We are constantly amazed by the selflessness of our Volunteers up and down the country who give of their time to make a difference to the lives of others. During the Covid-19 pandemic that spirit of compassion has been very evident as support has been shown to those who are vulnerable.

Barbara Foley has told us how she and her fellow members of our Portmarnock/Malahide Branch mobilised a Community Rapid Response Team to support their community.

Once upon a time, in a land that time has not forgotten, when you could travel freely and non-queuing-based shopping existed, I got on a boat and travelled to the land far across the water to the home of the Beatles and collected four golden wonders; cape less future life-changers Honor, Harlow, Harold and Homer and so our story begins…….

I was traveling with my fellow Branch Member and Volunteer Pat Harney to collect four puppies for training and bring them back to the Training Centre in Cork before we went into complete lockdown. Over the course of the journey, Pat and I got talking about what and how we could develop our Branch and grow and strengthen our service to the organisation and our community. It was not the most pleasant of trips as we knew we were entering uncertain and strange times due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Anna Giblin, our own two-legged hero, and I had had a few conversations around being more community focused and visible in the community and thus the seed was sown and has grown into what we call the Community Rapid Response Team (CRRT).

A few days later we went into the first of the restricted travel and lockdown phases. I received a couple of calls from my old Supervisor and then from Cork to ask for help in looking after a pup and a working dog whose owner was ill. I decided then that I had to fast forward our plans for a ‘help team’ and all around me I could see local clubs jumping to action to help those of us who are less able or vulnerable. I did not want Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind to be left behind or to be seen as wanting. So, with the help of Anna, Pat and Avril Shields (Volunteer & Puppy Raiser) I mapped out what the scope and purpose of the Community Rapid Response Team should be. The following are some of our goals.

  1. Recruit a group of Volunteers that are ready, willing and able to come to the assistance of our Clients, our working dogs and our Puppy Raisers and their pups at the drop of a paw.
  2. To be a bridge between HQ and the community for immediate assistance.
  3. To be a one-stop-shop for Client Services and Puppy Supervisors in our area.
  4. To raise awareness of Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind in our area and communities.
  5. To be trained and prepared for whatever the future held for the organisation with regard to fundraising, community events and services.

With the assistance of the team in Cork, I was able to recruit 14 Volunteers in our area to the CRRT. We are all Garda vetted and trained in safety around dogs, pups and Clients as far as Covid-19 is concerned.

To date, we have had a couple of Skype meetings and I have set up a Facebook page to try and generate some awareness and keep us visible on social media, mind you it’s not my area so ‘more to learn’ there.  Also, as I live on a farm and have lots of space for dogs and their Hooman keepers, we have been able to meet up (social distancing observed). A couple of us take puppies and working dogs out for walks and free runs which have been a lifeline for our Puppy Raisers and Clients alike.

 

The CRRT meetings on the farm have given us a sense of normality and have highlighted how important it is to network with fellow Volunteers and past, present and hopefully future Puppy Raisers. This has been a real confidence booster and assurance tool for new Puppy Raisers and has surprisingly been a revenue stream too; as we all wear our Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind bright green shirt or hi-vis jacket when we are out and about, we are highly visible and some local people have seen us and made donations to the organisation. Our farm walks have raised €200+ so far which is fantastic when you consider we are in the middle of fields well out off the beaten track.

To sum up, I suppose the CRRT has been a great tool during the Covid-19 pandemic. It has given us as Volunteers a purpose and focus on how we can be and should be pro-active within our communities. It has united and bonded friendships within our Branch, and the relaxed atmosphere has enabled us to get to really know each other and our various hard and soft skills. Once the momentum is kept up as we slowly resume normal life, I believe that this group will be a most valuable twig to our Branch, especially when it comes to fundraising and to being prepared for any future crisis that may happen. It gives our Puppy Raisers a direct link into the fundraising and puppy minding side of the organisation, which keeps them committed when they are in between puppies or are unable to puppy raise full time.

I keep the team in Cork updated with how we are progressing and will continue to do so. I also invite any of you who would like to develop a similar programme in your area to please feel free to contact me through either Cork or through Jennifer Hurley , the East Region Development Officer. It would be my pleasure to assist and answer any questions you may have. Thank you.

Barbara Foley

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