Give a busy woman a job to do, and it will be done. It’s an old adage, but when it comes to Theresa Kelly, it certainly rings true.
Born in Usher’s Quay, in the heart of Dublin’s inner city, Theresa moved to Raheny after the birth of her first child. She and husband Tony had three children – Claire, Robert and Kristine – but tragedy struck when Tom was killed in a hit and run in 1989 at just 35.
“I was a widow at 35, those were tough times,” Theresa, a qualified computer teacher, told Dublin Gazette. “I worked for years as a community employment supervisor, teaching back-to-work skills for those undertaking rehabilitation programmes for addiction.”
Throughout her adult life Theresa, now a grandmother of eight, has been a working widow, but was always contributing to the community, and that has not lessened in recent years.
“I set up my own printing company, Kelly T Designs, which I run from my home office,” she revealed. “It’s still going albeit no business during the Covid restrictions as I cater for weddings, birthdays, special occasions, etc. But that will pick up again in time.”
A Helping Hand
Having grown up in the inner city, and now living in a busy Dublin urbanisation, Theresa sees the continued poverty and ongoing issues facing families on low incomes.
“After I heard two young mothers last year saying how they had to go to money lenders to pay for a child’s communion clothes, I decided to see if I could set up a shop catering for special occasions.
“Imagine when you barely have enough to live on, going to money lenders – it’s all part of the poverty trap.
“I approached Diarmuid McHugh who owns the shopping centre, McHugh’s in Edenmore. He gave me an empty unit; he pays the monthly electricity bill and all, we are so grateful for his support.
“Then I put out a call to local shops, boutiques, shoe shops, accessories providers – and they responded with such generosity, donating end of line stock and new ranges.
“The public too were marvellous, some who literally took the clothes off their children’s backs after communion day, had the outfits dry-cleaned and dropped into the shop almost immediately.”
Theresa stresses it’s not a charity shop; Special Occasions is a resolution to a community issue and it’s the business and public sector supporting their own community.
“People are welcome to give a donation, not obligatory, they could €5 or €50 – any donation, but we dress the children either way, free of charge.
“Monies raised are then donated go the Inner City Helping Homeless (ICHH) who do trojan work with the homeless and also to Brother Kevin of the Capuchins who supplies dinners and breakfasts to the homeless.”
Theresa has since opened a second shop, Helping Hands, opposite Special Occasions; a discount shop where brand new clothing, household, giftware and toys are sold at cost price.
You’d think Theresa would be busy enough with family, her print business and other voluntary commitments but no – she also established a Sensory Garden in Edenmore.
“There was an old piece of ground lying idle and I asked Dublin City Council & Parks Department if they’d give it to us for community usage.
“I think they just got fed up with me hounding them – so eventually they allowed me to go ahead and convert it. Thanks to Elaine Mulvanney (DCC) who secured funding for railings and wheelchair accessible paths.
“It’s aimed at children and adults with sensory needs, wheelchair users, and other vulnerable persons in our society. It was officially opened to the public in June last year.”
As the pandemic took hold, Theresa turned her attention to a Covid Food Hamper appeal delivering three nights a week to over 60 households in the area for 16 weeks.
She said: “We’ve only two cases now who are in dire straits so we continue to support them with food bills. They need to prioritise they family income, one for rent and the other for mortgage.”
Theresa Kelly, mother, grandmother and good friend to many, not only in her own area but in Dublin’s inner city – she truly is a community volunteer extraordinaire.