Sarah Maye Fitzgerald
My name is Sarah Fitzgerald and I have been in receipt of a Personal Assistant Service from Offaly CIL Ltd since 2003 when I started in Trinity College. Even though I always believed and promoted the Independent Living Philosophy, I didn’t learn the theory behind it before I started working with my first P.A., Mary. I only had Mary for four hours a week at the time, to bring me to and from Heuston Station on Friday and Sunday evenings. It didn’t take long for us to get to know each other, and soon she was like a second mammy, nagging me during exam times and making sure I ate proper food! When I graduated from Trinity with a B.A. in English Studies and moved to Portlaoise in 2007, she was instrumental in helping me to secure a council house; in fact, this was the last thing she did for me as a P.A.
My next P.A. Tracey helped me to secure a job with Offaly Centre for Independent Living Ltd and brought me the half hour to and from work every day. It was great not having to rely on public transport, and if we needed to stop at the shop before work we could do so. She was partly the reason I was transferred from a CE scheme to the HSE as a Researcher in OCIL Ltd in 2009.
Unfortunately, I had to leave my little council house in March 2010 because I was followed home by a man who made it clear that he wanted to hurt me! Despite the fact that our wedding was scheduled for five months later, my husband-to-be John Paul and I moved back into rented accommodation in my hometown of Tullamore. Offaly CIL helped me to recruit a new Personal Assistant, Sharon, who helped me get ready for work in the mornings and go shopping and prepare dinner in the evenings.
When I discovered I was pregnant with my daughter, Offaly CIL could not have been more helpful in helping me secure more P.A. hours, but also as employers. I had to take sick leave towards the end of my pregnancy as I could not walk, and OCIL were accommodating and understanding. Along with Sharon, Noírín and Sean, we recruited a second P.A., Mary.
To say that Sharon and Mary went above and beyond for me after my daughter was born in February 2012 would be insulting to the dedication those two ladies demonstrated during the years that followed. For over three years, the two of them juggled a timetable, making themselves available evenings and weekends. If it weren’t for them, I would’ve been trapped at home with a young baby, with no adult company and no way of getting out of the house. When I returned to work, they made it as easy as possible for me to manage home and work life.
I officially ceased employment with OCIL Ltd in 2015, and it was a hard decision to leave. I loved it there, and I think the philosophy of Independent Living is so important that I’m trying to write a novel about personal autonomy and the right to make your own choices. I’m still the secretary of the Laois/Offaly Leader forum for my sins, and I love meeting up with people who I now consider friends and working to make the world a better place, one day at a time!
I’ve also done a Freelance Journalism and Creative Writing course, made possible by the two P.As I have now, Kate and Olive. My evenings are free to write (whenever the words come!), because they help me to cook, clean and take my daughter to school or the park during the day.
So thank you to all at OCIL Ltd, not only for providing a service that makes my life more manageable and enjoyable, not only for giving me a satisfying job for seven years, but for opening my eyes and making me see that help doesn’t weaken you, it empowers you. If you can convert someone as stubborn as I am to believe in the value of the P.A. service, you are definitely doing something right!