Diahann looks forward to Winning New Opportunities
Diahann Wilkinson's small business, Disco Bay, was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream when she opened it five years ago at The Courtyard Shopping Centre in Letterkenny.
So much so that, when the recession hit, forcing her to close the business before Christmas of 2007, the bottom dropped out - not just of her work life, but of her whole sense of herself.
"It's a clich, but I know what it's like to be at the top, and also what it's like to be at the bottom," Diahann said. "When I closed the shop after two years, it was horrible. When you're a business owner, it's very hard to get back to being an employee. And, never mind being an employee, but on the dole."
Diahann did what she could to keep herself busy, enroling in a couple of courses and participating in a Community Employment scheme.
Two years later, however, a sense of hopelessness and futility still hovered over her like a cloud. "I was in a state of despair, with no idea of where to go or what direction to take," she said.
Then, last Spring, Diahann learned of a free 20-hour programme for people who are unemployed that was being offered at the Congress Resource Centre in Letterkenny. The programme, called ‘Winning New Opportunities', was billed as helping participants to develop the skills and confidence needed to take the next step in their lives.
Diahann decided to give it a try.
"Myself and the 11 others on the course had lost all hope," she said.
"But after the first day, the hope started building up in me again."
What Diahann experienced on Day One and throughout the rest of the five-day WNO course was a programme that has been documented by researchers in Ireland to have brought significant benefits to people all over the country who've taken it at a transitional time in their lives.
"Positive findings suggest that the WNO programme is likely to have a lasting impact on participants in terms of increasing their chances of re-employment, reducing their chances of financial strain, and improving theiroverall mental health," said researcher Aleisha Clarke, who conducted a year-long study of the programme at the Health Promotion Research Centre at NUI-Galway.
So effective has WNO been shown to be in helping people feel motivated and in control of their lives that the International Fund for Ireland recently decided to fund 45 sessions of the programme in Donegal as part of its Community Based Economic and Social Regeneration Programme.
Over the next two years, Tuath, the Donegal Community and Local Development Centre, will be running the IFI-funded WNO sessions free of charge at venues throughout the county in order to make the programme easily accessible to anyone who is interested in taking it.
Upcoming WNO programmes include one that Tuath is running in Donegal Town in collaboration with the Donegal Family Resource Centre and Forige. The programme will run from Monday, 7th February, to Friday, 11th February, for four hours each day, at the Donegal Youth Information Centre.
WNO covers a number of topics relevant to the career development process, including a personal skills assessment, CV-writing, interviewing, dealing with set-backs, and making the most of networking opportunities. Most important of all, participants say, is the confidence that WNO instills through role-playing exercises and exposure to the consistently upbeat attitude of the two specially-trained facilitators.
"What appealed to me about their approach was that it was totally positive," Diahann said of the two facilitators for her group, Kate Byrne and Michael Scanlon. "They found the positive in every situation...whatever argument or situation that participants brought up, they found the positive in it. What you got as a result was a sense of belief in yourself. The Winning New Opportunities programme gives you the tools to be able to progress forward, and to be able to deal with all the difficulties and set-backs that are out there now."
Diahann emerged from the programme feeling energised and ready to explore a wide range of opportunities. She has signed up to volunteer with the National Council for the Blind of Ireland, plans a return to work on a management degree that she'd started at Letterkenny Institute of Technology, and recently gave her first speech ever before an audience of 60 people at a conference on unemployment. She has also begun working as a freelance copy-editor and proofreader, and has herself become trained up as a Winning New Opportunities facilitator.
"After taking Winning New Opportunities, I wouldn't refuse any opportunities that would come my way, not one," Diahann said. "The more, the better."
For more information about the upcoming WNO programme in Donegal Town, please ring the Donegal Family Resource Centre on (074) 97 25337 or Forige on (074) 97 23029. You can contact Tuath on (074) 91 86720.