Children’s charity in appeal for sponsorship
The founder of a struggling charity which focuses on developing children's brains is appealing to corporate Bermuda to look beyond the well-connected, “big names” in the third sector and consider sponsoring a smaller operation.
Former public schoolteacher Allison Figureido, founder and director of the BSMART Foundation, doesn't have a marketing budget or a board full of high-profile people to convince companies to part with their dollars.
In fact, she has no salaried staff at all. She runs her organisation, which offers after-school programmes five days a week, camps, a thrice-weekly infant playgroup and teacher training, largely as a one-man band — save for help from her husband Tim and a handful of volunteers.
That means the expert in neurophysiological brain development runs the sessions, answers the phone, maintains the website and scrubs the floors herself at the end of every day — while still making time to help youngsters with their homework or talk to parents about the best ways to calm their children.
“I'm Eliza Doolittle,” she laughed.
“I don't want to come across as desperate or coming down on other people but it's just that right now might be a great time to [say] ‘wake up, people!'.
“The greatest return on your investment is investing in the young.”
BSMART has to apply to renew its charitable status every year and is currently awaiting re-registration once it has filed its financial information — requirements that bring their own challenges.
“If an audit costs $20,000, it costs more to get the audited financials than the money that people are willing to give,” said Mrs Figureido.
She is convinced she could be helping hundreds of youngsters from all backgrounds fulfil their potential if she could attract long-term sponsorship from a large company, take on some staff and get more help to run the business side of BSMART.
But so far she has drawn a blank on big donations and estimates she runs the charity — which occupies a vast and colourful space in Cedar House, Cedar Avenue — for less than $200,000 a year. She told The Royal Gazette that $500,000 a year was her “dream figure”.
The charity gets no grant from the Bermuda Government, though it collaborates with government's Child Development Programme, and Mrs Figureido said cuts in government funding to other charities meant there were now more organisations vying for donations from the corporate pot.
“It is all about who you know,” she said. “I submitted grant application forms to a certain company in Bermuda and got turned down.
“Someone on my board picked up a telephone, called the company and got a cheque for $5,000. He didn't have to explain anything about the programme. Bermuda works on who you know.”
Mrs Figureido, one of seven siblings, said she was grateful for all the donations and assistance the charity had received since she founded it in 2010 — help that has included paint from Rowe Spurling, sponsorship from Hiscox, discounts on flooring from Gorhams and furniture from her family.
Her own couch sits in the reading area of BSMART — “I sit on the floor at home now” — and her sisters drop in from time to time with toilet rolls and hand soap.
Those kind of contributions have made it possible for children of all abilities and from all walks of life to take advantage of BSMART — a developmental approach to teaching which uses current brain research and stands for Stimulating Maturity through Accelerated Readiness Training.
The approach was developed in Minnesota and Mrs Figureido brought it to Bermuda, setting up the BSMART Foundation after quitting her job as a teacher at Heron Bay Primary School, where she had worked for 16 years.
The idea is to stimulate the brainstem as opposed to the brain cortex and the programmes at BSMART involve a lot of movement. Participants might have to scale the climbing wall, for example, to pick out words containing certain letters.
“That's the hardest thing I do — making it fun,” said the director. “People think it's play but really it's much more than that, it's much deeper.”
Referring to the recent protests against immigration reform, she said she wished people would get as passionate about the education of Bermuda's youngsters.
“If you want to make sure that your child is qualified to take those jobs [that might be filled by guest workers], then you need to start working with them.
“Protest for the things that could enable your children to be competitive on that level because how is that system working right now for everybody? Not that great, so something has to be done. We can do much better for our children.”
• Anyone interested in helping BSMART can e-mail email@example.com or call 295-6909.