The I Can Foundation Children’s Home.
DUTCH QUARTER–I Can Foundation Children’s Home board members are hoping to continue the operations of the home in the wake of the passing of founder and director Cassandra Gibbs, who operated the foster facility from her personal residence at Gibbs Drive in Dutch Quarter.
Since Gibbs’ sudden and shocking passing on July 19, members of the board have been devoting their time to carrying out tasks previously done by the late founder.
Board Treasurer Robert Pinard told The Daily Herald the intention is to continue the operations of the home and to expand it further, as there is a need for the service in the community. The board is currently engaged in discussions with Gibbs’ son on the possibilities of continuing to operate the home from its present location.
“As of now nothing has changed and we are talking with her son,” Pinard explained. “We are just in the beginning stages of discussions (and) nothing much can be said at this point in time.”
The home currently houses eight children ages from about 10 to about 17 years, but it has the capacity to accommodate as many as 20 children. However, Pinard said, “At this point, we are not quite ready to accept more children,” but it is the intention to do so in the future.
He explained that the only significant change is the taking over of some of Gibbs’ responsibilities by members of the board. This will continue until the board is able to bring in someone to replace Gibbs. “To do as much as she was doing is very difficult shoes to fill.”
As Gibbs had been president of the board and with another board member indicating their intention to leave due to personal reasons, two additional persons are needed for the board to reach its capacity of seven persons. Elections will then have to be held to select a new president, said Pinard, who has been on the board since the inception of the children’s home.
For now, board members are making themselves available and are in close contact with the office administrator to coordinate the running of the home. “We do visits at the home more regularly than we used to do before.”
Board members also ensure that protocols put in place by the Court of Guardianship are adhered to, that children are taken to their medical and other appointments, and make themselves available if they need to visit the school that children at the home attend, amongst other things.
Because the responsibility is being shared, managing the home has not been too burdensome. There is also good cooperation from staff and everyone concerned.
Since Gibbs’ passing, the board has met with representatives of the Court of Guardianship, Foundation Judicial Institute St. Maarten SJIB and donors on their intention to continue operating the home.
Gibbs’ passing hit staff, the board and children hard. It was one of the children who discovered Gibbs’ lifeless body when they went to wake her up the morning of July 19. As a result of the impact of her loss, children received counselling.
“As far as Cassandra is concerned, it was more than just a home. She was their maternal mother. It affected the children a lot. … The staff, it caught them a bit off guard and they were kind of very unsure of what would happen next. The Court of Guardianship brought in persons [to counsel – Ed.] the children and this is still happening.”
In addition to Pinard, the board consists of Vernel Paul, Lydia Lake, Humphrey Giterson, Wilbur Hamer and Marie Alexis.
Pinard identified meeting financial commitments such as utilities, supplies and food and ensuring that the children are engaged in extracurricular activities as being amongst the biggest challenges facing the board currently.
“Fortunately, members of the public are volunteering to assist us. We are into the second month and donors and persons are dropping in funds to us, which we are able to meet expenses.”
The home welcomes volunteers, particularly persons with formal training to counsel children and those who might be able to assist the home to restart its garden, which was destroyed by Hurricane Irma. The garden can offer the home some amount of self-sufficiency, as it can produce items it consumes in the garden.
Pinard assured that the board would love to continue and grow from strength to strength, as there is a need for the home in St. Maarten.
“We are very thankful that the public has shown support. There are persons who come from overseas who give donations. Upon receiving the donations, we acknowledge the donation and deposit it into our fund. … We are looking to grow from strength to strength,” he said.
Gibbs’ sudden passing had left the community, in particular persons who had known and worked with her for more than two decades, in stunned grief. She passed away peacefully in her sleep.
The foster home marked 23 years of existence on July 17. Gibbs was made a Knight in the Order of Oranje Nassau by then-Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands for her selfless dedication to children and their wellbeing.
Gibbs was also an active member of the School Bus Owners Association and a former secretary of the United Bus Drivers Association.