Gina Spence has for 45 years been one of Bermuda’s leaders in charity, community outreach and accessibility to the performing arts who last year helped up to 1000 children. Her journey began with heartache at a young age and tragedy as an adult, and yet has since grown to a long-lasting desire to help others which she hopes to spread to a new generation.
Spence, the founder of Gina Spence Productions (GSP), grew up in foster care, which she claims helped her realise what it was like not to have certain luxuries. It was from this invaluable experience that she would gain her initial interest in helping others. “As a child,” she says, “I always wanted to help other children that went through some of the experiences I did. I am a Christian and part of our faith is to help others who are less fortunate than yourself.”
Her career began, however, in writing and dance where she was first able to see the potential for the arts to be able to help people. “I was young; it was fun; I was having a good time, but then I saw how the arts could heal people. I saw that you could make a difference in people’s lives.” From there she began making moves towards a larger outreach through GSP, which began 31 years ago. Her charity has since grown to include numerous programmes, including the Champions Programme focused on helping children grieve after the death of a loved one. A programme that was, unfortunately, started from her own family tragedy: “I experienced the murder of my son-in-law, Junio Laws. He was shot and murdered twelve years ago.”
“My grandson was eight at the time and there were very few support services for children impacted by homicide. So we started the Champions Programme, where if there is a shooting, murder, cycle accident or terminal illness we call our services to help the child.” According to Spence this programme is one of a kind on the island. Her charity’s other main programmes include the “Each One Reach One” project, which aims to give school uniforms to families who need them, and Christmas Community Outreach involving providing toys and healthy food for children and medicine for the elderly.
While the “Each One Reach One” campaign may seem oddly specific, it does, however, represent a significant but often unnoticed cost of sending kids to school. “As a single parent I always felt overwhelmed getting ready for school with shoes, bags and uniforms so I often started saving my money a year in advance so that each one of my girls had what they needed.” With the average price of school uniforms being $600 a child, her project allows people to donate old uniforms and in exchange receive discounts when shopping for uniforms at Gibbons Company.
This project and her Christmas charities begin almost back-to-back which makes the second half of the year one of the busiest times for the organisation, but for Spence all the hard work is worth it to see what these kids can do with the right support. “We see with our champions, these kids doing well in school; we see them accomplish their goals. Yes, it takes a little to raise a child but with the support we’re able to give them we’ve seen some wonderful things happen.” Many of the volunteers for GSP are, in fact, some of the former children whom they have helped now trying to give back. With that support from future generations, Spence is certain that GSP and its positive impact will continue long into the future.