'If I didn’t have Cope, I’d be so lost' - Coping well on transition into work

'If I didn’t have Cope, I’d be so lost' - Coping well on transition into work
Amy Begley at the bread counter in Lidl in Kanturk: ‘There are no labels here. Everyone treats each other the same.’

The Cope Foundation offers an employment support service which aims to connect young people who have intellectual disabilities with employers. Donal O’Keeffe meets three people who are benefitting from the scheme.

The Cope Foundation offers a employment support service which aims to connect young people who have intellectual disabilities with employers.Donal O’Keeffe meets three people who are benefitting from the scheme

“People might be visiting people here who are very sick, and they might be very sad,” says Jason Hopkins of his customers in the Coffee Doc in Cork University Hospital.

You don’t know what people are going through, so you always have to be nice to them.

The Coffee Doc is the beating heart of CUH, a bright, airy space through which thousands of people pass every day. As customers queue up at the counter, Jason is unfailingly polite and friendly to those he meets.

Job coach

Jason makes coffees: Americanos, cappuccinos, lattes, you name it, if you want a coffee, Jason is your man. Neatly dressed and smiling, he’s 22, but looks much younger. He says he regularly gets asked for ID, and laughs when told his interviewer would give anything to look so young.

Jason has had previous workexperience in Roots Café in Montenotte, and he says he always wanted to work in a place like this. Jason works in the Coffee Doc as part of the Cope Foundation’s Ability@Work programme.

Jason loves action and horror movies, and he’s a big Marvel fan. He loves video games and is a registered referee with the FAI Schoolboy League.

“I have to say a big ‘thank you’ to Cope Foundation for all their support,” Jason says, “and especially to my job coach, Noelle, for helping me to keep going. It hasn’t always been easy, and sending out your CV and getting no replies can be really soul-destroying, but here I am now.”

Jason’s manager, Martin, says Jason is popular with colleagues and customers, and is a fast learner: “In the future, we will train him fully on the till and how to make sandwiches. He certainly has no problem being part of the team. I hope he will stay.”

The Cope Foundation supports more than 2,350 children and adults of different abilities, and its recently launched Ability@Work programme aims to connect job seekers with local employers, while promoting inclusivity and diversity in the workplace, and offering disability awareness training.

Jason Hopkins in the Coffee Doc in CUH: ‘It hasn’t always been easy sending out CVs and getting no replies — but here I am.’
Jason Hopkins in the Coffee Doc in CUH: ‘It hasn’t always been easy sending out CVs and getting no replies — but here I am.’

Marian Hennessy has worked with the Cope Foundation for over 25 years, and is the coordinator of Ability@Work. She explains that the Cope Foundation uses a model called Supported Employment, where people are placed in jobs, with the support of a job coach.

“It’s critical that the transition phase from having no job to going into the workplace is supported. We prepare and train the person. We talk to the employers and explain if there are any additional supports needed. Then, we’re in the background, supporting the person, but we gradually fade away once the person is settled into the job.”

Developing confidence

Across town, in the heart of Cork, Sheila Connolly takes a break for a coffee and a chat in her workplace, Duke’s Coffee Company on Carey’s Lane. Sheila is 21, and has had previous catering experience.

“I love it so much here,” she says of Duke’s. “I love on my break to sit down and chat with the regulars. And the staff are always so kind and friendly to me.” Sheila says thatnobody should be afraid to tell people that they need a bit more time, and in Duke’s she has been given time and space to develop confidence in herself.

“Before I came here, I was so nervous and lacking in confidence. I was very shy, and this job has really brought me out of myself.” Sheila says she is extremely grateful to Ability@Work for telling her about the vacancy in Duke’s, and for helping her to get the job.

Aidan Duke of Duke’s Coffee Company describes Ability@Work as “mutually beneficial to the employer and employee.” He says securing staff is a big problem in the catering industry.

“I think there’s a huge opportunity in this scheme, and for us it’s really worked out well. Sheila is a huge asset to our company, and we love having her here. She does some very important work for us.”

Life-changing

Across the county, 30 or so miles from Cork City, Amy Begley makes a pot of tea in her kitchen. Amy is 24 and she’s worked in Lidl in Kanturk for eight months.

“I love it,” she says, “I really do."

What I love most about working in Lidl is the people, because there are no labels, and management and staff treat each other just the same.

“Things like that don’t happen every day. Lidl is so supportive financially. I’m able to do things I wasn’t able to do before, like travelling. I’m obsessed with travelling. I’m just back from Switzerland, where my partner Graham and I went. For my next trip, I’m about to go to Germany.

“If I didn’t have Cope, I’d be so lost.”

Amy is a gifted artist, and has just completed illustration of her second book with author Marion Heffernan, and is about to embark upon her third. Her first book with Marion is called Mouse’s Great Adventure, and it’s well worth its €12 price-tag. Her illustrations are brilliant, and her dream is to get an internship with Cartoon Saloon, the Academy Award-winning Kilkenny-based animation studio.

Sheila Connolly in Duke’s Coffee Company: ‘Given time and space to develop confidence in myself.’
Sheila Connolly in Duke’s Coffee Company: ‘Given time and space to develop confidence in myself.’

“It’s lovely to dream,” Amy says, “but you have to work hard too.” Amy’s supervisor, Laura Striunaite, speaks highly of Amy.

“She’s very interested in her job, and she loves to deal with things. Whatever job she has, she always does her very best. She is so nice with the customers, and they love her.”

Ability@Work is open to young people 18-29 in age supported by the Cope Foundation, and is co-funded by the European Social Fund and the Department of Employment and Social Protection, and has a potential budget of €16 million for 2014-2021.

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Regina Doherty, gave the Irish Examiner a lengthy, very positive statement about Ability@Work, albeit written in what might be called minister-speak. We asked if she could be quoted on her earlier, private comments, that she thinks Ability@Work is “deadly” and that “the dignity and opportunity it affords are magic”.

Minister Doherty agreed, adding: “I really love this programme because of the self-esteem it fosters in these young adults.” Life is life, though, and we all have our off-days. Jason Hopkins has a philosophy which he says gets him through when things get tough.

We all have down days where you go ‘Ugh! I’m allergic!’ but you just have to put a brave smile on your face and get on with your day.

Amy Begley says Ability@Work has changed her life: “I always worried about getting a job, and whether people would have a problem working with someone who has a disability, but Cope has shown me it’s okay to have a disability.”

For Sheila Connolly, as she returns to work in Duke’s Coffee Company, the benefits of Ability@Work are very simple. “Every day when I get home, I have a big smile on my face and my mom knows I’ve had a good day at work.

“And that’s every day.”

www.cope-foundation.ie

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