A LETTERKENNY woman has been named the Donegal Family Carer of the Year.
Family Carers Ireland, the national charity supporting Ireland’s family carers, announced that Athena Kelly is the 2022 Netwatch Donegal Family Carer of the Year.
Athena has helped to care for her younger brother Alaric (17) since he was diagnosed with autism and ADHD at the age of 4. Only a year older than her brother, she has been a great help to her sibling who turns to her for support and she has given up many nights with friends to sit in and comfort Alaric who also has sensory issues and is a wheelchair user.
She was nominated by her mother Kerrie who says that while they planned an 18th birthday party for their daughter earlier this year shorty before Athena’s Leaving Cert exams, she refused the party and instead spent it celebrating quietly with her brother.
Athena has recently started studying psychology in Maynooth University in the hope of becoming a child psychologist to help children like her brother. Her mum says that Athena rings Alaric every night and stays on the phone with him for hours to make him laugh and to help calm him, with both having their own secret language to communicate.
She describes her daughter as a beautiful young lady inside and out who always puts her brother’s needs first and never complains.
Now in their 15th year, the Netwatch Family Carer of the Year Awards seek to recognise and shine a light on the remarkable contribution of the more than half a million people in Ireland who provide care at home to loved ones such as children or adults with additional needs, physical or intellectual disabilities, frail older people, those with palliative care needs or those living with chronic illnesses, mental health challenges or addiction.
The 19 million hours of unpaid care provided each week by family carers would cost the State €20bn a year to replace. Family carers often go unnoticed in the community despite the immense workload they take on and the significant commitment they show to those that they care for. This has particularly been the case during the pandemic with many left increasingly isolated.
Family Carers Ireland Community Support Manager for Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal, Martina Cawley, said:
“Caring for a loved one at home can be rewarding but it can also be challenging, particularly in the absence of vital supports and services including respite. This can take a toll on a person’s physical, mental, financial and social wellbeing. Often, a person can find themselves taking on the role of a family carer with little or no warning. These are mums, dads, sons, daughters, siblings, relatives, friends and colleagues who sometimes don’t even see themselves as family carers. They are doing extraordinary work that is too often unseen and undervalued.
“These awards are an important event in our calendar every year as we seek to provide some small recognition to all of those who care at home for loved ones with additional needs and to ensure their stories are heard.
“As a charity, we want family carers to know that they are not alone and that we are here to help them no matter where they find themselves on their caring journey. As a society, we must ensure that family carers are not only recognised for their immense contribution, but truly supported to care safely at home.”
Mick Galwey, Netwatch Brand Ambassador, said: “Family carers are the backbone of our local communities and the Netwatch Family Carer of the Year Awards offer a chance to highlight their sheer tenacity, selflessness and resilience. We have learnt more than ever over the last two years just how important caring is. Family carers are ordinary people we know doing extraordinary work behind closed doors. It is only right that we champion their contribution and to be a part of that is very special to me and to Netwatch.”