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Catholic Youth Care

30 November, 1999

Tess Martin highlights the work being done by Catholic Youth Care (CYC) for young people. It is an organisation promoted by the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin.

Sixty years ago Dublin was a very different place. Food and clothing were rationed, thousands lived in slum conditions in inner-city tenements, while being mobile often meant owning a bike. Mothers worked mainly in the home, washing and cooking for a large family, and formal education for many children ended at fourteen.

Youth services were fairly scarce, and consisted of twenty to thirty youth clubs run by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Legion of Mary or the past pupils unions of secondary schools. There were also clubs run by the Catholic Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.

Boys and girls
The above is the pen portrait offered by Máire Ní Chionnaith, former Head of Youth Work Services, Catholic Youth Care when writing the history of the organization. Then known as the Catholic Youth Council, it was set up in 1944 by the Archbishop of Dublin as a subcommittee of the Catholic Social Service Council, (now Crosscare). Activities began with separate boys and girls clubs, staffed by volunteers, with classes provided by teachers from the now City of Dublin Youth Service Board.

A typical boys’ programme included indoor and outdoor games, woodwork, boxing classes, and supper. Girls’ activities had an emphasis on homemaking classes, dancing, tea and chats. The great adventure was the annual holiday originally in empty boarding schools and later in the Council’s own holiday centres. CYC also administered the city playgrounds on behalf of Dublin City Council.

As important as activities was atmosphere – offering mutual trust and respect between adults, members and families. Young people were helped and encouraged in school work and given guidance towards a job or scholarship.

Professional approach
Enter the 1960s, the advent of Irish television and the development of new clubs in new suburbs. Links were established with the Dublin Institute of Adult Education which led to a more professional approach to volunteer training and club programme formation. Later inter-club football and table tennis teams were established, fostering team spirit and a range of success experiences to members.

In 1969, the Department of Education allocated a budget for youth and sport, the first such official support, leading to a Youth Affairs Section in the Department. At the same time, CYC was bursting at the seams in its attic office in Westland Row and relocated to more spacious premises in Arran Quay. Now government grant aid allowed the organization to employ professional development officers to support the work of volunteers and explore pastures new.

Summer project
One of the more enduring is the summer project, introduced in 1973 with activities, sport and outings during the holidays. It began in the Liberties and like all good ideas, spread rapidly. This writer, as a younger mother, was involved for many summers running junior media workshops from her home as part of our local project, and a good time was had by all.

A summer spin-off was the way a new population of parents and adults came together in local communities to work for a common cause. Today, over thirty years later, there are over 100 summer projects throughout the archdiocese. These involve 2,500 volunteers and 2,100 young people, but sadly no longer the older teenager, a challenge, which has to be faced, according to Máire Ní Chionnaith.

The Papal visit in 1979 provided a beautiful and fitting end to the decade, with enthusiasm spilling over to the 1980s. The first World Youth Day was held in Rome in 1984 and established as a triennial event. World Youth Day 2005 held in Cologne was preceded by months of spiritual preparation. 450 young people travelled from Ireland. The next WYD will be held in Sydney in 2008 (website: www.wyd.ie).

Challenging times
Elsewhere the 1980s were starker, with rising youth unemployment, drug addiction and social problems. ‘There were at the same time opportunities and challenges to Church and State to provide better services, to listen to the voice of the poor, to respond to direct and oblique cries for help,’ comments Máire.

In the mid-1980s, one such response was the formation of Foróige, as a sister organization to CYC, to provide youth services in new satellite towns, and the subsequent decentralization of youth services. It was in this decade that a Youth Ministry, offering faith programmes to young people, was also born.

The 1990s was a decade of contrasts. Local Drug Task Forces were set up by the government in defined areas of disadvantage, providing funds for CYC to engage in preventive youth work in partnership with schools, health boards and other voluntary groups. As the decade advanced, the Celtic Tiger was born, though many of her cubs were still left out in the cold even in danger.

From the mid-’90s, scandals around sex abuse showed the need for child protection codes and practices in youth work. Then came the twenty-first century. ‘The dawn of a new millennium and the emphasis on the true reason for the celebrations created an impetus to renew our commitment to serve young people, to bring the good news of the gospels and to give priority to the poor,’ says Máire.

Expanded operation
CYC’s latest annual report shows a very different organization from the fledging group which took up residence in Westland Row sixty-two years ago. Arran Quay houses the youth work services, city staff, evangelization teams, child protection officer, coordinator of drugs initiatives, and management. Staff now numbers 130 with a further 100 on FÁSs schemes.

Today while the city centre services continue to flourish, there are specific youth services in Balbriggan, Bray, Clondalkin, Dun Laoghaire, Finglas and Lucan plus a service for Travellers in Tallaght. These offer everything from homework clubs to com -puter courses, counselling to water sports, samba bands to drug prevention, and much more. Many of today’s volunteers are drawn from the new Irish, catering for their own communities while seeking and receiving wider integration also.

Youth ministry
As has been the case through the ages, the core service is the evangelization of young people in the out-of-school setting. Today, the faith development team has greatly expanded its work, promoting youth ministry at parish level, including a gospel choir and a gospel concert.

Along the way from the 1964 to 2006, the organization changed its name to Catholic Youth Care in tune with its mission statement to ‘promote a youth work response that is caring, compassionate and Christian, and enables young people to participate more fully in the life of society and church’.

Catholic Youth Care, Arran Quay, Dublin 7, telephone 01 8725055, www.cyc.ie 

This article first appeared in The Messenger (April 2007), a publication of the Irish Jesuits.


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