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Small Actions Big Impact – Gateway Project – National Volunteering Week

With it being National Volunteering Week, we are focusing on giving you some insight into Volunteers in Westmeath.  Below is the Gateway Youth Project in Athlone which has many fantastic volunteers.  Gateway Youth Project Athlone has worked closely with Westmeath Volunteer Centre and Westmeath Community Development over the years.

Gateway Youth Project is a youth project based in St Mary’s Hall in Athlone which aims to improve the lives of young people in the area. It is a partnership between Athlone Community Taskforce and Foróige and has 2 staff, both funded by Longford/Westmeath ETB. We serve a wide range of young people in our town, but with particular emphasis on young people living in Direct Provision, young people outside of education/employment, LGBT youth, the Traveller/Roma community and young people who have moved to Ireland from abroad.

Our programmes range from individual support to group activities and include educational supports such as afterschool study hub and subject focussed study groups to more social activities (eg Camera Club, Bike Repair Workshop, Art Club etc). Successful integration and building individual resilience and confidence in our young people are the guiding goals for our work.

To successfully deliver our service we rely on the goodwill and active support of an enthusiastic team of volunteers.

One of the most enthusiastic of these who has been involved in Gateway since 2017 is David Nesengani. David is originally from South Africa and has lived in Athlone Accommodation Centre for the past 4 years while his asylum application is being processed. The first interaction we had with David was as part of a community garden that Athlone Community Taskforce were involved in in the Lissywollen direct provision site. This was a very successful cross community project which David led.

David then became a volunteer and great advocate of Gateway Youth Project. Amongst other programmes David has assisted with our Afterschool Hub, Alternative Suspension Programme (working with young people in danger of school expulsion), Healthy Living (supported by Athlone Drug Awareness Group) and our Army Training Programme in cooperation with the Defence Forces.

David’s natural empathy was something he utilised in forming relationships with our young people from all communities and he quickly established himself as a very popular member of the Gateway team. This led to David completing a very successful student placement with Gateway in 2019/2020 as part of his AIT studies.

After this was completed, David has still given time to Gateway in a voluntary capacity. He, and his wife Fortunate, seem to be an unofficial welcoming committee for new arrivals to Athlone Accommodation Centre and it is through them that many young people who have just arrived in Athlone have found their way to Gateway.

This community leadership has also been evident when during the strict COVID lockdown restrictions, when access to the Lissywollen site was difficult, David took it upon himself to prepare and maintain the Community Garden and coordinate access to beds/equipment for other residents and liaise with Gateway to provide seeds and pots to many of the young people living in the Direct Provision site, who have sown and grown their own vegetables and flowers. This selfless dedication would not cause David a moment’s pause, but it made a huge difference to the lives of those young people in what was a particularly hard time.

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