In 2006, I had been badgering my sister, Thea Furbert, and her friend, Tricia Crow, to open up a centre for children with autism in Bermuda. As the aunt of a child with autism, I had seen how Thea and Tricia had toiled for years to raise the island’s consciousness about autism and how they had single-handedly taken an unknown, obscure medical condition and given it a voice.
Thinking I was crazy but ready to take a chance, we worked tiredly over the year to come up with a plan and sell that plan to donors. Our plan was to open the centre in September 2007 but how we were to get the funds or the resources to do so, we did not know. But Thea and Tricia pounded the pavement and sold the story of giving our children with autism voices.
By April 2007, we were beginning to worry because we knew there was a need for a centre in Bermuda but our operating costs would be high for therapists, facility, etc. and we were less than six months from our opening date! We found ourselves in a bit of a chicken and egg situation with regard to which would come first. We knew we needed to secure the first donor to sell the idea to other donors that this was going to happen and would be supported. But we also needed to have the centre up and running before donors would be sold on supporting us.
Who would have thought that walking into a room of five people and presenting our dream would change our lives forever? It was about three years ago that two parents walked the Hamilton pavement door to door trying to get people to buy into their dream. We always knew we were going to start a place that would provide services to children like ours with autism, but we never knew that the five people we stood in front of that day would make that dream a reality. We remember that day so vividly. We were not nervous or uneasy. We had prepared for this day for many years from the numerous experiences we had as parents of children with autism. As we spoke we could see our audience was intrigued by what we presented to them. They asked many questions and we answered them without even thinking about it, as this was second nature to us. This meeting, that was only supposed to last about 30 minutes, went on for an hour and all we could see in our audience’s eyes was compassion.
As the meeting ended and we left the building, we spoke about feeling good about the meeting. We felt they understood the need for an Autism Early Intervention Centre that could provide services to a segment of children that without it would be lost in their world. It was only a few weeks later that we heard from the Committee Chair, Mrs. Sarah Bumstead. She sounded enthusiastic and we waited in anticipation of what she was about to tell us. When she stated that the Lancashire Foundation would be granting us funds to pay for the funding of our Director’s salary, our therapist training and two of our therapists' salaries for the next three years, we were elated. Our dream had not just stepped into reality, but this significant grant had made all of the hard work worth every little second. We cried, we screamed, we cried some more.
Since 2007, the Lancashire Foundation has supported Tomorrow’s Voices with not only thousands of dollars, but also with advice, direction, and wisdom. This has resulted in over 6,500 hours of therapy being provided to children with autism and us seeing the changes in these children before our very eyes. From children who wouldn’t make eye contact or have close contact with another person at first to being able to give joyous hugs and say your name. The Lancashire Foundation allowed this to happen.
From children who could not function in mainstream schools because they were overwhelmed by the noise, the crowds, and the lights to being able to now have their peers, their student friends, accept them and take them under their protective folds. The Lancashire Foundation allowed this to happen.
By being able to provide therapy and training sessions for parents in their own homes so that they have the skills to be able to cope with their children with autism and show them that it is okay to be overwhelmed but there is also support. The Lancashire Foundation allowed this to happen.
Through providing opportunities for young Bermudians to train in this field so that there is a legacy for the future in providing these services on island. The Lancashire Foundation allowed this to happen.
And through providing work shadow opportunities for teachers and those in the allied professions so that the learning doesn’t stop at the door of Tomorrow’s Voices. The Lancashire Foundation has allowed this happen.
We could also go on and on about the Lancashire Foundation sharing its knowledge and support over the last one and a half years through sitting on our Board of Directors; through creating our website; through providing volunteers when needed; through providing advice and direction for us in running and growing the centre; and through supporting us in our formative years.
The Lancashire Foundation has made our dreams come true. It is not everyday that dreams come true and so we cherish the commitment, compassion and support Tomorrow’s Voices has been given by the Lancashire Foundation. They have been there from the beginning when we first opened our doors in October 2007. They have been there when we have had trials and tribulations, and they have been there when we have transformed the life of a child and their family by creating opportunities for hope and joy.
We thank the Lancashire Foundation for truly showing the spirit of giving to those less fortunate. Their contribution has changed lives for the better.
On behalf of the Board of Directors, we can categorically state that without the Lancashire Foundation, there would be no Tomorrow's Voices, but more importantly there would be no avenue to give our clients, our children and parents, their voices.
Erica R.Smith, AICP
Chairman, Board of Directors, Tomorrow's Voices
Founder and Board Member, Tomorrow's Voices
This is a modified version of a testimonial given at the Centre on Philanthropy Conference in Bermuda in 2009.
The views expressed in this story are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the NLM Family Foundation.