Words of Wisdom from Foróige's longest serving volunteer, John Sullivan who began in 1964

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Foróige May 28, 2014

"98 years ago, people were prepared to die for Ireland. Now we need people who are prepared to live for Ireland!" - John Sullivan who has been a Foróige volunteer for 50 years.

When I started in Foróige there were two clubs in the county, no District Councils and only 3 people employed in Head Office. Our club did activities like public speaking, sports days, intercounty events and all sorts of things. We had no mobile phones and we went everywhere on bikes. We made bedside lockers, pool tables, Christmas cards featuring the three churches in the Parish (which the priest then decided on as the logo for the parish)!

In my time as a volunteer I have met wonderful people, inspiring people. They have given so much to their community. I remember a local man died of a heart attack leaving a wife and several children. Most of the young people in the family were members of the club. I met her in town one day many years later and she said to me, “When I was left a widow, ye reared my children. I always knew they were safe at Foróige, with the volunteers. I knew my children were safe.”

Some former members are now leaders. I bumped into one former member at a conference and I didn’t recognise him. He had long hair and a beard. The young man said, “Don’t you recognise me? I used to be a member of the club!” Eventually it clicked with me. I did remember the man as a young fella in the club. His family had come to live in the community when he was just a young teenager. He has very shy and quiet. The other members were really keen to welcome him and found out that he was good at writing poetry. They invited him to write a poem about the club. He was really pleased and began work on the poem. John recalls that this was the ‘key that opened the door’. He asked the young man if he still wrote poetry. “I never wrote poetry.” said the young man with surprise. He couldn’t remember ever having written that poem.

There was another former member who is now working in a very senior position in Aer Lingus. He has said that when he started working there, he was the only person who knew how to chair a meeting effectively. Nobody else knew how to hold an meeting. He says he gained that life skill through his Foróige Club.

Nowadays, the young people in our club are working on a community alert system that works using text messages. The Club started it up themselves and the locals are involved now too. They feel a lot safer as a result.

Foróige to me is a celebration. It is a celebration of the gift of life itself. Every young person is like a blank canvas. Every young person can be a masterpiece. There are too many young lives being lost. There is so much destruction and devastation caused by drugs and alcohol and low self esteem. We should be thankful for our lives and celebrate our lives.

Think about the founders of Foróige in a simple vocational school. There was nothing to guide them except idealism and enthusiasm. Look what they created. They had a dream. Revisit that. Recapture that enthusiasm when things get tough. We managed with no mobile phones, no landlines even. Communication was very difficult.

They say that a true artist is never 100% satisfied. They can never walk away. That’s what I find so attractive about Foróige. That is why I keep volunteering. There are things in this world that only you can do. There are things in this world that only I can do. That should make you feel so good about yourself. Your existence is so important.

Life is more complex and different now. There is more out there to frighten young people. Young people are afraid. They used to be freer, more enthusiastic. The role of Foróige volunteers nowadays is very important.

We don’t need anyone to die for Ireland today. Terrible things have been done to our country by people in positions of power. 98 years ago, many people were prepared to die for Ireland. Today we need people to live for Ireland.