Barretstown Camp Image

Volunteering Opportunities for DCU Staff and Students

Hear the perspectives of DCU staff and students who have volunteered with Barretstown!

When the Dublin areas moved back to Level 3 before Christmas, first year Business Studies student Laura Tuite volunteered at a Barretstown pop-up shop on Grafton St and told us the following:


In the run up to Christmas I took the opportunity to volunteer for a day in the pop-up shop that Barretstown had on Grafton Street. As Barretstown is DCU’s charity partner I was given this chance through college and took it without a second thought. Barretstown does amazing work with seriously ill children and I am glad that I got to contribute to this. The shop was selling the Barretstown merchandise in order to raise funds for the charity as many events had to be cancelled throughout the year to the pandemic. 

The work that I had to do throughout the day was help restock the shelves, help the customers while observing social distancing and working on the cash register. Many of the customers that came in already had links to Barretstown, so it was nice to hear the stories of the good times and memories that they had there. It was a great experience that I really enjoyed and would I definitely to it again.


Before the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of DCU staff and students had the opportunity to volunteer with Barretstown - and have blogged about their experience below


Grainne O'Neill pictured in Barretstown

Gráinne O Neill, DCU Alumni

I first came across Barretstown when I was in my second year in DCU.

To be honest, I was bored and wanted to do something useful with my time, so went onto Google for some inspiration. After sifting through various volunteer programmes both at home and abroad I came across an opportunity to help ‘rebuild the lives of children and families affected by serious illness’.

Unable to resist the challenge, I found myself filling out the application form and, a month later, was on the Barretstown bus to my very first family camp.

On arriving, I had no idea what to expect but was immediately put at ease by the many smiling faces of the Barretstown staff. And soon enough the madness started!

In our volunteer or ‘cara’ team of six, we were looking after two families.

We were given guidance on what illnesses some of the children had and took some time to chat and get to know the families.

Before long, we were up dancing around the table ‘grooving for our food’. We made family flags, mini movies and as 'caras', we were covered in facepaint much to the infectious laughter of the kids.

The craziness was incredible and my cheeks were sore from smiling so much. We danced in the dining hall and canoed in the lake and even had the chance to help the kids with some horse-riding. The real magic, however, was in between all the activities.

At the beginning of the weekend one teenager in particular, came into camp and he simply did not want to be there or have anything to do with the activities. He spent most of his time on his phone. As the weekend progressed, he started to chat with some other teens at the camp and began to find things in common. Before long he was cracking jokes (at the expense of the caras of course!).

By Sunday, he was the first one to put his hand up to get up on the stage to show off. He was beaming with confidence and the big grin on his face was indescribable. This was one of the ‘magic moments’ that keeps me returning to Barretstown.

The incredible healthcare staff in Crumlin and many other healthcare centres do an excellent job in treating the illnesses, but Barretstown treats the child.

If you look at the website you will see numerous parents giving accounts of how amazing the camps are. But if you want the truth, you ask the kids. I can guarantee you that each and every one will say it is the ‘greatest place on the planet’. I tend to agree.

Barretstown has given me the opportunity to meet some amazing people and make some incredible friends. It has given me a chance to share a smile with the people who need it most and he give families hope with the help of some serious fun!


Katie Fay volunteering at Barretstown


Katie Fay volunteering at Barretstown

Katie Fay, Former Vice President for Engagement & Development, DCU Students’ Union

My journey with Barretstown first began in June of 2019 when I went on a visit with other staff from DCU in the early stages of setting up our Charity Partnership with Barretstown. I fell in love with the place immediately, and couldn’t wait to go back down and volunteer. 

It has been an absolute pleasure working closely with all the staff down at Barretstown over the past number of months and it is clear to see how dedicated all staff and volunteers are to their work and bettering the lives of seriously ill children.

After a busy few months of organising volunteers and fundraising events, it was finally time to go to Barretstown myself and volunteer for a weekend. Honestly - it was a weekend I will never forget.

The guys at Barretstown make it so simple to go and volunteer, organising transport to and from camp and the most welcoming experience from the moment you step on that bus.

We spent our Friday of camp taking part in a comprehensive training programme to get us ready for the madness - and one thing I will always remember is the emphasis that you are never alone at camp and everyone is very much in this together.

5pm rolled around fast and all of a sudden excited children and their families were arriving and the whole place really came to life!

My cottage consisted of five caras or volunteers who would be taking care of two families for the weekend. We spent every meal together ensuring parents got a break, but of course everybody has to partake in the dancing pre and post meal times which is known as ‘Groove for your food’. 

Through the whole weekend we played many games of Dobble (if you’ve been to camp you know!), and built obstacle courses for the caras to jump through, climbed rock walls, completed challenges, got covered in face paint and made into mummies. Some very brave children and their parents even did some things for the first time like ride a horse, go on a zip line or experience the amazing lego room at camp! 

My favourite part of the weekend was in the evenings when the caras mind the kids for an hour or so while the adults get to go chill out or do an activity.

We really got to know the kids and it was a great chance for them to meet the other family in the cottage and build new friendships. In my eyes, Barretstown really is the best place on earth and anyone you ask who has attended as a camper, parent, volunteer or staff will tend to agree. 

Barretstown do amazing work every single day by 'pressing play' on the life of seriously ill children and ensuring we all have some serious fun along the way. I have made amazing memories and friends at camp and I can’t wait for many more times filled with laughter and smiles.


Susan Madigan volunteering at Barretstown

Susan Madigan, Senior Occupational Therapist, Disability & Learning Support Service DCU

My dad was always a big Paul Newman fan, and was even more impressed that he invested heavily in setting up a 'Hole in the wall' camp here in Ireland in 1994, so I was always aware of it.

But I didn’t start volunteering myself until 2005, and have been doing so ever since, including a stint as a summer staff member. 

People often ask me 'is it not sad, seeing all the sick kids?'. For a moment, yes. To see such young children, that have been so affected by cancer and other conditions, it does take a minute to adjust. But just a minute.

We’re there to ensure the children and families (the campers) have a fantastic time, and that the child isn’t the 'sick kid' in Barretstown Camp.

Often the children we work with have been stuck in hospital for long periods, they’re on medication, and they’re often told 'you can’t, it’s not safe, you can’t do that anymore'.

But at camp, activities are structured in such a way that everyone can participate, so on that weekend, in that moment, that child isn’t sick. And they can do everything everyone else is doing. That’s the whole point.

And it’s not just a bit of craic, there’s science behind it, called therapeutic recreation. We challenge the campers to go outside their comfort zone, in a safe way, and do things they haven’t been able to do before, or not for a long time. Meaning they re-learn what they are capable of, and go beyond that too. And all the while, the parents don’t have to worry for 48 hours. 

If you volunteer, you’ll be taught everything you need to know at training, but you’ll have changed too by the end of the weekend – you’ll bring campers climbing, and roar at their successes and you’ll take time to chat with them at fishing.

You’ll laugh til you’ve tears streaming down your face, and you might cry too, when a parent tells you this is the first time they’ve sat down together as a family in months due to hospital appointments. There’s time for all this.

At Barretstown, we enable children and families to be their amazing selves, and even grow, and come through painful situations stronger than ever. And there’s dancing and cake. Sign up now!