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From dark days light came shining

Living

PASSIONATE Padraic Rocliffe is the man behind Shine a Light, which works to help homeless people and raise awareness.

Westport man dedicates life to helping the homeless after near-death experience

Interview
Lúcás Treacy

Westport native Padraic Rocliffe is continuing to raise awareness of homelessness and aid the homeless through events and campaigns that have been set up by his own volunteer organisation ‘Shine a Light’. For over a year now, the organisation has been providing homeless people with care packages that include warm clothing, non-perishable food items and hygiene products.
Passionate about the cause, Padraic’s motivation stems from a near-death experience in September 2016 – and Christmas lunch with strangers in Las Vegas.


‘God spoke to me’
A keen swimmer, Padraic was studying Physical Education and English teaching in the University of Limerick, when he was offered the opportunity to spend a four-month semester on an exchange, studying in Long Beach, southern California. He jumped at the chance.
Soon after his arrival, he and a few friends decided to go on a road trip to Lake Tahoe. However, about two hours into the journey they got a puncture – in Death Valley.
“None of us was able to change a tyre at that time and I was on crutches because of a sprained ankle which happened playing football a few weeks previous,” Padraic tells The Mayo News. After a short wait, someone pulled up and helped them change the tyre, and the gang headed off again. But they didn’t get far.
In a matter of minutes, the tyre blew out, sending the car into a roll. “The tyre on the back left hand side of the car that had just been changed obviously wasn’t fitted properly and it burst, causing the car to drop and roll onto mine and the drivers’ side.”
Three of the occupants – ‘two German girls and an Irish lad’ – managed to jump out of the car before it landed on its side, but Padraic and the driver weren’t so lucky.
“It’s true what they say, these things do happen in the blink of an eye … What happened next, can only be described as an unbelievable experience. The only way to describe it really, is to say that God spoke to me – he told me to sit back into the car with my back up against the roof and ask the girls to get a pillow to put behind my head.
“I realised that I had no feeling down my left hand side and I was unable to move my head at all. I thought I was going to be paralysed. Then he spoke to me again, saying ‘Have I ever let you down before? You’re not going to be paralysed but your’e going to have a severe neck injury’.
“As soon as he said that, there was an overwhelming sense of calmness that came over me. I really trusted the voice that I heard, and I knew I’d be alright.”
After a two-hour wait, a helicopter brought Padraic and the driver to hospital in Las Vegas. Padraic’s neck was broken in three places, his back had suffered four breaks, one of his legs was fractured, and one of his feet was broken in two places. His friend suffered some internal bruising.

Turning point
Padraic spent the next two months bed-bound in the hospital trauma unit before eventually being placed in a rehabilitation centre.
“Being a swimmer and competing at a decent level meant that I was put into this athletics based rehabilitation centre, which turned out to be a great environment for me to be in, as I was surrounded by like-minded people. I thrived in that type of environment, making improvements day by day.”
His family went out to visit him for the first few weeks, but after they had gone, he found himself surrounded by strangers. They were dark days.
“It was a very lonely time for me in Las Vegas, as I was on my own and I didn’t know anybody,” he admits. But everything was about to change.
It was Christmas Day, and with no family around, he decided to go to a diner for lunch. “There were two homeless people outside begging for money. I said I wouldn’t give them money, but if they wanted to come inside for a chat, I would buy them a meal.
“In they came. I bought them the meal and it turned out to be a mother and her son who had been evicted from their home and had fallen victim to society over there and they’d become homeless. It was a story that touched my heart.”
That meal altered the direction of Padraic’s life. Then and there he knew where his calling lay. “I decided I’d get myself into a position to do something in aid of the homeless here in Ireland when I got back.”

Light of hope
On his return, Padraic set about doing just that, setting up Shine a Light, and since its establishment, the organisation has run campaigns in Dublin, Limerick, Cork and Galway, handing out the care packages to homeless people.
Padraic has also set up a number of donation points around the country, including Westport Leisure Park, the Students’ Union offices in the University of Limerick and a mobile one in Dublin.
These donation points are open three weeks prior to each campaign. Members of the pubic are invited to leave goods that can be used in the Shine a Light packages.
“We had our last campaign in Dublin on December 15, with 45 volunteers and 120 packs, which were all given out on the day. We have got multiple campaigns coming up in May and of course next Christmas in Dublin, and we are working on a project behind the scenes between that, which will hopefully come to light in the foreseeable future – we’ve got a number of great sponsors behind us now, with Portwest being great to us since day one, and we are now working with Bold Craft Marketing in Westport for the next year, who are helping us promote what we do.”
The organisation has also visited numerous schools in the recent weeks, giving talks on homelessness and the importance of giving back.

Bright future
Ultimately, Padraic wants Shine a Light to have its own premises, a dedicated mobile phone and a bank account to take it to the next level.
“Shine A Light is an organisation still in its infancy,” he explains, “gaining experience and working on achieving charity status while aiming for employability within the organisation in the long run.”
In the meantime, Padraic says, there are many ways for people to get involved, from donating old clothes in your wardrobe that you don’t need, to getting more hands on. “You can come along to the campaigns to help deliver packs to the homeless, or even help making the packs prior to the campaigns ensuring that they are filled with the necessary items.” He also welcomes help with social media and marketing, as well as fundraising ideas from schools, businesses, groups and individuals – anyone who can help him to shine a light on homelessness and to ease the plight of those who find themselves with no home to call their own.

To find out more about Shine A Light, visit www.shinealighthomeless.com or see the Shine a Light Facebook page.