Cork Life Centre, perched atop Winters Hill is a bustling centre of education offering an alternative learning environment to marginalized young people. Catering for youths between the ages of 12-18 years, Cork Life Centre provides support for those who for various reasons have not thrived or coped in a mainstream educational setting, offering one to one tuition in both Junior and Leaving Certificate subjects as well as preparing them for State Examinations.
Opening its doors for the first time in 2000 with the support of the Christian Brothers and the then director Br Barry O’Shea, the Life Centre initially served a small number of students. Today, 17 years later under the directorship of Don O’Leary, Cork Life Centre has excelled from strength to strength. The voluntary organisation now hosts over 70 staff, the majority of which are volunteers and 50 students.
Speaking to Don, he explains that “we wouldn’t be able to continue without volunteers”. Elaborating further, Don explains that the volunteers are what create the community environment within the centre. The students respond well to the volunteers, as they know they are there because they want to be there. The community aspect is also reinforced in the fact that both students and volunteers prepare lunch and eat together, as well as the various other extra-curricular activities the students get involved with.
Cork Life Centre has been fortunate enough to have an abundance of volunteers to cater for the needs of the students. From recent graduates, to those passionate about certain subjects, the Life Centre has even had volunteers spanning as far as Uganda, Serbia and Poland. Don explains that “volunteers are only as good as the jobs you give them”. He emphasises the importance of allowing volunteers to teach in areas that they are comfortable and passionate, elaborating that just because somebody has a degree in psychology, doesn’t mean they are necessarily passionate about psychology. When volunteers look to get started, Don says that the students react well to volunteers who are teaching something they are passionate about.
Speaking to six of the volunteers in the centre, there was a resounding acknowledgement from each of them that the students were their biggest motivation in getting involved with the centre. Craig Hayes who has been in the centre for 8 years teaches Maths and Computers. Craig couldn’t afford to go to college after school so taking a year out he came across the centre through career guidance, and seeing the growth and progress of the students each year has been a huge factor in why he has remained there for so long.
Leah Hearne who teaches Music and English in the centre has been helping one student put together his debut album of original songs, as well as working on various different group music projects. She was always curious about the social impact of the arts and since she started in the centre in September 2015, she shares that it’s all about the “little victories” for her.
Eimear O’Callaghan teaches English and Geography and after hearing Don speak in UCC, his passion and enthusiasm motivated her to get involved with the Life Centre. Eimear says she gets up in the morning for the students and says how easy it is to take stability for granted, and realises the importance of creating a sense of stability in the lives of these students.
Darragh Murphy started in September 2016, and teaches Music and Biology. As a scientist, he had been working away, has been self-employed and was looking for a more dynamic use of his time. Leah encouraged him to get involved, and he is really enjoying spending his time in this “peer driven society”. Darragh says the experience young people have in this school is far removed from the school experience he had. All of the teachers in Cork Life Centre really want to teach, and it’s this sort of atmosphere where students prosper.
Claire Looney has been volunteering since September 2015, and teaches English and History. After completing her H.Dip in Secondary Education, she was eager to get experience working with young people. She speaks fondly of the wider community that has formed in the centre. “The basic needs of the students are met first” Claire explains. “They eat together, overcome things together” and she acknowledges the value of one to one tuition.
Finally, Aíne Collins followed in her mother’s footsteps when she started volunteering. She now teaches Music and Home Economics. She explains how the centre doesn’t solely focus on the traditional curriculum, with various activities like speech classes, and rowing allowing the students to better express themselves and develop their interests.
Cork Life Centre are always looking for volunteers, with a number of teaching roles currently being advertised through Cork Volunteer Centre. If you would like to learn more about volunteering with Cork Life Centre, or indeed if you would like to volunteer in any of the other sectors, we would greatly encourage you to register online at VolunteerCork.ie and we can arrange a meeting to help you find the perfect volunteer opportunity. You can also find us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram: @VolunteerCork where you can keep up to date with all our latest opportunities, events and general happenings here in Cork.
Cork Volunteer Centre
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