Engineers Ireland Benevolent Fund – making a difference to engineers’ lives
14 March 2017
The Benevolent Fund of Engineers Ireland is a charitable fund originally set up in 1947 to help members in need. It is now run by a committee of Engineers Ireland members, with the assistance of the staff at Clyde Road, for the benefit of engineers and their dependents regardless of whether or not the recipients are themselves members of Engineers Ireland.
The committee meets approximately six times a year to discuss the situation of each of our beneficiaries, and to consider any new requests for assistance. In urgent cases, the chair arranges to have the matter dealt with immediately, and it is then discussed at the next scheduled meeting of the committee.
Up to 2008, the Fund was financed by bequests, direct donations by members and monies raised by special events such as the Annual Dinner, sponsored golf outings and the Bridge Club. Council agreed, in 2008, to dedicate a small proportion of the monies raised by member subscriptions, from that year onward, to help defray the expenses of the beneficiaries of the Fund.
Currently, the Benevolent Fund is assisting 17 engineers or their direct dependents. This number of beneficiaries is about the average and has remained more or less at this level for the past ten years or more. Typical circumstances where the Fund can offer assistance would include financial hardship due to the death of a spouse or partner; temporary loss of employment due to redundancy, illness or accident; nursing costs during recuperation from illness; temporary mental health problems; and unexpected temporary loss of a steady income.
This list is not exhaustive. It is only intended to illustrate the type of cases where the Benevolent Fund might be of assistance. It is important to point out that the Fund does not provide unemployment benefit, nor is it intended to substitute for state or other pension provisions. Its function is to help engineers and their dependents, in circumstances where discrete help from the profession is needed.
So, if any member becomes aware of someone who needs our help, please let us know, by contacting the chair of the Benevolent Fund Committee, at 22 Clyde Road, Dublin 4.
Case study – how the Fund can help
The committee believes that it may be helpful to show an example of a case where the Benevolent Fund has been able to help an engineer who has found himself in a very unexpected unfortunate position. This engineer qualified from UCD in 1998. He loved sports including rugby, skiing and mountain biking. Occasionally, he was involved in spills and mishaps.
After graduation, he travelled to the USA, working in the corporate field. In August 2008, he came back to Ireland to attend a wedding. While dancing, he fell on the floor. He had had bigger falls during his sporting activities. He thought he would be fine. Unfortunately, he had broken his neck and was paralysed from the shoulders down. His whole life changed in that moment.
The immediate aftermath of a spinal cord injury is brutal for all concerned. First, there is the dreaded phone call to parents, then weeks in intensive care, months in hospital and rehabilitation, shock and devastation. In time, he learned to accept his situation but he was determined that he would not stay this way for the rest of his life. He saw that engineering was a basic degree that enables an individual to change direction in his life when he needs to, and to make change happen.
He has remained in Ireland and the health service takes care of his basic daily needs. He needed a special type of wheelchair. To purchase that, he enlisted the help of the flower clubs of Dublin, and they held a special day to raise the funds required. Through this initiative, a member of the Benevolent Fund committee became aware of his situation and some Fund members visited him to see if the Benevolent Fund could help.
He explained to them that he was committed to finding a way to improve his own mobility problem, and to find a way forward for all those who suffer a spinal cord injury. He realises that this is not exactly a modest goal, but he feels that as an engineer, he can contribute to the understanding of the link between human ingenuity and science. He wanted to research the latest thinking on spinal cord injury and to investigate whether it was possible to come up with a functionally restorative treatment for his own injury.
The Benevolent Fund agreed to help him at a basic level, in his research. Initially, this was really to encourage him in his efforts, and to help him buy some basic equipment to allow him to engage in the research he wanted to pursue. His first goal was to determine whether functionally restorative treatments lies in the realm of the merely extremely difficult, or whether it lies, in reality, in the realm of the impossible. In the field of spinal cord injury, one of the key obstacles to advancement of the research is the sheer complexity of the biology of the spinal cord and its multiple different constituents.
He spent the first few years getting to grips with the basics. He has travelled around the world, with the help of some generous sponsors, to conferences, reading every paper he could get his hands on, meeting advocacy groups, scientists and interested patients. This provided a decent overview, but deeper knowledge was needed.
Specifically, he needed to understand the science behind spinal cord injury from first principles, to put himself in a position where he could critically evaluate the competing claims of scientists, for himself, rather than taking another person’s word for it. He returned to university, and undertook a two-year master’s programme in neuroscience. With a very determined effort, he came to grips with the complex working of the body. He graduated with a master’s degree from Trinity College Dublin in 2015.
Looking to the future
This engineer’s studies have convinced him that it is possible to find a treatment for spinal cord injury. Even in the time since he had his accident, some promising developments have come to light. He is now in a position to identify those that are the real deal, as opposed to the headline grabbing so-called miracle cures. He is now working on the next logical steps for someone in possession of the knowledge and motivation which he has. He is currently working with top Irish and international university labs to put in place the people and incentive structures to move the most promising neural regeneration strategy for SCI into full scale clinical trials.
Human data is all that matters, and his vehicle to provide that data is finally starting to take shape. A cure will not happen overnight, but he is convinced he will see one within his lifetime.
He has recently written to the Benevolent Fund committee expressing his sincere thanks for the assistance and encouragement he has received from Engineers Ireland, saying that our support helped him through some very dark days, but he hopes that many others besides himself will benefit from our help, given to him, when he needed it most.
If you feel that you would like to make a contribution to the Benevolent Fund and its ongoing work with our less fortunate colleagues, please contact Ellen McNulty at 22 Clyde Road. All contributions will be gratefully received, and will be put entirely to use to support our less fortunate colleagues and their dependents.
If you can offer your time to become a member of the committee, please also contact Ellen who will put you in touch with the chair of the committee.
The current members of the Benevolent Fund Committee are:
Chair – Majella Henchion
Hon. Sec. – Paddy May
Hon. Treasurer – John Higgins
Members – John Power, Pat Roche, Don McEntee, Michael Sopocko