Gleaner Honour Award: Gary 'Butch' Hendrickson - creating a better future
With an admirable zeal for early-childhood development, Gary 'Butch' Hendrickson, managing director of Continental Baking Company, has decided to make it his mission to help steer Jamaica towards a flourishing future by positively impacting today's budding generation.
"If you can prepare someone for the future in grade school, then on to primary, then secondary school and on to college, then already you have set the foundation for a future of unlimited possibilities," Hendrickson shared.
"It has been generally accepted that age three to eight is the most important learning stage in a child's life, and more and more you see a shift towards putting greater emphasis on early-childhood development. I am quite heartened by that, and I intend to do all I can by making available the necessary resources so that the trained persons in that field have what they need to positively impact early-childhood development."
Putting his money where his mouth is, last year, Hendrickson partnered with Glen Christian, chief executive officer and chairman of Cari-Med Ltd, for the pioneering $175-million Union Gardens Infant School project.
first public-private project
Located in Delacree Park, St Andrew, the state-of-the-art early-childhood institution is the first public-private partnership project, executed and funded through the efforts of several stakeholders, including: The Cari-Med/Kirk Distributors Foundation; The CHASE Fund; National Baking Company Foundation; Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF)/EU Poverty Reduction Programme; the Seprod and Musson foundations; Sandals Foundation; Stewart Industrial; Kingston Wharves Limited; The Tank-Weld Group; Delta Supply Company Limited; Jamaica National Building Society; Advanced Integrated Systems Ltd; Corrpak Jamaica Limited; General Accident Insurance Company Jamaica Limited; Food for the Poor Jamaica; Courts Jamaica; The Gleaner Company Limited; JPS Foundation; National Water Commission; and PROVEN Management Limited.
Modelled off Christian's brainchild, Evelyn Mitchell Infant School/Centre of Excellence in Top Hill, Clarendon, Union Gardens Infant has stepped up a notch, creating an early-childhood institution unlike any other.
"Hands down, the Union Gardens project is the most exciting one I have done. I think it will change the way children will go to school," said Hendrickson.
"It is unique in the quality of the layout, the offerings, style, the entire set-up is child-centred. It is quite unlike any basic school in Jamaica, a concept very unique and target-specific for children. What we did was find out best practices and apply and improve on that."
Construction for Union Gardens Infant started in January 2015, and was completed nine months later, just in time for the new school term.
Built to accommodate 150 students aged three to six, among the features of the school are: astro turf playground, an administrative block, three-classroom modules with each module having its own bathroom, child-built bathrooms, library, auditorium, wired for solar powering, unlimited water supply, rainwater harvesting for irrigation and potable water storage, two meals per day, a full-service canteen, school bus pick-up and drop-off, among other features.
"It has been well received by the students and parents, and hopefully in five to seven years, we will see the end results of that in the GSAT (Grade Six Achievement Test) results. We will continue to improve on each model, and hopefully replicate it across Jamaica in all the parishes. Ideally, we would like to build one each year," he said.
"Frankly, if I could rid Jamaica of one social ill, it would be illiteracy. In fact, if I were to go into full-time voluntary service, early-childhood development would be it, because it is the most effective. I don't believe in a situation where you have to fix a problem down the road; I would rather avoid that by having a good base to begin with. Helping children to get a really good start means a world of difference to me," he said.
"With my children, I try to give them as big an advantage as possible, and I am trying to do exactly the same with all the children I possibly can across Jamaica. It really can't hurt to give them the best head start that you can."
LIFETIME OF GIVING
Through the invaluable humanitarian projects of the National Baking Company Foundation, headquartered on Half-Way-Tree Road, St Andrew, the man known for his heart of gold said giving back is both a passion and a mission.
"This is one of the reasons I get up in the mornings. I look forward to the next project of giving back to Jamaica with a challenge. I have a love for philanthropy unlike any other," Hendrickson stated.
In fact, from as far back as can be remembered, the Hendrickson family and Continental Baking Company have been synonymous with altruism in Jamaica.
Hendrickson shared that he was first introduced to benevolence by his grandmother.
"I grew up seeing my grandmother packing bags every Christmas to give to the needy and we all had to help her. I didn't understand it then, but I suppose that was the first time I saw philanthropy in action. And she always had a smile on her face when she was doing it," he said.
"In fact, I can't think of a time when my family and the company were not giving back in one form or another to one cause or another."
Among the many charitable projects the foundation is involved with are: Crayons Count, Mustard Seed Communities, Missionaries of the Poor, St Patrick's Foundation, Talk Up Youth, and Bustamante Hospital for Children.
Last year, they also partnered on The Bold Ones of Manufacturing, to help small companies grow.
Hendrickson said giving back is a personal choice, which doesn't make him more special than anyone else, "it is simply the right thing to do".
With a roar of laughter, he said, "Emotionally, it is very gratifying, and thankfully, not particularly challenging from a financial standpoint, because the challenge to senior management here is quite simple: Make profit because I'm going to give it away."
He added, "The reality is that our philanthropy is made possible only by our profits. If the company wasn't profitable, we couldn't give away as much. I feel that I am, and by extension, my family, are so blessed, God has been good to us, and we have a responsibility to give back. The Jamaican consumers have been so good to our business, and we consider it a privilege and an honour to give back to them."