James O'Connor, the 2021 Offaly Person of the Year
HIS own experience after a breakdown prompted the 2021 Offaly Person of the Year, James O'Connor to play a central role in the foundation of Accessible Counselling Tullamore (ACT).
In a wide-ranging acceptance speech at the Offaly Person of the Year awards ceremony in Tullamore on Saturday night last, Mr O'Connor gave a detailed insight into the development and workings of ACT.
His speech was as follows:
“Thanks to everyone for coming out tonight even though I’m not really sure why I’m standing here. There were plenty of other people nominated for this award that I feel are far more deserving than me but none the less I am honoured and thankful to the Offaly Association for choosing me to be here.
In relation to business. I have had many lucky breaks and have met some great people over the years but I have also had plenty of loss and hardship. I always dusted myself off and got back up, it’s just the way I’m programmed and I will make the tough decisions and the sacrifice’s when needed.
I suppose with ACT things were slightly different. I have been involved in many different businesses and I thought setting it up would be as straight forward as any of those, but nothing could be further from the truth. It was a very slow process and it seemed that we would never get it off the ground, there were so many hoops to jump through but as with everything I do, if it was going to be done it was going to be done right. It took a lot of work and a lot of thinking, a lot of capital and some upsetting of people and ruffling of feathers which I’m good at.
As you have heard, I was in care myself after my breakdown and it wasn’t nice and I wanted ACT to be the opposite of my experience which was brown chairs in brown rooms that felt institutional and uncomfortable.
We wanted ACT to be inviting and a place where people felt safe and welcome. The centre itself was purposely designed by our designer Paula and she did a really excellent job. It is warm and bright and still professional, each of the 7 counselling rooms are different and of course the work was all carried out by my own lads who did a great job as always.
I suppose I feel like a bit of a fraud standing here accepting this award for the opening of ACT when I really am a very a small cog in a very large wheel and there is a table or a couple of tables of people down there that really deserve the credit.
Firstly, we could not have gotten this far without the community and everyone that has supported ACT since we opened in 2020. All the people that made donations or held fundraisers, without them could not keep the doors open and I would like to give a special mention to the Jordan Murphy Memorial – Alan and Caroleen are here tonight representing them. They have raised almost €55,000 over the past 2 years this is a staggering amount and has been a real lifeline to ACT especially as we have received no government funding or carried out any major fundraising to date due to covid restrictions.
I would also like to mention Josephine Rigney – Suicide Prevention Officer with the HSE who has been on hand with advice and expertise from day one. She has been a great sounding board and is always available at the end of the phone for whatever I may need.
To the Board of ACT who each give up their time to help with governance, fundraising etc. and a special thanks to Seamus Sheedy who also acts as our Clinical Director and has been so generous with the time and advice he gives to the counsellors and to ACT in general.
To the counsellors, many of whom are here tonight – Nancy, Carthagena, Amy, Sinead, Aoife, Fionnuala and Laura, Annie, Deirdre, Anton who could not be here. You are the backbone of ACT and without you we simply could not exist. The care, kindness and support you give to each and every client that comes through the door is second to none and nothing makes me happier than to see the pictures of cards or gifts that grateful clients have given which goes to show that the clients appreciate you as much as we do.
The person that keeps the show on the road every day is our co-ordinator Dympna Summerville, who was instrumental in the setting up of ACT. Dympna assesses every single client, provides guidance and support to the counsellors and keeps us in line with our policies and procedures which are constantly changing especially as the counsellors encounter more and more complex cases. She does all this while still seeing clients – and she puts us all to shame with her drive and energy. I have known Dympna personally for years and went to her for Maths grinds back when I was struggling with a module in college and when I went to a meeting one night and saw here there I went back to Lisa and said “ I have found the woman to run the centre”
It was the best decision we could have made.
Last but not least I would like to thank Lisa. From day one when I first came back with the idea for ACT she embraced it and did a lot of the behind the scenes work to get us up and running. She even stepped in as the admin for the first few weeks of opening until we found the right person for the role. Almost 2 and half years later and she is still there and I don’t think either her or Dympna are looking too hard for anyone else to fill the role and why would they when fititout is picking up the wages tab!
But all that aside, I believe herself and Dympna make a great team and are the reason that ACT is so successful.
To be fair it is Lisa in the background that does most things and to say I would be lost without her is an understatement.
As already mentioned this week we hit our 1,000th client which is just unbelievable and this is all made possible by this great team.
So as you all can see I really am just a very small part of a large team and it is down to all these people and the clients and community as a whole that make ACT work. I’m just the thick man that gets called on to do any dirty work or giving out.
I would like to thank the Offaly Association for choosing me as this year’s recipient of the award but there is no I in team and it is really the people I have mentioned that should be standing here with me.
I would also like to congratulate Pullough Community Shop on their award. I am a firm believer that we all have a duty to give back to our community in whatever way we can and Pullough Shop and the people that volunteer there are the embodiment of true community spirit.
As the saying goes God has given us two hands, one to help ourselves and one to help others”.
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