WHEN THE American poet Robert Frost penned ‘The Road not Taken’ in the early 1900s, little did he know the resonance it would have for so many in the intervening decades, as they battled the trials and tribulations of life.
Making a choice is the central theme of the poem – whether to choose a well-worn path or, as Frost so eloquently put it, ‘take the one less travelled by’.
The poem strikes a chord with Tara Gannon, whose path to her new role as Youth Project Worker in her native Ballinrobe was as circuitous as it was interesting.
A teacher by profession, her passion for youth work saw her moving away from mainstream teaching and into the equally challenging field of youth development.
Over a month into her new post, Tara is both reflective and looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead. She is endeavouring to work with the youth of the town and ‘focus on empowering the youth and giving them a voice’.
After completing her Leaving Certificate at the local community school, Tara pursued a Bachelor of Art and Design Education at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin, where she majored in graphic design.
She admits to being passionate about painting and drawing and attributes her creative side to her mother, Leo. As if that wasn’t enough, she is also an accomplished pianist, singer and musical performer – talents which she believes derive from her father Val.
“After I left college I worked for over six years in the teaching profession. I also spent some time as a freelance graphic designer in Dublin, which was a great experience for me. Then I moved west, to Galway, and stayed for two years before I decided to go travelling,” says Tara.
Her time away was a catalyst for change and it was while in Australia that her ambition to work in youth development was cemented.
“I worked with a lot of youth development projects when I was over there. For example, with one project we did a whole series of mural paintings and art work. Other projects included childcare work, teaching and drama, while along with that I also worked with the indigenous Australian population. It was a fantastic experience and I was sorry to leave it,” she explains.
Visits to Thailand, New Zealand and South Africa followed before Tara decided to bring an end to her globetrotting and return home last summer to Main Street, Ballinrobe.
Not one to idle, she immediately became involved in the Tacú Family Resource Centre and volunteered for a plethora of projects ranging from coaching soccer to teaching art classes.
“As I said, my time in Australia was very positive and definitely gave me a sense of what I wanted to become involved in. I suppose I did not follow a tried and trusted route in the sense of pursuing third level qualifications in youth and social work but I had my teaching qualifications. The experience I gained simply from volunteering and working with groups in Australia was enormous and really strengthened my ambition specifically for youth development. When I went home I just volunteered for various projects and went from there,” she explains.
Her current post at the Tacú Family Resource Centre in Ballinrobe is managed by Foróige and funded by the Mayo VEC. Following a rigourous interview procedure in September, Tara was chosen from a highly-competitive field and began work in early December.
“I will be working with the Youthreach project in the local community school. As well as that, I will also be liaising with statutory bodies on a number of youth schemes. Getting out and getting to know the young people and what their needs are is vital. I will be in charge of implementing various projects in conjunction with volunteers and other groups and I will then have to monitor and evaluate projects as they progress,” she adds.
Firstly, the small matter of enlisting volunteers is high on her agenda.
“I would really encourage people to become involved and volunteer for the various programmes in Arts, Crafts, Drama and Sports we hope to get up and running. All I can promise is that it is hugely rewarding and you can derive an enormous amount of satisfaction from working with young people. A few hours a week would help to get projects started and I would appeal to people to come along,” she explains.
A definite subscriber to the old Irish adage ‘mol and óige agus tiocfaidh siad’, she recognises that the challenges facing the youth of contemporary society are manifold.
“Definitely it is much more difficult as a young person today than say when I was a teenager. There is huge peer pressure, drug issues, alcohol abuse, bullying, sexual pressures. Despite all of these obstacles, young people today are trying to do so many good things and we should emphasise the positive things they do and become involved in,” she adds.
At present, plans are afoot to devise a wide range of intervention programmes for both individuals and groups which deal with youth issues in a frank and confidential manner at the resource centre, while one of her more ambitious future plans is to open a youth café in Ballinrobe, similar to the Gaf youth café on Galway’s Eglington Street.
“Already I have had very positive feedback from parents, teachers and young people and over time I hope that such interest will be matched by successful projects and schemes, along with sustained funding for such projects. One of the best things about working with young people is that it is always great fun and most definitely keeps you feeling young, ” she concludes.