Lighting up south Dublin

An inspiring project gives positive alternatives to disadvantaged young people

In a school, a group of young entrepreneurs present their ideas to a “Dragon’s Den” of volunteers from the corporate world.  There is a sense of excitement and hope as the youngsters dream dreams and consider how they can make the world a better place.
In “The Yard”, teens work side by side with mentors who teach them woodwork and bike maintenance.  The focus is on providing useful life skills and connecting teenagers with inspiring role models.

Through a restorative justice conference, a young man comes face to face with the woman he stabbed and listens while she shares the long-term impact of his crime on her life.  

A young ex-offender arrives for his appointment with FAS three months after release from prison.  It has been a long wait.  Usually confident, he is intimidated by officialdom and terrified of the interview.  He wants to leave, but a mentor with the Solas Project coaches him through the process that will enable him to find work and re-engage with society.

The Solas Project:
Featured recently on the RTE One’s “Would you believe?” programme, the Solas Project is an inspiring example of the impact Christians can make on the lives of young people in their community.  From schools to prisons, over 70 volunteers and a handful of staff deliver a raft of programmes aimed at helping young people overcome limitations imposed by social and educational disadvantage.

It began as a small homework club for ten children at risk of early school leaving. Today the Solas Project serves 500 children and young people and is a registered charity running citywide initiatives.

In for the long haul
CEO Graham Jones is passionate about enabling young people to make positive choices.  “Quite often I see people who are caught up in the ’effects’ of life instead of being the ‘cause’ of their life.  People have a victim mentality and do not feel equipped or empowered to change things.  

“The worst thing you can say about somebody is ‘scumbag’ and everywhere I go I hear it.   For me, no matter what programmes we deliver, fundamental to everything is the desire that a young person can truly understand how valuable they are.  When they understand that, they start to make better choices.  

“The opposite is also true. So often, young people make decisions based on perceptions, stigma or labels.  It is heartbreaking to hear a guy say he can’t go to  college because he is from a certain area.”

The key is taking a long-term view of youth work - building relationship with young people and being consistently available to them.

 

Breaking the cycle
As the project has developed, Graham and his team have started working with young offenders in Wheatfield Prison.

“I’ve been a victim of crime, it is horrendous and I get angry that people are made to suffer,” Graham explains.  “But it is not enough to stand back and shout blame about the behaviour without trying to solve the issue.”

The justice system offers a way to control behaviour (imprisonment), but with up to 70% of young men re-offending within three years of release from prison, there is a need to break the cycle.

“There is a need for consequences and for people to pay the price for their behaviour, but equally there needs to be an opportunity for them to make amends and to change.  You cannot have one without the other.  

“As we dig into the reasons behind the behaviour, we have a greater chance of being part of a solution that will avoid future victims.  We have an intentional strategy to meet prisoners and engage with them through meaningful activities such as music production and tag rugby.  
“Those things are good in themselves but they also create an environment in which relationships can be established.  We come alongside these young people, to prepare for their release and to support them once they are back in the community.

“A cynical view would be that we are mollycoddling these young people.  But a true definition of love includes challenge and boundaries.”

Join the team!
The Solas Project is always looking for new volunteers for all their educational and sports programmes.  There is a careful recruitment process to ensure high standards of child protection and that the right individuals are matched with the right opportunities.

“We would love to see people get involved and the options are not limited to working with young people.  Folks with professional skills can also donate their time and expertise,” Graham said.

Graham is convinced that the lessons learnt throughout the Solas Project could provide a framework for other community initiatives around the country.  To find out more or to get in touch, visit www.solasproject.ie.