A POPULAR Bandon restaurant and deli has become a home from home – for three days a week – for a young local girl.
Nicola Healy, who has Down Syndrome, is loving her work in Urru, Bandon, through Cope Foundation’s Field of Dreams project.
She works in the award-winning café on Bandon’s McSwiney Quay from Thursday to Saturday, where one of her tasks is sorting and tidying the cookery book section.
‘I admire her seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm for life,’ said Field of Dreams project worker Grace Hamilton.
Bandon woman Nicola attends QDS, a Cope Foundation day support centre in Togher, from Monday to Wednesday and then works in Bandon for the rest of the week. ‘I love the fun,’ Nicola said, reffering to QDS. Urru, it seems, is more serious, but Nicola says she loves working there too.
‘A customer comes in the door and I always say hello and ask how they are. I move on to the next job then, Ruth [also Healy, the café owner] says to keep it short, so I do’.
Even though Ruth is Nicola’s aunt, she shows no favouritism towards her new employee.
‘Ruth contacted me in my role with Field of Dreams Cork to offer her experience as employer to a person with Down Syndrome,’ explained Grace. ‘Field of Dreams aims to offer adults with Down Syndrome training in work and life skills as a stepping stone to supported employment within the Cork business community.’
Ruth is adamant that, with the right supports and approach to training, a person with Down Syndrome is as likely as any other person to become a valuable employee. ‘All of us have baggage that we carry, Down Syndrome is just another thing thrown into the mix,’ said Ruth. ‘Sure, it is important to show Nicola each task broken down into small steps, but once she’s got it, she will do it as well as anyone and better than many.’
Ruth is on a mission to challenge stigma and preconceptions. ‘If Nicola can do her job as well as she does, then I believe other people with Down Syndrome can do likewise.’
The range of jobs that Nicola does in Urru is expanding. She has been trained in using the coffee machine, loves to mop the floor and helps with serving lunch to customers. She is as willing to help when doors close at 6pm as she is earlier in the day.
‘It would be easy to say that Nicola is a lucky young lady. She has found a job where she is happy and appreciated, but that would be too simple,’ noted Grace. ‘At 26, Nicola is not finished experiencing life just yet. In five years’ time, she tells me, she would like to have moved on to something new. Ideas of what this might be include dancing, film making, teaching, art and craft. Nicola has a particular interest in fashion and style and would like to organise a fashion show,’ added Grace.
‘I love reading the stories of the chefs’ lives in the cook books,’ explained Nicola.
‘Nicola is really eager to learn, always up for the next thing,’ added Ruth. Nicola’s colleague, Ola, is a big fan of her new work colleague. ‘I have a masters degree in positive psychology but every day Nicola is teaching me more than I ever learned in university. She has a better understanding of kindness, honesty and of being the best she can be, than anyone I have ever met. I love coming to work when I know she will be here. Urru is a brighter place when she’s here,’ Ola added.
Ruth receives financial assistance towards Nicola’s wages from the Department of Social Protection, and this, and other support, was facilitated by the Employability Agency.
The Field of Dreams Cork is a project of Down Syndrome Cork with the objective of providing training and meaningful work opportunities to adults with Down Syndrome, in a market garden setting in Curraheen. The site has been kindly provided by the Munster Agricultural Society.
See fieldofdreamscork.ie for more.