When people in the Cayman Islands are faced with hardships and unique circumstances of crisis, there’s no need for them to despair. Cayman’s Acts of Random Kindness (ARK) has been a lifeboat to many, helping them get back to the “shore” of a more certain future.
Building the ARK
“The idea for ARK was in my heart for a long time and wouldn’t have been possible without Houria Fresard,” shares ARK founder Tara Nielsen. Nielsen met Fresard in 2002, and they quickly bonded over their shared desire to cultivate change. This vision grew, and in December 2006, the pair launched ARK. Nielsen continues, “Neither of us would want to run ARK without the other.”
Nielsen describes ARK’s early days as a humble gathering of close friends. “Instead of meeting in restaurants and giving funds in exchange for lunch, we met at a friend’s home. The host would share a cause close to their heart, and the money that would have gone to the restaurant would be collected and donated to that cause.”
Each month a different friend hosted and promoted a new cause. News about ARK spread quickly, and requests started pouring in. This prompted the group to make the pivotal decision to focus ARK’s efforts locally. “This decision was really the birth of Cayman’s ARK as we know it today,” explains Nielsen. “By focusing locally, the community feels the impact of what we do ‘putting kindness into action.’”
Two by Two
When asked if Nielsen could describe her favourite project, she replies, “After 14 years, it’s so hard to choose a single story, as each one holds a special place in our hearts.” Highlights from ARK’s diverse portfolio include CASA projects (home improvement), which range from painting, furnishing and building single rooms to entire homes for families in need. Also included are hunger and housing initiatives for the homeless and abused. In addition, there are educational and mentoring programmes for children. Educational programmes focus on reading, and mentoring programmes focus on family and belonging. ARK also helps in facilitating surgeries and treatments for children with life-threatening health issues.
Nielsen shares that the secret to ARK’s success is compassion: “Our outreach begins without judgement. It starts with a hug, an ear, a desire and promise to create change.” Nielsen believes that an act of kindness from a stranger has the power to foster hope. Hope then perpetuates movement towards a brighter future. Nielsen also expresses appreciation to the local community: “The residents of Cayman have proven over and over that they are a remarkable and generous community that genuinely cares about those less fortunate.”
ARK would not exist today without the support of volunteers, individuals and corporate sponsors.
Balance in life is key, shares Nielsen. “It is important to me to express gratitude for my own blessings by paying it forward,” another founding ideal that led to ARK’s creation. When Nielsen is not helping the community, she seeks balance by enjoying the North Sound and spending time with her rescue dogs Sparkle, Mowgli and The Duke of Wellington, or is with her family. “My absolute joy are my children Tom, Theo and Jaspar,” smiles Nielsen. In fact, Nielsen and Fresard’s children also inspired the creation of “ARK Angels” in 2008. ARK Angels aims to get minors engaged in community service. The programme is designed to have a positive impact on youth, teaching lessons in kindness, resilience, empathy and crisis.
Adults can participate in ARK’s “Giving is Receiving” campaign this holiday season. The project helps families in need over the holidays by donating gift certificates. In addition, adults can sign up on ARK’s volunteer list by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or follow their Facebook page. Nielsen invites all to partake: “Volunteers are especially needed for the CASA home improvement projects.”
CAL Travel Tips
Cayman Airways passengers enrolled in the Sir Turtle Rewards programme can choose to donate their miles to Cayman’s ARK or dozens of other locally based charitable organisations. For more information, visit caymanairways.com.
Author: Stacie Sybersma