At Talent Garden Dublin we have launched a new initiative called Members Spotlight! Because of Covid 19 our members can no longer network the way they used to, we also recognise the ‘zoom fatigue’ and how overwhelming all the different online events can be. For us, our community is special and we are lucky to hear the amazing stories of our members every day, and we want to share them with our wider community! Following on from previous editions of Members Spotlight with wellbeing consultancy and Hauora and strategy consultant John Treacy, we had a virtual chat with Deborah Reid of Localise Youth.
To start it off – Debbie tell us about the work you do in Localise?
I am the Youth and Community Coordinator in Localise. Localise works with young people to get them connected to their local community through community service and working together with organisations, communities, and charities. My position is working with 11-24 year olds which is a big variety between primary school, secondary school and third level students. I primarily run the Community Youth programmes, which allows young people in the local community to gather for an hour a week to plan, prepare and deliver community service projects. In an academic year we run about 120 programmes and work with over 2000 young people.
Localise has a very long legacy in the youth sector in Ireland. It began in 1972 with a house fire in Ballyfermot! A group of local young people came together to help fix the house and after doing it they recognised that caring in the community gave them a really good feeling and they wanted to do more. So, they started a group, and it grew from there.
In 1997 Localise’ Director, Derek Cleary, created the ‘classroom to community’ concept. And from this have sprung several other Localise Programmes. By bringing Localise into the classrooms we give young people the chance to take part in alternative learning.
‘We don’t all love learning from books, I know myself I love to learn from people’
Can you tell us about your background and how you joined Localise?
Since I was younger I’ve always loved working with people. I have a social care background, I worked in the areas of the youth sector, the elderly, groups of people dealing with addiction, women recovering from addiction and trafficking. Before I joined Localise and came to Talent Garden. I took some time off work and thought about what it is I really want to do. I always loved seeing young people find their sense of worth and purpose in life. So I Googled jobs associated with empowering young people and saw the opportunity with Localise.
I just came from working with addiction which includes a lot of chaos management in the workfield and trying to assist people restore themselves. What attracted me to Localise is that I saw it as a preventative management approach. A lot of social work in the youth sector can be based around managing anti-social behaviour. I was really drawn to the fact that Localise has a preventative model, introducing young people to positive youth centred approaches, empowering them to be the positive solution to their community.
How does work in Localise differ to your previous roles?
I was working with people that were recovering from addiction, and that experience had really motivated me. A big ethos of ours in Localise is that it doesn’t matter where you’re from. You always have something to give back to the community.
Many of the schools we work with are in areas with socio-economic needs. During our programmes young people learn not only about the importance of caring, but also how to care. For instance, if we choose to help people who are going through homelessness, we discuss the importance of what language we use because there could be somebody in the group with a family member going through that. It’s about making sure that young people use the language so everyone feels respected. The Localise programme helps young people assess the real need in their community and then allows them to make a real difference. The positive and preventative model of Localise is always really impactful for young people to experience.
What has been your proudest moment?
It’s hard to say, but this season particularly during the first lockdown. I was so proud and personally encouraged by the young people I work with. In the height of the lockdown we kept our youth groups running and met on Zoom. The young people came up with incredible ideas for how they could continue to make a positive impact in their communities. We created standees for Mater Hospital, sent videos for 40+ nursing homes, videos to residentials for people with special needs and over 3000 people living in isolation. They showed incredible resilience and because of the projects that they came up with over lockdown it gave us the virtual volunteer blueprint which we are currently rolling out in all of our programmes.
We presented them with medals after the first lockdown lifted to acknowledge that during a difficult period they all intentionally chose to continue to give back to their community. Even when they were struggling with concerns or stresses, every week they chose to put it aside to think about how they could help others.
You have a broad role, what type of work do you enjoy the most?
I love our personalised projects, they are always really special. For example, our annual project with Larkin Community College, Trinity college, creating over €4000 worth of personalised gift care packages for 60 residents of Dublin Simon Community. Last year we had one of the residents come in and speak to the young people. She had used the homelessness service for 5 years and had received 5 Localise Christmas cards, which are handwritten to specific people. She had kept every single one. If you’re going through homelessness you often become a number. I love receiving cards, but for her it was a treasured possession. Those personalised pieces and putting a name behind the person is amazing.
Similarly, it was great to have the TAG community to get involved too! Last year, we did care packages and you guys helped us out in Talent Garden with Respond Housing, who look after families experiencing homelessness. We came to you guys with a list and asked you all to be Santa Clause! The generosity was incredible and the impact for those families was immeasurable.
Localise was still working with young people during the pandemic – how did you adapt to digital working so effectively?
I found it challenging at first. When it happened, we felt like a lot of the young people were sitting at home, feeling a bit lost and we needed to create opportunities for them where they could find a purpose during a difficult time.
We wanted to get the message across to our young people that even from behind their computer screens they were making an impact on others. One of the initial difficulties was creating that sense of connection for the young people. Usually with young people, when they meet the people they’ve helped, it is when they truly see their impact. We had to get creative – We had to organise interviews, videos, portable/ outdoor/zoom meetings or voicemails to showcase how successful their projects were.
“We can’t deny that more opportunities have opened up because we’ve gone digital.”
But now that we are online, we can connect with even more schools outside Dublin. We’re a nationwide organisation, but have always been limited by a small time and the time required to travel. Now we can run 4 courses a day in Cork, virtually connecting to our classrooms. We have student volunteers from DCU and Trinity that can be involved in our programs, now regardless of where they are based they can connect into our courses.
Tell us about your collaboration with Big Dog Digital.
What we love about being part of the Talent Garden community is that we are surrounded by digitally minded members. Our work has always been based on in person events and activities and we needed to quickly adapt to being online due to COVID. Initially when we joined TAG, I didn’t realise how much we relied on technology. We are active on social media and update our partners through our website.
We decided to take advantage of being surrounded by so many talented tech professionals. It was very soon after we moved in that we were connected with creative agency, Big Dog Digital. We took a walk upstairs and got to know the community, and they ended up upgrading our website. Being able to collaborate with other members is amazing, they’re always so close and we know they are amazing at what they do.
Together with Big Dog Digital we are designing an online platform called Localise Virtual Youth Volunteering. This will allow schools and youth groups to run a virtual volunteer programme themselves with the support of the Localise resources and team. The schools run the exercises with students and we give all resources and videos, walking them virtually through the programme. Big Dog are even creating an animation aspect to help young people understand the different exercises! We’ve been in the volunteer and youth sector for over 40 years now so if the school wants to work with the elderly, we have the contacts and resources to make that happen.
What was your first impression of Talent Garden?
For me personally I loved it. We have had a long standing relationship with DCU, recruiting some of our best student volunteers from their campus. Our offices were previously based in DCU Alpha campus, right across the car park from TAG, and one day we had to find a new place to move. Funnily enough, I had already been coming to TAG cafe before we moved here! I was studying counselling as well as Localise so I would go to work, study with the help of a delicious coffee, and go to the evening group. One Friday, Machaela introduced herself to me and asked if I wanted to come upstairs for pizza and beers. Unfortunately I had to go to work, but really, even before I came here I already felt welcome to this space. We had a good feeling about it when we chose to come to Talent Garden.
We felt comfortable enough to have a chat with everyone and when they asked what we did, of course we would tell them that we primarily work with people. It’s funny how things change! The tech element has become bigger and bigger since we’ve come here which came in handy for this year! We always felt super welcome and especially from the Talent Garden team, you were amazing and have always felt part of the team so it was a great transition.