Olivia McGinn
Olivia McGinn

What it's like to volunteer with Barretstown

DCU staff member Olivia McGinn talks about why she signed up to volunteer with Barretstown and what was involved

'I had never done anything like this before.... and I just thought it would be lovely to give something back'

'In late 2019, DCU put out a call for volunteers to work at the upcoming Barretstown Christmas event - the call-out came a few weeks after the partnership between DCU and the charity was announced.

'I have never done anything like this before, I saw an item about the work Barretstown do on the ‘Late Late Show’ in 2019, and I just thought it would be lovely to ‘give something back’ as it were. I promised myself if something came up, I would definitely go. And then a few weeks later, an email came through from DCU, and I thought now was the time.

'Myself and some colleagues in Registry decided to sign up - we got to see the Barretstown camp and our duty for that day was greeting all the families coming in at Barretstown Gates. I remember the day really clearly, it was actually a miserable day in terms of weather - it was December after all - but we didn’t mind as we got to meet the wonderful families. It was the spirit of it all, we also felt really welcomed by the Barretstown team. 

'Another email came through in early 2020, looking for volunteers or ‘Caras’ for their weekend camps in March 2020. And then Covid hit. However, Barretstown adapted, and the volunteering opportunities were there once again in July 2020, as society eased its way out of the first lockdown.  

'Covid restrictions were still in place when I was volunteering. I’m hoping my next weekend will be a little different in terms of restrictions!

'The first thing we did when we got there was go to the Med Shed, where we did our antigen test, and waited for the results. Once we tested negative, we were then brought to Jim’s place, where we were given some information about the family we were paired with. I was paired with a wonderful family from Cork, with three children. We were also given a plan about where we needed to be for each of the activities.

'In Barretstown, you “groove for your food”. So the food is brought to families in their cabins, some music is put on, and you have to dance to have your food, which is a great way for families and Caras to start the day!

'After breakfast, we brought the family to their first activity - the activities range from archery, arts and crafts, canoeing, crazy golf and the drama session, which tends to be the last session of the evening. For the drama session, you had to come up with a theme based on props you had in your box - we decided to go with ‘gangster granny got robbed’. We made a wonderful video with the kids and the parents. At the end of that evening, all families came together to watch the videos - the footage was captured all across the grounds of Barretstown, and everyone had a ball. 

'When you’re a new volunteer with Barretstown, they will put you with someone who has volunteered before. We as Caras are there to facilitate and support the family in every way possible to help them get involved in all activities and to ensure they are enjoying themselves and having a great time. The volunteers are paired up in twos or threes. Barretstown staff are available throughout the day and Medical staff support the families throughout the camp. 

'To become a ‘Cara’, you go through the normal vetting process as you would for any volunteering position. You are also interviewed by Barretstown as part of that process. 

'In terms of training, we did a number of online sessions - with the first one about rules and regulations and health and safety protocols.  The second session gives volunteers an overview of what happens on the day and goes through each of the activities. 

'I was blown away by the Barretstown community, families, staff and volunteers. They are incredibly warm, kind and courageous people who welcomed me with open arms. So many lives are affected by illnesses, and the resiliency, passion, strength, beauty and grace that the children show is nothing short of life-changing.

'One of my goals for volunteering at camp was to experience and support families during their happier times - and this I definitely did!

'I experienced a community where families felt safe enough to share their fears, yet supported enough to develop new skills and confidence to achieve their goals. Barretstown has clearly created a community supporting families to thrive.

'The weekend was full of so many warm and special moments, you quickly realise that what we take from camp as a volunteer is more than we could ever give. I left feeling invigorated, inspired and enriched.

'For anybody thinking about how they would like to ‘give something back’ like I did, this is a wonderful way to do it.'