“I was just casually chatting with a friend one day when she mentioned that she was involved in a service called Mo Shaol, which offered support to families that had children or adults with an intellectual disability,” says Lisa. “She put me in touch with the service manager and soon after that, Zara, who’s now 5, came into our lives. I’d encourage everyone who has maybe thought of doing something like this to give it a go.”

Mo Shaol is run by Positive Futures, which supports people with an intellectual disability, acquired brain injury or autistic spectrum condition, in partnership with HSE Disability Services in Louth and Meath. Mo Shaol operates a network of HomeShare and Short Break Hosts, who provide short break (respite) support for families who need it.

Hosts can offer support in their own homes – or even just a regular day out in the community. Anyone who comes forward simply outlines their availability, and the Mo Shaol staff will carefully match them with the appropriate person who needs support.

Zara’s father, Cathal, says: “Zara gets one to one attention from Lisa which is sometimes hard in a busy family home like mine. She has a friend outside of her immediate family which is really important. She gets to spend some time away from her siblings, which is great too for her as it helps her to develop skills like socialising skills.

“Mo Shaol has changed Zara’s life. As her father, I can see the happiness in her when she knows she is going to spend time with Lisa. She waits at the window watching out for her and jumps up and down with excitement as she looks forward to it so much.

“It’s great for me, too, because it gives me a break.”

Kirsty Cooke, Manager of the Mo Shaol service, says: “Our HomeShare Hosts are extra–ordinary, ordinary people from all walks of life who have time in their lives and, where required, space in their homes to offer support. That support can be everything from a permanent arrangement to a short break or days out.

“We have so many stories of how people’s lives have been transformed by what we do. It doesn’t just change the life of the person being supported, but the life of the host, too. All our hosts find it hugely rewarding. To be a host, you don’t have to have a family of your own. You can just be someone with the time and space to make a difference.

“Every HomeShare arrangement is unique, depending on people’s individual needs and what the host can offer. To be referred to us, the adult or child must be under the care of the HSE Disability team in Louth or Meath. The HSE decides the amount of support. Hosts are assessed by a HomeShare Social Worker and also need Garda clearance and a Tusla check. We provide excellent training, guidance and ongoing support, which is updated throughout a host’s time with the service.”

Lisa says of being a host: “Depending on the needs and interests of the person you’re supporting, a typical day might involve going to the park, doing some arts and crafts or even just watching a favourite movie. Knowing that you’re offering support to a family that needs it is hugely rewarding. I believe life is better when you’re giving, which is why I got involved. Because my husband and I both work in Health & Social Care, we know first–hand how great the need is.”

Donna McGuinness supports Eamon (10), who has Down’s Syndrome and is non–verbal.

“As a family, we get great joy from spending time with Eamon,” she says. “We have two boys at home, and they love to organise some new experiences we can do with him each week. Eamon also loves our two dogs and is comfortable to come and visit us any time.”

But as Eamon’s mum, Laura, explains, his story used to be very different. Until he was nine years old, he had not slept a single night through and there was no support on offer.

“I had no–one to take Eamon other than my parents, who were getting on in years,” Laura says. “They are so good to him, but I was keen to establish another social support. It was suggested that we try this new service called Mo Shaol. They offered to find a host family or help me to find someone. Donna was Eamon’s pre–school teacher and was absolutely fantastic with him at the time. When she said yes, I was in tears of gratitude.

“For the first time, Eamon has friends and a social life outside his own family. The best thing about Mo Shaol is knowing that he has another layer of support in this world and if anything were to happen there is someone who would care for him. The staff at Mo Shaol are a great support, too.”

Mo Shaol and its sister service, Families Matter Shared Lives always needs new volunteer Hosts. Financial support is available and full training and ongoing support are provided.