Jenny O'Reilly, award-winning founding member of Wicklow Dementia Support, has left the organisation after over a decade of tremendous work with the dementia community.
Wicklow Dementia Support (WDS) was founded in the summer of 2010 by a small group of people interested in responding to the needs of those with dementia living at home in County Wicklow with their family carers.
There was an awareness that there were gaps in service provision for those families trying to support family members with dementia, wanting to keep the person with dementia at home for as long as possible in their own community. Some members of that first group were working in the field of dementia, others had personal experience of caring.
In 2018, Bray resident Jenny was presented with the 'Community Support Award' at the Wicklow People of the Year Awards.
Volunteers, carers and colleagues have paid tribute to the dedication and kindness she has shown since the foundation of the organisation.
'I think the most memorable thing is the rapport Jenny develops with everyone - clients, families and volunteers,' said volunteer Jenny Lewis. 'She is also a great communicator, and has used both of these attributes to develop WDS. Jenny is very giving of her time, and knowledge. She is really caring, with the desire to improve people's lives. She will be truly missed.'
Michael Fisher is a long term volunteer, AlzPal and Social Club and Musical Memory leader. 'I first met Jenny in late 2012 when Joan was in the very last stages of life on earth,' said Michael. 'Jenny, Jackie O'Toole and Angie Martin were so supportive at that tough time that I made up my mind that when the time was suitable I would happily "give back" to this wonderful supportive group.' He became an AlzPal and with Jenny's support and guidance, Michael's journey with WDS slowly started. 'Nothing was too much trouble for Jenny, all my queries and problems were solved with a cheery smile.
'Eventually the weekly groups started under Jenny's watchful eye. Bray was already running but it was nothing more than a coffee and chat shop. Jenny changed it to a vibrant club where things actually happened and membership swiftly grew, under her guidance.
'It was a similar story in Wicklow, where we quickly outgrew the premises and moved to the larger room in the convent. Again, Musical Memories grew from an existing ad-hoc group run on a casual basis with frequent cancellations if the leaders were not available. Jenny quickly changed that to a vibrant group enjoying their music on a regular basis.'
The first public meeting of WDS was held in Delgany in July 2010. From that meeting, the first carers support group was formed and met initially in a local GP's waiting room in Kilcoole.
It is a facilitated peer support group, which still meets monthly in Newtownmountkennedy.
A voluntary board is supported by coordinators and facilitators, and a team of volunteers, with funding from the HSE, County Council, private donations and fundraising events.
In 2012, after a meeting with the five Co. Wicklow TD's in the Dail, where the initiative to set up of a befriending programme was encouraged, WDS went about setting up AlzPals. This became the first dementia specific befriending programme in the country, with volunteers becoming a compatible companion for a person with dementia.
The group went on to set up their first AlzClub in Wicklow Town. It was recognised that people with dementia and their family carers might benefit from having a social outlet, where they could meet others, develop friendships, have support, and share activities that provide both stimulation and fun.
Occasional morning trips to areas of interest in County Wicklow take place. It is now known as the 'Wednesday Club', and a similar 'Monday Club' meets weekly in Bray. Most activities, however, are suspended during Covid with the community using phone calls and WhatsApp to stay in touch.
In 2019 it was decided to offer a support group for those whose person with dementia had died and might need support with their grief and any post caring concerns. This group is led pro bono by a psychotherapist with experience working with carers of people with dementia
The board of WDS expressed their thanks to Jenny for her great contribution to the organisation.
'During her 11 years with WDS, as one of the founders and our volunteer coordinator, Jenny provided great leadership, energy and vision,' they said in a statement.
'Jenny helped develop and maintain our dementia specific befriending program, AlzPalzs. Her empathy and passion towards dementia specific clubs, activities and support for families living with dementia here in Wicklow county has been a lifeline for many. We thank her, and extend our best wishes for the future.'
Jenny's replacement at Wicklow Dementia Support will be Jackie O'Toole.