The Grand Bahama Children’s Home Rebuilding After Disaster

Thirty-two children evacuated the Grand Bahama Children’s Home as Hurricane Dorian struck on September 1, leaving many in the Bahamas devastated. 

While the children and staff safely escaped, the children and the home lost everything. These children know loss even at a young age, as they have been removed from their homes due to neglect or abuse, but losing all of their belongings and the safety of the Children’s Home is crushing.

Those children have since been moved to another home on a different island but the Children’s Home must be rebuilt. According to their GoFundMe page, they “lost everything, from the stoves, fridges, freezers, beds, and cribs, to clothing, shoes, toys, and toiletries. There is literally nothing left.”

People can go to the Grand Bahama Children’s Home’s GoFundMe page to donate money to help with the rebuilding efforts. Every donation and share can help their efforts to restore the Children’s Home.

Hurricane Dorian

Hurricane Dorian raged across the Atlantic Ocean from Canada, down the United States’ eastern coast, over Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas.

According to CNN, “ [Hurricane] Dorian — the strongest hurricane ever to make landfall in the Bahamas — moved only 30 miles in 30 hours … mercilessly raking the same areas with destructive storm surge and winds.”

The hurricane stayed over the Bahamas for almost two days at a steady force. The Bahamas were wrecked by the storm. Many were completely and utterly devastated. Homes were destroyed and debris was spread all across affected areas of the Bahamas.

Sheila Johnson-Smith, the executive director of the Grand Bahama Children’s Home, said, “The children, of course, [were] on property when the hurricane hit. The flooding from the ocean was unexpected and they, of course, along with the other staff on duty became quite alarm[ed] as the water began to rise.”

Executive Director Johnson-Smith also stated that, in some parts of the property, the flooding reached 8 feet tall.

Executive Director Johnson-Smith said that as the children were evacuated by the Royal Bahamas Defense Force, “the children … had to either walk in the rising flood waters or be lifted because they were so young and unable to walk as result of the force of the water.”

People are still rebuilding from the disaster left behind. Even those who prepared for the hurricane are now cleaning up and rebuilding, like the Grand Bahama Children’s Home.

“Although we prepared well for hurricane Dorian with food and water supplies, generators, and battery-powered lamps, we were not ready for the sheer force of the storm, and we were helpless against the rising floodwaters,” The Grand Bahama Children’s Home website states.

Many of the staff for the Children’s Home, including Executive Director Johnson-Smith, lost everything and are also attempting to rebuild after Hurricane Dorian.

The Children’s Home is still structurally sound after the storm, however, all of the buildings need to be gutted and restored.

The History of the Children’s Home

The Grand Bahama Children’s Home has been in operation since 1977 as a home for children. In 1980, they housed children ages 6 weeks to 18 years, but it proved too much to handle as the building couldn’t accommodate 60 children. Then by 1991, the Harmony House for teenage girls and the Columbus Houses I and II for teenage boys were created. This freed up space at the original house and made it easier to accommodate the many children who needed a home.

Thus, the original home began caring for children ages 6 weeks to 13 years. It is run by the Grand Bahama Children’s Home Committee and the Department of Social Services. They’ve helped many children and 68 children were fostered or adopted from the home.

Executive Director Johnson-Smith said that over 6,000 children have passed through the Children’s Home in the past 40 years it has been operating. Those children can find refuge at the Children’s Home from the abuse or neglect they may have suffered in their families.

“This home is a place where children feel love and they are not afraid,” said Executive Director Johnson-Smith. “We are not just employees to these children, we are their family and they know that we will protect them with [every] fiber of our being. “

They care for children throughout the Northern Bahamas and take care of their food, their clothing, their comfort, anything you can think of. Executive Director Johnson-Smith said they receive placement requests from the Department of Social Services twice every month. Those children who would have received placement in the Children’s Home now have to find a place on one of the other islands while this home is being rebuilt. They have to find spaces for these children who would have had a place if the hurricane did not hit.

The Grand Bahama Children’s Home has literally been a home for children for over 40 years. Don’t let their aid to children in the Bahamas stop because of this natural disaster. If you have time, check out their GoFundMe for more details, to donate, or to share the page with others.

What Does the Grand Bahama Children’s Home Do?

Executive Director Johnson-Smith described the busy days that the kids experience at the Children’s Home. The Children’s Home usually has less than 28 children and many of the children go to different schools, including some special needs schools.

Their morning starts at 6 a.m. where they wake the kids up and everyone starts preparing for school. Next, is breakfast at 7 a.m. and then, at 7:45 a.m., the maintenance supervisor/bus driver at the Children’s Home brings the kids to all their different schools.

The kids then return back to the Children’s Home around 4 p.m. “They are given a light snack before tackling homework with the aid of the volunteer tutors, students doing community services for graduation, or our staff members,” said Executive Director Johnson-Smith. “At 6 p.m., they have their baths and shortly after, dinner. Depending on the age of the child, bedtime varies up to 9 p.m.”

The Children’s Home has a solid routine in place for their children. Foster children need routine and structure to thrive.

The Adoption.com article “Providing Structure for Your Foster Kids” notes that children in foster care need structure. The author, Liz Young, a foster parent, wrote that “children who have experienced trauma, which the majority of foster children have, feel as though their lives are out of control all the time. A structured environment is predictable; it reduces the chaos that has defined a trauma-filled life. Create clear, simple rules and boundaries and stick to them.

“…We do what we can to keep a consistent and predictable schedule, but things inevitably happen that disrupt our schedule, which often disrupts our boys’ sense of safety and comfort. It is in those moments of perceived psychological danger when our boys’ behavior tends to spiral out of control.”

Having the Children’s Home flooded and ruined can truly disrupt these children’s lives and their needed structure. Being uprooted again is less than ideal for these children. If the Children’s Home is rebuilt that could help bring back the structure and stability that it provides to the many children who need that aid.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j5-H9xFLVDo&feature=youtu.be

Watch the video above to see the Children’s Home and see staff talk about how they operate and help children. This video was taken prior to the hurricane so it shows what resources they offered and what they will need to rebuild and repair.

Foster Children

The children in the Grand Bahama Children’s Home are not orphans, however, they have lost and suffered much. Many of the children were abused or neglected and as a result, they were removed from their families and placed in a home where they would receive proper care.

Caring for a foster child is delicate and complex work as most kids who have experienced foster care have trauma. Helping a child with trauma requires a lot of training. It also requires help and expertise. Many foster parents rely upon other professionals, such as therapists and social workers, to aid them as they help their foster children adjust.

Trauma is serious and it affects development. According to “Age: Just a Number When it Comes to Trauma,” by Liz Young, “Children who have experienced trauma display behavioral issues because their brains have not developed fully to the point of other children their age. …I have seen this first-hand in my children, who entered the foster care system after experiencing trauma early in their childhood. Their chronological age is much larger than their emotional or developmental age, but it is much smaller than the age of their experience.

“While this may sound and feel very discouraging, hope is not lost for these children. …These missing skills can be learned when children have the opportunity to practice them repeatedly in a safe environment. This is where foster parents, adoptive parents, and foster care workers come into play.”

Notice where Young says a “safe environment.” These children who may have been severely traumatized need a safe place to go with people who can help them, give them structure, and care for them as a family.

This Children’s Home is one of the places that’s relied upon to give proper care to these children who cannot care for themselves. They care for 20 to 30 children at a time. They’ve helped hundreds of children throughout their existence; those are children who may not have had a place to go otherwise.

Having the staff and the facilities to care for this many children and help children through trauma is difficult. But the Children’s Home has successfully aided children for years.

As they take care of foster children from the Northern Bahamas, there is a whole section of the islands that they provide for. Without their help, that may put a strain on the other foster resources across the Bahamas and it may leave children without the help they desperately need.

While people throughout the world may not be able to directly go to the Bahamas to help this organization and the children, there are other ways to lend a hand.

How to Help? 

They are asking anyone and everyone to help them rebuild. The children are being taken care of in another home on a different island so they are asking for donations to rebuild. The buildings are still standing but the insides of the buildings are ruined. They recently finished gutting the building, however, they still have a long way to go. They need to get new furniture and prepare the Children’s Home for the children to return.

Executive Director Johnson-Smith noted that their focus in the rebuilding of the Grand Bahama Children’s Home is the four main buildings that were extensively damaged: the three residences and the administration building.

“It is our determination, albeit, ambitious, to have our children in their beds for Christmas,” said Executive Director Johnson-Smith.

They have been working since Hurricane Dorian struck and on their GoFundMe page, they noted the help they’ve been given so far and how there is some more help needed: “Our warehouse is full of clothing and diapers, and baby formula, and toys… we couldn’t fit another thing in there! What we need now are the big items – refrigerators, stoves, freezers, sofas, dining tables and chairs… things that the average person can’t afford to donate on their own. If 25 people were able to donate $25, that right there would buy the children a fridge!”

But in order to achieve that goal and in order to get the children back in their beds for Christmas, they need more donations on their GoFundMe page, which you can reach here.

“There is never any amount of money that is too small and there is never any amount of service that is too small,” said Hon. Sen. Katherine Smith, chairman of the fundraising committee, in their YouTube video about the Children’s Home.

These foster children need their structure, their staff family, and their refuge back. Even if you can only donate a few dollars or share the GoFundMe with others, it can help those involved in the rebuilding and the children who are waiting to get their home back.

Visit their GoFundMe to send donations, to share their cause, and to see updates.