Every Tuesday night at 7 p.m., a group of teenagers, 12 to 18 years old, meet at the Irish Immigration Center of Greater Philadelphia office in Upper Darby. There’s fun, of course—they’re teenagers—but they also have a serious mission: carving out a better future for themselves and for their community.
It’s the Foróige Youth Group, a local chapter of Ireland’s biggest and most successful youth development leadership program.
The Immigration Center chapter of Foróige (pronounced fo-ROY-guh) has about 30 members. It’s the first in the United States.
“It’s a place where young people can be themselves and to learn,” says Ciarán Porter, the center’s Youth Development Director. “We try to lead them toward becoming good young people, and leaders within their community and society.
“Foróige is Ireland’s leading youth organization, founded in 1952, and I suppose the concept lies in the title, ‘Foróige.’ That it means it’s ‘for youth.’ So, it’s youth-led and overseen by adult volunteers. What you’re looking to do is for the young people to say what they can do to better themselves and the local area. The volunteers make sure they make the correct choices and guiding them in the right direction.”
Not surprisingly, many of the members are Irish-American, but the group also includes kids from other nationalities. That’s on purpose. Foróige isn’t necessarily a heritage program, says Porter. The concepts can be adapted to young people of all backgrounds. First and foremost, it’s a youth development program. It’s not about heritage.
The young people in Foróige progress through a series of modules, from encouraging good health—physical, mental and social and spiritual—through lifelong leadership, which offers credits from the National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway.
The leadership program consists of three modules, one of which involves small projects that the group members at their meeting and moves on to include community service.
The response to Foróige has been positive, Porter says.
“We hear from parents and schools that their children are doing better in school, and outside of schools with better communication and confidence,” he says.
Before she became Executive Director of the Immigration Center, Emily Norton Ashinhurst worked with the Girl Scouts. “I had a background in youth development, but Foróige is a new program I hadn’t heard of before coming here, and I think one of the really interesting concepts is that it is youth-led. I can speak from the Girl Scout experience, where they focus on courage, confidence and character,” she says. “I think Foróige does that, but it also injects this level of leadership experience that isn’t the same. It’s a little more head-on.
“I think the skills they are learning in this program translates into college—and academic career—and then an actual career, in ways that really benefit the participants. You know they are learning to make decisions, to compromise and to cooperate—to build something bigger than themselves. If all that can translate into their future, then I think we are doing something tremendous for young people through this program.”
The Immigration Center hopes to expand the program and is currently hoping to create another chapter in the Glenside area, possibly with schools as local partners.
At the moment, the 15- to 18-year-olds are planning an 11-day July trip to Ireland, there to meet up with members of the Louisburgh, County Mayo, chapter. “They want to experience the local culture and life, and the differences between there and the U.S.,” says Porter.
The Foróige members are raising money to help defray the costs. Coming up soon is a cash bingo night Friday, February 1, at St. George’s Church, 1 West Ardmore Avenue in Ardmore. Doors open at 7 p.m. (Online tickets here.) Or call 610-789-6355 for more info.
The Immigration Center is always looking for new Foróige members. For details, call 855-IRISHPA / 610-789-6355 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.