Pictured outside the Limerick Gateway to Education Store on No. 9 Wickham Street, back row (L to R): Richard Lynch, Frances Fitzgerald, Ross McCoy, Michelle Hogan and Leah Melling. Front row (L to R) Karen Keane and Suzanne Roche. Picture by: Billy Butler. Text by I Love Limerick correspondent Michelle Hogan.
Limerick Gateway to Education (LGTE) is a charity based in No. 9 Wickham Street, Limerick. This charity was set up by Suzanne Roche to help the family unit cope with the costs of putting children through school and provide aid through homework support services.
LGTE would like the people of Limerick to donate what they can in the line of school books and school uniforms that are in good condition but no longer of use to a family. This appeal is in an effort to fund premises to continue growing their homework club which helped nearly 600 families last year.
The school books and uniforms are sold on to disadvantaged families at a fraction of their original price. All funds raised by LGTE go back into the running of the shop and providing a homework club in Dromroe Village in UL, for primary and secondary school children.
Speaking to Karen Keane who has been involved with LGTE from the beginning, she said: “Three years ago Suzanne Roche realised that there was a need that was not being met. Kids who are not from well-paying families needed support with their homework and with their education. There was nowhere for them to go because they couldn’t afford to pay to go anywhere, so Suzanne started a very small homework club with ten kids the first year and they charge five euros for three evenings a week with student volunteers from the University of Limerick, LIT and Mary Immaculate College and it has gone bigger and bigger and bigger. If you have books you don’t need or if you have uniforms you are finished with we would love them. There is a huge demand for stuff like this; the money just is not there.”
The problem is that not enough people know about this project, LGTE need to reach a target audience and get donations for their charity shop with a priority of gathering school books and school uniforms.
Speaking to Suzanne Roche who founded this charity after suggesting the idea to friends on social media she explains the services LGTE provides for disadvantaged families in Limerick:
“The whole aspect was to help the family unit. Everyone is budgeting at the moment regardless of whether they are working or not and I just wanted them to have an alternative. I have four kids and anyone that I spoke to and any of the stories we hear coming in here is all along the same aspect and if anything; it has gotten harder. At the time I thought that this was something that would just pass regarding the recession but now it is needed more than ever. We have done a database up and we helped nearly 600 families last year, you could have five children per family with school books and uniforms.
If you look at the back to school allowance it is one hundred for primary and two hundred for secondary that doesn’t cover very much when you take into account per child what has to be spent. I see it as a real need here, this is the whole year round, you can go for communion stuff, coming into different seasons even around Christmas time the amount of toys that went out that were in great condition, they were used for families to put under the tree. That’s how hard it is but people don’t see that on the ground.”
Suzanne continued: “I went and did a social studies diploma for two years and I took all my ideas from there, my background would be that I came from a disadvantaged area so I know how hard it is for anybody to make ends meet. If you need a book and you are paying €30 down the road and you are getting it here for €10 there is a big difference. We can make the difference between putting the food on the table or putting their kids through summer camp, it is really to help those parents to stretch their money more and to make it easier on them. I would love to see it get bigger but I don’t have the finances to do it. None of us get paid including myself it is just something I love doing, I get great comfort in here when you are dealing with people because that’s what I like doing, if I can do something to help. Some of the children and parents have been with me three years and it is as much about the social aspect as the academic.”
The Homework Club
This year LGTE got a space in the University of Limerick in Drumroe Village to hold a homework club three evenings a week; “They gave us two rooms out there and it has been amazing, it has allowed us to have 20 kids. Next year we are hoping to get another room so we can have up to 40 kids. It is very gradual and we are increasing and increasing. Half of the kids are primary school and the other half are secondary school. It [the homework club] was full all year and we have a waiting list, as soon as this year closed people were asking when could we take names for next year? We had to turn away people because we just didn’t have the space.
If you are studying physiotherapy or occupational therapy, we have had children with mobility issues and things like that in the homework club last year and we had an amazing MA student who was a speech therapist and he made such a difference to people because he had a very specific skill that people don’t always have access to and that most people can’t afford to have access to. Physical therapists and speech therapists are very expensive and there is a waiting list to see them, but if you are coming to the homework club and you are getting a little bit and a little bit every time for five euros three nights a week; it is making a huge difference.
The homework club will be starting again in September, normally at the moment the homework club is on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday between 4.30-6.30pm depending on how our room availability works out in September we may push the secondary schools back to the second hour and have the primary school children in the first hour.”
Suzanne added: “There were people coming in saying ‘would you ever think of doing grinds?’ so I asked a few people and now we have 19 kids and we have people who get the grinds in specific subjects. For paying five euro a week they are getting grinds three nights which is six hours a week. The students of UL get placement through the PVA which I sign off on.”
Karen explained: “We advertise with the volunteer centre and our volunteers for the homework club are all recruited through the Presidents Volunteer Award (PVA) because there are volunteering schemes in UL, LIT and in Mary I. If anyone wants to volunteer and they are not in college at the moment they can come to see me in the shop and we can talk and see what their skill sets are and what we can offer them and what they can offer us. Come up and see me, I am always here and we can arrange to make it happen. If they are in UL, LIT or Mary I there are volunteering officers in the college and they can approach them and they can be assigned to things that are suitable for them to be volunteering in. With the case of the kids in the homework club it is about what subjects you specialise in in college, for example if you are doing French, we would love some French tutors to get involved or we are always looking for people with maths skills.”
The Shop on 9 Wickham Street, Limerick
Karen explained: “The shop is there to fund the homework club to allow us to have art projects and games, stencils, flashcards and learning tools and of course premises.
In the shop we also sell second hand uniforms and second hand school books because they are so expensive. The maximum price we set on any schoolbook is €15 instead of the €40 you pay for brand new books.
The clothes, the DVD’s and the furniture we sell all maintain us when the demand isn’t there, and it also helps us create a presence.
We are trying to raise our profile so more people know where we are, who we are and what we do.
We are trying to reach people and we are trying to say that we know how expensive uniforms are, we are aware, we know how expensive books are and it’s tough enough without having to spend €40 on a single book. We are going to try and make it easier for you, we have school books, we have uniforms, and everything we keep is in peak condition.
If you have books you don’t need or if you have uniforms you are finished with we would love them. There is a huge demand for stuff like this; the money just is not there. We always need more particularly with the school stuff. If you have school books that are sitting in your house, we need it, even college books.
When the school books run out of date and they have changed the edition, we have got in contact with a charity called Sponsor an African Scholar. I am keeping maths and science books that are out of edition here to be collected and taken to North Kenya. Rather than them going to a landfill or waste we are finding another use for them.”
Karen added: “We have a Facebook page and if we get designer items into the shop it all goes up on Facebook and it is sold instantly so that is a way that we reach people but we are trying to find more because not everybody is on Facebook.”
Karen explained: “At the moment we have taken on five people from the Community Employment Scheme so we are helping to provide them with employment and training and they are all learning new skills, we have two in our administration sites and they are learning about note taking and advertising and everything. We have two security and maintenance guys and one who is doing accounts who is getting training with an accountant. They are all learning merchandising skills, they are learning customer service skills and we sent them out to do first aid courses and they are learning about how letters are written and phrased when you are looking for something. So there is a knock-on effect and you are expanding peoples’ horizons.
We take on volunteers and we have volunteers with learning difficulties, we have taught them how to use the till, taught them about pricing and styling and it makes them more available for jobs because they are learning new things, it is all very gentle and supportive and the confidence that they get is amazing.
We advertise with the volunteer centre and our volunteers for the homework club are all recruited through the Presidents Volunteer Award (PVA) because there are volunteering schemes in UL, LIT and in Mary I.”
Suzanne added: “Two students from the homework club who have their exams finished say when they are 16-years-old, can do their work experience here in the shop so that gives them something to put on their CV.”
Suzanne finished by saying: “This is self-sufficient in three years and if anybody else had to be paid the work just couldn’t be done. My main priority is to get donations of school books to keep the project going stronger for us and for the parents. It doesn’t have to be books or uniforms it can be any donation.”
Contact LGTE on Facebook here.
Visit the LGTE website here.
Follow LGTE on Twitter here.
Visit the Sponsor an African Scholar website here.