In the early morning hours of June 16, 2015, in Berkeley, CA, during a 21st birthday party celebration, a fourth floor balcony collapsed which resulted in the tragic deaths of six Irish students, the majority of whom were in the United States on J1 Visas for the summer. Seven other students were injured in the accident, including a number of them seriously. The accident caused an outpouring of worldwide attention and support for these students and their families.
The Irish Immigration Pastoral Center (IIPC) in San Francisco as well as the Irish Consul General have been working very closely with the injured students and their families over the last 2-1/2 months visiting them daily in the various hospitals where they have been recovering. Four of the Irish students have become strong enough to return to Ireland and continue their rehabilitation closer to home. The last three students, Aoife Beary, Niall Murray and Hannah Waters, all 21 years of age, have continued to rehabilitate at Santa Clara County Valley Medical Center (VMC) with the hope of being able to return back to Ireland before the end of September.
Before the last of the injured students return to Ireland, the IIPC and Irish Consul General booked a facility to host an event on Wednesday, September 2, to be able to say thank you to all of the doctors, nurses and caregivers who have worked so closely with the students during the last few months. Thanks to generous donations from Munchery (a fresh food delivery service in San Francisco) and Sales Force, the IIPC had the funding to provide food and drink and planned to have about 100 people attend. On Monday, August 31, the IIPC learned that a conflict had come up and needed a new facility (with a kitchen) not too far from VMC to hold the event.
Because of the Sister Cities relationship between Santa Clara and Limerick, Ireland, the Irish Consulate reached out to Santa Clara Sister Cities to see if they could be of assistance. With 48 hours notice, a lot of phone calls and e-mails were going around Santa Clara to help facilitate this urgent request. On short notice, many places were booked but the one place that would be perfect – and was available – was the Santa Clara Senior Center due to the nice big auditorium and kitchen facilities. After reaching out to the Director of Parks & Recreation and speaking City Manager, approval was received to host the event in the Santa Clara Senior Center. And it wasn’t a moment too soon. Lots of people were jumping through hoops to have the catering redelivered to Santa Clara and invitations needed to reach all of the special people who have been an integral part of the Irish students’ lives since the accident. Fortunately, Santa Clara Sister Cities holds several potlucks at the Senior Center during the year for their exchange students and host families and so many of the items needed (plates, cutlery, serving dishes, etc.) are stored under the stage in the auditorium of the Senior Center.
At 5:00 PM on Wednesday, the three Irish students and their families arrived at the Senior Center with over 100 doctors, nurses and caregivers from Eden Medical Center, John Muir Medical Center, Stanford Hospital and VMC. Also in attendance were Irish Consul General, Philip Grant and Vice Consul, Kevin Byrne, as well as the hardworking members of the IIPC and Father Brendan McBride who assisted the families and helped with their insurance and hospital needs, coordinating travels back and forth to Ireland and so much more. After dinner, Irish Consul General, Philip Grant, expressed his thanks to the IIPC and all of the medical staffs who have worked tirelessly with the students in their recovery. He also expressed his thanks to the City of Santa Clara and Santa Clara Sister Cities for providing a location for the event on such short notice. One of the students, Niall Murray, spoke for the students to express their appreciation for all of the support and how much they will miss their physical therapists. There were long goodbyes but it was evident that the students are anxious to get back to Ireland and continue their recoveries and be with the families and friends again. No doubt this will help with their healing process
Santa Clara Sister Cities was honored to have been able to assist as one of its goals is to foster citizen diplomacy and community development and this was definitely a rare opportunity to put those goals to work. On a final note, Santa Clara Sister Cities is very appreciative of the City Manager’s approval to use the Senior Center and of Jennifer Herb, director of the Senior Center, and her staff for all their help in setting up for the event. As the IIPC kept saying, “you all are rockstars!”
Councilmember Teresa O’Neill presented a letter from the Mayor and Council expressing appreciation for the support by the Irish Consul general and the staff of the IIPC for the students and wishing the students well as they continue on their road to health in Ireland.