Interview with Cathy Ward, Executive Director of the Irish Outreach Center
News29 July 2021
Cathy Ward has been the Executive Director of The Irish Outreach Center in San Diego since August 2019.
* This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.
1. How long have you lived in the US, and what brought you here initially?
Longer than expected! My first trip was a J1 Visa in the summer of 1985. I remember it was my first time flying so a huge feeling of both excitement and nervousness. Coming from a farm in Co Wicklow and landing at JFK was such an adventure. After a brief orientation we were let loose on the city and I ended up getting a “sweet job” at an ice-cream parlor. I travelled back and forth and eventually found my way to San Diego in 1989.
2. And how did you end up working at the Outreach Center?
I suppose the J1 experiences that I went through guided me toward a position at the Outreach Center. What I learned allowed me to fill this position in an empathetic way. We call it a “home away from home” and it helps to understand where people are coming from. Every day the phone rings and you never know what situation you are going to have to deal with which makes it exciting.
3. Do you think Ireland and its image abroad has changed a lot over recent decades? How do you imagine Irish communities in the US might change in the coming years?
Looking back to my arrival in the US, the majority of people came to work construction and labor jobs, and from that became immersed in the community and remained quite traditional.
More recently however we’ve see a more outward looking, tech-savvy group not necessarily settling in traditional strongholds like New York and Boston. Look at the great Irish cultural center in Phoenix for example, not a place you would traditionally associate with ex pats. So Irish people are more spread out and integrating into local culture more.
We still have young people coming on fixed term work visas and having a huge impact on the local community through the GAA for example. They bring a new worldview and energy.
4. Where is your favorite place to visit in Ireland?
I absolutely love Glendalough. We have a visit every time we go home. So peaceful and serene. The hiking is spectacular.
My husband (who’s also Irish) and I are lucky, we’ve taken our two teenagers home every summer for the last 16 years (except this year of course).
We feel the connection between cousins, friends, grandparents etc. in Ireland is huge and although we couldn’t always afford to do it we also couldn’t afford not to do it.
5. What are you currently reading/watching?
I watch many of the streaming services but I don’t have anything in particular I follow. We love documentaries and a good comedy. I am reading a book that was recommended to me called “Make Your Bed” by Admiral McRaven. The theme is basically that if you make your bed every morning you form great habits and build discipline for the coming day. A good collection of life lessons! If my daughter could find her bed in her room I’m sure she would make it!