Mary O’Donnell meets the SVP’s new youth officer
Committed to giving a voice to the youth on social justice issues, the Society of St Vincent de Paul has appointed a new youth development officer for the northern region, which has the longest running SVP Youth Council in Ireland.
Since she took on the role at the end of August, Claire Morgan, from Co. Down, has been busy visiting schools, giving talks and helping set up more youth conferences, as well as networking with the other five regional youth development officers throughout the island and helping to develop an education pack.
Taking time out to speak to The Irish Catholic, the 31-year-old former teacher said that she was really enjoying her work and was greatly encouraged by the enthusiastic responses she has received from the pupils she has talked to and their teachers.
“Now that the new school year is well underway, we are starting to hear more from the schools, particularly those that have a tradition of being involved at this time of year with the Toy and Food Hamper appeals, which is great,” said Claire, noting that around 40 schools and youth groups are currently registered with the SVP in the Northern Region.
Her role involves guiding and supporting the teachers or youth leaders involved with the SVP groups throughout the year, but so far she has been mostly visiting new schools in the hope of getting more to come on board.
“I have visited 12 schools to date to give talks and lead workshops, and I have found that the young people are great with the ideas they come up with and the energy they have. I recently helped to set up a conference in St Patrick’s College, Maghera, which has 22 members from Year 13, who are very enthusiastic and keen to help people,” said Claire.
She added that the overall aim was not only to have young people engage with the SVP but to teach them about the work of the society in tackling social injustice, in the hope that they will understand the purpose of becoming an active member and helping people within their community.
“They can do that within the various projects that they decide to do themselves, keeping in mind the SVP ethos,” said Claire, adding that young people can get involved either through their secondary school, youth parish conferences or college and university conferences, all of which maintain links with the local conferences for support and guidance.
While she is the youth development officer for the northern region, Claire’s work is part of a national plan and she has been working with the Dublin-based, national co-ordinator, Becca Gallagher and the other youth officers in developing an education pack, which will be adapted for the northern region.
She explained that while the pack for the south of Ireland is aimed at Transition Year, the northern one will be for Years 8-10 and be more subject specific to Learning for Life and Work and Religious Education.
Efforts are also being made to develop conferences in more further education colleges and universities and the SVP is currently adapting its regional training programme for youth to the requirements of young people, aged 18+ years, in third level education, to be more age appropriate.
In addition, an education pack, written a few years ago by the SVP’s Youth Council for Year 6 and 7 classes in primary schools, has been revised and is ready to be rolled out to the schools.
Impressed that the Northern Region has the longest-running SVP Youth Council in Ireland, Claire is hoping to boost its membership, saying that there was a need for new members to come on board, particularly from under-represented areas like Omagh, Strabane and Armagh.
Supporting the Youth Council in its three-year plan, Claire remarked that this was now being revamped for 2014 and involved developing school speakers, educational packs for schools and encouraging members to take on key roles in areas such as media, social justice, etc.
The Youth Council organises various regional events throughout the year, including the annual youth conference, which is attended by youth members from all over Ireland, and Camp Vincent, which is a residential for the youth members.
Claire also spoke about plans for a youth database to facilitate SVP membership beyond school, saying: “The society has found in the past that some young people would like to continue with their SVP work when they leave school but they don’t know where to go, so this would be a way of letting them know about the wider network that exists.
“Also, when I go out to speak to schools I always try to bring either the area president or local conference president along to show the young people, and the teachers, that there is local support and they then have a contact.”
Saying that there was great support within the SVP to encourage young people to have an input, Claire continued “We want them to see that they are the society’s future, so it is vital that we give them a voice and a place now.
“Membership is declining as members get older, so it is essential to establish in our young people the idea of social advocacy today, whether or not they stay with the SVP,” she says.
“It is all about educating them about that role within their community.”
Claire Morgan is based at the Regional Office in Belfast and can be contacted there on (028) 90350561.