Adam Stewart, president of the Sandals Foundation and CEO of Sandals Resorts International, reads to local children. // © 2014 Sandals Resorts International
In just five years, the Sandals Foundation — the non-profit philanthropic arm of Sandals Resorts International — has created or partnered with more than 300 educational, community service or environmental projects and programs on seven Caribbean islands. More than 10,500 volunteers, including travel agents and guests at Sandals resorts, have directly participated in an initiative for the foundation. Elbow grease isn’t all they’re contributing. Donations to the organization recently topped $3.6 million.
Even more impressive is the positive impact that these projects have had on Caribbean communities, especially children. Programs cover a broad range of interests, from turtle and wetlands conservation to healthcare services, literacy programs, sports camps and kids’ clubs, teacher education, school food programs and improvements to school facilities.
“Each island has its own needs, but all of it centers around education,” said Heidi Clarke, director of programs for the Sandals Foundation.
And the needs are significant. On any given day, about 10 new proposals asking for help from the Sandals Foundation land on Clarke’s desk in Kingston, Jamaica. The work requires a long-term perspective. Clarke has a staff of 10 people in her offices, but she receives additional support from the Sandals community.
“I really have a staff of 13,000, because everybody who works for Sandals is our staff,” she said. “All of our team members get involved.”
The Sandals Foundation has advisory boards, including a Caribbean-based board comprised of teachers, divers, environmentalists and community workers. Prospective projects are carefully evaluated and chosen based on what makes the most sense and will help the most people, as well as what is sustainable. According to Clarke, the long-term sustainability factor is a crucial element.
“The purpose of the foundation is not about going into the community and just handing out money,” she said. “It’s about empowering people.”
Guests at Sandals resorts can contribute to the Sandals Foundation in a number of ways, including a financial donation (100 percent of all donations directly fund foundation projects) or an in-kind donation. A needs list is posted on the organization’s website.
“We don’t hard sell the Sandals Foundation on property,” Clarke said. “We want people to be aware of what we do and contribute if they want to. Sometimes the response can be overwhelming.”
More than 5,000 people have participated in a Sandals Foundation Reading Road Trip program since it was introduced in 2012. The program invites Sandals guests to bring book donations and make a short Thursdays visit to a local school to spend time reading with children.
“It has been hugely successful,” Clarke said. “But it’s not about the one-and-a-half hours that happen on Thursdays. It goes way beyond that, way beyond reading. It’s about the connection.”