Today we have announced a £599,032 grant to Foyle Down Syndrome Trust Limited for their five year Healthy Hearts and Minds project. It is part of our grants roll out today of £2,371,930 to four groups working with young people across Northern Ireland through the Empowering Young People programme.
The Healthy Hearts and Minds project is providing support to 75 children and young people with Down Syndrome and their families. It is working with children and young people aged 8-25 in the Derry and Strabane, and Causeway Coast and Glens District Council areas. Activities include a gardening programme, outdoor pursuits, health workshops and mentoring.
Adam Morrison, 10, has Down Syndrome and has been supported by Foyle Down Syndrome Trust since he was a baby. Adam lives with his father Kevin, mother Jo and sister Anna (8) in Derry.
Kevin said: “We found out 20 minutes after Adam was born that he had Down Syndrome. It was a shock to us as nothing had been indicated in our scans and we had no idea the full extent of what it meant.
“The first couple of months we were living by a diary because there were so many appointments: physiotherapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy and gene therapy. It’s a lot to deal with and it was a struggle, but we slowly came to terms with it.
“Foyle Down Syndrome Trust contacted us after a few months to offer services and put us in contact with other parents. A parent came to our house and she was very honest about her experience but she showed us that there was light at the end of the tunnel made us feel more positive.
“Having Down Syndrome means it can take a longer time for Adam to learn new things and get comfortable with new situations. It used to be that he couldn’t handle social groupings or loud noises but with the support of Foyle Down Syndrome Trust over the past few years he is like a different person and has a very busy social life.
“I spent so many years standing in corridors in hospitals but now I’m on the side lines of his football games or watching him swimming.
“He still surprises me. We went to a local football match that his friend was playing in. It was noisy and there were crowds and I thought he’s going to hate this and he’s going to cry, but he had the confidence to go to the changing rooms with his friend and high-five all the players and even got his picture taken for the local paper. He was in his element.
“As a parent it’s great to watch his growing confidence and see him handling these situations different to I ever thought he would.
“This is an important time for Adam, he turns 11 soon and will be starting the transition to secondary school. I’ve spoken to a lot of parents who have older kids with Down Syndrome who started feeling isolated, lonely and depressed as they got older so the big thing for me, as well as development, is the social aspect of all these group activities.
“Knowing that Foyle Down Syndrome Trust have funding for a five year project which Adam will benefit from is very reassuring. Without these activities and being with the other kids Adam would be lost.”
Lorraine Gallen, manager of Foyle Down Syndrome Trust said: “We are over the moon at the success of our application and we are really looking forward to delivering our project to improve health and wellbeing, reduce isolation and increase community involvement for our young people with Down Syndrome.
“This is what our families have been asking us for. Young people have been fully involved in the planning of this and once the project begins we will continue to listen to them and involve them throughout the project.”
The Empowering Young People programme can support projects working with young people across Northern Ireland including young carers, young people with a learning disability and young people who face barriers to education, training or employment. More information about Empowering Young People can be found on our website, www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/northernireland.