Transforming lives through faith, kindness of strangers
Sunbeam Boys’ Home director calls for more resources, greater focus on intervention
FOR THE last 12 years, Desmond Whitley has been on a mission to make a difference in the lives of young men, even fighting against odds that would deter the most audacious among us.
As director of both Sunbeam Boys’ Home in Old Harbour and Sunbeam Plus, a transition facility in Spanish Town, St Catherine, the clergyman, working with less than adequate resources, is responsible for the care of 58 boys and adolescent males between the ages of six and 18.
Pointing to statistics regarding at-risk youth and crime in Jamaica, Whitley declares that doing nothing was never an option.
“If you are a concerned Jamaican, you can’t help but be aghast at the crime and the vast number of males who are perpetrators. A further drill down shows you that many come from fatherless homes. Sunbeam is a microcosm of society. The current group we have would likely fall into gangs and crime without intervention. But they require more than we’re doing now,” he stressed.
Lamenting the limited resources made available by the State, Whitley noted that Sunbeam Boys’ Home employs 20 persons, including 12 caregivers and administrative and ancillary staff to care for the 42 youngsters at the home. On any given shift there is a maximum of three caregivers for the boys, several of whom have special needs. It is a similar scenario across facilities that fall under the Private Homes Association, of which Whitley is the sitting president.
“Your typical childcare worker doesn’t come with training in social work. Minimum-wage earners can’t bring about transformational change. You need at least a first degree in social work and not just the ability to offer basic care, which is what happens for the most part,” he said.
“We believe the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) does have a grip on what’s happening in the homes, but there is a massive resource gap. Children have to unlearn and relearn the right social habits, and that requires trained staff and money,” Whitley contends, adding that it is the State’s responsibility to facilitate change.
While he advocates for better resources for his boys, Whitley says he will continue to use what he has for maximum results.
Among the Sunbeam alma mater are two young men who have graduated from the University of the West Indies with first degrees in actuarial science in the last five years.
“Our wards have done well and continue to do well. We have boys enrolled at prominent high schools, one young man who is currently enrolled at UWI, and one at CASE in Portland,” he proudly declared.
In addition to state support, the home receives assistance from ‘helpers’, who Whitley describes as “divinely appointed”.
“I tell people all the time that Sunbeam does not beg. The home was started by a man of faith, and that faith still carries us. Just before Labour Day when we saw that the heat was becoming unbearable, I decided to use what little we had to purchase some fans. Within a few days I got a call from Access Financial Services saying that they wanted to come and do some painting and asked if there was anything that we needed. And just like that we got eight wall fans, two for each dorm, and an industrial fan for the dining hall. Access is carrying out God’s work, and I thank them for being willing subjects to be used to serve His children,” Whitley asserted.
Access Financial Services acting CEO, Hugh Campbell, noted: “We’re just happy that we could have helped in this small way. Mr Whitley and his team are doing some really good work with these boys, which redounds to the benefit of all of us. So we are grateful for the contribution that they have been making to society by transforming the lives of these young people.”
Going forward, Whitley says he will be moving to implement a programme for the 15 per cent of his wards with special needs in keeping with their integrated holistic development approach. The boys’ home director is also looking forward to a new licensing regime of the CPFSA that is scheduled for next year. It will place wards based on the age of the children.
“Many homes are overcrowded and unable to treat with the children based on where they are. Best results happen when the children are sectionalised based on their stage and their needs,” said Whitley.