On the 16th July, the annual end of year achievement day took place at Caritas St Joseph’s. 152 students were presented with medals of achievement in recognition of all their hard work this academic year. However, like most things that have taken place in the past 16 months, it looked a bit different to previous years!
Rather than having a ceremony in the grounds of the Centre, to be Covid-19 compliant and maintain social distancing, the ceremony moved into the building, with the medals being awarded in students’ classrooms, by a member of the Caritas St Joseph’s management team or a tutor. Nevertheless, this did not detract from the students’ eager anticipation and excitement. As part of the medal presentation, a video message from Bishop Paul McAleenan was played, in which he thanked all the students, families and staff for the work that has been done at the Centre this year and congratulating the students receiving their medals, telling them all ‘I am delighted for you; you deserve it – well done!’ One student particularly enjoyed the message from Bishop Paul, commenting that ‘he looked happy and kind.’
This year’s achievement day was especially poignant as it marked the end of a somewhat challenging academic year for the Centre and all those whom it serves. Due to lockdown and then the need to self-isolate, the Centre had to close at the beginning of the January, reopening at Easter. Despite this closure, the team at St Joseph’s continued to reach out to its students and families.
The staff assembled and distributed over 1500 resource learning packs for families and students to work through from home, which was both stimulating and enjoyable for students whilst they were unable to attend the Centre physically. These resource packs continued to be sent home, even after the Centre reopened, to ensure that students, who still needed to shield, could partake in the work safely. In addition, over 3000 telephone calls were made to families, to make sure that they too felt supported in such uncertain times.
Ensuring that students and families continued to feel connected to the Centre even if they could not be physically present was of paramount importance to the St Joseph’s team, and thanks to a partnership with the Good Things Foundation and funding from DevicesDotNow and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, thirty-three students at Caritas St Joseph’s were provided with tablet devices, which meant they could connect more easily with friends, and family and their courses.
Gail Williams, Caritas St Joseph’s Centre Manager, says;
‘It has been a very difficult academic year keeping the students and staff safe but our systems have worked and we have been very lucky keeping the workplace COVID secure. If we get a positive test it is easy to isolate our classes and not have to close down completely. The students learnt very quickly what the new systems were and now it is second nature to them.
‘The pandemic has changed everybody’s mindset on life. We are just so very grateful to all of our funders that helped us to re-open and stay open helping our students back to learning and to a place where they find family and friendship and can learn in a safe and loving environment.’
2021 has seen Caritas St Joseph’s significantly transform the way in which the Centre runs its service and how it supports its students. However, one thing that has remained constant is the passion of the staff, students, families and all those involved with its work, to ensure that even in a global pandemic, the Centre continues to provide a safe place for adults with intellectual disabilities to learn, as well as a supportive environment for their families and friends. Although Achievement Day was primarily for the students, it was a day to celebrate all those involved in Caritas St Joseph’s and recognize their hard work!
To find out more about the work Caritas St Joseph’s does, click here!