Homes for the holidays Robin spreads the joy of holiday pasttime
The first time Robin O’Neil made a gingerbread house with her then teenage son Kevin, it proved to be a magical experience for them both.
She got a recipe from online and said the holiday treat, slathered with icing sugar and tiny candies, came out better than expected.
“The first one we did was so special that I preserved it and used it as a centrepiece on the table in the midst of my Christmas goodies and it became a tradition in the family,” she said.
That’s perhaps why Ms O’Neil, the founder of the Passport to College programme, decided to reawaken the holiday pasttime in Bermuda.
As part of a fundraising initiative, Passports to College held its second annual gingerbread house competition last week at the Elbow Beach Hotel. The winning submissions are on display in the hotel lobby until January 1.
There was a similar competition held at Elbow Beach Hotel years ago and Ms O’Neil said scores of children and families in the community “had a grand time”. “It was so festive and the children were so happy, they loved it,” she explained.
“Last year was our first attempt and we hope to build it out next year by having corporate teams and really expanding, maybe by hosting a gingerbread workshop at one of the restaurants.”
Over the past few weeks, Ms O’Neil held her own small baking workshop for young girls as part of the Phenomenal People’s club. Inspired by all the excitement, the club’s executive director Margaret Giloth assembled her first gingerbread house and took home third place prize in the adult portion of this year’s competition.
Mrs Giloth said: “I had never made a gingerbread house before. I have always wanted to do it, but it looked like so much work that I never took the initiative up on my own, so thank goodness for Robin’s expert direction because it was a true labour of love.”
She modelled her gingerbread house after her real-life home on North Shore and said she had “a great deal of fun” with it.
Daelynn Richards, 12, was awarded first prize for the adults/families category and ‘Best in Show’. The Sandys Secondary School student said her favourite part was decorating the house with her mom Terrilynn Richards and getting the chance to be creative.
Mother and son duo Cilmaria and Miles Outerbridge took home second prize for that category; while preschooler Olivia Flood was awarded for her contribution.
Other winners include primary school students: Carissa Da Silva, Daniela Buglione, Maya Rodriguez, Maegan Costa, Mali Smith and Zene Wade.
Eleven-year-old Carissa won first place in the primary category and said she had a vision of recreating a candy land, filled with lots of mini-gingerbread apartments. “I am really happy with my project because I put a lot of effort into it and it turned out great.”
The Passports to College charity was set up to successfully connect students, parents, schools and communities to college. They offer college preparation programmes, college tours and also support work force development.
Ms O’Neil said she was inspired to start the organisation by her son Kevin, who tragically died in a motorcycle accident in Florida in 2010. Her son wanted to become a computer engineer and was awarded a full scholarship to Morehouse College.
She said she hopes the community sees the charity is there to promote education and help facilitate focused learning and college pathways. “It’s not by chance or happenstance you go to college, it’s a purpose-driven action.”
Another aim of the charity is to show young people that learning should be fun, Ms O’Neil said. Hence why they decided to incorporate the holiday gingerbread competition into their regular offerings.
Her favourite thing about baking gingerbread houses is that it’s a time for families to come together, despite the hectic moments in life.
“In this microwave society we are living in we need to celebrate time and not presents and gingerbread houses require time, you have to make the dough, construct them and you have to be patient.
“You are also learning as you have to measure the sides and parts of the house and measure the ingredients and it can take three days to build one normally.”
Ms O’Neil encouraged anyone who might be intimidated to just give it a try. She said families could start by buying a prefab gingerbread house or visit a website for step by step instructions.
The key ingredient is to “just have fun”. “If it’s crooked, upside down or whatever, the most important thing is that you are spending time with your children,” she said.
Useful website: www.passportstocollege.org.