I had just posted the following article to Chicago’s ‘Irish American News’ for inclusion in their February issue, when I heard just how much of a crisis the Hand in Hand children’s cancer charity were really in.
As a result the editor/publisher Cliff Carlson has kindly given me permission to print it here ahead of time.
I’ve spoken before in this column about my enormous respect for the work of Hand in Hand, the children’s cancer charity that is based in the County Galway village of Oranmore, where I live.
In the two-and-a-half years since I discovered them, I’ve watched in awe as – completely against the odds – they have struggled to stay in existence whilst offering badly-needed practical assistance to families where a child has been diagnosed with cancer.
At times it has seemed that they are battling on all fronts: there are the day-to-day realities of a staff of two trying to organize assistance in counties throughout Ireland whilst simultaneously arranging fundraisers and events; and of course – thankless task — trying to attract the attention and help of an uncaring government that shows precisely ZERO interest.
(It takes €250,000 a year to keep Hand in Hand going. The government may not want to hear about such an outrageous sum but it DID have no problem finding €13 MILLION to pledge to Syria. Ah well, our leaders do like to look good on the World Stage, bless them.)
As an occasional volunteer, I decided last year to write (as a private citizen) to Leo Varadkar, our Health Minister, in order to let him know how desperate for help the charity was.
An assistant to Leo eventually wrote back to give me some vague waffle that at some stage his boss would be interested in meeting the CEO.
I guess that I hadn’t made myself clear. Or else Leo (or his assistant) had completely missed the point; because if the charity were able to afford one of these overpaid CEOs then it wouldn’t have to be going around with the begging bowl in the first place, now would it?
Coincidentally, I first came in contact with Hand in Hand in the same month that the scandal surrounding CEO Angela Kerins and Rehab surfaced. As I’ve said before, the damage that this appallingly greedy woman and those like her have done in the charity field is immeasurable. People look at ALL charities now – even tiny ones like Hand in Hand — and wonder just how wisely their kind donation is being spent.
I mean, is it going to ease the suffering of a cancer patient or – oh, I don’t know – pay for the petrol in somebody’s BMW.
And here we go again this week as the Irish Cancer Society SPECTACULARLY shot itself in the foot – and once more has the person in the street start wondering if it’s worth their while to be donating at all.
They announced to an incredulous public that they were withdrawing the fund from which they had been helping with the expenses of cancer patients and their families. Then, even more bizarrely, as they began to feel the anger directed towards them, they did a partial U-turn and reinstated the fund the VERY NEXT DAY – but only for children.
Nearly crying, they were, as they told us that this meant that they would have to find €200,000 this year.
Well, I wouldn’t have thought that was beyond the realms of possibility. Let’s see: they paid out 7.3 million to their staff in 2014, five of whom were taking home between €70,000 and €85,000 a year whilst another six were happily trousering anything from €85,000 up to €100,000.
As to the head honcho, CEO John McCormack – well, my heart’s bleeding for him all right as he tries to make do on €145,000.
Now I know that I’m not clever enough to be a CEO like John; but I would have thought it wouldn’t be TOO hard to come up with a few Euros out of that lot to actually give to the people that the money is supposed to be getting raised for in the first place! I mean, these ARE charity workers, right? If they’re not – if they’re just another section of Corporate Ireland — then they should say so and let the charitable public know just where they stand. Because at the moment they are beginning to feel as if they are getting treated like buck-eejits.
If this mini-turnaround was the most half-assed exercise in damage limitation that I’ve ever seen then it somehow got worse yesterday (15th January) when the bould McCormack magnanimously announced that he had decided to take a cut of €10,000 in his wages.
Too late, John. We’re all now looking with great interest at what you and some of your compatriots are wheeling home — in a very large wheelbarrow. To be honest, I think that someone who put in the incompetent week that you did should be handing in his notice, never mind taking a cut that’s hardly likely to impoverish you.
Before the Society announced its embarrassing turnaround, having caused a sleepless night for hundreds of families, I took a walk over to the Hand in Hand office to ask Jennifer Carpenter what she thought of that baffling announcement. (Jennifer has been the mainstay of the charity for the last seven grueling years and takes home €27,000 a year – spot the difference?) She said:
“To be honest, Charley, we see it as yet one more devastating blow to families who are battling childhood cancer — a group who are ALREADY severely under-represented in the charity sector.
“In fact, we would welcome talks with the society on how we could work with them to improve the level of service and support offered. We’ve got all the necessary structures in place; we have the required high standards of governance; and we have the experience to manage such a fund.”
And that sums up why I admire Hand in Hand so much. I happen to know that they have never had their backs to the wall as much as they have at the moment; and yet their first thoughts were about the gut-punch this gave to families at such a vulnerable point in their lives.
Here’s one pleasant tale to wind up with. At the end of December Jennifer was looking into a particularly bleak 2016. Then, two days before Christmas she got word that the Tollman family, whose Red Carnation group are the owners of County Mayo’s gorgeously restored Ashford Castle, had decided to donate €10,000. A wonderful gesture; and proof that Santa really was watching.
“We’re obviously delighted with this generous donation”, said Jennifer. “Due to funding constraints we have recently been forced to develop a waiting list for families needing our support services and this figure will go a long way in eliminating that wait.”
But the next three months are crucial ones for this charity and I wish them the best of luck in raising the €50,000 they need in order to keep supplying their invaluable services. A lot of families benefit from them.