On a warm Bahamian night, about 20 tourists gathered around the pool at one of Exuma’s many second homes.
Amid colorful cocktails and soft island music, there is nothing seemingly unusual – they appeared to be just like millions of other tourists who flock to Exuma. However, this group was anything but typical.
“How much money have we raised so far?” someone shouts from beside the bar. “$60,000” was the response.
“So how much do we need to reach $100,000,” the same person jests. “$40,000” the entire room responds, in a collective smile.
The guest beside the bar declares: “Well, put me down for another $20,000. Who will match me?”
Within moments, four hands shoot up from around the pool, each guest chipping in $5,000 to match that $20,000, and just like that, these philanthropists raised $100,000 for the island of Exuma.
This was the scene last weekend when a group of Canadians, Americans and Bahamians participated in the 6th Annual Tour de Turquoise, a charity cycling event that rolls up the spine of Great Exuma.
“This was a community effort, in every sense of the word,” said Howard Chang, the event’s chief organizer and a second home owner in Exuma.
“The money we have raised is fantastic, but it would not be possible without the support of so many different people. It was so inspiring to see this level of unity. Most importantly, we now have enough donations to truly make an impact on the island.”
Chang is part of a cycling group in Toronto, Canada known as Les Domestiques, which is French for ‘The Servants’. Under the adage ‘Cyclists Who Serve’, this group of entrepreneurs and senior executives has generated more than $100 million for charities in Canada.
Meanwhile, in the Exumas, this same group, combined with American homeowners and locals, had already made a splash on the island. In past years, the event has helped purchase a hospital bus enabling residents without transportation to be able to reach the main hospital near George Town, Exuma. They have also funded the restoration of basketball courts and funded a cycling club at L.N. Coakley High School, but this fundraiser blew those previous efforts out of the water. In the final tally, nearly $120,000 was raised for local causes, almost four times the previous record of $35,000.
“I have been a part of many fundraisers in The Bahamas, but I think this level of support is unprecedented, especially for Exuma,” explained Jeff Todd, Director of Marketing and Communications for GIV Bahamas Inc., the largest owner at Grand Isle Resort & Residences and one of the event sponsors.
Years ago, Todd, along with GIV Bahamas’ principal and longtime Exuma investor Peter Nicholson, got behind Chang’s vision for Tour de Turquoise and helped introduce the event on the island.
“I keep coming back and keep giving more because the people on the island are so appreciative of what we do and we see the benefit directly in their communities,” Norbert Frischkorn explained, a six-time participant and donor.
So what does Tour de Turquoise plan to do with all these donations?
In consultation with the local high school, Tour de Turquoise will purchase a new bus to transport students on sports teams and clubs to practices, games and get them home at night.
With access to transportation sometimes a challenge, a bus would make a huge difference in the lives of students, Chang said. He also pointed out that sports and clubs are very important toward students’ physical fitness levels and mental health.
In addition, Chang and others have reached out to local leaders in Exuma to establish a committee that will help decide how additional and future funds can be spent to achieve maximum impact.
“We want those who live in this community to tell us – what are the needs? Where can we make a difference,” Chang added.
This sense of unity was on display during the event. Leaving from Regatta Park last Saturday, a long
procession of two police motorcycles, an ambulance, support vehicles and more than 30 cyclists all headed south in unison, including several riders from the local high school’s new cycling club.
The routes included a community ride of approximately 40 kilometers (km), along with a VIP ride to Williamstown and back, totaling more than 80km.
What it added up to was not only a win for the island tourism’s product, but also a powerful message on how events can also make a difference in the lives of Bahamians, said Todd.
To learn more about Tour de Turquoise, interested persons are asked to please visit the website rideforexuma.com.
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