BY HELEN RIDDELL
A GROUP of young people from a youth support project in downtown Chicago swapped the windy city for a breezy Bere Island as they enjoyed a break in West Cork.
The eight young people, accompanied by four staff members, are all service users of the Mercy Home for Boys and Girls in Chicago.
Founded in 1887 by Tipperary native Archbishop Patrick Feehan, the Mercy Home was set up to provide assistance to the growing numbers of homeless boys living on the city’s dangerous streets.
Staff member Susan Hackney explained: ‘We offer educational and therapeutic support to young people aged 11-24 to improve their self esteem and help them with their goals. Many encounter barriers in their communities which stop them getting on in life, gang violence, racism and most will have experienced some form of trauma in their lives.’
Ger Power, also accompanying the group, and a retired executive with Cork County Council, outlined how the Council, who have been twinned with Chicago since 1999, became aware of the work of the Mercy Home and began supporting the home by arranging visits to Ireland.
‘Many of these children had never been outside Chicago, let alone overseas. It really has been a life changing experience for them in visiting Bere Island. They’ve never experienced such total silence before, their life is constant noise and sirens.’
While using the island as their base, the group have enjoyed a packed week of activities with visits to Allihies, Dursey Island, Baltimore and kayaking in Lough Hyne.
Ger outlined how a number of organisations and businesses had come together to help finance the trip.
‘The Mercy Home fundraised to cover their flights, the Department of Defence provided their accommodation facilities on Bere Island, Cronins Coaches laid on transport for the week, the local Civil Defence have also provided assistance, and Vienna Woods Hotel will provide accommodation when the group spend a few days in Cork city.’
Carlos (18) from the south side of Chicago has been with the Mercy Home for two years and has recently graduated from high school and will be going on to college to study maths.
He says he’s enjoyed every minute of his West Cork visit: ‘It’s been very special having an island as our home on this trip. I’ll definitely try to come back some day.’