The ‘Solas Project’ is a community development organisation which tackles early school leaving and youth crime. The project has been in operation since 2007, and fundamentally, the belief is that tackling these issues will allow communities as a whole to benefit as they look to pursue a vision of Ireland where the youth of today learn to truly acknowledge their self-worth and attain the ability to take full advantage of their potential.
The Solas Project is responsible for running a variety of programmes, each with a heavy emphasis on building the self-esteem and confidence of the children and teens that they mentor. Speaking about the project’s main goals, current Head Gardener (CEO), of Solas, Eddie D’Arcy, said: “We run five different programmes … and it is really about improving the self-esteem in these boys and girls and making sure that they have a bit of support there for them. Having that caring adult in their life is really recognised as a strong supportive measure.”
One of the many initiatives that Solas run is their sports programme. Eddie believes this plays an integral role in the Solas group, by providing fun school-based activities, Eddie believes they can “increase children’s attendance and participation in school, leading to school retention and academic success.”
Eddie continued: “What we try to focus on with the sports programme is very much about engaging with the children in each school. It’s very much based around building their appreciation of self-worth and the self-esteem of the kids.”
Eddie believes that sport is a great way to get everyone involved, he said: “We generally play tag-rugby in the sports programme because there isn’t an extremely high skill-level required in order to participate, so then all of the kids can be good at it.”
Through the Solas Sports programme, the aim is to teach life skills and develop character through the vehicle of sport. The end goal is to develop confidence in each student by teaching them new skills.
In charge of running this programme is Stephen Mullarkey; he runs a five-week tag-rugby course with 5th and 6th classes in twelve different primary schools throughout the academic year. Stephen has a level 1 coaching certificate from the Football Association of Ireland, and the programme has been a “roaring success for Solas,” according to Eddie, with students becoming “more and more confident in getting involved.”
Although Solas place a big importance on their sports programme, it’s not the only programme where they help build up character in young people in Dublin.
Eddie said: “We run five different programmes. One programme is called ‘step-up’, where we provide an individual mentor for sixty teenagers every week and these same teenagers will stay with us right the way through secondary school. The programme is spread over four nights, each night fifteen teenagers attend the programme and they’re provided with a personal mentor. It all takes place in a club setting and we also have one member overseeing the whole thing. Last year, we had eight young men who graduated and they all spent six years on this particular programme.”
There is also an active programme for younger kids that find themselves in similar situations, who are supported by the Solas ‘After School Club’, where Eddie believes the children are given an excellent chance to excel in their education. He said: “We run a range of after-school clubs, this programme deals with children that are struggling in the national school system.
There are three clubs there, one is the junior club which is for senior infants up to second class. Then we have a second club which operates in St. Catherine’s Church for the older primary school kids. Each of those clubs has the children coming 4 days a week for 4 hours each day. They’ll have a hot meal and homework support, and we continue that through the holidays as well so there is a high level of support there available for the kids.”
Unfortunately, running such a widespread organisation as Solas comes with obvious costs. Solas now have sixteen full-time staff, as well as roughly 160 committed volunteers. The funding for the programme is split 50/50 between the state, and Solas themselves have to raise €350,000.
With such huge demand having to be met, Solas are looking for any volunteers to get in touch with them about supporting their work.
Eddie said: “We are constantly looking for extra volunteers, so if there are students interested in social care or even criminology, we would love to hear from them.”