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Donors pledge $75,000 to homeless project

  • Vital facility: Sheelagh Cooper, left, and Elaine Butterfield at the site of the Transformational Living Centre for Families (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Two donors have pledged a total of $75,000 to transform a former rest home into a life-changing centre for homeless families since an appeal was launched last month.

The leaders of Habitat for Humanity of Bermuda and the Women’s Resource Centre said yesterday that they were “overwhelmed” by the outpouring of support since the project was announced.

Their plan for a Transformational Living Centre for Families will result in the former Pembroke Rest Home being turned into a haven that can cater for ten mothers and their children, who would live there for up to a year while they take advantage of programmes and services to help them move on.

The charities said the first large donation of $25,000 was made by David Ezekiel and David Pickering from the IAS Foundation.

They added that “following that, and again without even making a request”, they got a call from Jim Stanard, the cofounder and chairman of Tiger Risk Partners, who pledged $50,000 of his own money.

Mr Stanard was a founding member of Bermuda’s branch of Habitat for Humanity and sits on the board of directors for the international umbrella organisation.

Elaine Butterfield, the WRC executive director, said: “We have been overwhelmed by the support that we have received for this project already and we have not even launched our fundraising campaign yet.”

Sheelagh Cooper, the chairwoman of Habitat for Humanity of Bermuda, added: “Apart from these two very generous gifts, we have received numerous offers of building materials, doors, windows, flooring and solar panels as well as pledges to provide labour from so many companies.”

Ms Butterfield and Ms Cooper added: “This kind of enthusiasm and support from both the local and international sector so early in the game is hugely gratifying and really serves to underscore the overall recognition of the need for this kind of safety net for our most vulnerable families.

“Now that we have possession of the building, the clean-up has started and we have already had three corporate teams come to our assistance.”

The plan was launched after a think-tank of 18 charities and government agencies in April last year identified significant levels of homelessness among mothers and children, as well as an urgent need to tackle the problem.

A steering committee that included people affected by the problem met over the next year and recommended a TLC for Families that would offer not only housing, but counselling, rehabilitation, education, training and other services.

Mr Ezekiel, who cofounded professional services firm IAS with partners Mr Pickering and Terence Power, said: “We were happy to support the TLC to such an extent at this early stage because it just ticked a lot of boxes.

“Of great importance was that we felt we were contributing to a project as opposed to a charity, given that the goal in founding the TLC was to provide a safe living space for women and their children as a way of enabling them to support themselves.

“The main beneficiaries from the TLC will be the children in the families that are being assisted, and that meets one of the giving goals of the IAS Foundation.”

Mr Ezekiel added: “I’ve also had the pleasure of working with Sheelagh Cooper in the charitable arena when I was chairman of the Family Resource Network and I know that anything she works with has a good purpose and will have a good outcome for those who are being assisted.”

The total cost of renovations to the former rest home, which is owned by Pembroke Parish Council, was estimated at just over $1.3 million.

But the charity leaders said they hoped people across the island would get involved and donate not only cash, but time, expertise and resources to reduce the total cost.

Michael Weeks, a government backbencher, implored the House of Assembly last week to prioritise a multi-purpose facility to shelter homeless people.

He said then: “This is a bipartisan issue. We can’t continue to beat our collective chests talking about our standard of living when we have people, largely black men, living on the streets, doorways and parks.”