A community support service for young people with autism is on the brink of closure as families fight to save one of the few places their children can go to make friends.
Chairperson of iCARE Angela Tourish tells Donegal Woman how parents are working tirelessly to keep the centre open.
“The main issue is that the HSE are referring children to us and not giving us any funding. We have just finished a very comprehensive summer programme and we are basically broke since that,” Angela said.
iCARE was set up 17 years ago by local parents who have relied on donations and council funding to maintain services. Angela says no money has been granted from the government health services, despite the number of people who benefit from it.
“We all have children ourselves with autism, the last thing we need to do is fundraise to keep it going. This is the only place they can play safely and make friends. There is just nowhere else for them to go,” Angela said.
iCARE provides after school clubs, activities in drama, arts and music. The children learn to cook using vegetables grown from a polytunnel, which was provided by Donegal County Council.
“The council have been extremely good to us,” Angela said.
“Children get a couple of hours of supervision which gives families time to spend with their other children or their other halves. They had a three night residential which they all loved. Many families are just not able to get away on holidays,” she said.
iCARE welcomes up to 100 young people aged up to 26 years old. Angela’s own daughter Orla will be turning 20 this week, and has grown up with the services from the age of two.
Angela is one of the founding parents behind iCARE, and said it has been a lifeline for her at times over the years.
Autism support for Orla from the state ended after she turned 18, which has left her without vital speech therapy for two years. Orla now attends an adult service, where her therapists must use her old material to help her practice her speech because the support is no longer there.
Angela works as a piano teacher but has had to take on less students as iCARE and caring for her daughter take up her time.
“All of us parents are exhausted trying to keep it open,” Angela said.
The committee are appealing to anyone who may help provide funding and benefactors who could help fund the new building.
Currently iCARE is run from two prefabs, where there are suites for computers, fitness, cookery, soft play and a Snoezelen.
“The prefabs have reached the end of their life, they are falling to pieces. We have outgrown what we have got. The lack of space is a huge issue.”
iCARE have funded a plot of land, they have planning permission for a new building, but finding funding is holding back their goals.
iCARE are holding a Moulin Rouge Charity Ball on the 29th October, a Stowstoppers show with the Britannia Concert Band and Londonderry Musical Society in the Buncrana Plaza on November 10th a fashion show on November 22nd in the Inishowen Gateway.
It is hoped that events and fundraisers will keep the service going. Plus, parents like Kevin McLaughlin are doing what they can to support their children and others in the community through sponsored challenges. If you wish to read Kevin’s family story, click below: