The late 1960s was a time of student revolt in the western world. Young people especially, were unhappy if not disillusioned with authority, both civil and religious.
Irish youth did not escape the turmoil. They too were searching for relevance in their lives. Where many saw this as a time of crisis, others saw it as an opportunity. Against this backdrop a workshop on Christian Leadership was organised by the Headmaster, Presentation Brothers College Cork in 1970. The workshop accommodated the students during the school day and their parents at evening time, the entire exercise being facilitated by former communist and editor of The Daily Worker, Douglas Hyde. The process adopted involved plenary sessions with input, question-and-answer and challenge. In group sessions, the students were issued with questions which provoked debate, discussion, research, decision and feedback. Their positive approach made the exercise a very productive “think tank”. In his role as facilitator, Douglas Hyde dispelled their misconceptions, unlocked their frustrations and channelled their energies into reaching out to people in need. He appealed to their “obvious idealism” and focused their attention on immediate practical realities.
At the end of the three-day workshop, senior students went out into the nearby old-city, in twos and threes, to discover and experience at first-hand what these realities were and then to decide how to address the issues involved. There they found old people wasting away in depressing attic rooms or in tiny basement flats – longing to talk but having no one to listen; they found that these senior citizens dreaded the cold that benumbs a frail body and that the old, poised between hope and despair, felt useless, unwanted, fearful, insecure and forgotten.
Instead of bemoaning the plight of these homeless elderly and seeking scapegoats for the indignity to which they were condemned, these Cork teenagers took a proactive approach which is still characteristic of them and decided to do something about the deplorable living conditions. They were determined to bring a glimmer of hope to the lives of the elderly poor, seeking ways of having the injustices corrected and then putting preventive (protective) structures in place.
At first, their efforts were confined to decorating and repairing homes. However, they soon realised that an organisation of large proportions, commensurate financial assistance and adult support and involvement were required to tackle an ever-widening picture of need. From there on, the help of their families, friends and the community at large, was asked for and given. The embryonic movement then came to birth and was to be known thereafter as S.H.A.R.E. This name, the result of a competition to name the organisation, was chosen as it had the greatest appeal. Words were supplied for the letters of the abbreviation, that is, Students Harness Aid for the Relief of the Elderly.