by Brian Major
Last updated: 6:10 PM ET, Wed June 4, 2014
PHOTO: Sandals Foundtion CEO Adam Stewart. (Photo by Brian Major)
Along with broad influence come opportunities to create meaningful change in the lives of many. As operators of the largest Caribbean-based hospitality company, officials at Sandals Resorts International are seizing on their chance to improve the lives and futures of their countrymen through the Sandals Foundation, which organizes, undertakes and manages a series of charitable initiatives across the Caribbean.
This week Adam Stewart, Sandals' CEO met with media aboard the company's Lady Sandals yacht at New York's Chelsea Piers marina to celebrate the foundation's fifth anniversary. The effort crystallized around the Stewarts' personal philanthropy, a practice the family sustained without much emphasis on fanfare. "Both of my parents have always been very involved in giving back to our community," said the Jamaican-born Stewart, the son of Sandals founder and chairman Gordon "Butch" Stewart. "This was more of a formalization of what they were doing."
This year the foundation is launching three programs as part of its "High Five" campaign. Project Sprout will provide teaching and learning aids including books, computers and educational toys to school-age children in Jamaica in an effort to overcome challenges to early childhood development faced by poor and working-class youngsters. The plans include construction of an early childhood institute in Jamaica's Westmoreland parish. Providing Access to Continued Education (PACE) is an initiative to provide education and support to teen-age mothers in the Bahamas and promote awareness of measures to reduce teen pregnancy.
Wade's World is a three-year partnership between Miami Heat star Dwayne Wade's eponymous foundation and the Sandals Foundations. The two organizations will spearhead programs to benefit youth in under-served communities in the Caribbean and Miami. The first collaboration, Game Changer, will provide communities with sports and recreation, plus camps and after-school training and coaching sessions.
While the charitable works are grounded in the Stewarts' sense of giving back to their community the foundation's work also represents an investment in the company's future. Sandals Resorts is the largest private employer in the Caribbean, Stewart said, and as such relies on a motivated, educated Caribbean workforce.
"We have arrived at where we are today because of an emphasis on top-quality facilities and a focus on the human capital," said Stewart. "The service and delivery standards we carry out are what make the difference and it is our responsibility to provide the opportunities to people in our own backyard. What we are doing is genuinely changing the Caribbean."
Sandals' Island Routes Caribbean tour and shore excursion company is also a important partner in the Sandals Foundation effort, said Stewart. Island Routes offers a Reading Road Trip excursion on which in travelers can visit a community within their resort's region and interact with school children, helping them to read and study.
"We genuinely want people to go out and to touch and feel be 'infected' by the love they feel from the communities," said Stewart. "It's like a mini-mentorship program. It's always a few hours for an afternoon, but the biggest problem we have is the guests don't want to leave. They receive so much love and joy from the kids. They get to go and touch the actual community they are affecting. The funds from that then become funds for the Sandals Foundation."
Since its 2009 inception, the foundation has hosted more than 10,500 volunteers, raised $3.6 million and launched more than 300 programs and initiatives across Jamaica, Antigua, St. Lucia, the Bahamas, the Turks & Caicos, Grenada and Barbados.
"The basis of all we do is education, environment and community," said Heidi Clarke, the foundation's director of programs. "It's about us being on the ground with the community's stakeholders to find out where the need is greatest. Under education that adopting schools, building up school infrastructure and giving the children of the Caribbean the same opportunity other children around the world have," she said.
The initiatives range from educational and societal development to environmental programs. "In terms of the environment, the livelihoods of 350,000 people in Jamaica depend on the marine sector and the fish population has gone down tremendously," said Clarke. "We're out there saying to people 'This is how you can get onboard and make a difference,'" she said. "We manage two marine sanctuaries in Jamaica and assist the other 14 in existence and on the other islands work to sustain endangered species."
While the foundation's growth over five years has surprised even Stewart and his team, he said he is proud the organization has maintained its goal of distributing funds and support directly to those who need it.
"Rule number one when we started the foundation was that everything donated to the foundation must go to the community," said Stewart. "It's 100 percent transparent. If you give one dollar, that dollar goes to the foundation and Sandals picks up the administrative cost."
He added, "It's about giving people an opportunity to make change in the Caribbean and we are very passionate about and proud of what we do. And whatever we do, wherever we do it, our goal is to make it sustainable."
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