Provo’s Children’s Home provides a safe haven for children in need.
There’s no doubt that God has a special place in His heart for children, and, through the teachings of His Son Jesus Christ, encourages us to do the same. We can mourn along with the Father when any child is hungry, hurt, abused, or lacks stable parents or home. Thanks to a group of concerned, committed residents, a lot of work and, I believe, a touch of grace, there is now a safe haven for such suffering children. And through the love and nurturing care they receive at the Provo Children’s Home, these kids— among the most resilient of souls — can rise like eagles with hope for a better future.
The recently completed Provo Children’s Home (PCH) is a residential facility designed for 20 children and 4 adult caretakers. The lovely building sits atop a low hill in Chalk Sound, just across from the police sub-station. The morning we visited, a cool breeze swept through the foyer and the large, open-plan kitchen/dining/living area — all spotlessly clean — was comfortable and inviting. The central area also includes a play room, library/study/ computer lab, laundry and lots of storage space, along with two overnight rooms for children in emergency situations and a meeting room for caseworkers and parents. Separate girls’ and boys’ dormitory wings flank either side, with kids doubling up in each bedroom and two spacious bathroom/shower areas for each gender. (I was envious of the ocean view from the girls’ bath!) Far from institutional, rooms are bright and cheery, outfitted with quality materials and soothing colors. I remained impressed with how tidy it all was — House Manager Kelly Hedges assured me this is the result of the daily chore list! Besides the paved driveway which doubles as a basketball court/roller skating rink, children can enjoy the outdoors on the breezy patio out back, which will soon be the site of a home-grown salad garden. The entire one-acre site is fenced, gated and alarm-protected for safety, with a back gate leading to the beach at Sapodilla Bay.
Only open since January 22, 2010, PCH is already nearly full to capacity, with 17 children. Its purpose, Kelly explains, is to serve as a warm, loving “temporary” home for children between the ages of 4 to 16 who need care and protection. Not designed as a long-term facility, the goal is to return children to their family or relatives when the situation improves or find a foster home or permanent adoption. The average stay is from six months to a year. Within that time, PCH staff tries to envelop the children in a nurturing environment, with plenty of opportunities for learning, developing social skills, and experiencing activities that may be totally new to them — in effect, opening their eyes to a world of possibility.
PCH staff members exude empathy and love, seasoned with a backbone of discipline and structure. Children are expected to do chores, attend school, complete their homework and get along with the other kids. Many attend counseling sessions with Turks & Caicos Islands social service psychologists (as do their families when necessary). But there’s plenty of time for fun and casual learning, too. The children partake in all that Provo has to offer for kids, from ballet to soccer, including classes, tutoring and activities at the Edward Gartland Youth Center. During holidays and summer breaks, they participate in various kid’s camps, in most cases at little or no charge.
From there to here
PCH was born in March 2006 as a private, long-term orphanage called Nissi House, in Thompson Cove. In mid-2007, the focus was changed to include all children in need of a safe environment. After Hurricane Ike damaged Nissi House in September 2008, the children and caretakers had to live in two separate, temporary locations until a better solution could be found.
In December 2008, a group of concerned TCI residents, led by Chairperson Tanis Wake-Forbes, formed the PCH Build Group, a private charity. Their idea was to work with TCI government to secure Crown Land for a proper 20-child facility, then raise $1 million to build it. Their lofty goal was to complete the facility within six months of breaking ground, by imploring the community to contribute towards the cause of making a difference in many children’s lives.
This seed of an idea blossomed as PCH Build Group members — 17 accomplished professionals — led the way. Belonger architect Shane Outten provided plans for the new facility; Projetech stepped up as builders, led by owner David Hartshorn and Steve Thompson; engineering support came from Peter Kerrigan’s firm EDS Ltd., Graham Shaw’s design practice BSD Ltd. and John Lawson. Tanis’s interior design company, Finishing Touch, and her designer Lauren Brown took charge of finishes and furnishings procurement, while Art Forbes wrangled with legal issues and Star Management’s Jenny Douglas handled accounting. Belongers Lucille Wilson and Roxann Wake-Forbes (also the PCH psychologist) served as government liaisons for policies and procedures, while Monique Davies, Karen Lawson, Bonnie Voynovich, Stephanie Fitzgerald, Angela Belvin and Kelly Hedges teamed with Tanis and her daughter Roxann to raise funds. PR support was led by Lynn Bengtsson of Grace Bay Resorts, while Tanis’s sister Tracey Wake of Adventurescape provided web site design.
With lots of elbow grease and not a little arm-twisting, the Build Group’s combined determination spread through the community. Resorts, businesses, community organizations, residents and even visitors either donated funds directly, took part in numerous PCH-targeted fund-raisers, or gave of goods or services. A glance at the PCH web site (www.pch.tc) Wall of Fame shows a list of those who made large Founder’s Donations and other contributions. In a touching gesture, students at Enid Capron Primary School took special notice of the kids and contributed their April “Jeans Day” money to help build the home. The teachers added their own contribution and plan to continue the donation every year.
Ground broke on July 2009, and, with almost supernatural speed despite many setbacks, six months later — right on target — the children had a new home.
Keeping it running
“If it could only be that simple,” Tanis Wake-Forbes bemoans. Tanis is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to getting something done for PCH, and she, more than anyone, knows there is still a long road ahead. She explains, “At the end of the day, we raised a 1/2 million dollars, and took out a loan for the other 1/2 million. Now this loan has to be paid back and ongoing operating costs must be met. Government is currently not in a position to provide the original funding as promised so we still need to find innovative ways to raise operating costs.”
And that’s where each reader of this story can step in now. PCH’s web site, www.pch.tc, reveals several pledge plans, including pledging $1/day ($365/year) for three years as an individual or through a company, church or community group pledge of $10/day ($3,650/year) or purchasing a room through the “Donate a Room” pledge.
PCH Wish Lists for day-to-day food and supplies are also posted on the web site. This makes it easy to buy a little extra when you shop and bring in your donation to help fill the large pantry. Other suggestions include donating kid-friendly gift certificates (mini-golf, cinema, bookstore, ice cream or pizza parlor, barber shop or salon), toiletries, household items, clothing and shoes, school/office supplies, games and toys, crafts and just about anything you would use in your own home. Just be sure to contact PCH before dropping off supplies. You can also choose to sponsor a meal plan; some local restaurants already donate food, which is very welcome.
If you like to organize or participate in events, be sure to support one of the annual PCH fund-raisers (organized by either PCH or others), including the “Race for the Conch” Eco-Swim on July 10, annual Champagne & Sushi Cruise in September, Wrightfully Fit Fitness Fun Run in November, Thanksgiving Dinner at Sharkbite, and a Seventies Disco Dance at Christmastime. One generous and creative set of newlyweds requested that relatives and friends make donations to PCH in place of wedding gifts. PCH will also be selling logoed beach bags and a limited edition jewelry piece to add to the kitty.
If funds are tight or you prefer a more meaningful experience, PCH needs your time and talent! Tanis explains, “We encourage residents and even visitors (especially child-care professionals) to volunteer a minimum of two hours/week, at a set day and time (after-school and weekends are best).” Kelly says the list of possibilities is unlimited, “We need homework tutors and reading instructors, along with folks to share skills in cooking, sewing, art & crafts, creative writing, budgeting and money management, gardening, sports, fishing, or simply mentoring.” Volunteers are asked to complete a form, provide a current police record and maintain confidentiality.
Finally, there is need for the ultimate gift of love: opening your home as a foster parent or adoption. Sadly, some of the children at PCH simply have no parents or no suitable family environment to return to.
Hope for the future
Landscaping of Provo Children’s Home grounds is underway, with each of the island’s landscaping companies doing their part. Tanis says with the Rotary Club’s help, plans are underway to prepare ground and lay an irrigation system for a large vegetable garden, enough for PCH consumption with hopes of selling any surplus in the Provo Farmer’s Market.
The future of this haven of compassion is in the hands of the newly elected PCH Board (Chair Bloneva Greene-Williams, Clayton Greene, Matt Trayler, Angela Musgrove, Adelle Elliott Edwards, Hopeful Campbell and Irene Butterfield), who are advised by the newly formed PCH Advisory Committee (Tanis Wake-Forbes, Roxann Wake-Forbes, Melinda Mensen, Denise Saunders, Doreen Quelch Stubbs and Dawn O’Sullivan) that ensures that all works together to serve the children’s best interests. As Tanis states, “There are policies and procedures delineated in the manuals to make sure the home is used for its stated purpose and we work closely with the TCI Social Development Department to ensure these are met and to assure the safety and security of the children.
House Manager Kelly Hedges and Carers Leon Williams and Ingrid Dean and Housekeeper Irma Joinville have been working at PCH since its re-creation in 2007, while Assistant House Manager Pamela Stubbs joined the staff in May, 2010. They all share deep wells of patience and perseverance, along with a boundless enthusiasm and optimism not only for PCH’s future, but for the future of the children they work with. Kelly explains, “No doubt most of our kids come in a bit ‘rough around the edges’ because they have not been in the ideal family situation. But their successes are monumental. We had one girl who had flunked kindergarten; after a short time of care, attention and tutoring, she came out on top of the class in first grade. We had a 12 year old who could not even spell his own name; two years later, he was on the honor roll.” She adds, “We also love seeing a child react when they are introduced to something like dance or hockey for the first time, you can see their eyes light up with this exciting new thing. We encourage each child to learn to swim — even though it’s a pretty slow process! One of my best days was when an older kid I had spent lots of time teaching turned around and start instructing one of the younger kids. It’s a step towards sharing and having compassion for others.” Kelly says the ongoing success stories they witness, even after children have left PCH and returned home, are what keep her and the staff going during the challenging times.
In spite of the optimistic reports, all agree that the truth is that no child should have to be at PCH. Unfortunately, for every kid who landed there, there are dozens more that might need such a safe haven. Tanis encourages anyone to report suspected physical, sexual or emotional abuse to the government social development agency or the police. They have the authority to remove children from homes via the courts and order that families get the help or counseling needed.
I caught a glimpse of what drives Tanis and the other members of PCH Build Group and Board during our interview. Tanis stated emphatically, “There is NO REASON these children should not have a place where they can be safe, nurtured and cared for! And there’s no reason they shouldn’t feel proud of where they’re living. We all have to work together to ensure that PCH continues to succeed.”
Let’s all find that special place in our hearts and do what we can.
By Kathy Borsuk