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CEO’s convictions about care

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SETTLING IN Tia Crowley, pictured working from home at her office in Westport, was appointed CEO of Western Care in March of this year, having acted in the role since October 2019.  Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Western Care’s September virtual fundraiser crucial for association going forward

Áine Ryan

WITH its foundations built on a strong ethos of volunteerism the ‘new normal’ has caused many adjustments to the daily operations of the Western Care Association and that’s not only running their annual door-to-door fundraiser from a virtual platform.   
Strikingly, since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic last March, the charity’s income from fundraising has reduced by 75 percent: a dramatic loss of essential funds that provide lifelines for the provision of its plethora of services.
In the words of Tia Crowley, Western Care’s Chief Executive: “Every single donation is critical and so well received and spent to improve the life-quality of our service users. We really appreciate the generosity of those who have already contributed to this year’s virtual door-to-door collection, which is ongoing. ”
In an interview with The Mayo News, Ms Crowley explains how the organisation’s fundraising events and activities ‘provide much-needed income to support essential activities like transport, therapies, art, health and sport initiatives’.
“Activities that significantly improve the quality of life of our service users and would not be possible without fundraised income,”  she says.
Even before the pandemic struck, Western Care, which has roots in every community throughout the county, ‘the identified cost of meeting the unmet needs of service users in Mayo was in excess of €10 million’.
“This was our pandemic starting position with regard to unmet need. In this context Covid-19 has also presented Western Care with many challenges such as the practicalities of providing services whilst keeping service users and staff safe,” she says.
Western Care’s primary funder is the HSE, through Government, and as everyone knows it has its own funding pressures with a sense that ‘disability services must  compete against health services  for scarce funds’.
These fundamental weaknesses in its funding resources have now been compounded by the new Covid-19 requirements and restrictions which have an impact on the quality of the interpersonal experience for service users.  
“The essential requirement for social distancing increases the cost of service provision, as group activities are not possible, numbers allowed to travel on transport has been greatly reduced and opportunities for social interaction and community involvement is limited. Staff are also required to implement stringent cleaning regimes between interactions, which takes up valuable face-to-face support time.”
Tia Crowley believes that ‘service users and their families feel they have been forgotten as funding has been made available to reopen schools and businesses while people with disabilities receive severely reduced services and no sign of additional funding forthcoming’.
She suggests that it is no wonder that families of those with disabilities ‘are exhausted from dealing with the day-to-day challenges’, particularly due to cutbacks in respite supports.
“They have little energy for the fight that is required to gain government attention and elderly parents are anxious about what the future holds as service providers like Western Care were not receiving adequate funding to meet demand for services in pre-Covid times, as I said already.”
Praising staff and the frontline workers, she says they ‘have risen to the challenge and worked tirelessly to maintain services whilst keeping those we support safe’.  

Long association
A Chartered Accountant by profession, while Tia Crowley started working with Western Care in 2001, her connections with the charity started in school.  
“I took part  n the Western Care sponsored ‘Cara’ programme back in the 1980s. It allowed teenagers volunteer to support service users access  activities in the community. The young adults and the Western Care staff I met during that programme left an impression on me that remained over the years.”
Observing that Western Care has been embedded in the life of so many people in Mayo since its foundation in 1966, she says:  
“Growing up in Westport I was always aware of Western Care and the essential services it provided to so many people throughout Mayo. My longterm hope is to see services to people with disabilities improved to a position where each individual receives the level and type of service they require and desire however there is a long way to go yet.”
For this busy mother of two ‘almost adult’ children with husband Michael, there is clearly a vocational dimension to her commitment to this charity. However, it is not only funding and service provision issues that get her pulse racing. She has been a regular participant in the charity’s annual mini-marathon whilst also a longtime thespian with St Patrick’s Drama Group, Westport.

Army of volunteers
A regular Saturday morning park-runner, Crowley says she misses its camaraderie but whilst much has changed during these last months, the strong spirit of volunteerism that underpins Western Care shines through all the new challenges.   
“We have an army of volunteers who traditionally have gone door-to-door for Western Care. Some of our volunteers have been doing this important work for up to 40 years. They are irreplaceable and I can only marvel at their dedication and thank them for their support.
“As I mentioned, this year the door-to-door collection has by necessity become a virtual collection. This is a different focus that relies on people to donate independently via online platforms like Facebook or idonate. While this means of donation will not suit everyone the upside of the online option is that it allows people abroad or away be part of the door-to- door collection as well.”

DONATIONS NEEDED
Donations can be made on the Western Care Association’s Facebook page or via Idonate at www.idonate.ie/wcadoor. You can also send a cheque or postal order to Teresa Ward, Western Care Association, John Moore Road, Castlebar, Co Mayo, F23H726. Alternatively, Teresa Ward, Fundraising and Development Manager would be delighted to assist. Call Western Care at 094 9029100 and ask for Teresa.