New 2 You: How Eileen Sheehan Helped Achieve Her Dream

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EILEEN Sheehan lives in Listowel, Co. Kerry. It is a relatively small town in Kerry, but it has quietly become a hub of activity for the NF Association of Ireland. Earlier this month the NF Ball and NF Fighter Awards were held in the Listowel Arms Hotel.

Quietly however there was one woman specifically financially backing the night who deserves far more recognition and praise than she currently receives. Eileen Sheehan is a Listowel local lady who early this year opened up New 2 You, a second-hand shop which openly donates profits to the NF Association.

Despite some teething issues in the development phase for New 2 You has been a huge success for Eileen. Business has remained steady since day one, with NF information leaflets available for customers who wish to find out more about the condition and the charity itself. She knows all too well the reality of how serious can be to those affected.

Some of my family have just a mild strain of NF such as coffee stains etc. however one of my sisters Katie Buckley has been gravely affected by NF over the years. Katie has had numerous major surgeries especially spinal surgery and the placing of rods in her back, most of the surgeries have not been successful and have left her with serious mobility deficits.

Eileen’s family issues with NF is broad, sadly. Her niece Anna recently underwent surgery due to NF related ailments: “There was a newspaper article covering Katie and Annas story earlier this year. My entire family are only too well aware of the repercussions and legacy of Neurofibromatosis. I also have a brother who has the majority of his body covered in the NF cysts”, said Eileen.

One of the great struggles for the NF Association of Ireland is having awareness of the organisation of the public and the wider medical world. Eileen only found out about the charity in recent years, despite her family spending a lifetime side by side with NF.

“I first heard of NFA Ireland approximately 5 or 6 years ago, it was so encouraging to hear that there was an association, as I knew that at last there was some support out there. I attended a seminar on NF in Killarney some time ago and was humbled to be a part of the association, it was just so encouraging to meet others affected outside of my family”, said Eileen.

Eileen soon become an active member of our small but hard-working community, but knew she could do something more than the general member partakes in.

 Over the past few years I have taken part in selling raffle tickets etc., but I had gone over and over in my head what I could do to raise money for the association. I had mulled over ideas from fancy dress fundraising nights, greyhound racing nights and even contemplated a mini marathon. I felt that NF was just not something the general public were aware of.

Some early ideas had already been sowed in the mind of Eilieen: ‘I had worked as a volunteer in two different charity shops and had gained a lot of experience in that field. I had given a lot of thought especially in the last 12 – 18 months of setting up my own shop’. The next step for Eileen was to look into opening up her own shop.

In late May of this year I made the decision to get up and be proactive and take that step. I knew that if I could manage to start this business that it would be a great way of getting funds for NFA Ireland; funds that would be ongoing and not just once off. I also had the feeling that I could at the same time use the shop as a platform to get the awareness of NF out there which is something that really needed to be done.

Next up real planning was to going on where and when: “I initially viewed the premises at 23 Market St, Listowel in late May and instantly knew that the premises had great potential. It was previously occupied by Extra Vision and was a large premises. It has fantastic footfall and ample parking adjacent to it. The rent set by the landlord was on the high side initially but eventually we managed to get it reduced a bit”, said Eileen.

Soon it was time to ‘set the wheel in motion and began to delve into the arena of charity shops’. It wasn’t going to be easy for Eileen. There were many regulatory hurdles to get over before the shop could truly become a reality.

The first stumbling block came from the Charities Regulator, I was misinformed initially by a member of staff there when I was told yes I could obtain my own Charity number, only to be told a week later that this was not possible. After quite a lot of to and fro with the charities regulator and long discussions I was told that I could not at any point mislead the public which would never have been my intention, and attempt to portray myself as a charity shop. So therefore this left me with two options, one to forget about the whole enterprise or two to keep on going with my dream, I chose the latter thankfully.

Eileen sought legal advice about how to set the shop up in a manner which makes it not a charity shop, wherein she wanted ‘to be able to fulfil my dream and raise badly needed funds for NFA, but at the same time I wanted to be honest and sincere with my customers’.

Subsequently, Eileen and her legal team decided that she would present the project ‘as a second-hand shop called NEW 2 YOU and registered as a sole-trader’.

‘As with any new venture there are always delays with workmen and regulations but eventually I overcame them’, said Eileen. Planning and execution of such a project will take time, but the opening day was set for August 31 and the doors subsequently opened on time.

Despite New 2 You being located in a location with only 5,000 residents, the surrounding rural population outside of Listowel is closer to 25,000; business has been good, backed up by solid marketing through local papers, and of course through the NFA social media channels.

With business steady, Eileen already has plans on her next extension to the venture – an online shop: “I plan to include an online shop also running in conjunction with NEW 2 YOU, whereas I will put up pictures of items in stock at the shop and advertise them in that fashion on my Facebook page NEW 2 YOU. I intend to throw myself in to this business and hope that I can continue to generate funding for NFA Ireland who have been so good to allow me the opportunity to fulfil my dream.”

It seems clear that Eileen is the epitome of the hardest working section of the NF community in Ireland. Her dedication in both raising awareness and vital funds for the charity has been steadfast ever since she found out about the condition and subsequently the charity.

It is her resilience which personifies both her and the wider NF community. Having helped back the NF Fighter Awards earlier this month it seems Eileen deserves recognition as a quiet but vital NF Fighter for the NF community here in Ireland.