A charity born almost a century ago to help “needy little ones” announced yesterday that it would close and, in doing so, would give its headquarters to another organisation which works to strengthen Bermuda’s families.
The Sunshine League said it was donating its “greatest asset” — a seven-bedroom, seven-bathroom house on King Street in Hamilton, which served as a children’s home for many years — to Family Centre, which will move into the property before the end of 2017.
Sunshine League chairman Annemarie Tobin, choking back tears during an emotionally charged press conference, said the decision to wind down the charity and hand over the property was not an easy one.
“The house has been the home of the Sunshine League for more than 50 years,” she said. “It was established as a place for children, to get their basic needs met and ensure that they had a fair chance at a happy and productive life.
“The decision to terminate the Sunshine League as a Bermuda charity is not one that was made lightly or without much thought or deliberation.”
She said since the organisation lost its government funding in 2011, it had struggled to raise the $1 million it needed annually to run its programmes, relying on about $300,000 in donations.
The trend for helping children in need was also now much more focused on fostering, Ms Tobin explained, rather than on residential care.
“After stringent review of the Sunshine League’s viability in its present form within the community, together with multiple discussions between the boards of both the Sunshine League and Family Centre, the board of the Sunshine League made the decision to convey this house ... as a gift to Family Centre,” she said.
Ms Tobin said the seven-strong board of the Sunshine League was of the view that giving its headquarters to Family Centre was the “right thing to do” for both charities and for Bermuda.
She said the property would be named Sunshine League House, as a lasting tribute to the charity founded by Agnes May Robinson and Etta Jones on January 28, 1919.
Family Centre chairman Justin Freisenbruch thanked the Sunshine League for choosing Family Centre to “carry their legacy forward” by giving “this amazing gift”.
He said: “At Family Centre, our mission is to strengthen families and support systems to create a healthier Bermuda for our children. Having Sunshine League House as our base, will allow us to deliver even more effective services for our families and today we are further inspired to fulfil our mission.
“We will ensure that this property becomes a place where our specialised programmes and prevention initiatives provide children and families with the skills they need to be successful and to sustain that success for future generations.”
The Sunshine League’s first home was in Middletown in a rented property, moving several times before settling at 27 King Street in 1950, after it received the house as a gift. The charity was the idea of Miss Robinson, who was horrified by the conditions in which she saw children living in Bermuda.
A book, Rays of Hope, by Miss Robinson’s relative Carol Hill, details the early years of the charity, describing how her aunt visited various institutions in America, including a children’s nursery, and returned to the island with a burning desire to have a similar facility here.
Miss Hill wrote that her aunt told members of her Bible class she had “more and more a definite call from God to minister to His needy little ones.”
Ms Tobin told the press conference: “The original concept came from the fact that Agnes May had seen children diving into the harbour, where tourists were throwing in pennies, trying to make enough money to support their families in a very hard time. Between the kids not having an education or a place to be cared for, they started doing after-school programmes, Sunday schools, just to get the kids together and bring them out of that environment. Eventually, they started a nursery.”
The charity began offering overnight care to children in 1931 and became a registered charity in 1974. It operated a children’s home until 2011, when financial restraints meant that was no longer possible. It continued offering other programmes for young people, including a transitional living programme. One Bermuda Alliance MP Leah Scott serves as legal counsel to the board.
She said she did not know if there had ever been discussion within the current Government about reinstating the charity’s funding, after it was axed by the Progressive Labour Party administration in 2011.
Former Sunshine League residents include karate champion Skipper Ingham, football coach Andrew Bascome and Dexter Smith, editor of The Royal Gazette.