02 January 2006

People Like You - A weekly look at our brightest and best


A labour of love for Marty

Francesca Ryan talks to an outreach worker who’s making a difference in Colin

Imagine having responsibility for the welfare of thousands of people on a daily basis. You couldn't pay most people to undertake such a mammoth task, but for one man from the Colin area, it was a calling that he couldn't resist.
Marty Parker is the only Drug and Alcohol Outreach Worker for the Colin area. We caught up with him last week for a chat about his demanding yet thoroughly rewarding role.
“I've been doing this job for ten years now," he said. “The first eight years were on a purely voluntary basis but for the last two and a half years I have been funded to carry out the work with the Poleglass-based Misneach project."
Far from being an office job, Marty's work sees him in the thick of things in the Colin area both during the day and in the long dark evenings.
“Sadly, the reality is that nobody cares about the youth in the Colin area except for the community workers themselves. I have seen kids as young as 11 and 12 with alcohol and drug issues, it is a problem that needs to be tackled.
“My job is to reach out to the people that don't avail of the community services. I identify local drinking hotspots and engage with the youths to gain their confidence."
Marty is the first to admit that the drinkers can be wary at the start but his persistence has seen him work with 350 youths in the past two years alone.
“You have to keep at it. Gradually the kids come round and start to listen and then we get the ball rolling by getting them on drug and alcohol awareness training and various other courses."
Using a two-tiered approach which sees the children alternate a week of training courses with a week of activities, Marty believes that taking the children from the environment they live in is crucial.
“We take the kids away to get their minds off what they normally get up to in the community, this gives them the opportunity to focus on new activities and puts them in a position where they can entertain new ideas that we have incorporated in the training."
Working in conjunction with other community groups, including the Safer Neighbourhood Project and the Dunlewey Centre, Misneach are able to offer an all-round approach to drug abuse in the Colin area and despite the clearly arduous and demanding nature of the work, Marty insists the rewards far outweigh the downside.
“I find my work extremely rewarding. When I meet kids who used to stand on the street corners drinking and they have turned their lives around, I get a feeling that is hard to beat. I even heard one fella mention me and my work on Féile FM. He said that if there were 100 more doing the work I do, the Colin area would be the best place to live. When you hear something like that, even the smallest compliment, it makes it all worthwhile."
Having grown up during the Troubles when there was very little provision for young people, the father-of-three was determined to make life better for his own children and for others.
“I just never wanted the same for my kids, I am committed to making the community a better place for everyone and that's what brought me to this position I am in today. I firmly believe that if we can get the kids off the streets and into education, we're on the right track."
Astoundingly, despite his commitment, his track record and the vital nature of his work, Marty still works on a temporary contract, a difficult position for a man with a young family and bills to pay. But he’s adamant that even if a salaried job isn't permanent, his role in the community is.
“Every September I am reviewed by EDACT [Eastern Drug and Alcohol Coordination Team] who fund the project. Come September the job may not be there and if that's the case, I will just go back to doing the work on a voluntary basis. We've come too far along, we've built a reputation and a good rapport with the youth. If someone rang me for help at 3am, as they often do, I wouldn't refuse to go because I don't get paid any more. My heart is in this project and I won't let if fall by the wayside under any circumstances."

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