Fifteen years being the ‘Cornerstone’

Juliet Brathwaite  received an MBE from the Queen in 2012.

Juliet Brathwaite
received an MBE from the Queen in 2012.

Caring for any individual is a task that demands a great deal of sacrifice. Dedicating one’s time to the proper care of people is more than a job but rather a devotion, which warrants love compassion and tolerance. The curators of Cornerstone House have understood this and for the past fifteen years the centre has epitomized just that.

The Cornerstone House was a vision of Juliet Brathwaite MBE, originally from Yorkshire England. She came to St. Lucia in 1976 as a volunteer with the School for the Deaf but later started her own school in 1986, the Happy Vale Montessori at Tapion which is still in operation.

Juliette Brathwaite is not only the brainchild but the heart and soul of Cornerstone. “I came up with the proposal but had never anticipated doing the everyday running of the facility,” she told the STAR. Instead she envisioned that she would be involved in the commencement stages she explained.

Operations at Cornerstone commenced in 1997, but the official opening was in November 1998, although they already had residents the year before. She took the proposal to the then minister of health, who referred her to the prime minister, who then proceeded to find out what Brathwaite needed to start the home. He offered her a set of government-owned buildings and suggested the suitability of the location as private and easily accessible.

“The original idea for the Cornerstone House was to provide night shelter and a meal and that was all: the beds were supposed to be occupied for the night and then readied for anybody who came, but it became a residence very quickly as people wanted to stay, or kept coming back every night. Furthermore, older persons had no nowhere else to go, so we had to transform to a home,” Brathwaite explained.

She is now the director and overall administrator of the privately run home. She oversees the daily running, looks after the subventions from government, financial donations from institutions and is responsible for all financial transactions.

Cornerstone is supported by the government through its meagre monthly subvention of $6,250 and its doors are open to persons of all ages, the ‘homeless’ and mentally unstable.  The establishment even houses convicts who are on bail and do not have a temporary place to stay.

“In the beginning, we took people directly off the street which was the original idea. To give those on the street a place to sleep, bathing facilities and a proper meal, so they would go back to town the following day, clean and well fed,” Ms Brathwaite continued.

But because of its transformation from a shelter to a home, it became necessary to provide the residents with not only dinner but also breakfast and lunch as well. With the number of residents growing steadily, the place soon became too small. Fortunately Cornerstone was able to source funding form the Poverty Reduction Fund (PRF) and from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) through BNTF and SSDF, to do a complete renovation. The home is now a place of refuge for 40 residents – 28 men and 12 women.

Juliet Brathwaite’s vision for Cornerstone is “to have more efficient staff which would ultimately result in efficient running of the home.”

“We have survived basically on donations, cleaning materials, toilet paper, food items, as the subvention is very small, with 40 people to feed and clothe, and the staff to pay, it doesn’t stretch very far.”

The staff is very poorly paid, but with the introduction of the NICE programme, they have gotten four ladies who have been a huge help.

Brathwaite would love to see a St. Lucian or national interest take up the home which is faced with different challenges since it does not cater to a specific set of people.

One challenge overcome is that they no longer have to purchase certain medicines.

Juliette Brathwaite puts it.

“My short term goal for the home is to convince government to give us a bigger subvention. The long-term goal would be to pass the home onto a St. Lucian who will be as dedicated to it as I am, and allow for the legacy of Cornerstone House to go on,” Braithwaite says.

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