Jake Heenan Ambassador for Dóchas don Óige
Dóchas don Óige is proud to support Jake Heenan and the IRUPA “Tackle Your Feelings” Campaign.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be an ambassador for Dóchas don Óige?
I moved over here to play for Connacht Rugby about a year and a half ago now. There’s a company called Board Match who match sports people up with various charitable organisations. They mentioned an organization that worked with troubled youths and I was interested in that, and the rest is history, I guess! I’m there probably a year now.
Why did you pick Dóchas don Óige?
Well I’m interested in working with troubled youths mainly because I probably was one! Growing up, I was arrested a few times before I was eighteen, left home at a young age, all that sort of thing! I guess, I was lucky enough I did have a good family but I can understand what it’s like to be a young man at a crossroads and to find yourself in a bit of trouble and you find that people are thinking that you’re going the wrong way. I was fortunate enough to see myself right and get myself into something that I really love. I don’t want to build it up too much because I think that some people have it a lot worse than I had, but at the same time, there’s that feeling that I can relate to the trainees in Dóchas don Óige. I know what it’s like to be in that situation and to think that you can’t achieve much or that you can’t do much, and I think that especially from a sporting point of view, I can offer something to them.
Did your family give you support or did you have an organization like Dóchas don Óige helping you?
It would have been mainly family, but I did meet various people along the way, like some trainers I had and I suppose people who nurtured that sporting side of me. In that respect they were the people pulling me out of that trouble, and without knowing it you come away from that, so I guess I did have a few role models along the way.
How important do you think it is for Dóchas don Óige to get involved in the lives of these young people?
It’s huge, not only is the educational side huge, but it gives these kids an opportunity they might not have. You know when you’re young and you have no idea what you want to do, I guess just having some sort of educational environment provides opportunities so that when they want to do stuff, they can. The other side of that is you want to give them a place where they feel safe and where they can express themselves and grow into themselves, so Dóchas don Óige is hugely important for that.
Do you think it’s important to have a high profile ambassador for these organisations?
Well, I think in my role as an ambassador that it’s more important for me to be doing stuff with the trainees, to show face, and to be around, and to be somebody to talk to. I understand that it can help to bring awareness, but personally it’s more important for me to be there and to interact with the trainees, and to be a role model and a friend to them.
Have you done anything with the trainees?
Well I like to call down and go outside and throw a ball around with them, it’s fairly low key but it’s good because I get to chat to them. Compared to others on the board who are very knowledgeable in their field, I don’t really have a lot to offer from that point of view, so I try to just do stuff with the trainees.
We have been hearing great things about Frankie!
Yeah we had him in the gym with us! I got the boys up to the gym and did some stuff with them, and it was good. They’re very enthusiastic!
What was your first impression of Dóchas don Óige and has that changed since you got involved?
Well I know that whenever you hear of an organization like Dóchas don Óige, you immediately think of misbehaving kids in a stressful environment, they’re the things that naturally come to mind. But from being around them, they’re really talented kids, they’re really bright and enthusiastic. It’s a good place; it’s relaxed and well managed. From the board’s perspective, they have really good procedures in place. Seeing what they’re doing in there and talking about their achievements would be a good way to change people’s impressions.
Would you recommend Dóchas don Óige to young people?
I think it’s a great place to continue on with learning and I think it provides a good opportunity to open more doors, in a place that allows trainees to grow and express themselves and to feel comfortable in, which is important for a teenager who might have a troubled background or learning difficulties.
How do you think Dóchas don Óige could be promoted in the Galway area?
When I first got involved we got an article published through Connacht Rugby. I know the Irish Rugby Players Association are doing an article on players in charitable organisations, so there will be something on Dóchas don Óige in that.
How important is the work of Dóchas don Óige in the lives of these young people?
It creates opportunities that otherwise, they wouldn’t have. It gives them a chance to create something of themselves, where mainstream schools haven’t worked. School can be very tough, it’s one way for everyone, and it can be tough for a lot of people. With the small class numbers they avoid some of the other dramas that come with public schooling. They’re with like-minded people, and they can grow and become young adults in a safe, comfortable environment, which is important as well. To have something, which is more focused on the individual, as opposed to the outcome is hugely important.