Where the Magic Begins: The Bluestack Special Needs Foundation

This feature is part of the Women’s Collective Ireland- Donegal, “Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series. Written by Finola Brennan a volunteer at the Bluestack Special Needs Foundation. The story tells of the special bond created by all those who play a part in the success of the Centre.

Whether speaking to Members, Volunteers, Families or the Staff and Board members, there is a golden thread that links them all. This thread carries Friendship, Acceptance, Belonging, Independence, Community, lots of Fun, Smiles and Memories. Collectively they create the magic that makes a difference and enhances the lives of all.

How this magic has been created is best described in their own words.

“I feel happy in the foundation, the teen club is a place where I can go independently, I feel grown up helping the little ones and loved helping Colette and Catherine after school in the office.” (Member)

 “I love to play and this place is amazing because of the garden and the rainbow wall inside.” (Member)

“I like going because Colette is the best.” (Member)

“What I like best about the Bluestack Special Needs Foundation is going to the choir on a Wednesday evening and seeing my friends also I love coming to the jiving classes on a Monday evening there is all sorts of I like to, I really loved volunteering at the summer camp it was one of the best experiences for me.” (Member)

 “The Bluestack Special Needs Foundation has been a lifeline for both my son and our family. Caleb enjoys every second he spends at the Foundation and is bubbling over with excitement to tell us what he has been up to every time he has visited. From after school clubs to the choir, everything they do is done with enthusiasm and passion. They have also been a source of support for me in terms of being a listening ear during tough times. I cannot speak more highly of the staff and volunteers who enrich our lives in so many ways.” (Family)

“It means a sense of belonging or inclusion with others in a group where all are accepted for whom they are, and cared for by volunteers with big hearts.”(Family)

“It is extremely rewarding to give the parents a chance to take a much needed break for a couple hours on a Saturday morning. The kids enrich our lives as much as we do theirs. Seeing their smiling faces, interacting with them and getting down to their level leaves me with such positive energy for the day ahead, it is such a heart-warming experience.” (Volunteer)

“Volunteering is one of my best memories. The children I met at the clubs have great, energetic personalities that make you see past their disability and the one to one, allows you to get to know them all each individually!

They make your inner child come out and you enjoy it as much as they do. You never see a volunteer without a smile on their face, unless they are leaving! Volunteering gave me a sense of happiness, belonging and fulfillment! I’m looking forward to going back at some stage in the future 😊.” (Volunteer)


The Bluestack Special Needs Foundation provides support to 436 families throughout the county. Wendy Mc Carry, CEO and a staff of 42 provide one to one support and loving care to the members and also guide and support the volunteers. It now has a Saturday Club in Donegal Town, Killygordon and Falcarragh and would love to have more volunteers to help support with this expansion.

When speaking about volunteering to Catherine, staff member she said “No specific qualification is required, only kindness, empathy and a passion to make a difference.  Volunteers are never on their own and have the support of trained staff at all times.

We have Teen Club on Thursday’s, a Saturday Club, Choir on a Monday and many other activities. We are always keen to hear from volunteers who have a special skill or talent and are willing to give up their time. Colette, another staff member, spoke about the Choir and how they would love to have a keyboard player, so there are many different ways including fundraising where volunteers can come and make a difference.

It is up to you how much time you give, there are no commitments, each week is flexible depending on your availability. If interested the staff would love to hear from you.

For many young students they spoke about how volunteering shaped and informed their career choice going into educational psychology, children’s occupational therapy and other health related professions.

Contact details for The Bluestack Special Needs Foundation

Visit their website at: www.bluestackfoundation.com

Email them on: info@bluestackfoundation.com

They can also be found on facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/BluestackSpecialNeeds

WCI-Donegal are always looking for women to share their stories and looking for women to write features on topics of their choice which we will profile as part of our Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series.

This entry was posted on May 23, 2023, in 2014.

Women in the Home

This feature is part of the ‘Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series. A reflective and powerful poem by Lorraine Doherty a former 2022 WITH (Women in the Home, New Beginnings) course participant.

Women in the home

No time for your phone.

So much to do,

No peace to go to the loo.

Nursing, chauffeuring, cooking, cleaning

Trying to stop the kids kicking and screaming.

Always in demand

Could do with an extra hand.

When you feel like you are going to

Blow your top

Remember to breathe, and then

You will stop.

Life can be tough

But it’s okay to say no

When You’ve had enough.

It’s important to enjoy

Having the craic

And remember your friends

Will always have your back.

By Lorraine Doherty

Women’s Collective Ireland-Donegal ( formally NCCWN Donegal Women’s Network) have been offering the WITH course to women in Donegal for over 4 years through the funding support of DLDC under the SICAP programme. The aim of this 8 week course is to support women in life-long learning opportunities. Promoting personal development, well-being and positive mental health.

The course is facilitated by Personal Development Coach & Speaker Emily Whelan. The course is designed with the view “It is important for women to feel valued, to recognise the transferable skills they already possess, and to realise their potential. When we believe in ourselves anything is possible.”

This course will be running again in September in Pettigo, starting Monday 19th September, 10am-1pm in the Termon Complex. If you are interested in participating in this programme please fill in our form here and we will get in contact with you.

Women’s Collective Ireland- Donegal are always looking for women to share their stories and looking for women to write features on topics of their choice which we will profile as part of our Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series.

Donegal Day Out

This feature is part of the ‘Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series. Written by Elena Tabandzhova, founder of Donegal Day Out website and Facebook group

My name is Elena T.

I’m originally from Bulgaria, a mother of three children, and a web designer in our family web design agency. We came to Ireland in 2017, and since then, we have been happy to live in Letterkenny.

When we arrived in Donegal, the curiosity about the county was immeasurable. We had to know where we live and what our new homeland looks like. Also, our move to Ireland was supposed to bring lifestyle changes – a more active life, more outdoor experience, nature education for my children.

The problem is that it is a bit hard to force ourselves to go out of the house. All the things that are waiting to be done – laundry, dusting, cooking are waiting for us, and I feel if I don’t do them soon, the whole household will collapse on my shoulders. Also, it is hard to go out in the rain and wind instead of enjoying the comfort of the home and your favourite show. Lastly, going out with children could be a bit of hell. So much food to prepare, so many clothes to take, and someone is always unhappy.

But in the end, I didn’t want to watch cool places on Facebook; I wanted to experience them!
So we made a short trip to Woodquarter in Mulroy Bay and liked it. It was so rechargeable to our minds, and our little boy was so happy. Then we decided to do something more significant – to visit all 39 Wild Atlantic Way discovering points in Donegal. We planned it for two days in the Easter break, but it was so amazing, and there were so many things to see, so we couldn’t do even half of what we wanted.

After those two days on the road around Donegal, we started to go out every weekend to find new places to visit. Slowly being out and about becomes an essential part of our weekly routine, as important as the morning tea.

And the need for Donegal Day Out came up.

When we travelled on the Wild Atlantic way, we had a hard time finding the correct locations of some of the stops. Also, there was not much information about many of the places we visited. So I started to collect information for myself – to easily plan family trips for days out in Donegal. Then I thought I could share it with others who may find it helpful. It could help people improve their lifestyle – outside the house, the shops, the noise, and the commercial world.

So when we started our family website business, one of the first sites I created was www.donegaldayout.ie It had to be an easy-to-use, well-organised, complete informative online guide for outdoor experience planning in Donegal. And at last, it had to give the users a bit of rest from all the advertising and commerciality that surround us from everywhere.

When an idea meets creators and how “I” became “We.”

Soon after I created the first pages, a very close friend, Dalia Taftazani, hugged the idea with her heart, and we became a team. She is a great photographer and loves outdoor adventures and exploring Donegal.

When the project grew up and became more significant, the third team member came to take care of it – Sonya Pepelyashkova. She is a business consultant and our project manager who works with us to develop Donegal Day Out into the most used online guide to planning a day out in Donegal.

It took time to settle up and find our place as a team, but slowly we got there, and now the project benefits a lot from our different personalities and skills.

Today Donegal Day Out has a spirit.

Today Donegal Day Out is an online guide with more than 120 places in 11 different categories. We add more every month and improve the guide by seeing the user’s needs. And it is lovely to see how it already works and has hundreds of users every month.

Our Facebook community has grown up, and for about a year, the group has over 3,400 members. In this group, everyone can inspire others with a great place to go or get inspired for a day out in Donegal, so don’t miss joining and inviting your friends.

We keep our followers on the Facebook page informed of what is new in the guide and how it is improved.

You can also enjoy our beautiful pictures from Donegal on our Instagram page.

If you feel the same about Donegal’s nature and the significance of the outdoor experience, then Donegal Day Out is an excellent place for you. And if you like the idea – please help us spread the word and get more people to have an active, mindful, and happier day out in Donegal.

Women’s Collective Ireland- Donegal are always looking for women to share their stories and looking for women to write features on topics of their choice which we will profile as part of our Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series.

Covid-19 Pandemic: Amplifying Gender Inequality in Donegal

Tuesday 8th March is International Women’s Day, a day to mark the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women but also draw attention to gender inequality experienced by women.

In 2020, The United Nations  identified women as being one of the most vulnerable groups that are hit hardest by pandemics. With officials suggesting that the coronavirus pandemic could wipe out 25 years of increasing gender equality. “Women are doing significantly more domestic chores and family care, because of the impact of the pandemic. Everything we worked for, that has taken 25 years, could be lost in a year. Employment and education opportunities could be lost, and women may suffer from poorer mental and physical health. The care burden poses a “real risk of reverting to 1950s gender stereotypes”, UN Women Deputy Executive Director Anita Bhatia stated [1] 

As a grassroots women’s organisation NCCWN Donegal Women’s Network also recognised early that women in Donegal would face unique experiences, challenges and impacts during the pandemic because of their gender. We believed it was important women in Donegal had their lived experiences through the pandemic documented, recognised and acknowledged. And that women’s experiences and voices are acknowledged within any local and national post Covid-19 recovery strategy and that decision-making bodies recognise the particular experiences of women’s lives in society and tailor any recovery budgets, policies, plans and programmes accordingly.

For the past two year the Donegal Women’s network have collected data on how the pandemic has impacted women’s lives and gender equality. In 2020 we carried out a county wide survey with 832 women taking part, and in 2021 we carried out a follow up survey with 509 women. It is evident from the data gathered over these two years that the pandemic has created additional stresses for women in the Donegal and added pressure to existing gender inequalities and gender stereotypes.

The women who took part in the surveys talked about a number of issues and challenges they have faced since the start of the pandemic. Such as dealing with additional household workload, increased caring responsibilities, going through pregnancy during the pandemic, and dealing with health challenges. Many of these women talked about the additional workload and the challenge of balancing working from home and childcare, expectations. Home-schooling was a particular issue raised by women, many stated that they had experienced an assumption by their partner that it would be them who would look after home-schooling. Which was a cause of frustration for women.

Changes to Domestic Life

61.4% of women stated that they had seen an increase in physical household workload (such as cooking, cleaning etc.). 41.8% had seen an increase in household admin workload (such as managing bills, appointments etc.). And 50.3% experienced an increase in supporting a family/community member who had to Cocoon due to the pandemic. 38% of women surveyed said that they had seen an increase in adult care responsibilities and compared 46.3% stated that they had experienced an increase in child care responsibilities.

The level of experiences in increased responsibilities varied among women depending on women’s age, civil and household status. Women in the 26-40 years’ category reported the highest level of increased child care responsibilities for any age group; while married women reported the highest level in the civil status category which are both consistent with the 2020 findings. Within the household category, women living with their partner and child/children and lone parent mothers reported the highest experienced increase in child care responsibilities. 

Women in the 18-25 years, followed by 26-40 years’ category reported the highest level in Increased physical household workload; while women under Other, living with partner reported the highest level in the civil status category; within the household category, women living with partner and child/children and women living with a parent/s reported the highest experienced increase in physical household workload.

Women in the 18-25 years’ category (63%) reported the highest level in supporting a family/community member cocooning for any age group, again this is consistent with the 2020 findings although there was a reported 9% experienced increase within this age group.  

Widowed women (75%) reported the highest level in the civil status category; within the household category, women with other house status (75%) and women living with my parent/s (66.7%) reported the highest level in supporting a family/community member cocooning.

Mental Health Impacts

Women reported an overwhelming increase in the impact of the pandemic on their mental health. When asked how would you describe how your mental health has been impacted by the pandemic? 55.8% of women said moderately and a further 24% said it had extremely been impacted. This is an increase from June 2020 when 61.1% felt their mental health had been impacted by the pandemic.

These percentage figures saw an increase for women depending on their age, women in the 18-25 age group reported the highest impact with 47.3% stating that their mental health had been moderately impacted and a further 42.1% stating extremely impacted. Women in the 26-40 age group came second with 55.1% stating that their mental health had been moderately impacted and a further 30.8% stating extremely impacted. 

Women in the Carndonagh Local Electoral Area reported the highest level of mental health impact with 59.4% stating that their mental health had been moderately impacted and a further 29.7% stating extremely impacted. Buncrana followed behind with 55.6% stating that their mental health had been moderately impacted and a further 28.9% stating extremely impacted.

Women with a civil status of living with a partner had the highest percentage for any civil status category. With 59.6% stating that their mental health had been moderately impacted and a further 29.8% stating extremely impacted. Separated/divorced women came second with 53.7% stating that their mental health had been moderately impacted and a further 31.4% stating extremely impacted.  

Women with a household status of living with a parent/s had the highest percentage for any household status category, with 48.4% stating that their mental health had been moderately impacted and a further 39.3% stating extremely impacted.

The amount of time women had to look after their mental health has also been impacted, with 42% of women stating they now had less time to time.

51.2% of women within the 26-40 years’ age group, stated that they had less time to look after their mental health and wellbeing, the highest rate of all the age groups. 55.3% of women with a civil status of living with a partner reported the highest rate within the civil status group. 

And 53.2% of women with a household status of living with a partner and child stated that they had less time to look after their mental health and wellbeing, the highest rate of all the household status groups. 

Feelings of isolation and loneliness has been a particular area of mental health experienced by women with 75.4% of women reporting that they have experienced feelings of isolation, a sharp increase from the 60.4% reported in 2020. While 70.7% of women reported feelings of loneliness since the pandemic, again an increase from the 57% reported in 2020.

Paid work and employment challenges

43.2% of the women surveyed said that their job became classified as a frontline worker or essential worker. 31.8% of women were now working from home. 17.9% saw their job working hours reduced as a result of the pandemic. 12% experienced a job loss as a consequence. 14% received the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment. While 4.7% of surveyed women reported a job loss/suspension due to caring responsibilities.

Additional childcare responsibilities during the pandemic has impacted women’s paid work and employment greatly. When further asked whether they felt their employer was supportive in understanding how the pandemic has impacted these responsibilities, of those women the question directly applied to 28% of those women answered NO, an increase from the 24% result in June 2020.

When asked why they felt that their employer has not been supportive, a number of women gave examples of their experiences including, their employer not being flexible with childcare responsibilities, being forced to use annual leave for childcare, with essential workers with children finding it particularly challenging with employers.

The data further highlights that women have come to learn, develop, be resilient and adapt to living through the pandemic. Some women have experienced opportunities to develop and be innovative i.e. engaging in online learning and using technology for social and community engagement, which has allowed them to engage in new opportunities they may not have been able to in the past, due to travel distances or caring responsibilities.

And while women have reported adapting to living with the pandemic, a question that must be asked is at what cost to their long-term mental health? Is this adaptation and change sustainable in the long term or even fair? And is there significant capacity within mental health support services locally to meet future demand?

The experiences of women also highlight that there needs to be a better understanding about gender inequality and its impact on women’s lives. With the majority of childcare responsibilities falling onto the women within households, there seems to be assumptions it will be the woman who is solely responsible for this area of work. While there may be situations where this is agreed upon, the vast majority of the experiences expressed by women would indicate that there is often no agreement within relationships but rather an assumption.

Such assumptions are likely built by continued held social gender stereotypes, that a woman’s role is to look after the children and family home. Such stereotypes are detrimental to achieving gender equality and the healthy sustainable development of our society.

You can download a full copy of the 2021 follow up impact survey report with recommendations below here.

NCCWN Donegal Women’s Network would like to thank and acknowledge all the women who took the time to complete our county Covid-19 Impact Survey. Your time and insightful input are very much appreciated. Your shared experiences help inform our work over the coming year, as we will continue to support women throughout and beyond this pandemic.

If you would like to know further information about NCCWN Donegal Women’s Network and our work please visit donegalwomensnetwork.org or email us on donegal@womenscollective.ie

[1] Coronavirus and gender: More chores for women set back gains in equality; By Sandrine Lungumbu and Amelia Butterly,  November 2020