The Sandals Foundation gives back to local communities in the Caribbean, with a special focus on education. // © 2014 The Sandals Foundation
Penny Sheldon, owner of Penny Sheldon Travel in Boise, Idaho, is passionate about the work done by the Sandals Foundation, the non-profit philanthropic arm of Sandals Resorts International.
“I feel very strongly about giving back,” Sheldon said. “After all, the country is providing the opportunity. And if one is making one’s livelihood based on people sharing their island, I think it’s our responsibility to give back to them. It’s important and it makes a difference.”
Donations to the Sandals Foundation, established five years ago by Adam Stewart, Sandals CEO and president of the foundation’s board of directors, recently topped $3.6 million. While specific projects vary from island to island, all of the foundation’s initiatives focus on education, community and the environment.
“It’s a give-back program,” said Barry Posner, owner of Ultra Vacations and Honeymoons in Redondo Beach, Calif. “Sandals is a family-run business, Caribbean born and raised, and they feel an obligation. They set up the Sandals Foundation as a non-profit specifically to contribute to the islands themselves. They are taking a stance to give back to the places and the people who have made them successful. I think it’s a great thing.”
To date, the foundation has been involved in more than 300 projects and programs on seven Caribbean islands. The organization creates new projects from the ground up, partners with existing local projects and brings healthcare professionals to the islands to conduct free clinics for island residents. Financial and in-kind contributions and personal involvement by guests and travel agents are integral to the organization’s efforts.
Like Sheldon and Posner, travel agent Susan Mackley, president of Susan Sent Us in West Wareham, Mass., is personally involved with the work the foundation does in Caribbean schools.
On a recent trip to Sandals Grande Riviera in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, Mackley brought a large suitcase stuffed with school supplies to donate to a local elementary school. General manager Brian Roper drove Mackley to the Parry Town Primary School, one of the many schools the foundation supports, where they distributed pencils, crayons and notebooks to the students.
“Kids lined up just to get a pencil,” she said. “Then they would break it into four pieces to share with their brothers and sisters. Thinking about it still brings tears to my eyes. It was one of the best experiences of my life.”
Travel agents can also support the work of the Sandals Foundation through the Travel Agent Giveback program (TAG), which enables agents to donate a portion of the commissions they earn on bookings of Sandals Resorts, Beaches Resorts and Grand Pineapple Beach Resorts to the non-profit’s philanthropic efforts.
Similarly, financial and/or personal involvement with Sandals Foundation projects offers an opportunity for resort guests to get involved in something that has a direct and positive impact on a grassroots level.
Mackley never misses the chance to let her clients know about that opportunity.
“I always mention the Sandals Foundation in the sales process,” Mackley said. “And I don’t just talk about it being a non-profit. I talk about it so it’s something the clients can relate to. I bring it from the abstract to the concrete: what if your hospital didn’t have a pharmacy or your local school didn’t have enough pencils or books?”
“It’s a really big selling point because people want to feel they are giving back in some small way — although when you multiply that one small thing by the number of people who participate it really adds up,” Mackley added.
She also encourages all of her clients headed to a Sandals all-inclusive resort to participate in the foundation’s Reading Road Trip program.
“It’s about an hour out of their week when they feel connected to the local culture and they feel good about contributing to the community,” Mackley said.
More than 5,000 Sandals guests have participated in the Reading Road Trip program since it launched in 2012, according to Heidi Clarke, director of programs for the Sandals Foundation.
“That program has been so successful because it’s on every island every Thursday,” Clarke said. “It’s a structured program where guests can go to a local school and work with slower readers, inspiring them and bringing in new materials.”
Penny Sheldon believes that participating in the Reading Road Trip has been meaningful for her clients and added a deeper dimension to their vacation.
“Anybody who has ever done it feels quite fulfilled, and happy that they had the chance to experience the local feel of the island and rather than just the glamour of the resort,” Sheldon said.