From funding medical care for children in need of life-saving surgery to helping rebuild dilapidated homes, Cayman charity Acts of Random Kindness is celebrating 10 years of doing good deeds around the island.
In its latest project, the charity recruited volunteers from The Ritz-Carlton hotel to renovate a home for a pregnant teen mother in West Bay. The home, like many that ARK has renovated over the years, was stricken with mould, collapsing ceilings and decay.
“The team from The Ritz did a fabulous job to redo the whole home and create a safe and clean space for her to bring her baby home to,” said Tara Nielsen, who runsthe charity with Houria Fresard.
The renovation was part of ARK’s “Cayman Casa” program, which connects Cayman companies to families in need and puts their labor and resources to work on much needed home improvements. It is one of four major programs the charity has pioneered over the years.
The “Reconnect” program helps get electricity and water turned on for families living without basic utilities, while its “Feed Cayman” program provides food vouchers for families struggling to pay for groceries.
ARK also raises funds to help pay for medical crises.
The charity started more than a decade ago, with a group of women who met in each other’s homes to help highlight and raise money for worthy causes. Originally, many of the causes were overseas.
“As we got into it more, we saw how much there was to be done in Cayman and we now concentrate our efforts on the island,” said Ms. Nielsen.
The first major campaign was Feed Cayman, a project which she says opened her eyes to another serious issue.
“As we got out on the streets, we started to see the condition of some of the homes, particularly after Ivan. As we went into these neighborhoods to help one family, we would hear about so many others.
“We were really staggered by what we saw. It really motivated us and gave us something to champion.”
She believes ARK’s greatest success has been in harnessing the good will of the community.
“We are such an affluent society. We wanted to bring people outside of their own lives to help others.
“I think we have also raised awareness about hunger and housing conditions. There is a platform standard of living that should be available to everyone – access to power and water, a roof over their head, a mold-free environment for their children.”
Some volunteers come willingly, others initially as part of their corporate responsibility obligations, but on many occasions the experience is life-changing for the volunteers as well as the families they are helping.
“What we have noticed over the years is that people come back and help again and again because they see how fun and rewarding is.
“It is the community that deserves the thanks, ARK is quite good at galvanizing the goodness of the community,” Ms. Nielsen said.
Among the most memorable examples she recalls is the home renovation for an elderly lady known as Miss Blanche, who had grown up and raised her own children, including a disabled daughter, and grandchildren, in a cramped and dilapidated wooden home off Eastern Avenue. Her son and husband built her a new concrete home, but it burned to the ground just after she moved in, leaving nothing but walls.
“ARK became aware of her plight and we recruited help from KRyS Global,” Ms. Nielsen said. “We were able to completely rebuild the home, complete with furniture, furnishings, toys for the children and everything she could need. It was an incredibly moving story and Blanche was speechless. She died about two years after, we believe she let go knowing her family were finally safe, with a home.”
Another memorable case was Jaspher del Rosario, born with a severe case of cleft palate syndrome that meant he had to have a glass eye and would ultimately require 24 different surgeries.
“ARK was able to raise over $60,000 to assist his parents and also raised hundreds of thousands of air miles for their endless flights to Miami,” she remembers.
There are countless other examples, she said.
“Houria and I have met the most incredible and remarkably strong people in our 10-year journey. It has been an honor and a privilege to be invited so closely into people’s lives and for them to share their trials with us. We hope to be able to continue spreading loving kindness for many more years to come.”