MAKING MEMORIES Pictured at the presentation of a framed montage of pictures taken at the Western Care Garden Fete run by the Westport Lions Club are, from left: Jackie O’Grady-Dever (manager, Western Care), service users John Joe Jennings and Mark McDonnagh, Nicky Dowd and Maggie McGing of Westport Lions Club, and service users Trish Kelly, Helen Feehan and David O’Neill.
Current Lions Club Westport president, the boundlessly energetic Nicky Dowd chats to The Mayo News about the work the club does locally and her reasons for getting involved, as well as a moving musical event that the club has planned for next month.
In a nutshell, what is Westport Lions Club?
Westport Lions Club is fundamentally about spreading kindness. Sharing our skills to try to really make a difference in the community, with less talking and more listening to find out where we can help. I know it’s a cliché, but actions speak louder than words.
The Lions Club is a global charity, and there’s a club in just about every town in the world, so when there’s a disaster or appeal for help we can spring into action and transfer money really quickly, confident that it will be distributed right to the heart of the problem.
In Westport, we raise money to respond to as many individuals or groups that need support – and that can be really varied. Anyone can write to us at The Clew Bay Hotel, where we meet every second Tuesday of the month at 8pm.
Why did you join?
Eugene [Nicky’s husband] and I had recently moved to Westport and wanted to do something useful to be part of the community, and a friend suggested we went along to a meeting. They were such a welcoming diverse bunch.
You can support an existing project or create your own, doing as much or as little as you can. I like the freedom we have to discuss a problem, find a solution, vote and act immediately with complete confidentiality.
I didn’t think that three years later, I would be president, but it’s been fun, and I hand the club president over to my VP, Kevin Browne, in June. Big news too is that our very own member Des Ryan has just been voted to be Vice District Governor of Ireland.
We have 24 members at the moment, 12 men and 12 women, aged 35 to 85 – so there’s plenty of banter in the meetings. Anyone can join, and I think it gives you direction and motivation.
There is a small annual fee which is for Lions Club International membership to cover admin, insurance and so on, so money raised from the public really does all go to where you want it to go, and we are completely transparent on that.
Can you tell us a little about your latest campaign?
Ah yes, Jennie’s Smile.
Well after a frank discussion with Leanne Barrett, Project Co-ordinator at the Westport Family and Community Resource Centre (located next door to The Mayo News offices on the Fairgreen), we discovered there was an up to six-month waiting list for young people and adults in need of counselling.
We decided that we’d like to raise money to support the FRC to deliver their adolescent counselling service and to try to help reduce waiting lists and the prevent the escalation of mental-health issues in the community.
We quickly joined forces with the family of Westport woman Jennie Kilroy Durkan [who died tragically last year] and realised that the community was looking for an opportunity to collectively celebrate and grieve the love and loss of such a talented woman, daughter, sister, wife, mum, musician, teacher.
The ‘Jennie’s Smile’ event began to take shape, and we’ve been overwhelmed with offers from musicians who had played with her and wanted to take part. It will be an evening of music and storytelling and is going to be a blast, with an amazing display of local talent and a few surprises.
What did you choose the FRC?
The Family and Community Resource Centre, or FRC, runs on a tiny budget with a small staff and has a committed team of volunteers to cope with demand across a range of needs and issues. It is an amazing one-stop shop that offers advice and support for hundreds of people each year across the Westport community.
I have often heard people say ‘The Family Resource Centre helped turn my life around’ or ‘I didn’t even know they were there!’. Often people don’t know about the centre, until they need it.
I really hope this campaign helps to raise the profile of this valuable facility, and helps the community to see there are lots of organisations who can help, once you know where to look. The trouble is, when you are in a bad place, sometimes the fog is so thick you are paralysed and making those calls for help are terrifying. The FRC is a confidential, non-judgemental, safe space for people to access support.
Who and what have the club helped?
Well it is completely confidential, but we have for example helped with transport costs for those who may be finding it impossible to travel to hospital appointments. Sometimes, it is a simple call for companionship, so we try to link people up with other community groups. We support a Carers’ Weekend project, host a regular senior-citizens gathering, run a garden party for Western Care, sponsor the training of a dog for the blind and support the national diabetes-awareness project. We have funded defibrillators and hospital equipment, and sent money to the Australian bush fires, Bangladesh floods, St Vincent de Paul’s food appeal… and the list goes on.
At Christmas, the Curiosity charity shop in Westport ran a raffle and raised money for us. A young local girl Caitlin Malone won the hamper prize. Little did we know that Caitlin is a karate expert and had been chosen to represent Ireland in Moscow at the fourth Inclusive Karate World Cup international championships in April, along with 29 others, all of whom are from Dublin.
When we received a letter asking if we could possibly help with flight costs for her brothers and mum to join her, we unanimously agreed. It’s such an achievement that someone from our small town is representing the country.
Jennie’s Smile will take place in Westport, in the Castlecourt Hotel’s Dome Suite, on Friday, March 13. Doors open 6.30pm, with the event starting at 7.30pm. Tickets (€20 each) are available online at www.westportlions.ie, as well as from the Plaza Hotel, Westport. Jennie’s Smile badges (€2 each) are available in Westport from Amber on Bridge Street, Curry’s Café and Bakery on James’s Street and the Curiosity Shop on Neill O’Neill Lane, just off Bridge Street.