My first Reference Panel weekend was one of the best weekends of my life without a doubt. I must say I was quite nervous about the weekend but once I got to meet all the other young people my nerves completely disappeared. Our first evening started off by learning about how Foróige helps us. It was great hearing other people’s stories about how Foróige helped them. Next was for us to get into groups and talk about Foróige. I loved the group work and I felt as if I was making a difference when we had to say how we felt Foróige could help make a change in young people's lives. The rest of our night was spent relaxing and getting to know everybody.
Our next day consisted of workshops for the morning. We had to choose a topic from the regional conference and talk about it in more detail. We discussed Relationships and Sexuality as we felt this is an issue that isn't really discussed. I learned a lot from everybody and I realised that there is so much to relationships and sexuality that needs to be talked about but isn't. After break was election time! This was to elect 10 people from Foróige clubs and 6 people from youth projects to Foróige’s National Council. We found out what the National Council was and what it does. I believe that we have elected the right people for the task and they are going to represent all of us young people well. Next on our agenda were workshops with the different Foróige departments. I chose the Training, Learning and Development Department. This is a new department to Foróige so our input was really valued. We learned about the jobs within Foróige and what is involved in training. I was really interested in this and I and my group can't wait to watch this department grow. We spent the rest of the evening at the bowling alley and then back home to have pizza and chill out for the night.
Our final morning was short but fun filled. We gave presentations about our workshops from the previous day. It was clear that every single person was filled with passion about their chosen topics and excellent ideas were made about how we can make our lives a little easier. We then started on our Action Plans which are to help make our clubs and regions a better place for everybody. We also had a talk from the Chairperson of Foróige, Michael Lynskey, who made us realise that we can make a difference in the world, even if it is just in our local communities. In no time at all it was goodbye time. I felt so sad saying goodbye to everyone, it felt crazy that I had only known them for two days! By the end of the weekend I felt as if I've gotten the skills to help my club and make it a place where people can come to relax and be comfortable. I cannot wait until October for the next Reference Panel weekend to see what more I’m going to learn.
by Ciara McCrann
I can hardly believe that the Reference Panel of 2015 is under way. Getting elected this year was an honour and a shock at the same time. Knowing what I would gain from being part of the Reference Panel made me want it even more and fortunately I was lucky enough to earn my place. A year ago I would not have seen myself in this position - not only am I a member of this year’s Reference Panel, I’m also one of the 16 going forward to the National Council of Foróige. I am so privileged to have been given the chance. Before joining Foróige and the Reference Panel I was never brave enough to stand up and voice my opinion but this over the past few years has changed completely. Not in my wildest dreams would I have even imagined having the confidence and belief in myself to put myself forward for these opportunities, I can only thank Foróige as a whole and the Reference Panel for showing me that I can do it and to not let anybody tell you you’re not good enough.
I have been a member of Foróige for the past 5 years and coming from a rural club in Bullaun, County Galway, this experience allowed me to meet and learn from other clubs, projects and services right around the country. From the beginning right to the end, I was constantly gaining knowledge that I could bring back to my club to better what we are already doing.
This year in the group I was part of during the Reference Panel weekend, the topic which we discussed at length was mental health among young people. This is area which I am passionate about and I feel is of great importance. I feel that this problem is often only seen as if it only affects adults but this is not the case. We each had a chance to say what we felt ourselves and together came up with what we feel should be done about this topic in Foróige. It scares me to think that mental health is not seen as normal. Whenever we have an injury we go straight to the doctor but yet when it’s our mental health we try to hide it because we are afraid of how people will judge us.
The Reference Panel gives us all the opportunity to feel safe enough and have the confidence to say what we feel without the fear of being judged. We are all seen as equal and we all support each other throughout the experience. Why I love the Reference Panel is because you never not once have adults talking down to you, they listen and respect every single young person there. For me, October can’t come quick enough!
by Ciana Cooney
Hi, my name is Natalie Ward and I am a member of Coralstown Foróige Club in Co. Westmeath. This year is my second year on Foróige's Reference Panel and it just keeps getting better and better!
On Friday evening, my heart was racing and I was really nervous as although I was on the Reference Panel last year, I would be meeting new people and it wasn't going to be the same as last year.
On Saturday we had more workshops and my group chose the topic 'Relationships and Sexuality' to work on out of the 5 topics given this year. We had people who work with Foróige come in and talk to us about what they do eg. Marketing, Volunteering, Training etc. and Denis gave my group an insight into how he deals with the volunteering aspect of Foróige. We had the elections of the National Council and every candidate had to make a short speech on why they would like to get elected. We got a bus to the Omniplex where we went bowling and this really gave people the chance to mix with others! We had free time where we played music and most importantly laughed our heads off! Then our final sleep before we were homeward bound.
On Sunday, we packed our things and headed down to do our Action Plans on what we want to achieve after our weekend away. Michael Lynskey, Chairperson of Foróige spoke to us and gave us advice ad tips.
We took a group photo and said our goodbyes. The atmosphere throughout the whole weekend was so positive and everyone welcomed one another with open arms and I think that's the best part about being involved in Foróige. I cannot wait until October now.
by Natalie Ward
My experience of the Reference Panel was brilliant. I found it very helpful.
On Friday 6th March we arrived and then all 60 members we started our ice breakers. At 8pm we had a discussion on what exactly Foróige is and what it does for young people. In my group we said it builds confidence and support. We all felt that Foróige had helped us with these two issues. We also had discussions about the main issues in our communities and Ireland and the main two were mental health and relationships and sexuality in our group. What we feel that people need to understand is that mental health isn't always bad, that there are positive outcomes. During at the Reference Panel I enjoyed the workshops and our bonding moments and getting to know other people’s stories.
I felt the sense of strength in everyone after these discussions and now I'm not afraid to talk to people as meeting all these inspiring people has helped me I also enjoyed the meeting with the Foróige departments I chose to go to the Human Resources talk, as when I reach the age of 18 I am going to get involved in Foróige and become a volunteer. I have seen how Foróige has changed many young people and I want to do the same. Also I got talking to a girl from Cork and she wants to raise money by doing something in her community for their volunteer leader as his little boy has a disease and the medication is very dear and I find her inspiring for that. Recently I got in touch with a man who is in charge of setting up Foróige Clubs in Ireland and we have organised two to be set up in my community to help the kids in my area as they have been coming to me asking for support. Also all the volunteer leaders really helped me and gave great speeches and I learned loads from them. Even when you feel alone you’re not because you will always have Foróige there. I feel the Reference Panel has changed many people, including myself, and I'm glad to be part of it.
by Emma Rawl