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Scholarship turns dreams into reality

Published:Monday | March 19, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Chevelle Blackburn

For 12-year-old Chevelle Blackburn, passing her Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) for Black River High School in 2005 was a turning point in her life when she knew things would get better.

Blackburn and her two sisters lived with their grandparents in a small house in Whitehouse, Westmoreland. In order to get to school and save on transportation costs, the girls would walk more than five miles and eventually return to a home that did not have electricity.

Fortunately, Blackburn learned that she would be rewarded for her hard work and was awarded a five-year scholarship through the Sandals Community Scholarship Programme to attend high school.

"I thought to myself that God is making a way for me," Blackburn recalled. "I started to build more confidence."

The year 2009 was bittersweet for Blackburn. Her grandfather passed away, adding to the difficulties already being experienced by the teenager and her family. It was also the year that the Sandals Foundation - the philanthropic arm of Sandals Resorts International (SRI) - was established, opening the door for even more opportunities for the 16-year-old.

Through the foundation, Blackburn met a Canadian couple who have supported her education, alongside the foundation, and helped her family live more comfortably. The 19-year-old is now in her first year at teachers' college, and is one of nearly 50 Sandals Foundation scholarship awardees.

"My dreams have become a reality," said Blackburn, who also noted the foundation has been a great motivation for her.

Blackburn's story is only one of 80,000 lives that have been impacted by the Sandals Foundation, through more than 100 programmes, since it was launched in 2009.

Through Sandals Resorts International's philanthropic arm, communities, such as Beeston Spring in Westmoreland now have community centres; and a school that had no permanent structure for more than 30 years, Culloden Early Childhood Institute, got the first environmentally friendly building.

Partnering with Great Shape! Inc., (SRI) the foundation has also promoted health and wellness, with more than 50,000 people benefiting from oral hygiene education, dental, health and eye care clinics.

Committed to channeling all the funds raised into education, community and environmental projects, the Sandals Foundation - through SRI's travel partners, guests and major donors - has raised more than US$1.5 million to fund its work across the Caribbean.

Dedication of our team

"We would not be able to carry out our mission to positively impact the lives of others without the dedication of our team members and the hard work put in by our volunteers," said Heidi Clarke, director of programmes. "We are also very grateful to community partners, without whom our work would not be possible. Partnership is our greatest strength."

Sandals Foundation president, Adam Stewart, who is also the CEO of Sandals Resorts International, noted that the foundation aims to build the Caribbean, one project at a time.

"I am very proud of how far the Sandals Foundation has come in giving back to Caribbean communities in just three years. The community projects and programmes are a step in the right direction, but there is definitely a need that keeps growing and we must continue to work with our partners to address the issues that affect our region," he said.

For 2012, the foundation will focus on teacher training and parenting workshops and has selected 11 major projects to focus on in the Caribbean. These include improving Willikies Primary School in Antigua, which serves 90 students; implementing the Children's Literacy Action Programme, a social intervention programme and community centre for Marchand Boulevard residents in St Lucia; and expanding the Flanker Peace and Justice Centre in Jamaica.