A former Ballinacurra Weston youth worker, Evan O’Grady (Lefty), has a great philosophy on life – it is all about making a person smile.
The West End Youth Centre was opened in Ballinacurra Weston in January 2010.
It aims to provide young people with the opportunity to develop socially, personally, educationally and recreationally by providing three services: after-school programmes, late night drop-ins and small group projects.
“I don’t see this as our building. This is the young people’s building. This is their safe place.
“My job is to empower them every day. We offer programmes to young people who just happen to live in a tough area and who may be more at risk,” Mr O’Grady said.
He is committed to creating a safe-haven for disadvantaged youths in Limerick.
“My family moved to Lenihan Avenue when I was young and for 16 years it was where I grew up and where all my friends live.”
In 2010, he spotted an opportunity for an apprentice youth worker after completing his Leaving Certificate.
After being selected for the position he also enrolled in the Youth Work Diploma in UCC which he took part in during his apprenticeship at the Youth Centre. “I’ve been here ever-since and I love it,” he added.
“I always went to youth clubs when I was young myself. I met a lot of youth workers who were and still are amazing people. I wanted to give back the same thing. I try to influence them by saying that I made mistakes in my life.”
He runs weekly group activities to develop young people with skills like cooking, bakery sports, arts which they might not necessarily do every day.
According to the children in the centre they are learning important life skills.
“When you get older, you must cook and clean for yourself. They taught me to look after myself and to cook, bake, making buns, making pizza,” one teenager said.
“They take us to places like Dromineer during mid-term; and, Evan brought us to Belfast and Galway during the summer.”
“Lefty is decent, he’s fashionable, he’s good, he’s nice and he does fun stuff with us,” another teen added.
Young people aged seven to 25 are welcome in the West End Youth Centre.
“We don’t have any restrictions of the type of people who come in here. Regardless of background or location we welcome them all,” the youth worker explained.
The centre also promotes active volunteering and anyone coming to volunteer will receive proper training. This encourages a sense of responsibility amongst them.
“I nominated one young person, Adam, for the Garda Youth Award in November after his summer volunteering,” Mr O’Grady told Limerick Voice.
Processing youth program funding applications is an important part of the job for Mr O’Grady.
He is also working on programmes focused on Sexual Health; Drug & Alcohol Awareness and Cyber Bullying to give in 2019.
Seventy young people are currently using the service with strict rules on who gets access to the centre to ensure the facility is not used as a place for the youths to go instead of attending school.
In December, Evan will be taking part in Mental Health training with the Limerick Mental Health Partnership.
“There’s a lot more to the job than I’ve said. My philosophy is everyone makes mistakes but it’s about turning negatives into positives.”
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