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Today (16 September 2021) Ulster Community Investment Trust Ltd t/a Community Finance Ireland held its all island AGM and officially launched its 2020 Annual Report.

The report published today highlights the following key takeaways:

Northern Ireland

  • £3.1 m of loan approvals into 37 local projects;
  • £9.1m to 315 social enterprises via much needed grant payments in collaboration with Department of Communities NI and SENI; and
  • £ 4.1m to 140 SME clients through the management of NISBLF Fund II.

Republic of Ireland

  • £2.6m/ €2.7m of loan approvals into 37 projects in the Leinster Region;
  • £1.4m./ €1.67m of loan approvals into 32 projects in the Munster Region;
  • £0.6m./ €0.5m of loan approvals into 25 projects in the Connaught Region; and
  • £4.4m/€4.6m of loan approvals into 72 projects in Ulster (including NI).

With a client portfolio, whose core assets are predominately its volunteers, the 169 projects saw their own belief mirrored back to them and secured term or bridging loans which supported them in:

  • Keeping their doors open; and
  • Pivoting their business.

Ensuring their viability when their services were needed more than ever.

  • Ensuring their sustainability as the island transitions to a new normal.

In what was an extraordinary year for the history the organisation and for the communities and citizens on the island of Ireland Donal Traynor Group Chief Executive said the following:

“The combined market conditions of Brexit and Covid left us all a little shaken in 2020. Yet it also stirred in us a reminder of the importance of access to social finance and the resilience of communities across our shared island.

Our partners in NI: Invest NI and Enterprise NI and Department for Communities, and in ROI SFF, Rethink Ireland and DCU also stepped up and showed their support to the ongoing sustainability and viability of the NFP sector.

It was a year like no other and yet we can confidently say that we supported both our clients and key stakeholders achieve great things and ensured that, when we were asked to stay apart we came together in ways that we could have only imagined.

As a result, we have much to admire and be proud of as our ongoing promise to ensure social impact is felt not simply dreamt continues”.

Donal Traynor, Group Chief Executive Community Finance Ireland

View the report in full here.

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We are inviting you to attend our short Zoom Webinar event on Thursday 23 September from 12 noon to 12:45pm. You’ll hear from our Head of Community Finance NI Phelim Sharvin and our Client Relationship Manager for Connacht and Donegal Anne Graham as well as our sporting special guests Sinead Reel (Chairperson of Armagh Ladies’ GAA County Board), Brendan Boyce (Donegal Sports Star of the Year 2019 and Irish Olympian) and Joanne O’Riordan (Irish Times Sports Journalist).

With a current all island client portfolio that makes up 37% of our activity, our team have and continue to seek new ways in facilitating sporting excellence and enthusiasm across the island of Ireland. Our support remained during Covid-19 and we will be on hand again as each of us navigate new terrain and a new normal.

Our genuine commitment to sport runs very deep in our organisation. This is showcased again as we launch our first €/£5 m All Island Sports Loan Fund. Open to all those change-makers across the island of Ireland who may realise that despite Covid disruptions, the ability to gather, train, play and compete plays a key role in our personal and community connections.

The theme of this event is Financial as well as physical fitness is key to success. The panel will discuss the importance of financial and physical fitness and detail how our new £/€5 million All-Island Sports Loan Fund can support sports club’s activity.


Our Speakers

Phelim Sharvin | Head of Community Finance NI, Community Finance Ireland

Phelim is a Chartered Banker and holds a Masters degree in European Regional Development, Economics & Business Management. He joined Community Finance Ireland in 2002, bringing with him nearly 20 years’ experience in the Social Finance sector and Portfolio Management. He has helped develop tailored loan products and bespoke loan funds in the local Sports, Childcare, Green Energy and Start-Up Social Enterprise sectors. He is a sports enthusiast and is involved in his local GAA club.

Anne Graham | Client Relationship Manager, Community Finance Ireland

Anne joined Community Finance Ireland in April 2021 as our Client Relationship Manager for Connacht and her native Donegal. Anne has over 25 years’ experience working across financial services in business development, business lending, and financial advice and credit control roles. Anne holds an MBA from University of Ulster and a QFA Diploma from the Institute of Bankers. When not working with clients, Anne spends her time running and has recently taken up sea swimming on the beautiful shores of Lough Swilly. Family time is a priority at weekends and if not attending Football or GAA matches, Anne enjoys cooking and making the most of beautiful outdoors in Donegal

Joanne O’Riordan | Sports Journalist for the Irish Times and Activist

Joanne O’Riordan studied criminology in University College Cork (UCC) and is only one of seven people in the world living with a rare physical disability known as Total Amelia. Joanne is an activist for people with disabilities, a motivational speaker and a sports columnist with the Irish Times. Joanne has spoken before the UN and was named Young Person of the Year at the People of the Year awards in 2012. Joanne also appears in the 2013 documentary No Limbs No Limits. Joanne recently travelled to Japan in 2021 to cover the Tokyo Paralympic Games.

Brendan Boyce | Olympic Race Walker and Sports Ambassador

Brendan Boyce is an accomplished sportsman who has competed three times in the Olympics in the sport of race walking. Most recently he finished tenth in the 50km walk event in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. A native of County Donegal, Brendan has benefitted from Community Finance Ireland’s investment in Finn Valley Athletics Club. Brendan now lives in Midleton and trains in Cork City. Brendan has been vocal on sporting issues that he feels are unjust, recently using his influence to speak out about the International Olympic Committee (IOC) giving itself power to remove sports from the Olympic program.

Sinead Reel | Chairperson Armagh Ladies’ GAA County Board

Sinead Reel is a lifelong GAA player and fan. For Sinead, Sport is very much a family affair with both her father and her brother also sharing her love for competing on the GAA pitch. Sinead made history by building the first and only dedicated female changing and playing pitch in Co. Armagh. Her dedication to sport in her local community has not only helped to develop new state of the art playing facilities but has also created employment opportunities and helped to advance opportunities for the next generation of players.

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Put aside 15 minutes and you might win our €250 thank you voucher.

The launch of a collaborative project that sees the best social minds in Ireland get the support of European funding and thinking, is currently Live.

Our team are working with @DCU, @Irish Social Enterprise Network and @Rethink Ireland in helping to establish what type of financial models are missing for the sector, what models are working elsewhere across Europe, and what might a vibrant future finance model look like.

At a recent sold out event to launch this exciting, 2 year, research initiative our CEO Donal Traynor shared his thoughts:

“Community Finance Ireland speaks finance but hears people and this collaborative project is very much about this ethos. Our team are delighted to work on behalf of the sector to ensure that today’s, and tomorrow’s, social enterprises have sustainable and innovative supports and solutions that can deliver results for everyone”

With the next phase of listening now open – the project team are asking all social enterprises to give their views and help shape solutions that will support the sustainability and success of this sector, today and into the future.

Open the link below and get your thoughts across before 6th August 2021.

https://socialfinance.ie/survey/

If you would like more information on the Financing Social Enterprise in Ireland project – click here.

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Community Finance Ireland has today (24 June 2021) announced a £/€10 million All-Island Recovery Loan Fund, its first all-island loan scheme. The fund will offer flexible loans of £10,000-£250,000 (NI) and €10,000 to €500,000 (RoI) to community sector organisations including faith-based groups, sports clubs and social enterprises.

Commenting on the launch, Dónal Traynor, Chief Executive of Community Finance Ireland said:

“Throughout the pandemic we witnessed the incredible resilience of the community sector, with many pivoting their offerings and exploring new opportunities for development.  The All-Island Recovery Loan Fund is open to organisations who want to build on these new opportunities to recover, rebuild or reimagine what they can bring to their local community.

“Despite the challenges of Covid-19 and public health restrictions, our client portfolios performed well over the past year and at Community Finance Ireland, we have nothing but confidence in the sector and its ability to play a pivotal role in bringing our local communities back together and to create something new in response to the changes our communities have undergone during the past year.”

Mr Traynor continued:

“The flexible nature of the fund with the added value of a one-to-one relationship with a dedicated client manager who knows the sector and the local area, makes it a great option for communities exploring how they can become more attractive locations for people to live and work.

“The All-Island Recovery Loan Fund supports longer term loans plus shorter-term bridging loans.  There are no time restrictions around funding and we will respond to applications within 48 hours of receipt.”


Here’s What You Need to Know

1. What loan product types are available?

  • Short term bridging loans to facilitate retrospective drawing of grant support (interest only, plus grant upon redemption).
  • Longer term loans with bespoke repayment schedules.

2. What geography does the fund cover?

  • Northern Ireland, Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connacht.

3. What is the loan range?

  • £10k – £250k (NI).
  • €10k – €500k (RoI).

4. What is the term range?

  • 1 month – 180 months.

5. What is the interest rate?

  • Maximum 6.25%*, calculated on a reducing balance.
  • *The lowest maximum rate across the island.

6. Is there an arrangement fee?

  • No*
  • *The only bridging product available across the entire island to do so.

7. What security is required?

  • None on bridging loans.
  • Most of our term loans are also unsecured.
  • No Personal Guarantees are required.

8. Is there an Early Repayment penalty?

  • No.

9. How long does a loan decision take?

  • 48 hours for any loan request of up to £/€200k once we have all of your final information.
  • Up to 4-6 weeks for loan request in excess of £/€200k.

10. How do I apply?

  • You can get started now by clicking here and completing an online application.
  • Or if you need to chat to us first click here and we will arrange a follow up call with either Phelim, Peter, Emmett, Barry or Anne depending on where you and your team are located.

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At Community Finance Ireland we take a hands-on approach when it comes to working with our clients. We put people first. When our clients call with a query, they hear a familiar voice at the end of the phone. They know the face who is at the other end of an email. Our Change-Makers are on the ground, supporting communities, meeting clients and making an impact in their regions.

We speak finance but we hear people – So, we thought you might like to get to know them a bit better.

Our first Change-Maker is Emmett O’Hara, Client Executive from Meath. Working with clients like Alone, Irish Association of the Deaf and Dublin Food Co-Op in North Leinster, Emmett is passionate about getting out on the ground and helping our clients make change happen.

Some of Emmett’s clients from L to R: Alone, National Society of the Deaf and Dublin Food Co-Operative

What did your journey to Community Finance Ireland look like?

I came to Community Finance Ireland after 24 years at one of the top finance lending businesses in Ireland where I went direct from school and worked through numerous roles initially in back office support before progressing though to credit risk, and front line commercial banking management roles. In that time I’ve also studied for a BSc in Credit Risk from Dublin Institute of Technology/Technical University Ireland. I hold a QFA and a Professional Diploma in SME Credit from UCD/Institute of Bankers. So, I bring a lot of financial experience to the team and I’m still learning! I’m currently studying for a Diploma in Big Data from Dublin Business School.

What does your current client base look like? Are there sectors you expect to see or want to see growth in?

Our current client base includes a good number of sports clubs, particularly GAA Clubs, but there’s also a mixture of social enterprises, faith-based organisations, organisations in the health sector, environmental organisations and community working hubs.

In terms of how our client base might change or grow in the future – it will all depend on what communities need. We’ll continue to maintain and develop strong relationships with our existing clients across those sectors and keep talking to people in local communities to understand where else we can provide the support they need. We’ll always look to expand our offering in sectors such as the environment and community working hubs which are definitely a key focus from a government and, more generally, a societal perspective given the great changes we’ve seen in the last year or so.

Do you have a client that, in your opinion, best demonstrates the impact Community Finance Ireland can have?

In my opinion, I would have to say Let’s Get Talking a non-profit Counselling & Psychotherapy Service providing accessible, professional, non-set fee therapy across Ireland. Each client of the service is treated according to their needs and not what they can afford to pay. They focus on early intervention, supporting adults and children in relation to a wide range of issues ranging from depression, anxiety, stress, relationship issues, addiction, trauma, bullying, eating disorders, parenting issues, and family breakdown support. 

Let’s Get Talking have seen a 53% increase in demand for access to their services due to the pandemic. Community Finance Ireland has been working with Let’s Get Talking for the last year providing support which has allowed them to increase their weekly appointments to clients nationally and helped them to be proactive in their response to the mental health implications of the pandemic. Our support has meant that Let’s Get Talking remained accessible to clients by providing online counselling & psychotherapy since March 2020.

Let’s Get Talking is now in a stable financial position and ready to move to the next stage of their strategy to further provide mental health services to the community. Community Finance Ireland will be there to support them along that journey whenever they need us.

How do you switch off from work? What are your hobbies and interests? (Do you play with any local clubs? Do you coach any local underage teams? Are you involved with a community group?)

I live with my family within walking distance of Bettystown Beach in County Meath, so a large part of my unwinding time is spent there!

Both of my children are involved with local sports clubs Naomh Colmcille GAA and Donacarney Celtic Football club so a large part of my time when I am not working or studying is spent ferrying them to training or matches.

Now you know a little more about us, we’d like to hear about you.

If you and your team have a dream that could make a difference in your community, we’re here to listen. Whether you want to change something by solving a problem or creating an opportunity, we want to hear what you have to say.

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We are inviting you to attend our short Zoom Webinar event on Thursday 24 June from 12 noon to 12:30pm. You’ll hear from our Associate Directors Phelim Sharvin (Northern Ireland) and Emmett O’Hara (Republic of Ireland) as well as our two guest speakers Conor McGale (Membership and Training Officer for Rural Community Network) and Larry O’Neill (CEO of South Dublin County Partnership).

The theme of this event is The Road Back Offers Opportunities and the panel will discuss these opportunities and how our new £/€10 million All-Island Recovery Loan Fund can support those opportunities.


Our Guest Speakers

Conor McGale (Membership and Training Officer for Rural Community Network) 

Conor is the Membership and Training Officer for Rural Community Network, a membership organisation representing around 300 rural groups across NI. Key elements of his work includes the delivery and sharing of fundraising and community development training and good practice.

Conor has over 25 years’ experience working in the community/voluntary sector in Northern Ireland. This has included managing an Advice Centre, project management of a large community facility capital build project, co-ordinating of a cross border training programme, and the delivery of a multimedia oral history project based on the border and in rural areas of NI. He has extensive experience in fundraising, impact measurement, social media, project management, staff/volunteer management, project evaluations, strategic & business planning, and group facilitation. Conor graduated from the University of Ulster with a BSc Hons in Occupational Psychology and has achieved the Diploma in Community Development Practice, PRINCE 2 Project Management Qualification, ILM Level 5 in Management and a Diploma in Digital Marketing.

Larry O’Neill (CEO for South Dublin County Development).

Larry O Neill is the CEO of South Dublin County Partnership CLG and has been employed by SDCP and CPLN since 2005.

Larry commenced his career in community development in the early ‘90s as CEO of Wicklow Rural Enterprises. He was a founding director of Horse Sport Ireland and served as Director/Chair of ILDRA CLG the national governing body for endurance riding in Ireland.

Larry is a graduate of UCO (MBA) and has been involved in Social Enterprise in the South Dublin Area for over 15 years; has served as Chair of Oakfield Trust; Chair and founding Director of Recreate and director of Recycle IT CLG. Larry is a member of the National Social Economy Implementation Oversight Body Established by the government and chairs the Irish Local Development Network Social Economy Committee.


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€12 million investment into one of our first clients in the Republic

Today was a very good day. It brought to mind the fact that some things are worth waiting for and that as often happens with our clients and in our business, ideas start small and with the right attitude, resilience, plus the combination of physical and human assets, “continued” progress can and does happen – you simply need a few change-makers to get together and dream a little.

Today, the team of change-makers that I met in Fort Dunree over 17 years ago are having a “Whoo-hoo” moment. Everyone in the team and in the county will be swelling with pride and embracing a renewed focus on the next chapter of their unique visitor centre. Situated in what many rightly believe is among Ireland’s most naturally beautiful spots, there has always been something special about this place.

But whatever your own personal views, the team at Bord Failte and Donegal County Council believe that this project, which started small and with social finance as a core support, is worth believing in. That this same belief is matched with €12 million (9.2K Bord Failte plus match funding 3.2k Donegal City Council ) tells us something about the people of Donegal and the volunteers who are behind this project.

The money will bring renewed confidence, local employment, pride and the ability to welcome further visitors to buy local food or artisan products, sleep in local beds, walks across the greenways and beaches and all snapped for Instagram; with their photos and experiences shared with the world.  Fort Dunree will be ready to make the most of new visitors and a bigger capacity to say welcome –  for welcome is what the team have always had in their minds.

My personal ambition is to have every community across the island of Ireland have the benefit of social finance – to build a team that “speaks finance but hears people” and to understand that social impact can be felt, not just dreamt

It’s projects like this one and their success story today that helps me and my team continue to do what we do.

As Bord Failte and Donegal City Council invests in Donegal, we made a further investment recently too. Anne Graham joined our team as a dedicated client executive for the Donegal and Connaught region. Anne is a native of Donegal and she too believes in the ability of Donegal and other communities across the island of Ireland to re-charge and recover.

As Anne said on her appointment

“I’m excited about working with social enterprises and community projects across Donegal and Connaught. As we gradually recover from the impact of Covid, early client conversations suggest that many believe that with disruption comes great opportunity. I am here to help the sector make the most of the opportunities and social impact ambitions they see ahead”.

I share her sentiment as I too hear, when talking to clients , that recovery and opportunity are hand in glove.

In fact, you will hear more from us later this month, as we launch our €10 million All Island CFI Recovery Loan package, built with projects just like this one in mind; Making social finance loans available for those amongst us who want to help communities thrive not just strive.

Donal Traynor

Group CEO Community Finance Ireland

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And Community Finance Ireland are on hand to help administer it.

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has announced today (11.03.2021) the release of over £7.5 million of awards to support charities facing financial difficulty as a result of the pandemic.

Over 300 charities are being offered the funding after successfully applying to Phase 2 of the Covid-19 Charities Fund. The money is awarded to support unavoidable costs and eliminate deficits accumulated by charities from 1 October 2020 to 31 March 2021, with individually tailored awards of up to a maximum of £75,000 per charity. 

Minister Hargey said: “This funding is vital for charities who have lost income from fundraising and trading activity as many are still facing unavoidable costs, even if they are not currently operating or have reduced services.

“Along with £8.8m awarded in Phase 1 of the Covid-19 Charities Fund, this will bring the total disbursed by my Department to support charities during 2020/2021 to £16.3million. The Executive allocated my Department with £15.5m in May 2020 and I secured additional funding to ensure that all local charities’ needs could be met in full.

“I want to thank Community Finance Ireland for helping my Department deliver the much needed Covid-19 Charities Fund. I also want to thank NICVA for promoting the Fund and the support they provided to applicants to ensure local charities had help to apply.”

Phase 2 of the Fund is being delivered by Community Finance Ireland, following successful delivery of Phase 1 by The National Lottery Community Fund who disbursed £8.8million to over 500 charities to support them in the period up to 30 September 2020.

Donal Traynor, Group Chief Executive of Community Finance Ireland said:  “We are delighted to help deliver Phase 2 of the Covid-19 Charities Fund on behalf of the Department for Communities. We delivered £9.25m on behalf of the Department through the Covid Social Enterprise Fund last autumn and are well aware of the importance of this type of support to the sector.

“Our approach to the Fund has been to bring our team’s skills and sectoral knowledge to aid a fair and swift assessment of a charity’s specific needs and make an award which meets those needs in full.

“We encourage all applicants, who receive a letter of offer over the coming weeks, to return their acceptance note as soon as possible so that our team can move to payment stage.”

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Emmett O’Hara brings wealth of financial expertise to local communities across Leinster.

Community Finance Ireland, the fastest-growing social finance provider in Ireland and the UK, has today (01.03.21) announced the appointment of Emmett O’Hara as the organisation’s new associate director for the Republic of Ireland. He replaces Dónal Traynor who was appointed as CEO of the organisation last November.

Community Finance Ireland offers finance solutions specifically tailored for the community sector including sports clubs, community projects, faith-based groups, and social enterprises.

Emmett O’Hara will be working in the Leinster region where Community Finance Ireland has funded over 100 projects to the amount of €9,857,000, in the past four years.

Born in Cavan and raised in Dublin, Mr O’Hara (42) comes to Community Finance Ireland from the financial sector, where he has worked across Business Development, Commercial and Credit Analyst management over a 24-year period.

Commenting on his appointment, Mr O’Hara said,

“I’m delighted to join the team at Community Finance Ireland. After such a long tenure in the commercial lending sector where I gained a broad experience of credit analysis, I’m delighted to be able to bring my expertise to a new sector where I can have a direct impact on local communities and support the resilience of volunteers and grassroots organisations as we all look forward.

“Living in Meath with my family I’ve seen first-hand how these organisations can play a pivotal role in local communities. There are incredible things happening in sports clubs, arts organisations and social enterprise centres right across the country and I’m looking forward to getting out there to meet those who are making change happen at a local level here in Leinster.”

Welcoming the appointment, Dónal Traynor, CEO of Community Finance Ireland said

“Emmett brings a wealth of financial expertise to our current clients and potential new clients, we’re delighted to have him on board. Importantly, he shares our passion to invest in social capital and support the greater good. Emmett is a team player and with our small team working across the length and breadth of Ireland, it’s fantastic to have someone on board who can hit the ground running in Leinster.”

ENDS

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Audrey Murray, MBE, who spent her career as a champion for marginalised communities in Northern Ireland has been recognised with a Lifetime Achievement Award for services to the social enterprise sector in Northern Ireland. 

Audrey, who spent over thirty years in the sector, most recently as Business Development and Contract Manager with LEDCOM, retired in 2020.  She continues to serve on a small number of voluntary boards, including Community Finance Ireland (formerly known as UCIT) and Ballyclare High School. 

When Audrey began her career, working in Newtownabbey, Rathcoole and Monkstown just outside Belfast to stimulate private enterprise, the sector didn’t have an official name.  She said:

“I just knew I wanted to help people.  Back then there was a scheme call ACE, aimed at getting the long term unemployed into work, that included a paid work placement.  I asked to meet some of teenagers involved, specifically, a girl who was a hugely talented artist.  I’d been to art college but I knew this girl was so much better than me and had so much potential to make a living from her talent.  But when I asked her what her dreams were, she just wanted a year in the ACE scheme.  She hadn’t been shown how to dream big for herself.”

Audrey struggled with dyslexia as a child and left school unable to read or right properly.  The only career options presented to her and her classmates were, “stitching knickers or slaughtering pigs or moving to England to find work” and none of those options appealed to her. With a diagnosis of the condition in her teens and encouragement from her older sister, she took up a place in art college, which she loved.  While she never formally worked in the arts sector, she used her creativity to develop solutions to business challenges, of which she faced many throughout her career.  

Working with many communities at grass roots level, she sometimes found herself the only female in a room full of ex-prisoners and community representatives.  Never one to be intimidated, Audrey was always focused on what she wanted to achieve.   “I have empathy with people who are being limited.  People need a champion to fight for them and I wanted to be that person, to make a difference.” While it is difficult to pinpoint just one highlight in such a long and diverse career, Audrey notes that in her role at LEDCOM she oversaw the creation of over 600 new social enterprises.  “Social enterprises are a fantastic business sector and the word ‘business’ is a deliberate term, as they make money but they do good.  They meet both social and economic needs, that other private and public organisations sometimes don’t even touch.”

Referring to her award, Audrey quipped:

“They don’t give you a lifetime achievement unless you’re old!  I’m retired now, but it was a wonderful recognition of all the people who I worked with throughout my career and the difference they made.” 

Dónal Traynor, Group Chief Executive at Community Finance Ireland said:

“We’re delighted that Audrey received this award, which is a testament to her tenacious attitude and determination to always make a difference.  We’re lucky to have had Audrey involved with our Board, as she mirrors our own values of Empathy, Integrity and Quality. She brings a direct way of working, attention to detail and a compassionate and forthright approach to doing good for those who need it most in society.”

Colin Jess, Director, Social Enterprise NI said:

“As the foremost support agency for Social Enterprises across Northern Ireland I was very pleased to present Audrey with this award on behalf of our agency. She has had a tremendous impact on the support and visibility of those in our communities who need it”.

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