Sophie’s Place is a haven for mentally and physically disabled children in Jamaica.
Located off the Gordon Town main road is a set of quaint little buildings which houses Sophie’s Place. It is aptly named for the remembrance of its original benefactor’s daughter.
Dr Trevor Hope, the original occupant of the premises fathered a child who happened to be both severely mentally and physically challenged. He lived and cared for his child at the present location until her death. He so loved his offspring that after her death he found it rather difficult to continue residing there.
Being a devote Catholic; he decided to donate the property and its buildings to the Mustard Seed Community for the establishment of a Home that would cater to the needs of severely physically and mentally challenged children.
His one stipulation was that the Home is named in honor of his deceased daughter hence it be referred to as “Sophie’s Place.”
The Home sits on approximately three-quarters (3/4) of an acre of land. It is bordered on the north by a private residence, on the west by the Gordon Town main road, a wide public drainage ditch on the south, and a tributary of the Hope River to the east. Chain-link fencing surrounds the entire perimeter for the safety of the residents and their caregivers.
On entering the premises, one’s attention is drawn to three attractively designed buildings.
These are painted pink for the girls, blue where the boys occupy, and yellow for a mix of both boys and girls sharing. The aesthetics remind you of little Gingerbread houses. These three cottages are specially designed to have the capacity for wheelchairs and mobile beds. Resulting from sheer lack of space they were designed to facilitate wrap-around entry and exit as you entered from one end and exited the other.
All wheelchairs were parallel parked at the east entrances. Between the entrances are green areas nicely planted which also had swing sets.
Three additional buildings are also located on the premises, two of which houses the administrative offices and caregivers’ quarters as well as the Little Angels Learning Centre – a community basic school.
The learning center allows the surrounding community and its children to interact with the Home, as well as providing the Home’s residents with an on-site training facility for those capable enough to attend.
The other building is the chapel where each member of the Home gets fifteen to twenty-five minutes in the Adoration Room each day for quiet reflection in keeping with their Catholicism. The area linking all these buildings is a lush lawn bordered by minute Palm trees and other plants. Between the buildings and the lawn is a paved walkway providing ramp access to the four small vehicles parking area.
Additionally, Sophie’s Place has its own fifteen-seat bus for transportation purposes.
At Sophie’s place, the demographics most certainly explain almost everything if not entirely everything.
The Home was set up to cater to the needs of the severe physically and mentally challenged persons. At present, it houses a total of twenty-five residents which comprises fourteen (14) boys and eleven (11) girls (this was over 10 years ago).
They range in ages from nine (9) to twenty-one (21) years old. Resulting from the Jamaican Government’s and its agency – Child Development Agency (CDA) – rules and regulations, I was unable to gather the exact ages of each child.
What I found, however, is that these children are sent to Sophie’s Place after parents express an inability to properly care for them or reluctance to care for them.
In some cases, the justice system and its courts decide to send the children to the Mustard Seed community who in turn triage them to Sophie’s Place or one of its other facilities. These children are usually the products of incarcerated parents, abusive households, or were abandoned at birth or later years resulting from their lack of physical and mental faculties.
In keeping with the fact that Jamaica is predominantly made up of the black race, the residents of Sophie’s Place largely reflect this truth. Except for the volunteering Canadian Occupational Therapist, the ethnicity of the staff also reflects predominantly black middle- and lower-class citizens.
Possibly resulting from their association with the Mustard Seed Community, the majority of the staff profess Catholicism which to the author of this paper forces the residents to acknowledge the same religion/denomination in their own unique way – as per their disability and reflection in the Adoration Room.
It was expressed that the Home reflects a large family and as such the residents are seen as boys, girls, and babies – babies being those most severely challenged.
Sophie’s Place depends largely on donations for its upkeep; thus, it is difficult to define the socioeconomic status (SES).
Few of the residents can verbally communicate coherently hence they are subject to the response of their caregivers for hygiene and food.
Sophie’s Place accommodates their charges until they attain age twenty-one (21), at which point they are either returned to their parents/legal guardians or to other Mustard Seed facilities. Few deaths have been recorded at the home.
As mentioned, Sophie’s Place was designed to see to the needs of the severely physically and mentally challenged. Physically challenged meaning, “extremely difficult to perform or endure,” as well as, “having a physical disability or impairment, especially one that limits mobility.”
Mental retardation (mental impairment and severe mental impairment) as defined by the UK Mental Health Act 1983, is a term for a pattern of persistently slow learning of basic motor and language skills (“milestones”) during childhood, and a significantly below-normal global intellectual capacity as an adult.
Both adults and children with intellectual disabilities may exhibit patterns of or all of the symptoms/conditions of having trouble speaking, find it hard to remember things, have trouble understanding social rules, have trouble discerning cause and effect, have trouble solving problems, and may also have trouble thinking logically.
The limitations of cognitive function will cause a child to learn and develop more slowly than a typical child. Children may take longer to learn to speak, walk and take care of their personal needs such as dressing or eating.
They will have trouble learning in school. Learning will take them longer, require more repetition, and there may be some things they cannot learn. The extent of the limits of learning is a function of the severity of the disability. Nevertheless, every child can learn, develop, and grow to some extent.
It was evident at the Home that many of the residents were severely disabled thus lacking in most mobile skills such as walking, coherent speech, and even limb (arms, legs) movement.
They were not bed-ridden as their caregivers made their days more comfortable by placing them in some semblance of being seated during the days and some even had exercises to keep their limbs “free.” Such mundane tasks as scratching an itch or wiping perspiration remained undone due to their physical challenges.
Although Sophie’s Place is operated privately, the regulations governing places of safety applied, nonetheless. As such, exacting details of the causes of the residents’ illnesses could not be divulged. It was however stated that generally, the causes of such severe mental and physical disability are usually inborn causes such as Down syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, and Fragile X syndrome.
Mental and Physical disability also result from Genetic conditions, Problems during pregnancy or during birth, Sensory deprivation as well as health problems.
If you are inclined to assist Sophie’s Place, please contact Mustard Seed at:
Mustard Seed Communities
P.O. Box 267, Kingston 10 Jamaica, West Indies
Phone: + 1 876-923-6488
About the writer:
Poetess Denise N. Fyffe is a published author of over 30 books, for more than ten years and enjoys Training, Publishing, and Counseling. She is a freelance writer for online publications such as Revealing the Christian Life, Jamaica Rose, Entertainment Trail, My Trending Stories among others.
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