Providing services to 10,000 young people through the Donegal Youth Service is no easy task, but Letterkenny woman Lorraine Thompson looks forward to every day in the office.

Lorraine Thompson

Lorraine is the Regional Director of the Donegal Youth Service, which means she manages all projects across the county designed to improve young people’s lives.

She has spent almost 20 years working with Donegal’s younger generations to help them learn, grow and develop in Ireland today.

“What I really love about my job is everyday is different. You never know what’s coming in the door. If a young person in need or in crisis comes in we will do whatever it takes to get them the service they need,” Lorraine told Donegal Woman.

Lorraine works with a team of 14 staff in the Donegal Youth Service headquarters in Letterkenny. There are a further 17 participants in the Community Employment and up to 500 adult volunteers across Donegal.

Every programme in the DYS and the 24 affiliated youth clubs are designed to benefit young people in a variety of ways and on a variety of levels. Funding and regulating the service takes a lot of administration work, but the projects ultimately come down to one-on-one interaction to help each individual young person.

Path to Youth Work

Lorraine always had an interest in youth work, ever since she was part of the No Name Club in Letterkenny in her teenage years. She studied youth leadership training and was influenced by her aunt, who was a youth worker in Omagh.

“Getting involved in youth work was unusual. A lot of people accidentally fall into it, whereas I did my degree directly in youth work,” Lorraine said.

Lorraine has met thousands of young people throughout her career and has seen them grow and thrive with the service. “The young people I would have worked with are young adults at this stage and it’s always good to check in on those who are still about and find out how things are,” she said.

The DYS provides information, day projects and social clubs all across Donegal. Lorraine leads the coordination of programmes such as Breakout for the young LGBT community, Daybreak for educational support and the Donegal Youth Council.

High ambitions for The Loft

The Loft in Letterkenny is a source of pride with Lorraine and the Youth Service. The drop-in centre for 12-18 year-olds has been a unique place for local teens to meet and socialise over that past decade. A new kitchen was installed last year to honour the memory of Orla O’Reilly, the much-loved Youth Worker who passed away in 2015.

“Having a meeting space was a vision that I had about 10 years ago. I was quite adamant that there was so many public space for adults but no space for young people. I wanted a place that was state of the art, that was respectful for young people and they could come in and see money was spent on them and they could hang out with their friends for free and feel safe.

“We’re very proud of the fact that our Loft is open to all young people. You don’t have to be a member, so any young person that comes to Letterkenny can use our service,” Lorraine said.

Christmas at the LOFT

Soft sofas, pool tables and games consoles make the Loft a casual spot to hangout in. It can often be a teenager’s first point of contact with a youth worker if they have an issue. If a young person needs to reach out to an adult then it can be a big mental step for them to climb the stairs and come into the centre. The second-floor location of the cafe on Letterkenny Main Street is something that Lorraine would like to change.

“We recognise that it is a barrier being up on the second floor. Ideally, we’d like to be on the ground floor and we would like more visibility for young people. It’s not just the physical block of coming up stairs but the mental block for some,” Lorraine said.

Role Models

The increased focus in the media around mental health has led to the Donegal Youth Service becoming a first port of call for young people seeking someone to talk to. They can get one-to-one support or avail of a listening service called Teen Talk to discuss their problems.

“More and more young people are looking for that person to talk to,” Lorraine said.

Youth workers such as Lorraine can be vital role models to many young people, which is something that she saw as a very rewarding responsibility.

“One thing we struggle with is measuring the impact of youth work. How do you know that youth work has made a difference in those young people’s lives?

“The youth worker may be the one positive role model a young person has. The relationship with a youth worker may be different to the relationship with a teacher because it is voluntary.

“Young people come here because they want to. It’s all about building a relationship with that person. You try to get to know them, you build trust and put them at their ease, and then you can work with them on a programme or be there if a young person wants to talk to you about anything then that relationship is there. As a youth worker, that would have been one of the most valuable parts for of it me,” Lorraine said.

Staying on trend

Lorraine and her team must keep track of all current issues affecting young people, from social problems to political changes. They try to tailor programmes to cater to a need in local communities. Cyberbullying and internet safety workshops have been in high-demand in recent years, while intimate partner violence and sexual health are also in focus.

The DYS currently has a young carers project for young people who may have a family member with special needs. Another example is a youth democracy project called Worldwide Voices, which has been designed to help young people from ethnic minorities celebrate their backgrounds.

Where there’s a will there’s a way

Finding the funds to run each programme takes a lot of work but a lot of determination and belief in the benefits. “We have enough skills to identify a need and come up with an idea and apply for the funds. Things can happen when we have the will to say yes, let’s do this. Where there’s a will there’s a way.” Lorraine said.

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