Grand Bahama News

Sweetings Cay residents settle into new homes courtesy of Rotary, donors

For 12 months after the ferocious Hurricane Dorian in 2019, Darren Cooper, a Sweetings Cay resident, lived in a tent.

“After Hurricane Dorian hit Sweetings Cay, I was left with nothing to my name,” Cooper said.

“Everything I owned was gone, including my home and my boat.”

Now, thanks to the combined Rotary Clubs of Grand Bahama, Cooper has a new home and a new engine for his boat.

“I give God thanks for bringing Rotary to Sweetings Cay,” he said.

The Category 5 hurricane virtually wiped out Sweetings Cay and most of the East End of Grand Bahama on September 1, 2019.

Many residents were forced to relocate to Freeport to rent or live with relatives, while those who remained spent months living in tents or the damaged shells of their homes.

While relief, cleanup and rebuilding efforts got underway almost immediately throughout Grand Bahama, work to repair homes on Sweetings Cay was delayed as the only access is by boat, and 18 months after Dorian, people were still living in tents.

The combined Grand Bahama Rotary Disaster Committee stepped in and organized a rebuilding and repair operation, finding sponsors and volunteers to assist.

The TK Foundation and the Lyford Cay Charitable Trust joined as major sponsors of the first phase, which consisted of building nine new homes on Sweetings Cay.

The TK Foundation is a private, independent grant-making foundation that was founded in The Bahamas in 2002.

“The foundation was established in honor of J. Torben Karlshoej, who grew up on a farm in Denmark and later founded the Teekay Shipping Company,” explained foundation representative Diane Pindling.

“Since its inception in 2002, the foundation’s grants of more than $50 million have helped provide valuable research, healthcare facilities, education and other development opportunities.”

Arrangements were made to ship in building materials, contractors, Rotary volunteers and a team of young men from Sea Grape under the supervision of Jimmy Smith. 

Construction started at the beginning of 2021.

The general construction was done through Utmost Construction Company, and owner Phil Harvey handled all the permits and paperwork required by the Ministry of Works.

Most of the volunteers and workers from Team Sea Grape stayed on the cay, living in tents at the Anglican church.

They were novices but quickly became proficient in all phases of house construction.

As a precaution against future hurricane flooding, the two-bedroom, one-bath homes were built on reinforced concrete beam foundations with hurricane impact windows.

Like Cooper, other recipients of the new homes expressed gratitude.

Irene Bevans, 96, of Sweetings Cay, who lost her home in the storm, is one of them.

“I was always an independent woman and have had to live with my family members in Freeport as I had no home to go to,” Bevans said.

“I am so grateful to Rotary for rebuilding my home and giving me back my life, my independence and my sense of security. I don’t know what I would have done without their help. Thank you, Rotary.”

Daphne Cartwright is also grateful to Rotary for helping to rebuild Sweetings Cay.

“My late mother Joan Davis lost everything on Sweetings Cay due to Dorian and I am so grateful to Rotary for building back her home,” Cartwright said.

“We are still not quite finished, but I love Sweetings Cay and thank Rotary from the bottom of my heart for helping build back my community to what we once knew.”

Rotarian Project Coordinator Darren Cooper noted the recipients are also responsible for a portion of the homes’ completion.

“We planned to do 80 percent of the construction, including power, water and a functioning bathroom, and make the new owners responsible for the final 20 percent of the finished work, kitchen and so on.”

Insurance Management donated one year of homeowner insurance for each house.

Grand Bahama Power Company repaired all the damaged power lines right up to McLean’s Town, continuing under the sea to Sweetings Cay.

Phase two of the project consisted of major renovations to 20 homes on the cay. Phase three saw an additional eight new homes, making 17 homes built in total, all now completed and occupied.

Phase four moved the team back onto Grand Bahama where two more homes were financed and built by an anonymous donor, one in Eight Mile Rock and another in West End.

Rotarian Billie Jean Ferguson, area governor for Rotary District 6990, has announced that phase five is well underway with six homes already repaired in McLean’s Town and work in progress on three more in Pelican Point.

Realtor James Sarles, who is instrumental in the Rotary Disaster Relief Project, noted that the committee repaired 1,000 homes around the island.

“It was a very difficult and extremely challenging time but being able to offer help was a hugely rewarding experience,” Sarles said.

He said community sponsors have been key to the project.

“TK Foundation [has] been fantastic benefactors and, to date, have provided over $1.2 million in support,” Sarles said.

Cooper, the project coordinator, said the work is not finished, but “we are firmly in partnership with TK Foundation as phase six is about to begin which will push the repairs and renovations westwards to take in High Rock, Bevans Town and Freetown and will include nine more new homes”.

Sarles noted the need was not only for housing.

“We also put together a team who rebuilt and repaired over 120 boats and were able to get funds to supply over 60-70 hp boat engines to the East End which is largely dependent on fishing as a source of employment,” he said.

Pindling commended the Rotary Disaster Relief Committee and Team Sea Grape for their efforts.

“Our foundation was pleased to bring some real and tangible relief to the Sweetings Cay community and the East End of Grand Bahama,” she said.

Barry Rassin, chairman-elect of the Rotary Foundation, said he is proud of what the Rotary Disaster Relief Committee has accomplished.

“The problems were obvious,” Rassin said.

“We needed to supply food, water and housing to the devastated communities and, as well as arranging funding for the Sweetings Cay Housing Project, over $7 million was raised, accounted for and used for carrying out relief work throughout the northern Bahamas, Abaco and Grand Bahama.” 

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