KATE Crotty and her mother Caitríona from Ennis are this week gearing up for the annual Tour De Munster Charity Cycle, which takes place from August 8 to 11.
Thirty three year old Kate has completed a Certificate in General Learning and Personal Development in Mary Immaculate College and is currently undertaking a course on Office Administration in the Adult Education Centre, Ennis.
Armed with her qualifications Kate has her eyes on an office job, and she and Mum Caitríona are so grateful of the supports received through Down Syndrome Ireland, which have led to so many doors opening for Kate.
These supports would not have been available without the funds raised by the public through events like the Tour de Munster charity cycle, which marks 10 years in partnership with Down Syndrome Ireland Munster this year.
The cycle takes place over four days, covering six counties of Munster where cyclists will traverse a 600km route. Last year the charity cycle raised €256,404 for Down Syndrome Ireland in Munster enabling the service to provide much needed support to those with Down Syndrome and their families.
Caitríona said they “are indebted to founder of the charity cycle Paul Sheridan” as supports and services vital to Kate’s personal growth and development were made available to her through Down Syndrome Ireland.
“Kate was born in 1985 and it was a shock at the time. I was very young. We were in Cahercalla and Down Syndrome Ireland called and they were extremely nice and helpful. They were so supportive that it was onwards and upwards from there and we never looked back,” Caitríona said.
She explained that it can be difficult for parents in the beginning but it is a welcome relief when someone appears with support and information. Among the services Kate was able to avail of with support from Down Syndrome Ireland was speech therapy.
“The organisation helps cover the costs of speech therapy for Clare families, which is very expensive so that is wonderful. It is one of the vital services for Down Syndrome,” she said.
The fruit of having that intervention was such that by the age of nine or 10 Kate was able to walk down to the local shop and buy milk or bread by herself.
“There was a huge difference. Communication and social interaction is key, so for Kate her verbal communication skills improved so much, it was incredible. In the Clare branch we do a huge range of stuff and it wouldn’t be possible without the Tour De Munster, they add so much to the lives of children and adults,” Caitríona said.
The Clare branch make a substantial contribution to The Clare Crusaders who offer speech therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy as well as annual summer camps, and which a large number of members avail of.
Caitríona added that Kate also availed of swimming lessons, a hobby she still really enjoys. This led her into Special Olympics Ireland.
“It has opened massive doors for her thanks to the Down Syndrome Ireland who helped with the classes initially. Also we have home tutors, which is fantastic for young children and helps children greatly, and horse riding”.
Kate has attended the Arch club in Ennis, a social club held every Saturday night. Here she did music, art, dance and the Clare branch of Down Syndrome Ireland give a donation towards the running of this club and others like it.
Through the Ennis Eagles bowling club Kate found another passion and this has led to part time work at Planet Ennis.
“Eoin [Farrell] and his staff are so supportive and they are so nice, she is really part of the team there,” Caitríona explained.
In her determination to be in gainful employment Kate has pursued a number of third level courses, which according to Caitríona have put her on a firm footing and helped her socially.
“We found out about the Certificate in General Learning and Personal Development in Mary I through Down Syndrome Ireland. Kate attended there for four years. She had a wonderful time. The social inclusion there was just absolutely incredible. She travelled on a train every day and gained huge independence. She was invited to all social events and treated with the utmost respect and dignity. She cultivated so many friendships and she still meets friends from Tipperary, Limerick and Cork. They get the train and meet in Limerick to go shopping together,” she said.
During her time in Mary I Kate received an Outstanding Sports Achievement Award for her achievements at the national Special Olympics having won five medals that year. She competed in swimming and gymnastics.
“The lecturers always said to me Kate walked the corridors with a sense of belonging and purpose. She loved it. Her siblings had third level experiences and she was delighted and happy to have a third level experience herself” Caitriona continued.
Kate is currently doing a course in office administration at the Adult Education Centre, in Ennis. On the back of a visit from an employment officer within the Down Syndrome Ireland to the Clare branch recently Caitríona is confident Kate will succeed in getting work.
“It was great to see how much things have changed and how far things have come. I really feel Kate will get a job. There is a course in Dublin preparing her for the workplace. They speak to employers and support Kate in her new employment. She really wants an office job and I think she would be very suited to it. She did work experience in Mary I in the international office, and she knew that was what she wanted. She is looking forward to gaining meaningful employment, and she is on track for that. She is a very independent self sufficient capable lady.”
Caitríona said, “I feel very strongly about social inclusion and the integration of people with Down Syndrome into communities with full citizens’ rights as laid down by the EU directives and the UN charter. Tackling issues around stereotyping and changing thinking patterns in our communities is so important. Tour de Munster raises awareness in the community,” she said.
The Tour de Munster charity cycle is one of Down Syndrome Ireland’s biggest fundraisers and the money generated is used to subsidise a range of activities organised by the branch. The organisation also acts as a forum where ideas are exchanged, new and strong relationships are cultivated, and members support each other.
There are 25 branches nationwide run almost exclusively by volunteer parents who provide members with a variety of services and social opportunities for babies, children, teenagers and adults with Down syndrome and their families. There are currently around 80 members in the Clare branch.
Money raised through the Tour De Munster will also be used to fund music therapy workshops and sibling workshops. Funds will also go towards purchasing resources like Numicon kits – a maths programme for people with Down Syndrome and The See and Learn Speech Therapy Programme.
Funds will be used to subsidise baby and toddler play therapy, latch-on courses, literacy courses and personal development courses for young adults.
Caitríona said that the cyclists, organisers and branches dedication and commitment has led to increased awareness as well as raising funds.
“The fact that strangers are cycling 600km around Munster to raise money for our children and adults so that they can reach their full potential is phenomenal. These are wonderful people,” she said.
Caitríona and Kate will be out on August 8 and 9 shaking buckets and are asking the people of Clare to come out and support the Clare branch of Down Syndrome Ireland and the cyclists who complete a gruelling four day cycle.