will go through a six week course. The first session is free and the remaining sessions are paid for on a sliding scale - you pay what you can. But that is proving difficult for Ms Kearney this year.
“It’s a nightmare. I feel I can’t fundraise in the community because I don’t want to ask people for donations. Their backs are already against the wall and they’re already spending money on so many other things,” she said.
And the demand is continuing to rise as kids going back to school start to suffer anxiety ahead of what will be a very different experience due to the ongoing pandemic.
Ms Kearney is currently appealing a grant application in the hope of getting some funding, which could save the entire facility if she is successful. But going forward, things are looking bleak without that grant, she admitted.
Bridgeways Family Resource Centre is based in the Dean Egan Library, Ballymahon, and has done stellar work in the community throughout the pandemic.
When more than 60 families in Ballymahon were struck down with Covid-19 following an outbreak at the Kepak meat plant in May, it was Ms Kearney who provided food, homework supplies and other essentials while workers and their loved ones isolated and recovered in their homes.
The facility also ensured local families never went without printed forms for rent relief, Covid payments and other important documentation, while keeping a filing cabinet outside the Dean Egan Library fully stocked with activity packs for children, as well as other important supplies.
The centre has been an integral part of the community throughout the pandemic and, while Ms Kearney is reluctant to ask the community to donate to a fundraiser, she admitted that something may have to be organised in the near future or the town is at risk of losing what many rightly perceive to be an essential facility.