BY JOE LEARY
SPECIAL TO THE BIR
This is a bit of a personal story for me – testimony to the help that Irish America has provided to the most severely disadvantaged areas of Dublin and the rest of Ireland.
Social planners 50-60 years ago built huge apartment buildings to shelter those who were unable to purchase homes for themselves. As a social experiment they turned out to be disasters. Many of us will remember the “Columbia Point” project here in Boston as a well-intended answer to low income housing. It no longer exists.
In Dublin, Ireland, the city fathers also built many such high rise buildings to house low income families. One such cluster, called “Ballymun,” was located on the way to and from the airport. The Irish American Partnership had just started in 1988 when I traveled to the Ballymun Job Center run by a Jesuit priest, Fr. John Sweeney. Over the next few years Partnership donors provided the Job Center with a number of grants to help the residents obtain employment.
One of the staffers there was a young man in his early 20’s named Peter Davitt. Peter was a resident of Ballymun, an enthusiastic, high-energy, hard-working classic example of what can be done with a life starting in such circumstances.
Like Columbia Point, Ballymun is gone now, the last of the huge apartment buildings having been torn down and replaced by far better housing.
But Peter is still at it 25 years later, now as president of an extremely successful all Ireland organization called FIT – Fast Track to Information Technology. Peter’s organization focuses on the lower income, perhaps less educated, segments of Ireland’s population seeking out those motivated to improve their lives by learning information and communication technologies.
FIT is helping to develop Ireland’s highly skilled work force, offering talented and well-trained employees to new and foreign businesses that come to Ireland, thereby reducing unemployment and providing more fulfilled lives to those who might have previously lived in such a place as Ballymun.
FIT also works with many American companies with subsidiaries in Ireland. Microsoft, Hewlett , and Fidelity are a few examples. Several corporate executives have joined Peter’s board of directors helping with job placements and obtaining funding grants.
Irish American Partnership donors have provided grants to FIT over the past three years. FIT employs 18 in Dublin and 8 in Belfast. They are also active in Limerick and Cork.
Their work is quite straightforward. Through advertising, special promotions and “word of mouth” in affected communities, the program offers testing, individual counseling, training, and job placement to all who come to their doors
The program has tested and trained and found jobs for 12,500, with 9,700 still in their upgraded jobs or better since the beginning of the FIT program. Importantly, FIT continues monitoring and counseling for each participant. Moving from being a kitchen helper or waitress to a supervisory position in a major company is not easy and FIT makes sure it can be helpful wherever needed.
Here is what two of their clients think of the program:
Carol Fitzpatrick, Programmer, Allied Irish Bank:
“After six months on a FIT course in Whitehall College. I was offered a work placement with AIB. It was a great experience working there. I got on really well in my department and found that I enjoyed the work I was doing. It felt great getting out of bed in the mornings to do a job that I liked. The best part of last year was that I was made permanent with AIB. I now not only have a job, I have a career and a future to look forward to as well.”
Paul Murray, User Account Manager, Siemens:
“When I took the FIT course it set me off in a completely new direction. Working for a big company like Siemens is way above anything I ever imagined when I started the Business Through Computers course. It really has changed my life, literally”
In the last two years FIT has moved its services into the most disadvantaged areas of East and West Belfast. Peter has met with Northern Ireland leadership and various community and neighborhood representatives to explain their programs. This will be a rewarding effort with even a modest amount of success. These areas have unusually high unemployment, especially for young people, a specific target group for FIT.
It is a valuable example of across the border cooperation.
Last August, the Irish American Partnership Board of Directors met Peter and several members of the FIT staff at their offices in Dublin on an evaluation mission.
Peter travelled to Boston in May, visiting Boston College and attending meetings to obtain new ideas on how FIT can better help marginalized workers in Ireland. We wish him well.