New director of GBCH to replace Johnson-Smith

RETIRED – A new Executive Director of The Grand Bahama Children’s Home (GBCH) is expected to be announced shortly, as Sheila Johnson-Smith (center) announced her retirement on Friday, October 2. Johnson-Smith is surrounded by staff and executives of the Home, including Jean Hivert (third right), GBCH Treasurer and Ency Jones (second right), GBCH Assistant Administrator. (PHOTO: SHAYNE STUBBS)

A new Executive Director of The Grand Bahama Children’s Home (GBCH) is expected to be announced shortly, as Sheila Johnson-Smith announced her retirement on Friday, October 2. 

The children who had to be relocated in New Providence last September, residents of Grand Bahama, were scheduled to return to their home Friday past and residents were encouraged to decorate their homes and businesses, placing yellow ribbons on their establishments, as a huge welcome gesture. Johnson-Smith wanted to jointly make her announcement.

Unfortunately, that was not to be. Nevertheless, Johnson- Smith, shared with this daily that while it was her intention to announce her retirement at the children’s arrival, she decided to follow through in any event.

As a result, the GBCH personnel, along with a number of well-wishers, family and friends assembled at the Home to express their gratitude and appreciation to Johnson-Smith for her dedication and commitment to the home and most importantly, to the children in her care over the years.

Johnson-Smith said that while her tenure as executive director had its share of challenges, she was extremely grateful for the love and support she has received from so many, throughout the world.

“I have been a part of the Children’s Home since I came out of college in 1978 and this was my second time being in charge of the Home. I can tell you it has been bittersweet, challenging, happy, joyful and it has been bitter. All of that comes along when you are in this position.

“I can tell you, I have given my all to the Children’s Home. When I came back in 2012, the home was getting ready to close. Jean Hivert (Treasurer, GBCH) and I ran the home by ourselves. We were making the decision to close the home because it was just too much. I then said to Jean, 'Let me try to make an appeal to the public and see what happens.'

“I want to thank the public, because they came through with flying colors for these children. It was difficult because there was a misconception as to who was caring for the children and taking care of the home. We had to try to dispel that misconception that the children were not taken care of, that their needs were not being met by anyone, in particular. And so, we had to get out there and fight for these children,” said Johnson-Smith.

Admitting that she intended to retire last year, he revealed that she decided to hold off until the children returned to following the completion of massive renovations that took place following the passage of Hurricane Dorian back in September 2019.

 “I had told my staff about a year and a half ago that I was tired, and that I was going to retire. I told them that I needed some time for me. I do not want to be one of those old people who work themselves into the ground and spend no time on themselves and then die. I told them that I was going to retire December past but of course Dorian came.

“When we came back in, Dorian broke me, for sure, when I saw the home. Just a few months before, I had gotten the home renovated, up to three buildings, and so there was only one more building to renovate. The home had not been renovated since 2001 and so there was a lot of wear and tear. The donors were so amazing.

“I asked God to allow me to see the home rebuilt before I make my exit. God has allowed me to see that.  Today, was going to be the day that I was going to announce my retirement, with the children present, but because of the COVID-19 situation,  that was cancelled. But I decided that I would still announce it.

“I sent out last night, lots of messages to my supporters, friends and family because no one really knew except the board and my administrative staff. I was going to tell my line staff this morning.

“I was so amazed and emotional from the responses I received, from people from all over the world, who I met along the way, working for these children’s betterment. The things they said to me made me so, so emotional. It made me feel so good that my work was not in vain and that people noticed it. There will always be detractors, of course in everything, and persons with hidden agendas but, I can tell you one thing, they made me believe that my work was worth it all; that the sacrifices I made were worth it all. I am so glad that the children are coming back to a brand-new facility, much better than it was before. God has been good.

“I will especially miss my relationship with my staff and with Jean Hivert. She and I worked hard to get this Home and I will always be grateful for that. Jean has been very close to me.

“If it was not for persons like yourselves in the media, we could not have done it. I want to say ‘Thank you’ to all of you because you all did an amazing job. You all came on board and decided that you would help The Children’s Home,” said Johnson-Smith.

Questioned regarding any advice for her successor, Johnson-Smith responded: “To my successor, I wish God’s blessing on you. I wish that you take it (Home) much further than I have and that you make a big difference in the lives of these children and I am sure that you will.

“If you love and are passionate about what you do, it will happen. I am wishing and praying for them because it is not an easy task sitting at this desk. I have had some very tough times, but, through it all God has kept me,” Johnson-Smith concluded.

A new return date for the residents of the GBCH has yet to be announced. At present, they remain in New Providence, where they were forced to relocate, immediately after the passage of Hurricane Dorian.

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