Secret donor pledges €45k to education centre

Don O'Leary at the Cork Life Centre

A wealthy benefactor has thrown a lifeline to an education centre for marginalised teenagers which is at risk of closure.

The benefactor, who wants to remain anonymous, has pledged €45,000 to help keep the doors of the Cork Life Centre in Sunday’s Well open for another year.

However, the centre, which helps early school-leavers complete second-level education, needs to secure matching funding from the Government to plug a €90,000 shortfall, if it is to survive.

The Department of Education has indicated that there is no funding available to keep the centre open.

The benefactor said he hoped his offer would help increase pressure on the Department of Education to release funding.

Life Centre director, Don O’Leary, welcomed the benefactor’s generous offer but said there was still work to be done to convince the Government to find the cash.

He outlined their funding crisis to the Children’s Minister, James Reilly, on Tuesday.

He said the minister listened to their concerns and appreciated the value of the work the centre was doing.

“But he said there is little spare funding in his department. However, they have agreed to meet us again, which is positive,” Mr O’Leary said.

The Department of Education has suggested that any teens the centre can’t facilitate be redirected towards the State’s other educational support schemes.

But Mr O’Leary said the teens they work with, who have already been failed by the state’s education system, had also been failed by the various support schemes.

“It just doesn’t make sense directing them to a system and to schemes which have already failed them,” he said.

Early school-leavers are referred to the Cork Life Centre where more than 60 staff, most of them working on a voluntary basis, provide one-to-one tuition in Junior and Leaving Cert subjects, supporting them in their preparation for state exams. The centre, one of four in Ireland, is currently working with 42 teens, 12 of whom are due to sit the Leaving Cert next year.

Such is the demand for its services, that it had to turn more than 70 applicants away this year because of the uncertainty over its future.

The funding crisis has arisen following the withdrawal of key Christian Brothers’ funding which has helped keep the centre going since 2000.

The religious order have provided core €90,000 funding every year, with €50,000 coming from various government funding streams. But, in 2008, the religious order warned that it would be unable to continue providing the funding, citing its own financial pressures, and it has now been forced to pull the plug.

Mr O’Leary has already pointed out that it would cost the State €200,000 if the teenagers were sent back to second-level education, and at least 10 of them would probably need special education units which would cost the State a further €159,000.

“As far as I’m concerned, the right to education is protected under the Constitution and the Department of Education is responsible for providing that education,” Mr O’Leary said.

The Life Centre works with children from parts of the city where the early school-leaving rate has topped 34%.

Some of its students were out of mainstream education for up to two years before their referral to the centre. Despite this, the centre boasted a 93% attendance rate last year.


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