On Friday, September 6th, a group of Statesboro community leaders met with five Georgia Southern students who had started a donations drive for the Bahamas which had been devastated by Hurricane Dorian. At the meeting, we learned that these student’s parents had lost everything. They had immediate concerns about the safety of their family. They wanted to do anything they could to help. During this meeting, we learned that there were 38 students from the Bahama’s living in Statesboro either attending Georgia Southern University or Georgia Premier Academy.
Wanting to learn more about these students and their needs, we decided to invite them all to lunch on Saturday, September 7th. 23 students attended this luncheon, 13 high school students and 10 Georgia Southern students. We later identified five more students that had been affected. Out of the 38 students identified, 28 requested assistance and accepted our invitation to now become part of our local families.
These students stole our hearts. We understood they were concerned about their parents but what became apparent to us was they had immediate personal financial needs as well. Not only had their parent’s homes been destroyed, but most of their parent’s places of work had been destroyed also. The banks were closed in the Bahamas parent’s had no way to get money to their kids to pay for expenses and tuition. The eye of Dorian sat on the Bahama’s for 48 hours starting on September 1st. A had past since Dorian with limited communication with their parents.
Our Community Steps Up
Those of us attending the lunch meeting with these students decided we would do everything we could to help them with their financial needs. Just imagine how it must have felt for these parents who have lost everything to now worry about how they were going to get money to their kids. We put ourselves in their shoes and decided that if we could find families, churches and organizations to “adopt” these kids for at least three months, that would take a huge burden off of their parents. It would also give these students hope and comfort that everything was going to be OK and they would be able to continue their education here in Statesboro.
We launched this idea on Grice Connect social media pages. We communicated the need and asked citizens to join us in this effort. Individuals, churches and businesses stepped up to “adopt” the students. Over the next week we worked to get initial commitments to cover their financial needs for at least three months. The community stepped up in unbelievable ways. By Tuesday, September 10th we had enough firm commitments to cover the student’s immediate needs. We still are working to make sure all 28 students are fully covered financially for at least three months.
Georgia Southern University, Ogeechee Technical College and Bulloch Academy all engaged quickly and have been a huge help in working with the students to make sure they did not get dropped from classes and also received all the books they needed for classes.
On Wednesday, September 11th, Randy Childs, President of RANCO Response invited me to travel to the Bahama’s with his team. They were making a presentation to the leadership managing the disaster on Grand Bahama Island. This gave me an opportunity to see firsthand the destruction and to also visit with most of the family member of the students we are helping.
What happened next was a moment that I wish everyone of you reading this could have experienced with me. At the government building, they had assembled over 20 family members of the students we are helping. Because so many of you stepped up so quickly, I was able to share with these parents how the Statesboro community was stepping up for their kids.
One by one, the parents introduced themselves and shared with me who their child was and with great emotion, shared their gratitude. One of the parents said that they didn’t know generosity like this existed. They continued to share what it meant to know their kids were surrounded by a community that loved them this much.
I then explained our expanded goal, which is to help as many of them as we possible could secure their homes, provide critical supplies that they need from food and water to cleaning products. Then we hope to help as many of them rebuild their homes and businesses so they could get their life’s back on track again.
There was not a dry eye in the room, including mine. They shared stories of how they dreamed of their children getting an education that would allow them to become successful in life and financially stable. In the course of a few hours, all of their dreams had been destroyed. Now they were worried the same could happen, also, to their kids. It was at this meeting that we learned that one of our GSU student’s dad had died on the East End of Grand Bahama Island. He was the only student that lost an immediate family member. Many of them lost extended family members and friends.
Gift of Thanks
On behalf of their kids and their families, they presented me with a Bahamian Flag and asked me to fly it as a small reminder of their gratitude. When you visit downtown you will see it flying proudly.
We discovered that word had spread pretty quickly in the Bahamas about our student adoptions. It was important to connect with locals who had connections with Statesboro.
We met OP Pinder on the visit. OP is a graduate of GSU and is the past president and current treasurer of the Rotary Club of Freeport. He has been a tremendous help on the ground. He serves in a key position at the Freeport Airport which positions him to be very helpful in navigating supplies and volunteer teams in.
We also met Pastor Audley Swain. Pastor Swain is the grandfather of Brittni Swain, one of the GSU students helping lead this effort. Here is a video I shot with a message of gratitude from OP and Pastor Swain.
This next video I shot riding with Pastor Swain through the Hudsen Estate neighborhood where some of the students we are helping live. This is also where Pastor Swain’s church and school is located. You will see the damage to it and proximity to the neighborhoods. The church is Grace Bible Fellowship Church and the attached school is Grace Christian Academy. The academy has nearly 250 students aged 9 months to 10 years.
One of our initial goals is to help rebuild this church as quickly as possible. Pastor Swain hopes to reopen it by September 30th. In addition to being centrally located, the church has a good bit of land that we can use to stage materials and supplies for the student’s families.
Students Say Thanks
On Friday, September 13th, all of the students attended the Taste of Downtown as special guests. They visited with attendees and thanked everyone personally for their support.
All of this happened only in seven days.
More to do
After visiting the island and meeting with their families, it is evident that this will be a long-haul recovery. Some of them will get back going quicker than others due to their jobs not being affected as much and their homes not as severely damaged as others. With this in mind, we have decided to continue raising funds to help support the kids locally. We will assess each student’s needs in early November. We have also established the “Statesboro Bahamian Student Relief Fund” at Synovus Bank in Statesboro. We encourage you to give, if you can, to help ensure we can continue to help these students at least through the end of this year.
I have heard many people say that they prefer to give to an organization that they know will put the money on the ground and make sure the help gets to those who need it most. This is what is so great about our local effort. We have direct connection with 28 families who need help. When you contribute financially, or donate supplies, our team is working to coordinate these donations so that they can immediately help these student’s families.
Our first shipment of donated supplies will arrive on Friday, September 19.
The second shipment will arrive over the weekend.
If you would like to get involved, please reach out to one of the committee members helping to lead this effort.
John Long – Christian Social Ministry: Coordinating local supply drives for needed supplies
Paul Deem – DirectLine Ministries: Warehousing and shipping coordinator. If your organization has collected a large amount of supplies or if you have building materials to donate call Paul at (740) 350-4515 to schedule a time for you to deliver.
Chris Yaugh – Fostering Bulloch
David Cobb – Broken Shackle Ranch – Chris and David are leading the building materials donations and coordinating volunteer teams to travel to the Bahamas to rebuild.
Joey Fennell – Feeding, sheltering and volunteer team coordinator in the Bahamas
Leading building materials donations and coordinating volunteer teams to travel to the Bahamas to rebuild.
Tony Ross – Baseball Academy of Hope: Managing contributions and funds disbursement for the high school students attending the Non-Profit, Christian, Georgia Premier Academy.
Brittni Swain – GSU Bahamian Student: coordinating and communication lead for the GSU students
Versace Nicolls – GSU Bahamian Student: coordinating communication with the student’s families
Edie Grace Grice – GSU Community Liaison – assisting John Long and Christian Social Ministries with local donation collection and volunteer coordination
Shannon Grindler – Administrative Lead: managing overall needs, contributions and scheduling the students for appearances at your civic club, church or business to share their personal stories. Shannon is the person you call if your church, organization or company wants to do a supply drive. She will have a current list of needs and give you our next container shipping schedule and any other instructions that you may need.
NEXT CONTAINER SUPPLY DONATION DEADLINE:
September 30th – DirectLine Ministries and Christian Social Ministries
HOW YOU CAN HELP:
Make a monetary contribution to the Statesboro Students Bahamian Relief Fund C/O Synovus Bank. Mailing address is Synovus P.O. Box 568, Statesboro, GA 30459 Attn: Mall Office.
Or you can walk into any Synovus Bank and directly deposit into the account.
(100 percent of contributions will support the Statesboro students financially and support purchasing supplies and materials, and shipping costs)
Donate building materials – Chris Yaughn and Paul Deem are coordinating this drive
Supplies (list posted in separate post) – John Long
NO CLOTHES NEEDED!!! (This need has already been met.)
Local drop off points in Statesboro will be shared in a separate post.
- Ensure the Statesboro Bahamain students get the financial, physical and emotional support they need for a minimum of 90 days
- Collect, prepare and ship as many supplies as we can to these families
- Collect as many building materials as possible. Roofing, Sheetrock, lumber, electrical and tools are the most urgent needs
- Send the students back home as often as possible with teams of volunteers to help the rebuilding process
THANK YOU ADOPTERS AND SPONSORS
Please join us in thanking these incredible churches, businesses and individuals for stepping up!
As of September 19th:
Crossroads Community Church
Bethel Missionary Baptist Church
Anderson’s General Store
Sean Davis – Glenn Davis Insurance
Gnats Landing/Del Sur
Johns Grove Church
Trinity Episcopal Church
Piney Grove Church
St. Mary’s Church
Dr. Don and Lisa Aaron
Dr. Michael Braz
New Covenant Church
David and Fayebeth Ball
First United Methodist Church
First Presbyterian Church
Dr. Glen and LeeAnne Dasher
Georgia Southern University
Ogeechee Technical College
More Community Efforts
Connection Church – Joey Fennell
Connection church has been supporting Raoul and Karen Armbrister, Karazim Ministries in the Bahamas for nearly a decade. Raoul is working to secure funding to purchase a small hotel which he can use the kitchen to expand his feeding operation and house our volunteers when traveling there. We are encouraging support of this effort also.
Needs are great
The needs are great, but the potential impact we can have on the Bahamas is un-measurable. We have already made a huge difference, but with your help we are just beginning.