In 1973 my daughter Karen was diagnosed with brain damage and as a result would need special care for the rest of her life. The specialist told me she would never walk or talk and that she would need to be institutionalised. My late husband Tom and the family struggled to come to terms with this awful prognosis. I vowed to myself that Karen would get the best opportunities that we could get for her in Carlow, thus began a journey that has its conclusions with over 21 years of Delta Centre.
When Karen was to start school, St Patrick’s in Kilkenny was the only option available to us. It was four or five hours per day with only one bus for everyone attending on which there was no escort. It is unimaginable now. A group of parents got together to raise funds to pay for an escort and the dream to have a school in Carlow became for me a goal that would be the start of many years lobbying.
St Laserian’s school was providing services for children with mild learning disabilities and the Parents and Friends Association became a strong force in getting a unit for children with moderate disabilities established in Carlow. This was a pilot project for the department of education, which was so successful that it is now recognised nationally that all children whatever their level of disability have a right to education.
Karen spent many happy years in St Laserian’s and during that time I was elected to chairperson of Co Carlow Parents and Friends Association, a group who fundraised tirelessly to provide much needed extra facilities e.g. the first minibus. We realised that as the children were getting older Carlow was bereft of adult services.
The next step on this journey began and after many meetings with the Health Boards and TD’s, including Minister Frank Cluskey, I was told to go look for a premises and with the commitment of the Parents and Friends Association to provide 40% of the funding while the Health Board funding the other 60%, the dream became a reality.
In September 1988 a management committee was set up and in March 1989 I was appointed to the position of Manager of Delta Centre. St Catherine’s Social Services provided our first premises and we started with five trainees and myself. I clearly remember the joy of parents who had waited many years for this service and this testimony is born out by the number of trainees now attending, which is 103.
Our first budget was £11,000 of which came from 40% of local fundraising. Over the years the commitment was reduced to 20% and in the early 90’s the association decided to focus on being a support group to families and the local contribution comes from money generated by Delta through the garden centre, the catering unit, the sensory gardens and various fundraisers, grants and generous benefactors.
This year, our budget is in excess of €3.5 million and with the HSE imposing a cut of €350,000 on us we are facing a great challenge to continue to provide the level of service that is needed.
In 1990 our association with Special Olympics began and for the first time we were working with an organisation that was so positive to disability; everyone had potential, everyone could achieve and in 2003 when Anne Hickey from Delta came on stage in Croke Park, I was so proud for all of Carlow.
In the mid 90’s as parents grew older the need for residential services became obvious. I was focused once again to have such services in Carlow, and with the support of Delta Trustees and Management Committee we paved the way for a residential service.
Today we have 8 homes in Carlow, some open 365 days of the year. This residential development is made possible in cooperation and partnership with Tinteán and HSE.
Our multi-sensory unit was opened in