By Patrick Markey
At first, Michael’s new life in America seemed to heading along the right track.
As a young Irish immigrant in New York, work in the construction industry was plentiful. But Michael couldn’t seem to hold down one job for too long, despite introductions and offers of work from contractors.
After being out of work for three months, Michael’s depression forced him into seclusion. Only after the young Irishman had spent six weeks inside a small room in a Bronx boarding house, barely stepping outside, was a local priest able to persuade him to seek help. Michael was eventually persuaded to fly back to Ireland.
As investigators probe into the case of Liam Mason, the young Monaghan man who killed himself in the Bronx, counselors in the Irish community say that tragedy only highlights the ongoing problems some Irish immigrants face and their ability to cope with people like Michael, difficult cases that often require outside financial assistance.
While the Mason case illustrates where extreme desperation can lead, at the Aisling Irish Center, director Father Tom Flynn has set up a compassionate fund to help prevent similar tragedies and to assist people like Michael, people who have slipped through society’s safety net.
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Currently, the center often has to rely on private donations from individuals to meet the cost of getting a flight home and providing other financial assistance. According to Flynn, the center now helps two to three Irish immigrants a month to fly home after they become engulfed in problems here. For other, less extreme, cases, the fund would offer kind of financial assistance that allows another chance, Flynn said. Until now, private individuals have helped out here, too.
“We’ve been fortunate in the past in that sense, but it’s always a struggle, it’s a haphazard, hand-to-mouth way of doing things,” Flynn said. “The Irish community can be great when it comes to a tragedy or a death. They are wonderful at contributing. We saw that in the case of Liam Mason. But we are getting these cases, difficult cases, on an ongoing basis.”
The Compassionate Aid Fund will be financed by private donations; already one individual has given a check for several thousand dollars. To ensure proper management, the bank account will be registered with the authorities and an independent board of trustees will oversee the flow of money.
A fund of approximately $50,000 would allow a constant flow of smaller financial assistance and also cover the cost of those who have to be flown home. Flynn imagines the fund operating similar to an existing fund in Boston, where a smaller amount is handed out to different agencies to assist in day-to-day problems. The board of trustees would review cases where larger sums are required, such as a ticket home.
Those cases, Flynn says, often have their roots in a variety of problems. Substance abuse, spousal abuse, mental problems or simply an inability to hold down a steady job can all lead to a breakdown. Often, several of those issues combine. For instance in the case of Angela, a single mother of three whose partner left her financially strapped after his substance abuse became worse. Or John, the young Irishman who lost his job, and then his apartment, and spent two weeks sleeping on a park bench.
“The vast majority of those who come into the center don’t need financial help, but some may just need the price of a meal or their rent for a month to get through,” Flynn said.
Donations can be made out to Compassionate Aid Fund, c/o Father Tom Flynn, The Aisling Irish Center, 990 McLean Ave., Yonkers, NY 10704. For more information, call (914) 237-5121.