That stewardship has been vigilant, giving and always focused on what is best for the services and the people in the community that are served.
In 1971, a group of like-minded people got together to provide Meals on Wheels and consequently in 1972, Ballinasloe Social Services Council was established.
The Meals on Wheels service continued under the guidance of Sr. John and based itself, with the kind co-operation of St Michael’s Parish, - still ongoing- in the Social Centre.
Dr Joe Tarpey was the first Chairperson and Margaret Mansfield first Secretary. Public Health Nurse, Anne Fitzmaurice Kenny was an early member of that original committee. She is still a member of the Management Committee. The late Stevie Connell from St Grellan’s was a great advocate for his own community and was around too from the beginning.
Pre-school education was an early concern and a number of places for vulnerable children were funded in Esther Kelly’s Preschool at Brackernagh. The Church of Ireland made its own contribution to this service.
In 1980, the current Social Services Centre in Brackernagh (formerly Jones’ House) was purchased by the Social Services Council with support from the Western Health Board and renovated. Éamon Lally led the organisation through and beyond this major development. Down the years he has been on and off committee a sustaining presence. In 1981, the Day Centre opened its doors to the community.
Then, in 1982, the Mercy Order seconded Sr. Alacoque Gleeson from her nursing position in St Brendan’s Loughrea to manage the Day Centre at no cost to the Council. Truly, Loughrea’s loss was Ballinasloe’s gain.
A minibus was donated to the Centre in 1983 by the Lions Club to enable more people from a wider area to attend the service.
Due to the demands, a significant extension was built and opened by Eamon Hannan CEO of the Western Health Board in 1985. This building was designed by Larry Duffy, Moher and built as part of an AnCO-precursor of a FÁS- Community Training Project. The Foreman was Seán Kenny from Eyrecourt.
In 1985, at the request of the Community Care Team, the Social Services provided a pilot programme for children with additional needs called “The Therapeutic Playgroup”. It was a multidisciplinary approach, and its teacher was Maura Hughes. Maura is still contributing and her poetry sessions with the clients in the Day Centre are very special.
A pre-school was established for the children in the local area in 1986 in a separate building.
In 1988, Teresa Coughlan was appointed as the first Administrator of Ballinasloe Social Services. This was a landmark decision, an inspired appointment which was transformative in its impact.
1989 saw the appointment of the gifted Elaine Murphy as Pre-School Leader.
In 1997 the Therapeutic Project for children with additional needs was re-located from the Health Centre to the Social Services Centre and subsequently re-named the Therapeutic Learning Centre. Parents of children with additional needs will be aware of the exquisite teaching involved in the interventions made by Elaine and her team.
The Sisters of Mercy involvement in Meals on Wheels ceased in 1999 after 26 years, having been provided by Sr. John, Sr. Dympna and Sr. Helena. Kay Cunningham was appointed as Meals on Wheels Co-Ordinator.
In 2006, in a fitting endorsement - President Mary McAleese and her husband, Martin, visited the Centre to mark the 25th anniversary of the Day Care Centre.
Sr. Alacoque retired from her post in 2009 and the position was filled by HSE’s St. Brendan’s Nursing Unit, Loughrea .2010 saw a new Care and Repair Service was started and now is housed at the Enterprise Centre.
2012 also saw celebrations for the 40th anniversary of the Social Services, with the late RTE reporter, Jim Fahy, speaking at the AGM. Annual Budget for all services was approximately €370,000 with some €61,000 from fundraising , donations and small grants.
In 2018, the former Therapy Room was transformed into a Dining Room and officially opened by Senator Maura Hopkins.
In 2020, the day centre closed in March due to COVID and did not re-open until October 2021. The refurbishment of the kitchen through a Maureen O’Connell Fund grant courtesy of the Ballinasloe Conference of the Vincent de Paul, was carried out. The Annual Budget in 2021 was close to €480,000 with some €49,000 being raised locally to support the work.
2022, the 50th anniversary, saw Mandy Lloyd being appointed as Day Centre Manager and a new bus being delivered. The pre-school garden is getting another make-over this year, thanks to a grant from the Late Late Show Toy Appeal.
Tusla, the Child Protection Agency recently provided significant funding to undertake research on an appropriate prevention and early intervention place-based model for families and youth services in town.
“There are a number of factors which have contributed to the growth and success of this organisation. Among these are the integrity of its stewardship down through the years -, that is its committee and board. That stewardship has been vigilant, giving and always focused on what is best for the services and the people in the community that are served. Money is managed tightly and accounted for meticulously. I am 45 years attending those stewardship monthly meetings and the most remarkable thing about them is the lack of ego in the room. Secondly, the organisation has been blessed by the quality of the individual service managers, their commitment, expertise, and professionalism. Then there are the foot soldiers, those who come to work day in day out to classroom, day room, kitchens; those in charge of the sacred work of transporting clients to the centre and who keep the meals on the wheels bringing much more than physical nourishment to those who receive them. And then there are the volunteers who give with such grace and to such effect that most precious of gifts, their time and who bring to that giving such kindness and compassion. All of these parties are custodians of great values”, noted Michael Lally a key activist and Board member of some 45 years.
Any account of its history through the last fifty years must record its indebtedness to the Mercy Sisters, firstly through seconded personnel- the aforementioned Sisters John and Dympna were succeeded by Sr Helena in the Meals On Wheels. The Day Care Centre at Brackneragh in its current form and ethos of warmth, professionalism and best practice is based on the model established by Sr Alacoque Gleeson who laid a foundation of care which has been sustained and developed by the current personnel. Down the years too and up to the present day the Mercy Sisters have been constant financial supporters of the services. They have given generously and quietly without any requirement of credit or public acknowledgement. Like their Foundress Mother Catherine McCauley they never get weary of doing what is good.
One of the solid foundations of BSS is the respect and support it receives from the people of Ballinasloe and its environs. From businesses, to organisations, to schools to individuals, it has the taken the cause to its heart and the financial support it provides is astonishing through thick and thin. It is an organisation that people trust and are prepared to back.
While the HSE is now the main funder, it is a fact that the services could not survive at their present level without this substantial support, which is of course saving the State services money in the medium to long term – in allowing folks to reside independently in their own home with strong support.
Annually 12 staff, allied with 45 volunteers deliver weekly and sometimes daily support to over 200 families with a variety of services.
New challenges are imminent with the crisis in energy costs and the cost of living generally. Many older people and families will struggle to cope with all of this. Hopefully with the help of experience and the continued support of the people of Ballinasloe and it’s enviorns the Social Services will continue to be able to be of assistance.
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