After great upheaval and uncertainty, the Grand Bahama Children’s Home (GBCH)’s new Board of Directors and Executive Director celebrate the final stage of the post-Dorian rebuild and progress through the pandemic as they focus on a return to normalcy and stability for the children and Home. As widely known, Hurricane Dorian and its resulting brutal storm surge forced the evacuation of the children and staff sheltered at the Home and the temporary relocation of the children as the Home was rebuilt and refurnished. As the rebuilding was underway, the Covid 19 global pandemic, with associated restrictions, lockdowns and economic decline, also significantly compounded the negative effects of the upheaval for the children and the Home itself. During this time, a new Board of Directors was established, with a dynamic group of members of the Grand Bahama community and of the nonprofit community abroad, all of whom are committed to establishing and adhering to best practices for the Northern Bahamas’ most vulnerable children and the stability of the registered nonprofit.
“Recovering and stabilizing the Home after the devastation of Dorian and amidst the global COVID pandemic has been a tremendous challenge on a number of fronts,” explains Board Chairman Kevin D. Seymour. “The rebuilding was made possible thanks to the extended community. Staff, local volunteers and businesses, themselves overwhelmed from great loss, showed up in amazing ways to help clean, donate supplies, resources and financial assistance to repair the campus and replenish the contents. There was also a tremendous outpouring of support and donations from national and international donors and nonprofits to enable not only the physical recovery but also to lay the groundwork for the Home’s next chapter,” he adds.
In addition to Seymour, Vice Chair Karla McIntosh, Treasurer Charmaine Adderley, Secretary Sarah Stretton and Directors Lesley Davies-Baptista, Patrice Feaster, Lynne Fraino, Deborah Hastings, Andrew Stofleth and Fatima Zahra- Kaboub were appointed to the current board.
The Board of Directors also appointed Executive Director June Hutcheson, an accomplished Administrator with over thirty-five years in Administration, Education, and Counselling, in 2021 to lead the Home at a particularly challenging time for the children’s development due to Covid. Ms. Hutcheson notes that the unprecedented upheaval and trauma for the children, disruption in schooling, changes in socialization and online learning have all had a tangible impact on the children’s development. This has required a significant amount of intervention and support to help bridge the learning and development gaps seen. In addition, mental health focus, remedial and behavior programmes have been worked on to find the best fit for the children. “We are focused on finding the most practical ways to give our children the best tools and support needed – not only from the circumstances that brought them to us but from Dorian and the pandemic as well,” explains Executive Director June Hutcheson.
A major step in normalizing the education and socialization is the resumption of face-to-face learning for the children. “Covid 19 has changed the way every family lives and the way every child learns and socializes. Certainly, our children and our Home are no exception- we have seen a great toll on our children and our staff. Having the children back in school is a huge step back to a sense of normalcy our children need,” added Hutcheson.
In addition to the return to face-to-face learning and relaxation of some Covid protocols, the Home is celebrating the completion of the final projects of the rebuild. In February, 2022, new playground areas were completed – with separate areas and equipment based on ages – and added security features were installed for enhanced monitoring of the campus for the safety and protection of the children. The backup power generators have been delivered and the Building & Safety Committee is focused on installation ahead of the start of the next Hurricane Season in June.
“This signals the completion of the Home’s hurricane rebuild. It’s pretty fitting that the final stages have ended with added security,
backup generators and the play areas,” explains Executive Director June Hutcheson.
“Our mission is to provide the best care for our children so that they can heal and thrive. The security enhancements give us additional ways to provide for their safety and protection – our most important commitment to the children. The backup generators will ensure that care continues uninterrupted and help us avoid additional triggers for the children that come from the traumatic experiences. And perhaps most fitting of all is the completion of new playground areas for both the younger and older children. It is, in many ways, the return to as much normalcy as we can provide after these challenging years – focusing not just on their physical care but their emotional wellbeing. The laughter that fills the backyard, as the children get outside and release energy, sums up what we are trying to do: give our children a safe, happy childhood and ensure the leave us better adjusted, better equipped and happier than when they came to us. We will continue to strive until all of our children are thriving,” adds Hutcheson.
In addition to the final rebuilding projects and return to schooling for the children, Board Chair Mr. Seymour has also announced that the Board and Department of Social Services have agreed in principle to a Management Agreement that establishes new standards and cooperative efforts for the best care for the children. Both the Board and Executive Director acknowledge significant challenges remain. “Like all families and businesses throughout Grand Bahama and, indeed the world, the Home struggles with resources to achieve the financial stability needed to give the care our children desperately need,” explains Chairman Seymour.
“In the face of sharply rising costs and the need for more staff to achieve the appropriate level of care, we are faced with an extended economic decline in Grand Bahama and escalating need everywhere. As a result, donations have been significantly impacted. We are
working to achieve efficiencies wherever possible but, ultimately, an increase in financial support is needed to achieve critical stability for the Home,” says Seymour.
“It’s amazing to look back on an extremely difficult two years – understanding that while there is much to do, there is so much progress for which to be thankful. It has taken a village to help us rebuild and recover and it’s going to take that village to keep our doors open,” says Mr. Seymour. The Home notes it must raise $400,000 (after the current Government grant and regularly committed donor funding) to cover the annual shortfall in expenses and will launch its sponsor-a-child programme on its new website in March, 2022. “There is a bright light at the end of the tunnel – in face, it feels like we are coming out into the daylight again – rising from a very difficult time for the children and the Home, showing not just the resilience of the Home which has stood the test of time for 45 years… but of a community that supports our children, regardless of how difficult times are in Grand Bahama. We can’t say thank you enough to those who have carried us through and ask our village, our community, to join us with financial support to we care for our children who have nowhere else to go,” he adds.
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