The Lucy Joyce Blackman International Foundation (LJB), an NGO since 2003, is a family and board-operated organisation doing its best to bring joy and hope to the sick and physically challenged children of TT.
Heather Blackman, the foundation’s president, explained that the vision was realised by her sibling, Ingrid Blackman Arrastia, after the death of their mother from cancer in 1989. From the onset the family wanted to honour their mother’s legacy of serving children and the community.
The six siblings oversee the operations of the foundation. They include executive chair Ingrid Blackman Arrastia; president Heather Blackman, executive secretary Margaret Blackman; and directors Cynthia Blackman, Judith Blackman Francis, and Alpheus Blackman; along with Board representatives and children’s gift managers Hillary Vieruel, Elizabeth Jones and Marci Best.
“Our mother was a kind soul and always believed in helping anyone in need. As children, we were exposed to being of service since our mother showed us the way. She worked at the Princess Elizabeth Centre where she loved and embraced the children as her own. She often brought her work home, by having many children stay at our home on weekends and holidays. After our mother’s death, we realised the magnitude of cancer sufferers battling this disease without support. We decided to join the fight to assist others, inspired by our mother’s courageous fight with her journey of cancer. We rolled up our sleeves, so to speak, and got to work helping the countless families with loved ones battling cancer.”
They started the foundation benefit by hosting annual, formal fundraising dinners called Christmas in November. They also host an annual children’s Christmas in November party and invite children at orphanages, group homes, and other institutions serving disadvantaged children.
Their first beneficiary was the TT Cancer Society and they have raised and donated funds for the cause, through the society for over a decade. Since then, recipients included the Princess Elizabeth Centre and individuals in need of financial assistance for medical support, palliative care, treatment for cancer, as well as children with sickle cell thalassemia and other health issues.
This year’s proceeds will be donated to the family of a young girl with sickle cell thalassemia, awaiting a bone marrow transplant abroad. It will also assist the family of two children recently diagnosed with cancer.
For the first time, the Christmas in November fundraiser, will be hosted in October as a masquerade party, held at the Lions Cultural Centre on October 20. “This year, LJB as we are known by our kind supporters, celebrate our sixteenth year anniversary. Ironically our mother’s birthday was September 16, now 29 years since her death anniversary on October 4. So instead of the usual fundraising dinner, we opted to celebrate in revelry with a masquerade costumed fun event!”
There will local street food such as doubles, geera pork, sliders, corn soup, and souse, as well as signature cocktails, a door prizes for best costume and other surprises. “Advanced ticket sales are important, for the success of our event. We hope many will support the cause by attending. Without corporate or government sponsorship, it has become a challenge in creating the synergy necessary to raise funds.”
This year, the children’s party will take place on November 3 at the Dretchi Compound on Wrightson Road, Port of Spain.
Blackman said they want to give children a day of fun and a sense of normalcy, if only for a day. She said, this too came from their upbringing and their mother’s belief of helping the least of us, especially children who depend on adults to do right by them. “Every Christmas our modest home was filled with children from the homes and the community. Our mother’s wish was to make a difference to children, who in those days were abandoned by parents due to their disability or due to poverty as orphans. She wanted them to feel valued and a chance to be family.”
Blackman said it made a difference. She recalled how many young adults in wheelchairs and crutches attended her mother’s funeral to say good bye to “Mother Joyce”. “It was just temporary, but it left a lasting effect on the children back then, giving a sense of family and love.”
Blackman said the children looked forward to attending their Christmas party each year, more so than the other Christmas parties they were invited to each year. They look forward to the activities, which include pony rides, Santa and Mrs Clause, face painting, bouncy castles, climbing walls, and lots to eat and drink. They also introduced a healthy sports competition and award trophies and medals to participants.
There, each of the 200 to 350 children receive an age-appropriate toy or game of quality, worth at least $70. “These children deserve the best, just as other children with parents of means. Hence the efforts put forth by our managing gift ambassadors, who secure funds or toy donations worthy to give to their own children.”
This year LJB asks that donors also sponsor a gift for a child, from babies to age 16, worth $100. That will allow the gift package to include necessary personal items like shoes, underwear, toiletries or a holiday outfit.
Despite the work they do, Blackman said she and her siblings hope to do more in the future, including practical programmes for displaced youths.
“We would love to do much more but we are limited due to funding. We lack sponsorship. We are hoping we can make a bigger impact, but honestly, funds realised isn’t sufficient to totally make a huge difference for the many children and individuals needing help. We do the best we can with what we raise, and wish we can reach out and help many more in need.”
Seeing the fun the children usually have at the Christmas party, she said they hope to add a sports day to their calender for children from all walks of life. In this way they can have outdoor fun in a more festive, safe environment than the homes in which they reside.
They would also like to create transition housing facilities for young adults, to facilitate a better transition from the orphanage when they reach the age to leave. The aim will be to take care of the youths, physically and emotionally, assuring they acquire the life skills and education necessary in becoming viable citizens.
“We have the personnel on broad to accomplish this mission. In the meanwhile, we will look to partner with the various institutions to assist through seminars and workshops, helping young adults prepare for job readiness in these difficult economic times.”
* For advance tickets to the October masquerade party call 683-6482.