Two years ago, Anthony Higgins was on the dole. Today he has a dream job in Limerick Animal Welfare’s sanctuary in Kilfinane, reports Aine Fitzgerald.
IN LIFE, some people seem to have an abundance of good fortune. Others make their own luck. Ballylanders man Anthony Higgins stands somewhere in the middle.
Two years ago, Anthony was unemployed. He had been working in a wood factory in his home town for eight years during the height of the boom but then he was made redundant. Despite his best efforts – attending countless interviews – he couldn’t nail down a job.
In September 2011, however, Anthony’s life changed for the better.
He heard about a vacant position through the TUS programme - a community work placement initiative for those who are unemployed and on the live register.
“I got a letter out to me saying it was starting up and I applied for an interview. I was told about this place- would I be interested in this place. I jumped at the chance and said yes!”
The place in question was the Limerick Animal Welfare (LAW) sanctuary in Moorestown outside Kilfinane.
On the day of his interview, Anthony already knew the majority of the animals by name as he had been a keen follower of the activities of the animal sanctuary on Facebook. As part of the TUS initiative, Anthony was required to work 19.5 hours per week in the animal sanctuary.
The initiative is designed to allow the participant to look for other work outside of these hours but Anthony’s love of animals, and thereby his passion for his job, saw him putting in extra hours every week as an unpaid volunteer.
“We got an extra €20 on what we were getting on the dole. We were only supposed to do 19 and a half hours with the course but I used to do double that – I used to come in nearly every day.”
While Anthony admits that initially the programme “got us out of the house” before long he “fell in love with the place” so much so that he kept on volunteering even after his time was up.
His contribution to LAW over the twelve month period did not go unnoticed. When a full-time position became vacant in the sanctuary, Anthony’s name was on everyone’s lips.
“I stayed on volunteering and when the position became available, they offered it to me,” explains the 29-year-old.
“When I got into it, I knew I wanted to stay in this field. I wanted to work with animals.”
Anthony is based in the farm area of the sanctuary. When he clocks in for work in the morning, the first thing he does is make sure all the animals are alive and well.
“I am working with the horses, pigs, goats, rabbits, hens and a peahen. I check them all first thing in the morning to make sure they haven’t any injuries or anything like that. We had a sick horse, Matilda, about three weeks ago and we had to put her on a drip and put her on antibiotics.”
Each morning, Anthony leaves his home in Church Glen, Ballylanders to be at work for nine. He usually finishes at five but sometimes he might have to work later to look after a sick animal. But he doesn’t mind.
“I absolutely love it – it is my ideal job,” he declares.
And has he a favourite animal?
“I really like the horses especially Martin Groody. He is one of the horses that will always come up to you,” he smiles.
Anthony’s hard work and enthusiasm has paid dividends for both himself and LAW. And he is continuing to prove his worth as he now trains the new TUS participants along with carrying out a diverse range of tasks, enabling Marie Quirke, manager with LAW, to concentrate on her many other roles.
Anthony says he is eternally grateful to all those at both LAW and Ballyhoura Development who accommodated his placement on the TUS programme, and mentored him over the twelve months particularly Marie Quirke, and Barry Wilson his TUS supervisor.
“I want to say a big thank you to the staff who have taken me under their wing from day one – I really got on with them all. A special thanks to Marie Quirke. I know she pushed hard when the position became available to put my name forward,” he says.
According to Mike Ryan, TUS supervisor with Ballyhoura Development Ltd, the TUS initiative, coupled with Anthony’s “drive, ambition, and fantastic work ethic, has seen him make the transition from unemployed to full-time employment in an area he loves”.
“For Anthony, it is his “dream job”,” says Mike who is based in Kilfinane.
The TUS initiative which is being run by Ballyhoura, Mike says, plays “a vital part” in getting people back into the workforce, allowing them to build their confidence, to diversify into new areas, and, in turn, increase their skills profile.
“It provides community groups with enthusiastic, energetic people who can add value to their organisation,” he adds.
The TUS scheme has been of “huge benefit” to LAW over the past 16 months according to Marie Quirke.
“Because we rely heavily on the kindness and community spirit of our volunteer network, having the TUS initiative available to us has been immense, especially someone like Anthony, so professional and committed to his craft,” says Marie.
“It is encouraging to know that even in the current economic climate, that hard work and determination can still ensure you achieve your goals. From a community standpoint, it is heartening to know that gems like Anthony still exist and can be unearthed through these work programmes,” Mike adds.
For further details on the TUS scheme in the Ballyhoura area contact Catherine Lynch, TUS Administration, Ballyhoura Development LTD, Main Street, Kilfinane.