We were once rich in heart and mind

It’s a poor indictment on the Government when a group of parents have to come together to raise funds to open a special school. However that’s the situation for a group of people from Mayo who began the Seven Day in a Row Croagh Patrick Challenge.

But without dwelling on the inadequacies of this government any more, let’s look to the determination these people, mainly parents and friends of children with autism, have shown in order to provide the best possible education for their children.

The event takes place every March and attracts individuals, clubs, politicians, local celebrities, and work colleagues who take on the challenge for the full seven days or by offering their support on one or more days.

The main aim of the organisers is to open an Applied Behaviour Analysis school in Mayo. Castlebar DJ Johnny Oosten first got involved with autism when his close friend’s son Jordan was diagnosed with autism in 2006. Johnny witnessed at first hand the terrible nature of the condition and the huge impact it had on Jordan’s family and indeed Jordan’s everyday life.

A Prime Time special on RTÉ motivated Johnny to do whatever he could to help autistic children, and when he learned that there was no ABA school in Mayo the Seven Day in a Row Croagh Patrick Challenge was born.

Applied Behavioural Analysis is one of the oldest and most widely used treatments for autism and is a system of autism treatment based on behaviourist theories which, simply put, state that behaviours can be taught through a system of rewards and consequences.

This year is the third annual Croagh Patrick Challenge Event. The first event was held in January 2007 and on that occasion a total of €52,000 was raised. Last year’s challenge was changed to March and once again there was great support. On this occasion a total of €117,000 was raised, bringing the total to an impressive €179,000.

This year’s climb will take place from the March 11 to 17 2009. The challenge is to climb seven days in a row and will commence daily from 10am. Last year 28 climbers completed the seven days, with over 500 people showing their support by climbing one or more days.

Events such as this wouldn’t be possible without the dedication of volunteers. Volunteerism is something which suffered significantly during the Celtic tiger years. People’s lives became so full of “important” events and occasions that the role of the volunteer diminished, besides those who remained committed to their local charities and clubs.

But in the midst of this recession, we have the perfect opportunity to rethink our priorities and remember what gave Ireland’s it’s reputation of a giving and “rich” nation — rich in heart and mind that is, not rich in pocket.

People who travel to third world countries either backpacking, on holidays or to do some voluntary work, return to this green isle of ours with the same sentiment in hand — that we have forgotten what’s important in life and that’s to look after those who aren’t in a position to look after themselves, the old, the young, and those with special needs.

Johnny Oosten and Pat Kearns are two individuals who are making a concerted effort to assist autistic children. They deserve our support. There are others. Remember when you drop your children off at GAA, soccer, rugby, swimming, etc, this weekend, that the people who train them are mostly volunteers, not babysitters, and consider offering a helping hand or a loaf of sandwiches for after the next match.


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