How 5 changemakers in West Cork raised 170,000 Euro in 4 months…

Ballinascarthy is a quiet little village in the heart of Cork. It has one shop, one pub, one hall, it’s that kind of place. Ballinascarthy is known as the village where the grandfather of Henry Ford was born and it is the starting point of a fantastic story about what whole-hearted community engagement can do. The protagonist of this story is Dr. Jason van der Velde (see picture above) who is working with West Cork Rapid Response, the West Cork branch of Irish Community Rapid Response (ICRR), the non-profit organisation that is building a network of local GPs who are trained to be early responders in cases of emergency. In order to get to a place of emergency in time, Jason needed a reliable car. That was the starting point for Kate Crowley, Betty Hennessy, J.J. Walsh, Leo Meade and Ned O’Flynn to start the fundraising campaign “Jeep for Jason”. They needed 35,000 Euro to get a new jeep for Jason and to support his life saving work. What they ended up with was 170,000 Euro. How did they manage to do that? We talked to one of the 5, Kate Crowley to learn from their success.

How did it all start? Why did you do the Fundraising campaign “Jeep for Jason”?

Ballinascarthy is a very small village but we have a very vibrant community, very patriotic, people sticking together. We were sitting together one evening and Jason was telling us that he needed a new Jeep but didn’t have any money for it. We all knew what an amazing and important job he does for the community. He gets up in the middle of the night when he gets an alert through 999 to be there when someone in West Cork is involved in an accident or collapses. He saves our lives. So we decided we need to do something and built a committee with 5 people. Three of us had survived cancer so we knew what it meant to get a second chance in life. We just thought everyone deserves that second chance and we had the power and the responsibility to make it happen.

So you came up with the idea to do a fundraising campaign. How did you know what to do next? How did you start?

First we gave our campaign a name – “Jeep for Jason” – and just started by planning our first event. The first idea we had was to approach schools and to do a uniform-free day in the whole of West Cork, 45 schools supported us and every student or parent would give just 1 Euro as a contribution. We kicked it all off with a 5-kilometre walk, we just took buckets with us and people gave 9,000 Euro in just one day.

Once we got started, people just wanted to help and everyone started to set up small events. We had 82 events up to the end of December. There were coffee days, a cinema night, marathons, dances, theatre, and some people did bag packing at SuperValu. My friend Betty and I did a lot of the organising for the events and we attended all of them, except one. We called the hosts beforehand with buckets, posters etc, then attended the event to take photos and afterwards collected the t-shirts we printed and the money. Mondays were always busy with counting money for the bank!! Our treasurer was brilliant.

Betty and Kate at a mini marathon as part of fundraising. “You have to do what you expect others to do!!!”

But people don’t show up just because you put one poster up, how did you promote your campaign?

We promoted our campaign by the usual means, I suppose our approach was fresh, invigorating and tugged at people’s heart strings in that it was the difference between living and dying. The hardest part was to get people to be aware that Dr. Jason and the West Cork Rapid Response existed because most people didn’t know anything about it, so our campaign was all-informing, giving statistics of call outs, and slowly but surely, people were beginning to understand what it was all about. Notes were given out to the parents of every child in schools, which was a major help. We used our own local contacts, newspapers, photos, lots of posters, road signs, radio, and Paschal Sheehy on RTE News was a great help too.

I think our schools were the biggest promoting point, next to the local newspapers. We used group webtexting from our sporting association too.


What did you learn from it all?

That people are fantastic. The more you do the more you get back. The amount of goodwill out there is overwhelming. It’s like a snowball system. Also our committee have always supported both local and not so local fundraising, you have to have that, the community spirit, and we certainly had. Dr. Jason called his new jeep “Spioraid Iarthair Chorca” Spirit of West Cork!

The biggest lesson we learned from a fundraising point of view: Keep the committee small but hardworking and keep the timeframe short but vibrant.

What’s your advice to people who would like to raise money locally for their local projects or to do the same and support their local Irish Community Rapid Response GP?

My advice would be this:

  • Keep everyone informed about who, what, where and why the fundraising is being done.
  • Do not take any expenses out of the funds, our 5 member committee put their own money, time and energy into the project with not a cent from the fund itself.
  • Get everyone involved, every man, woman and child, take photos/record clips.
  • Don’t forget to say thank you at the end! That’s so important and many people just forget that. Jason is now doing a road show with the Jeep all around West Cork, going to all the schools that helped. The children love to see Jason and the jeep’s equipment and to see where their money went.

Did this whole experience change your life?

I suppose, considering I only have one eye – I have lost my right eye to cancer in 2013 – it was a major sense of feeling useful again, feeling I could help someone else, and above all to give people a second chance. It also showed my two teenage children how a small idea can take over a huge area and when we finished there were very few that had not heard about “Jeep for Jason” and even outside Co. Cork, it was all over the place. It felt good to care for the wider community and the wider community in Ballinascarthy were very supportive also.

What do you love about your community?

I love everything that is good and healthy about my community, it is the social heartbeat of our lives, our kids love playing sport in Ballinascarthy, the sense of togetherness is real, everyone helps each other, all just a phone call away if needed. We love the history of the area, the fact that Henry Ford’s father was born there. Just because we don’t have a school, a church or a big village doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate our crossroads village. It is all about being local, feeling local, shopping local and the sense of identity that goes with it. Our community is small but has a big heart. Baile na Scairte!

Find out how you can volunteer with Irish Community Rapid Response.

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