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Dublin: 11 °C Thursday 18 December, 2014

Column: I don’t help people for a ‘feelgood factor’ – it’s just what’s right

Perhaps it was my own tough background that made me want to help others out, but people should put themselves in a homeless person’s shoes, says Tony Kane, a volunteer with Dundalk Simon Community.

Image: bsabarnowl via Flickr

Tony Kane is an ex- army man who has been volunteering with the Dundalk Simon Community Centre for over three years. He writes:

I AM A DUBLIN man in his 60s that likes to give back.

Not because it’s a ‘feelgood’ thing to do, but because it’s the right thing to do. I am originally from Crumlin and later lived in Mount Pleasant buildings, it was a rough enough spot to grow up in. My mother died when we I was 13 and after that me and my siblings kind of had to look out for ourselves. Then when I was 17 years old I joined the army.

Up until then I had some what of an unregulated life, with no direction, then suddenly I was in a place that was all regulations. The army gave me the structure I needed in my life as a young man. It was very tough, especially for the first two years. But it helped me. Perhaps it all stemmed from that, maybe it’s my background that makes me want to volunteer and help others where I can. Life wasn’t that easy for me, so I know what it’s like.

I like helping people out

I joined the army in 1970 and I served in the Lebanon three times over 15 years. I then became a personal welfare officer in the army, which involves looking after soldiers that might have issues – I see if I can help them and if not, I put them in touch with the relevant agencies. It was doing that job that I realised that I liked to help people. I only retired last year, so I have more time now to volunteer, but it is really something I have always done, if it’s not the Simon Community, it’s caring organisations or church work.

My thinking is, there are plenty of people that say “I would love to volunteer and do something”  but then they sit back on the couch. There is no point in having good intentions unless you act on them. I thought, it’s better to do, rather than think about it. Action speaks louder than words.

One of the reasons I volunteer at Simon is I hate to see people being downtrodden in life, there is nothing worse than to have no hope. I have experienced tough times, and I always remember those that were decent to me, and I hope I can be that person to someone else.

Before I started working with the Simon Community, I helped to set up the soup kitchens with the church group in Dundalk. There was nothing like that at the time, and we did it without any money. It was a hot food initiative and it was great fun. I worked with the soup kitchen on Christmas day a lot over the years – it was great craic. We would be very busy, but it was all chats and laughs. I really enjoyed it.

When people see homeless people, they often say “oh those poor people” but I never felt like that. I still don’t. I don’t volunteer because it gives me a “buzz” to give back. I genuinely enjoy the conversations and I treat them the same as anyone else. Sometimes I go and do a few hours – you don’t expect it to be an unusual day, but then someone tells you something and you get enthralled in conversations or you learn something. I am in my 60s and I still learn something from these people.

Put yourself in their shoes

You should always put yourself in other people’s shoes. People just walk past homeless people nowadays, they don’t give them a second thought sometimes, but around Christmas time, people should stop and think and ask themselves – what would I do if I found myself homeless? What would it feel like? Everyone around Christmas gets wrapped up in their own lives, but it’s important to remember others too.

This year I am working over the Christmas period, but not Christmas Day. The Simon Community Centre in Dundalk is great on Christmas Day. There are loads of staff there, it is a fantastic day, with a nice meal with  turkey and ham, Mass and all.

There will be gifts, hot meals and just generally a good time to be had. I am working on New Year’s Eve this year. I mainly work evenings and weekends. People say it is a lot time to give up of yourself from your family, but this is something I have always done.

People who use the centre don’t want your pity, they have enough of that in their own lives. All they want is someone to talk to, treat them like a human being and give them a hand in life.

Tony Kane volunteers in the Dundalk Simon Community centre. He joined the army in 1970, but retired last year. He is now in a back to education scheme and is studying for his Junior Certificate.

Dundalk Simon Community offers a range of options for people who are experiencing homelessness – the Gatehouse Project, the Community House and the Day Centre.

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