Friday 24 May 2019

SVdP 'the difference' in 'at risk' students' lives

Teenagers at risk of having to forego a college education have been turning to their local St Vincent de Paul conference for help in increasing numbers
Teenagers at risk of having to forego a college education have been turning to their local St Vincent de Paul conference for help in increasing numbers

David Looby

Wexford St Vincent de Paul's (SVdP) Education Conference has been inundated with appeals from students for financial assistance over the spiralling rent costs in Dublin, Cork and Galway.

Teenagers at risk of having to forego a college education have been turning to their local St Vincent de Paul conference for help in increasing numbers.

Don Arthur, who manages the Education Conference as a volunteer, said: 'It's very busy at the moment. We get a small amount of money relatively speaking to cover the county. We try to allocate that to cases where people fall through the cracks for whatever reason.'

Applications for assistance have been flooding in since July. Mr Arthur or one of the team of ten volunteers at the Wexford conference meet the individual or parent and see what is required and how the charity can be of help. 'People who come to us are extremely sensitive about it. In some cases they never imagined they would have to come to us for assistance. It could be the first person in the family to ever go on to college.'

It is not just parents who seek assistance from the Wexford St Vincent de Paul Education Conference, with teenagers increasingly seeking assistance, sometimes looking for as little as the price of a bus fare home from college.

'Generally speaking students are covered by SUSI grants. They get so much per month; enough to cover their living expenses and accommodation. Despite getting the grant the family would have to give their son or daughter some money and in many cases the family doesn't have that ability as every cent is accounted for. A lot of the time there are problems in the background. It's extraordinary. Some people break down saying they never thought they'd find themselves here and "If our neighbours knew"'

Some parents approaching the St Vincent de Paul for help feel like a failure for not being able to provide for their child when, in fact, they are overwhelmed by the cost of renting a room in a city where rents have jumped by 13 per cent year-on-year, as happened in Cork this year.

The Conference budget is limited and the charity cannot meet the needs of every student all of the time. 'We can't perform miracles. We have hundreds of applications for tablets but we can't accommodate those. Where funds are short for whatever reason we try to help. Often it comes down to helping with the little things like a bus fare for €20 a week, otherwise they just wouldn't be able to get home. When they get home their parents give them a parcel of food to bring back with them.'

Mr Arthur said parents across the county are under tremendous pressure to meet the costs of paying for rent for a shared apartment for their child in Dublin, for instance, where rent sums range from €6,000 to €10,000 a college year. 'Rents have gone through the roof in Dublin and in Cork. Parents are really struggling now and family budgets are very, very sensitively balanced. We try to do a fact finder budget with families so they know exactly what is coming in and what is going out and we allow for additional upcoming expenses. There are situations where a student mightn't get to college without our support. We can be the difference.'

People are referred to the Education Conference through local St Vincent de Paul branches, of which there are 14 across County Wexford. 'The volunteers in the different conferences across the county know what is going on and now who needs assistance.'

He said: 'Once we take someone on we are with them for the length of the course because we want to see them come out the other side and to be in a position to get a job and to become self sufficient. That is the whole objective. Sometimes we could be helping a student for 12 months and other times it's four years. During that time their situation could improve and they mightn't need to come to us anymore or their financial situation could deteriorate. We have had a number of cases where an extremely academic student from a family who never had a child attend college before needs assistance but we don't judge: it can be someone studying Medicine or someone doing an apprenticeship.'

He said people are quite shy about asking for support. 'It's very much a last resort but they won't get the opportunity to go to college unless they get some help, in some cases. We can't perform miracles. In general I would say people who come to us are very genuine and they do make a go of things and they do use the opportunities afforded to them so that is very heartening.'

The cost of attending college outside County Wexford has led many students to look at options closer to home, including at the Wexford branch of Carlow Institute of Technology which offers an expanded range of courses this year.

Gorey Guardian