Minister of State with Responsibility for Disabilities Anne Rabbitte visited Donegal to launch the new DS Champions Programme in conjunction with No Barriers and Donegal Down Syndrome Association.
Funded by Rethink Ireland, the DS Champions programme is a new health and wellbeing pilot programme for people in Donegal with Down Syndrome with the primary goal to provide skills and remove barriers to inclusion in the community.
Through one-to-one classes and group therapies, each participant in the DS Champions programme will be introduced to No Barriers Fitness, which is an inclusive gym. This will help participants foster independence among participants in the longer term allowing them to exercise side by side with family members and friends in a community gym environment, providing a social outlet and hope to those who often feel isolated and socially marginalized.
Letterkenny man Johnny Loughrey who is the founder of No Barriers says the funding for DS Champions is hugely welcomed and they are delighted to be spearheading this pilot programme in the northwest with the support of Donegal Down Syndrome Association.
He said: “We are thrilled to announce the funding of the DS Champions programme. This new pilot programme is a functional health and wellbeing programme that focuses on the three main pillars of physical fitness and strength, mental health and mindfulness and health education. Through this DS Champions programme, each participant will receive an individualised health and wellbeing plan made up of one to one and group classes. A primary goal of the programme is to ensure that the participants feel empowered to take charge of their own health, from mental and physical to emotional. We are honoured to bring this to the northwest in partnership with Donegal Down Syndrome Association. Rethink Ireland has been hugely important to us to help us grow, so a sincere thanks to them and to Minister Rabbitte and our committee for their continued support.”
Speaking at the launch last week, Minister of State for Disability at the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Anne Rabbitte, said: “A lot of barriers have been broken down with this funding and the work by Johnny Loughrey and the No Barriers team. When I set up the Disability Participation and Awareness Fund, it was to fund initiatives like this. I see the DS Champions programme as a big step towards real inclusion for all. This is my second time in No Barriers here in Letterkenny and I am moved by the trojan efforts by all to push forward with community inclusion. DS Champions is the first of its kind and I was humbled to be invited back today to officially launch the pilot programme and I look forward to seeing first-hand the impact it has on the participants. I want to genuinely thank the team at No Barriers for pushing this forward and thanks to the people here today for sharing their stories.”
Andrea McFeely is the Clinical Coordinator of DS Champions Programme at No Barriers. She says this programme will have great benefits for the participants: “The DS Champions Programme will have brilliant benefits for each of the participants. Each person will have a coach or budget and the programme is open to all age groups. We expect it to be broken down into 75% over 18’s but we’ll also have a strong pediatric group. It is hugely exciting that this is the first of its kind programmes and has the potential to be rolled out across Ireland. The programme will kick start from January 2024 until July and each participant will have access to various different activities that work for them.”
No Barriers was allocated €393,826 through Rethink Ireland to run the DS Champions programme.
The No Barriers Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation whose aim is to create an inclusive health facility equipped with specialist neurological equipment that will allow anyone with physical and intellectual disabilities to train and improve their current level of physical and mental health. No Barriers offers one-to-one group rehabilitation support for those who have had a stroke, a spinal cord injury and functional neurological disorders, and those living with Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.
Find out more about No Barriers Foundation and No Barriers Fitness at nobarriers.ie.