Sunshine League eyes its options
The boss of the Sunshine League Children’s Home says she was “shocked and surprised” to read about Government’s last-minute change of heart in an e-mail.
President Zakiya Johnson Lord believed they were close to securing the agreement deal for Government to operate the 24-hour residential facility at King Street, Pembroke.
Then out-of-blue she received an e-mail from the Ministry of Youth, Families and Sports explaining that it was “unsustainable” for them to run the residential foster care for two to 18-year-olds.
Ms Johnson Lord said they were only informed of Government’s decision on Tuesday morning just moments before the press release was made public.
She has questioned Government’s “timing and reasoning” for dropping out of the deal as the charity’s financial reports had been handed over to them about two months ago.
Government’s decision to pull out of the agreement deal resulted in the 92-year-old children’s home closing its doors for the last time yesterday at 5pm.
Ms Johnson Lord said: “I was definitely shocked and surprised at the timing of their decision not to go forward with the operational agreement that we’d been working on.
“They had the papers in their hands and discussions were ongoing.
“Lawyers were involved and we thought everything was going quite well.
“Then we were told of their decision not to continue, just before the press release was going out to everyone”.
With just one-and-a-half days notice to close their doors, Ms Johnson Lord said “there’s been quite a bit to do”.
The staff have been working together to tidy the building and clear it of everything, from children’s clothes and bedding to its rabbits and chickens.
There has also been lots of administrative duties to complete.
The 15-year-old female and 18-year-old male who were this week living in the children’s home were quickly found alternative accommodation.
The Royal Gazette reported yesterday that Youth, Families and Sports Minister Glenn Blakeney announced that talks to try to secure the children’s home’s future had failed.
The children’s home first announced it would be closing at the start of July due to the excessively high cost of operating the 24-hour programme.
But Government stepped in and said they would try to find a solution to keep the home up and running.
Mr Blakeney told a press conference: “Regrettably, despite considerable effort on the part of both Government and the Sunshine League, I must inform the public that it is not deemed viable for the Government to assume operational responsibility that would allow the Sunshine League to continue as a 24-hour residential foster care facility”.
Mr Blakeney said taking over operation of the Sunshine League would have been “a conflict of interest” as they would have been both operator and regulator and bringing in a third party to run the facility would not be “economically viable”.
The charity’s board of directors will now have a meeting to discuss the exact details of Government’s decision.
The board of directors, who are all volunteers, will remain in place but the five full-time and 13 part-time staff have now lost their jobs.
Ms Johnson Lord said staff members “remained strong with a positive outlook” and would be helped to find alternative employment.
She added that she was “in awe” of their dedication “through this challenging time”.
Government reduced the charity’s annual grant from $200,000 to $100,000 in the most recent budget.
The rest of the home’s estimated $700,000 annual operating costs have been funded by private donations.
But there are no plans to sell the building, which is owned by The Sunshine League. Instead it will be “utilised to meet the needs of the community” and will be used as a venue for groups and meetings.
Ms Johnson Lord insists it is not the end for The Sunshine League but rather the start of “a transition phase”.
The Sunshine League will retain its name and donations will continue to be collected.
She said: “Things have happened faster than we’d thought, we had hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but we are all working at going forward.
“This is a time of transition for us … we aim to still have a fully-functioning building and to continue to provide a service to the community.
“But we are now looking at new options, we are looking forward to continuing in a new direction”.
The Sunshine League will continue raising money for about 115 children who have been placed in foster homes by the Department of Child and Family Services.
This will include paying for essentials like school uniforms and backpacks.
Ms Johnson Lord said: “All money raised will go to the needs of foster children and we hope the community will continue to support us”.