In this week’s blog, PPI International Fellow Meghan Houlihan interviews Joanne Fitzpatrick, one of PPI – Northern Ireland’s local coordinators. Joanne’s high-energy coaching style and ongoing commitment to PPI-NI’s cross-community work is a vital part of the organization’s continued success and long-term sustainability.
Meghan: To start, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Joanne: Well, I’m from a small village in County Down called Dundrum, where you can find my Mum, Dad, my younger sister Fiona, my two dogs and a cat. I’m 23 years old and went to St. Louis Grammar School, Kilkeel. I started playing basketball when I was 11 years old. I moved up to Belfast when I was 18 and have been living up here ever since.
Meghan: How long have you been involved with PeacePlayers?
Joanne: I first got involved with PeacePlayers nearly 3 years ago, when I volunteered at Jingle Ball 2007. Soon after that Will Maloney (a former PPI Fellow in Northern Ireland) asked me to coach with PeacePlayers and it all grew from there.
Meghan: From a local perspective, why do you think PPI-NI is so important?
Joanne: I think PPI is important because it creates a friendly, neutral, welcoming space for kids from different neighbourhoods to not only meet, but to play basketball and create lasting friendships. I think that the discussions we have in the Community Relations sessions help the kids to realize that it is possible to have a lot in common with someone from ‘the other side’. I think PPI is becoming progressively more important, especially in primary schools, where the funding for cross-community work has been cut. In some cases, PeacePlayers is the only opportunity for kids to interact with kids from different schools and communities.
Meghan: Do you have a specific PPI-NI experience that is particularly memorable?
Joanne: I have a few that stick out at the moment. I remember I was coaching at an Our Ladies/Victoria Park twinning session, when, during a match, two of the girls (one from either school) went for the ball. One of the girls hurt her hand, while the other dribbled away with the ball. When the girl with the ball realized she had hurt the other, she walked over, said she was sorry, and gave her a hug. This felt huge to me – to see these two girls ‘hug it out’ – irrelevant of where they came from.
Another experience was from Community Centre League last year, which saw the introduction of the term ‘PeacePlayers Mini-Me’. A group of older girls from Whiterock Community Centre in West Belfast, became mentors or ‘bigger-me’s’ to a group of younger girls from Dee Street Community Centre in East Belfast. Despite the fact that they came from different communities, the girls became inseparable, as the older girls were always looking after their mini-me’s and made sure they had support during Community Relations discussions. I thought it was great that the girls formed these relationships at PeacePlayers and continued to keep in touch after the program finished.
Meghan: A few questions that we ask our twinning participants during the introductory community relations discussions: What is your favorite color? What is your favorite food? What is your favorite ice cream flavor? What is your favorite movie?
Joanne: My favorite colour is purple or blue, my favorite food is Spaghetti Bolognese (or “sgetti sgetti balls”, as I called it when I was younger), and my favorite ice cream flavor is Bubblegum. My favorite film is One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Calamity Jane – the oldies are the best.
Meghan: What is PeacePlayers?
Joanne: Sweet to the beat!!