Community Organization Lends A Hand

13-year-old Ludema Sira reaps the benefits of Lend A Hand Bahamas, as she is able to use a laptop provided by the non-profit organization and has access to Wi-Fi for virtual school.

By Hadassah Deleveaux (née Hall)

It was well after 9 am when Ludema Sira walked into the building. Clearly, she knew the routine; she was wearing a mask and immediately sanitized her hand before taking a seat at a wooden cubicle with clear, plastic partitions. Her online Social Studies class on ‘Factors Influencing Rainfall,’ was already in session.

“It means a lot to me when I can come here. They help me with virtual learning. They help me with my work. Also, when you need something and they have it, they will give it to you. I feel safe here,” said the D. W. Davis Junior High student.

The 13-year-old was expressing gratitude for being fortunate enough to have access to an electronic device and Wi-Fi to attend classes – thanks to Lend A Hand Bahamas. It’s one of the safe havens over the hill. Through Lewis Street, just off East Street and not far from Market Street, is the Neville and Nora Dorsett Community Center – home to Lend a Hand Bahamas.

The former home of the late Neville and Nora Dorsett in Grants Town, over the hill, has been gifted, repurposed and is now home of community organization, Lend A Hand Bahamas.

The center is the former family residence of the late Neville and Nora Dorsett. It was gutted, rebuilt and repurposed to house Lend A Hand Bahamas. The couple’s photo sits in a frame on the eastern wall of the center – a reminder to all of whom once resided there and the fact that a building which had stood on that property for decades, has become a special meeting ground within the community.

“Mother Dorsett played a very active role with her children and they know her work was important, so they donated the family home,” said a thankful Shelagh Pritchard, one of the Directors of Lend A Hand Bahamas.

Neville and Nora Dorsett’s photo is framed and hanging in the multi-purpose building, which was once their home.

“A lot of the kids don’t have electricity, running water, Wi-Fi. We’ve also always had kids in this community on the streets until parents come home, so this is a safe place. We’re extended family,” said Ms. Pritchard.

Officially formed in 2014 to address the growing need for more community development in the over the hill community, the center has run several programs to assist the residents of Grants Town. In 2017, Lend A Hand Bahamas amalgamated its efforts with a local group called Lignum Vitae 4-H, founded by Ms. Pritchard and 13 other founding members back in 2008.

Center Manager and Program Director, Mitsyann Burrows and one of the Directors of Lend A Hand Bahamas, Shelagh Pritchard.  

Lend A Hand Bahamas volunteers, Mitsyann Burrows (L) and Shelagh Pritchard work along with nine-year-old Rashado Bethel of Woodcook Primary during a virtual lesson.

“There is a clear-cut structure and vision, and 4-H is an anchor of our center. We work in conjunction with the University of Florida, but using whatever programs are matched to us culturally. As the world changes, we have to adapt our programs,” said Ms. Pritchard, who has long had a heart for the people over the hill.

Also in the center the day I visited were nine-year-old Ariana Flowers of Eva Hilton Primary and Rashado Bethel of Woodcook Primary. They were later joined by Loucas Sira, a 10-year-old student of Columbus Primary. They were being closely monitored during their virtual classes by Program Assistant, Denero Rahming.

Program Assistant, Denero Rahming wears a mask as he assists 10-year-old, Columbus Primary student, Loucas Sira, who is also wearing a mask. Plastic partitions and face masks are a part of the Lend A Hand Bahamas safety protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nine-year-old Ariana Flowers of Eva Hilton Primary, focuses on the lesson during a virtual class.

Like every other sector of society, as a result of COVID-19, Lend A Hand Bahamas had to shift its focus from hosting sewing classes, senior days, assisting with homework after school and other activities.

“Most of our projects have been experiential learning. Lots of engagement and interaction. The elderly came and created craft, while quietly talking. They would come here, have coffee and lunch. They even watched American politics. This was their space, but COVID caused displacement. Even in the afternoons, there used to be some 60 students as a part of the after-school program,” said Ms. Pritchard.

Meanwhile, Center Manager and Program Director, Mitsyann Burrows, underscored the importance of Lend A Hand Bahamas to the immediate community.

“We are focused on giving a hand up and not just a hand out, helping them to equip themselves. That’s what 4-H is all about: head, heart, hands and health. We’ve taught sewing, CPR, workforce preparation and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math),” she stated.

Mitsy, as she is affectionately called, noted that it was not all smooth sailing entering the community.

“When we first came, it was tense. We had to get them to trust us; the kids first and then their parents. They then came into this space and we nurtured them. We came in as agents of change,” recalled Mitsy, who has extensive experience with 4-H based learning and is a trained educator of 12 years.

“We are here to change their mindset, so they can break the cycle. We have built relationships, so once the kids trust us, the parents trust us. We even help the kids with jobs and get them off the streets,” she added.

Additionally, Mitsy directs the organization’s national food assistance efforts. Thousands have benefitted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lend A Hand Bahamas is responsible for food distribution centers in Englerston, the Grove, Centreville, Bain and Grants Town, and Fort Charlotte.

And to help with food security and self-sufficiency, Lend A Hand Bahamas has gone a step further; the non-profit organization is in the embryotic stage of a backyard farming greenhouse project aimed at promoting urban farming in the Grants Town area. It is another step towards the hand up and not just a hand out concept Misty spoke about. Agricultural experts and other specialists assisted with constructing the greenhouse and planting seeds; eventually, farming methods such as hydroponics and aquaponics are expected to be implemented. 

Lend A Hand Bahamas has started a backyard farming greenhouse project aimed at promoting urban farming in the Grants Town area.

Meantime, with thousands out of work as a result of the pandemic, there are many seeking assistance with basic necessities and Lend a Hand Bahamas is one of the organizations at the forefront. I accompanied Mitsy and Ms. Pritchard to the Bain and Grants Town distribution center, housed at the Church of God of Prophecy, Meadow Street. The line stretched from Meadow Street and Hospital Lane to Wellington Street, a block away. I saw people in wheel chairs, on crutches and a man on a bike. I was told that they begin the queue from 5 in the morning, when it is still dark.

The recent scene at the Church of God of Prophecy, Meadow Street, as scores of people lined up to collect parcels of grocery – thanks to government aid and private donations. Lend A Hand Bahamas is one of the organizations assisting in the national effort.

A volunteer assisting with food parcel distribution.

Grits and cereal are two food items which are a part of the food parcel.

Sitting at a makeshift check-in station were the church’s minister, Pastor Sterling Moss, along with volunteer, Olivia Evans.

Interestingly, the 38-year-old is also a recipient of the brown paper bag of grocery collected by so many – thanks to the government and private donors. However, because of her hospitable disposition, she has become a volunteer as well.

“I thought my problems were big, but others have bigger problems than me,” said Olivia, who worked in the Straw Market before the pandemic hit.

“I’ve always been interested in helping people and hearing people’s stories, I just want to help. I need a hand, but I’m stilling helping,” said the mother.

And I believe that it is the mentality of Olivia which makes a difference in these extraordinary times. She is a shining example of what community development can produce and what it means to lend a hand.

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