Back in 2005, as part of our community outreach, ACE began helping a few students get to school and have a meal every day at lunch time. Then, more and more volunteers got involved and committed to helping one student at a time with us, evolving into what our Child Sponsorship Program is now – a relationship between sponsor and child to meet basic school needs.

Before March of 2020, through this program, ACE made sure children got to school, provided uniforms, shoes, some books, and some lunches for students who needed that mid-day meal. The sponsorship originally started at $30 per child per month for one year. As needs and inflation rose, ACE raised the fees to $35 and then our current $45 monthly plan. We have not raised our basic sponsorship cost since 2015. As we grew into serving our special-needs and 2nd Story (high school) students who had more specific requirements, the option of a higher sponsorship rate or multiple sponsors for one child was introduced to cover the cost. 

Our program has always factored the parents in. When things were normal, pre-2020, mom and/or dad were required to go to PTA meetings, be employed or in job training (with which ACE would often help) and take an active role in their child’s studies and activities. But we discovered along the way that there was more at stake. Where there was one sponsored student in a home, there were sometimes three or more siblings with the same needs and more. Home improvement – and sometimes an actual home – was necessary. A sense of peace and purpose for the entire family unit was often lacking, and the pandemic brought on more fear and chaos.

When COVID hit and schools closed, we mentioned in some of our social media and newsletters that donations normally used for educational needs were being used for food and staples as our families were desperate to survive. We were grateful that our sponsors understood this temporary shift to keep their children and families afloat.

Even with all our efforts at ACE to help with remote learning and tutoring during the lockdowns, many children simply didn’t have the means and have fallen behind. Classes are set to resume this fall, and our public school system in St Mary is struggling to figure out how to reintroduce students to the day-to-day tasks of learning in a structured social setting, while their home lives have also become more complicated in these difficult years.

Long story short, our Child Sponsorship Program has become more than just handing out books and uniforms. There is a need, we often say, to go deeper, not wider. ACE has always tried to find the root of a problem and fix that before anything else because one thing affects the next. We have realized that the family unit should come first when determining what is best for the child, not the other way around, so we are looking at expanding our program to encompass Family Sponsorship.

D’Vaun, our Sponsorship Coordinator in Jamaica, sees the situation first-hand:

From the perspective of the father, I’ve always been asked what’s the most difficult part of my job – dare I say, it’s not a job, it’s my calling. My response to that question, unfortunately, has always been consistent: having a desire to help but limited in the ability to do so.

The current model of “child” sponsorship is really individualistic, though we do our best to accommodate the family as a whole. The finances are designated towards a specific child and using it outside of that scope would make us bad stewards of the sacrifices entrusted to us by donors. And then the pandemic hit. We were forced to reevaluate how to use the funds we had to support the child through the entire family’s needs. Growth requires us to adapt to new climates and make the necessary changes in order to progress.

“Family” sponsorship is our solution to my desire “go deep” with our families. I will be in a better position to address the needs when a family of one mom, no dad, four children, perhaps one with special needs, who all live in a dilapidated sardine can, who are hungry, mentally frustrated, emotionally uncared for and have no resources to survive.

I can offer the possibility of employment for the parent or siblings older than 18.

I can offer therapy to a suicidal child that struggles with anger issues.

I can build a home welcoming another family to our village.

I can step outside the parameters of what is typical (books, bags, uniform, taxi and lunch) and minister to the needs that are present while still maintaining our commitment to changing lives and transforming communities.

All 200+ of my children come from family units with no less than three people. ACE wants to see that the child will bloom, but the family is the tree that supports all the blossoms.

The logistics of how a Family Sponsorship will work are being discussed by both our Jamaican and Stateside staff, and we will have more details forthcoming. We want to make sure we factor in hiring enough qualified staff to evaluate and manage all the needs of a family, with adequate vehicles to withstand the wear-and-tear of driving the crumbling roads for multiple home visits, determining the exact pricing structure, and, most of all, how this will impact you, our sponsors, and the relationship you have with your children and their families.

Nothing is changing today, but, as with everything in life, once you see the big picture, you instinctively and passionately strive to do better and expand your opportunities. We appreciate your prayers and any feedback you may have as we move through this process. We are committed to our vision of changing lives and transforming communities, one family at a time.

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