Charity project aims to lift children out of poverty

Tara Nielsen, bottom left, of ARK and representatives from some of its sponsors with Kelana Cousins, Liani Heslop and Darianna Frederick, the first students involved in ARK’s education campaign.

An innovative new charity project aims to reverse trends in poverty by enticing some of Cayman’s biggest companies to invest in education for underprivileged children.

Businesses can sponsor a child to fund four days a week of specialist one-on-one teaching as part of new initiatives by charity Acts of Random Kindness. The companies will receive progress updates and report cards and are encouraged to develop a real relationship with the child they support.

Tara Nielsen, founder of ARK, said the aim was to provide a “fuel injection” to the education of children who lag behind in school because of their family circumstances. After a decade of targeting the consequences of poverty through its ongoing housing, food and utilities support programs, Ms. Nielsen said ARK was attempting to tackle the root causes of generational poverty with the new “Mentor-Educate-Reinforce” program.

She said the program currently had enough sponsorship to start this year with three children, identified through ARK’s programs and with the assistance of George Town Primary School. It is specifically aimed at children with learning delays or learning difficulties as a result of difficult home life or living conditions.

“These are children that started on the back foot but that are totally capable given time and a chance,” she said.

In many circumstances, she said, parents in difficult circumstances lacked the resources to help their children.

“We see how difficult it is for these single mums,” Ms. Nielsen said. “They may not have power or water, they may not read themselves or be able to help. There are so many hurdles for their children.”

She said the long-term goal is to help those children get the kind of education that will enable them to live a better life.

“We want to start helping these kids at the beginning, rather than help them pay their bills in ten years,” she explained. “We want to give them a real chance.

“We encounter the same situations over and over again and we want to get down to the root cause of it.”

The charity has teamed up with the Cayman Learning Centre, which will provide the special education teachers for the program.

Carrie Patraulea, director of the Cayman Learning Centre, said intensive intervention could help children who lagged behind to catch up with their peers. She said the center’s teachers would spend an hour a day working on specific learning difficulties with each child and reinforcing what they were learning in school.

She said the aim of the program was to break the cycle of poverty through education.

“One-on-one reading intervention is costly but some of the children that need it most come from families that can’t afford it,” she added.

A mini-version of the program was hosted over the summer, with several businesses providing funding to ARK’s students to attend the Cayman Learning Centre summer camp.

Ms. Patraulea said her staff were concerned at the reading level of some of the children and recommended more intensive work.

She said, “You can only achieve so much in a month over the summer. It needs to be intensive and consistent to make real gains.” Ms. Nielsen said ARK was committed to the program and hoped sponsors would come forward to allow it to expand to include dozens more pupils.

She said several sponsors had already come on board to support families for the summer camps or provide part sponsorship for the ongoing program.

The original sponsors include Walkers, Digicel, JTC Group, Baker Tilly, MaplesFS, OneTRADEx, Cayman First and Colette Byrne and family.

Keshia Irvine, of JTC Group, said, the initiative stood out as a “special cause.”

She said, “We can clearly see the benefit it provides to the children and, in turn, the community and for this reason we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to any other future sponsors as an outstanding cause. I know I speak for my colleagues as well as myself when I say that it has been a pleasure and a privilege to have been involved.”

Richard Reading, who runs Baker Tilly, said both his family and his company had sponsored children through the ARK summer camp program. He said, “We thought it was a great initiative to help students who were struggling at school and who wouldn’t otherwise have the means to attend the summer camp program. The summer camps provide an opportunity for these students to receive specialized support and to address some of the areas they struggle with before the new school year.

“As our own daughter had similar struggles after an illness earlier in her life, we were delighted to be able to help these children.”