Something quite brilliant is going on in Letterkenny

A CONFIDENTIAL and non-judgemental service in Letterkenny is helping those unemployed on their job search journey to take what can be that first daunting step.
The Congress Resource Centre has been described as a “lifeline” and as a “truly vital service” for the people of the Cathedral Town and beyond. 
The centre, on Pearse Road, is part of the National Congress Network established in 1980 to provide support, resources and a wide range of services to those unemployed and disadvantaged.
The local centre came to fruition in 1995 when unemployment in Donegal was twice higher than the rest of the country. It has continued to deliver on its social cohesion ethos through some of the most turbulent and uncertain times.
Those working at the centre are doing so under the Community Employment (CE) programme, administered by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP). 
The CE programme is open to anyone over the age of 18 who is unemployed. It is designed to help those who are long-term unemployed, or otherwise disadvantaged, get back into work or upskill by offering part-time and temporary placements in jobs based within local communities. 
The Donegal News was treated to a tour of the facility and had an opportunity to meet some of those on the CE programme. 
At the helm is Centre Coordinator, Marie Slevin who has been in her role for 20 years. Marie says its a post she is proud to hold. She attributes the success of the centre to her dedicated, talented and knowledgeable colleagues. 
Maggie Breslin believes the centre “gives back” to the community as those there are on CE schemes upskilling, but also imparting their diverse range of expertise. 
Maggie’s background is in teaching, which she had been doing until a few years ago until a change in circumstances. Maggie is on the CE scheme herself and is now helping tutor others.
She said the centre operates on a myriad of strands. 
“We run courses to optimise employment skills and an information service for people who may have questions about entitlements, housing or pensions. We also offer a clerical service to help people with their CV preparation and printing services for a very small fee.”
Maggie believes the centre has a vital role to play in the inclusion of every member of society. She said building up a person’s confidence is a significant element to the work of those in the centre. 
“It’s hard to promote yourself when you may have had a long time in solitary existence or away from the workplace raising children. This is a very safe and welcoming space.
“A lot of people here have picked up many life skills, and you are giving of those to others walking off in the street. We help those people who have fallen through life’s cracks. Trying to negotiate your way around can be hard, there’s a lot of negativity out there but we do our best for everyone who walks in here.” 
Anne Boyce was made redundant from her job in 2012. When Anne lost her job, aged in her 50s,  she was fearful about whether she would be able to gain re-employment again. A chance conversation with a friend who worked in the Congress Resource Centre in Letterkenny set Anne on a determined pathway. A short time later the CE scheme was advertised and Anne jumped at the chance to apply. 
“I was interviewed and it started from there,” she said. 
“I was doing administration work and I had the opportunity to do adult tutoring and advanced ECDL.
“I felt like I was contributing again but also giving something back. It really improved my confidence, it was a morale boost. It’s a priceless place, for young and old. 
“The people in the resource centre are second to none. Until I went there, I wasn’t aware of it,” she said.
Anne has since gained employment in bookkeeping and payroll due to upskilling while on the CE programme. 
Kathleen Sweeney availed of the services at the centre to help to her son who needed help with a CV he was preparing for an apprenticeship.
“There is no other facility like it,” she said. 
“My son would not be doing what he is doing now had  he not have had the support from the congress centre.”
Kathleen said she found the centre “totally by chance”, despite being in Letterkenny for over 20 years. She said she would like to see it better advertised in public places like the Social Welfare Office, the Tax Office and doctor’s surgeries. 
Board of Management member since its inception, Ann Wilkinson told of how the genesis of the centre began with the announcement of Global Grant Funding in the early 90s. 
Community groups made submissions, however, it was decided the Trades Council would be the most sustainable option and a centre to support the unemployed was set up. 
Ann praises a number of local people for the continued success of the centre including Sean Mulholland, Emma Best, John Quinn and Charlie Kelly, who helped build up credibility.
“We had 28 per cent of unemployment in the country at the time we came to fruition, double than anywhere else in the country.
“The centre has just gone from strength to strength and one thing which has caused the centre to blossom was when Marie Slevin was employed as its coordinator. She has done so much to acquire that accreditation.”
The centre officially opened in October 1995 and it was a date Ann was determined not to miss. 
“I was due to go for surgery and I asked if the surgery could be delayed so I could attend,” said Ann. 
“The centre has been sustained by the sheer talent of the people who work there, they are the key.”
Names are currently being taken for those who wish to do a QQI Level Four course in Optimise Your Personal Effectiveness. The course will cover personal and interpersonal skills, career planning and information and technology skills. It’s open to anyone out of work and in receipt of benefit. It’s hoped the course will commence in October.
Congress Resource Centre in Letterkenny is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm and is wheelchair accessible.
For more information telephone (074) 9128010. 

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Donegal News is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
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