Celebs step out to support charity with base in Offaly
“Let’s give our young people a STEP AHEAD after brain injury,” this was the latest message from Acquired Brain Injury Ireland’s CEO Barbara O’Connell at the launch of a new initiative to help young brain injury survivors get back to work and education.
With an estimated 19,000 brain injuries acquired annually in Ireland from causes including stroke, road traffic accidents and falls, the latest STEP AHEAD initiative is a practical vocational assessment programme targeting 18-29 year olds affected by brain injury.
Lining out to support young brain injury survivors was former Irish rugby international Kevin McLaughlin, joined by broadcaster and author Diana Bunici and Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty. The STEP AHEAD programme is co-funded by the Government of Ireland and the European Social Fund (ESF) as part of the ESF Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning 2014-2020.
Barbara O’Connell, Chief Executive with Acquired Brain Injury Ireland, which has a facility in Mountbolus, said: “Brain injuries can happen in the blink of an eye. When it happens, it turns your life upside down, often interrupting your career or education. Our new STEP AHEAD vocational initiative is a practical assessment for young people after brain injury to assess the supports they need to get back to work or college."
“Often people after brain injury can look fine but may be experiencing problems which impact on their day to day lives. This can make it challenging to return to work or education and get back to the life they once knew. The difference is that now they may have difficulties with concentration, fatigue, memory or executive functioning like decision-making and planning. STEP AHEAD is here to help people understand what they’re capable of and provide practical strategies to cope with any difficulties after their brain injury.”
Every STEP AHEAD participant is supported to develop a personal vocational plan to set and achieve goals relating to education, training and employment. A full assessment is carried out by senior occupational therapists focused on participants’ functional and work capacity to identify transferable skills for the workplace.
Minister Regina Doherty from the Department Employment Affairs and Social Protection said: “We are delighted to support STEP AHEAD - one of 27 projects co-funded by my Department and the European Social Fund under the Ability Programme. The Ability Programme is an incredible resource which will support over 2,600 young people aged between 15 and 29 years over a three-year period. As I am committed to supporting people with a disability to participate more fully in society, I am naturally pleased today to support the STEP AHEAD initiative which is a perfect example of a project which delivers on this objective.”
Irish Rugby International Kevin McLaughlin said: “It’s important to support our young people with education and employment at any time. But after someone has come through the trauma of a brain injury, it is vital that they have access to the supports they need to rebuild their lives and chase their goals as much as any of us. I’m proud to support STEP AHEAD’s practical service so that young people after brain injury can say ‘Yes I can get back to work or college’.”
Author of ‘The Pursuit of Awesome’, Diana Bunici added: “I’m a big believer in everyone’s right to lead a meaningful life and to pursue their dreams. STEP AHEAD is a hugely positive initiative that will hopefully be a game-changer for young people after brain injury. One piece of advice that I’ve learned is to remember that it’s okay to make mistakes. That’s when you grow. That’s when you get better at your job. Everyone’s journey is different and any bumps or hurdles along the way are a growing experience that will lead to future success.”
Brain injury survivors Niamh Cahill and Stephen Shortall both know what it’s like to cope with challenges after a brain injury and the hard work to rebuild confidence to get back to work.
Niamh acquired a brain injury at just 19 years old after a life-threatening brain infection. She said: “I don’t think anyone would sit down and have a chat with me today and know I’ve had a brain injury. My injury was always invisible. I was so conscious of my speech for years after my brain injury and my confidence took a huge knock. I also struggled emotionally, and I suffered terribly with fatigue. I’d hit a wall and nothing would bring me back, only a long sleep. Simple things were overwhelming to me. The support I received from Acquired Brain Injury Ireland was invaluable to me. I returned to college and completed a degree and Masters. I haven’t looked back since.”
Meanwhile, Stephen was 27 when he acquired a brain injury after a fall. He said: “Life is good now but I know that the support I received was essential. I was out of work for months after my brain injury. The most important thing to me at the time was to prove I was normal again. I found it hard to accept help and thought I didn’t need it."
"But I did and I now feel really lucky to have had it. My employer has been incredibly supportive giving me the time I needed to come back. In the first year or two, I couldn’t do five days a week. But now I’m back doing a full week – it’s easy to forget how far I have come. The new STEP AHEAD service is a great opportunity to grab your life back. It’s not easy, I still struggle with fatigue or my train of thought but having experts to tell you it’s okay makes an enormous difference to your confidence.”
STEP AHEAD is a national service and Acquired Brain Injury Ireland has two teams located in Dublin and Cork. Anyone wishing to take part must be aged between 18 and 29 years and have sustained a brain injury. For more details on referral criteria see: www.abiireland.ie/stepahead