21 people in 2021: Lauren Nelson

While the Cayman 2.0 series has thus far been looking at the ideas and strategies that could make the country a better place, we’re changing things up for December. This month, we’re highlighting 21 people who could turn some of those ideas into reality – or at least get the ball rolling – over the next calendar year.

With five programmes aimed at assisting Cayman’s children – some of whom are considered at-risk or special needs, or come from low-income homes – National Council of Voluntary Organisations board chair Lauren Nelson sees the potential for how the NCVO can help shape the next generation.

“We really want to be more focussed on the children,” she said.

To truly be able to do that, however, Nelson says the NCVO needs more financial freedom.
“We’re fundraising for salaries, which makes things very difficult,” she said. “It’s been a difficult year for funding, as you can imagine. And we’re really trying to focus on the preschool and foster home, and really ensure that we are providing the best we can for these children.”

That’s where Nelson and her team come in. They have plans to make changes to the NCVO’s programmes in the hope of focussing on their core mission. Nelson is also eager to meet with government leaders to lobby for more cooperation and funding.

21 people in 2021

James Whittaker
• Rachel Smyth
• Andre Gooden
• Adam Sax
• Marc Langevin
• Louisa Sax
• Dr. Marc Lockhart

“Where do you see us? How can we work together and get some funding from government?” Nelson said. “Because we’re making a loss, a dramatic loss every month. And that’s what we’ve always done, because we’ve always fundraised for the difference. But is there some better partnership with government?”

The NCVO is set to receive $343,000 from government in 2021, according to budget documents. That’s well short of its annual operating expenses.

While the NCVO is a private non-profit, it often works hand-in-hand with various government entities.

It follows the Education Ministry’s lead with regards to learning standards, curriculum and the Early Childhood Assistance Programme, where government pays school fees for students to attend private primary schools when there are no open spots at government schools.

She says similar support is required for the foster home, which currently houses eight at-risk boys who have been referred to them and have needs that are becoming increasingly difficult to meet.

“…A foster home used to be more of a family environment with live-in caretakers providing the family environment for the children,” Nelson said. “But what that doesn’t do is provide all those added resources [for] these kids who generally are at-risk,” she said, adding that they come with special needs.

“We shouldn’t be in a situation where we’re fundraising to look after children that are with us at the foster home but placed through the court system,” Nelson said.

While steadying the organisation’s finances is at the top of her to-do list for 2021, Nelson says there are some internal changes being implemented as well.

With the preschool, numbers have been trimmed by nearly a third to allow for more individual attention. Nelson and her fellow board members also want to focus on introducing real learning at an earlier age versus simply offering a time for play.

“We’ve really tried to make the curriculum far more robust,” Nelson said, “so that it’s really going somewhere and it’s providing something for these children.”

For the time being, Nelson plans to continue volunteering with former chair Tim Courtis, the rest of the board and the staff at the NCVO to ensure it stays afloat month-to-month while pursuing these bigger changes in the background.

“They do an excellent job,” Nelson said of the NCVO staff. “There is no better cause in Cayman than the NCVO. It’s a huge responsibility.”

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