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Helping hand to overcome challenges

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Green fingers: Craig Dickens waters the plants at the Project 100-funded group home in Pembroke. The charity is celebrating 30 years of service (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

For many people, making a sandwich is a chore, but for Craig Dickens it’s an adventure.

Mental challenges made it necessary for the 51-year-old to live with his mother for most of his life. A year ago he had the opportunity to move into a group home with five other men, funded by Project 100.

“Now I’m learning how to do my own laundry, and how to separate the clothes and things like that,” said Mr Dickens, brightly.

When we visited he was showing his friend, Patrick Thomas, the art of making a sandwich.

“You have to spread the mustard around,” Mr Dickens said, demonstrating.

When the sandwich was finally done, both men beamed.

“It’s the first sandwich I’ve ever made,” Mr Thomas said, proudly.

They do not do much cooking as caretakers provide meals.

“Pea soup is my favourite,” said Mr Dickens, smiling.

The men enjoy every opportunity that allows them to do things for themselves.

“My favourite thing to do is clean my room,” Mr Dickens said. “Sometimes we go to WindReach Recreational Village and do cleaning up and sweeping.

“I like doing stuff in my bedroom, like cleaning the carpets. I also like standing out in the yard listening to my music.

“Last week we got to paint the residence, although some paint got on the grass.”

Mr Thomas, 50, spent most of his life in foster care and moved into a group home in Southampton a year ago. He is very proud to be the president of the residents’ council.

“I like being on the council,” he said. “I would like to see the clients given the opportunity to be even more independent.”

The loss of privacy was a downside to group living, Mr Dickens said, adding: “One of the residents is always going in my stuff. I know he can’t really help that, but it’s annoying.”

The Royal Gazette spoke with them shortly before a Project 100 fundraiser at The Fairmont Southampton on Saturday. They couldn’t wait.

“We have tuxedos,” Mr Dickens said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun. But sometimes I have trouble knowing what to say to the ladies, and also the men. But I’ll get better at that.”

Project 100 trustee Deborah Gillett said residents looked forward to the gala all year, and were really disappointed when it was almost cancelled this year.

“Funds have been tight, as they have been for many charities in Bermuda,” she said. “Our donor base has changed. We were talking about having a barbecue this year but then decided to go ahead with the gala because it was our 30th anniversary.”

Justice Norma Wade-Miller was honoured at this year’s gala as one of the charity’s founders.

“The original goal was to foster and develop an awareness of the needs of the mentally challenged population in Bermuda, and to raise funds for the sole use of eliminating or reducing their needs,” Mrs Gillett said. “The ladies who founded it believed that people with learning disabilities did not belong in an institution.”

Over the past three decades the charity has bought homes and specially equipped vans, provided financial assistance to people studying special education, and has given financial assistance to the families of children with learning disabilities.

“I’ve been volunteering with Project 100 for more than 20 years,” Mrs Gillett said. “I was a president at one point. Now I manage the four properties and make sure things are maintained and repairs are made. I give a lot of my time to it, but it’s worth it when I go to the homes and see the people happy and content.

“Sometimes they see me when they are out shopping and will come up and give me a big hug.”

Residents are referred to the group homes through the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute.

Project 100 helps to house about 24 people and is looking for two homes for seven more residents. The charity believes it will need an additional two homes for 12 new residents in the next decade.

• For more information about Project 100, e-mail rgillett@logic.bm or cescabortoli@yahoo.com

All smiles: Craig Dickens was looking forward to Project 100's fundraising gala balll last Saturday (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)