Tag Archives: Bahamas

Celebrities & Their Vacation Homes: Is It, or Can It Become Common Practice for Celebrities to ‘Give Back’ to the Places that Welcome them with Open Arms?

25 Feb

Last summer, I went to the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island, Bahamas, just minutes from Nassau, and it was a blast. I delighted in the water slides; I marveled over the incredible sea-life; I will be forever touched by my afternoon with Atlas, the dolphin; and the list goes on and on. Thousands of other people were also there, presumably having a grand time as well.

One evening, my husband and I decided to venture outside of the walls of the Atlantis Empire into downtown Nassau for dinner. What we observed on the cab-ride to and from the restaurant, coupled with what our cab driver shared with us, was disturbing, to say the least.

Just a half-mile from the Resort, the poverty was palpable. Housing that shouldn’t be considered housing. Schools that I couldn’t believe were schools. We passed a home for homeless infants and toddlers that had no less than 5 broken glass windows.

The fact that there are plenty of other locales across the globe where people are living in far worse conditions did nothing to quell my discomfort. What we were seeing and hearing about was (just a dose of) the reality of poverty in the Bahamian City of Nassau, and it was upsetting.

We learned from our cab driver that night (and heard it again from another cab driver as well as our boat-guide later in the week) that residents of the City of Nassau (and surrounding areas) who are not employed by one of the resorts or upscale hotels in the area generally live in poverty, some making as little as $55/week and supporting a family of five.

For many residents employed by Atlantis and the other resorts and hotels, it is not their hourly wages that keep them out of poverty. Rather, it’s the tips we give them for their efforts on our behalf, combined with their wages that enables them to make ends meet. The kind woman at the concierge desk; the people we see scouring the massive waterways filled with sea life; the people who clean our sometimes very messy room; those who serve us dinner; etc.

Low-wage jobs, and a very high cost of living (because everything must be imported) combine to make life a struggle for many residents of Nassau.

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Later in the week, we left the Resort again, this time to rent a boat and tour the island from the vantage point of the sea. Much to my husband’s disappointment, the camouflaged shallow waters and the reefs deceivingly close to the surface meant that we had to let someone else drive our boat and guide our journey. The disappointment vanished as soon as we met our jovial guide, Bally, who was born and raised in Nassau.

Bally was not only a kind man with a great sense of humor and an inspiring passion for his island. He was also generous (but not at all overbearing) in sharing his deep knowledge of the island’s history and current situation from a social, political and environmental perspective. With statistics and other hard facts, coupled with stories of his family and friends’ experiences on the island, we learned so much about the physical assets of the island and the extent to which so many are withering beyond repair. We learned about the area’s social and economic challenges, political structure, etc. He also told us about several local leaders who have done so much for the community, as well as those who have used their power and influence in damaging ways.

Bally was careful not to weigh us down with the struggles of the community, making sure to share fun island lore and excite us with the natural wonders of the area as well. The mood was light, with jokes and silliness in abundance and excitement about all that we were learning running high.

Then, everything changed for me. What Bally shared with us next sent my compassion into overdrive and also perplexed me beyond measure.

Towards the end of our boat ride, Bally took us on a tour of some of the celebrity vacation homes that abut the shoreline of Paradise Island and the Cays nearby. Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan, Sean Connery, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Eddie Murphy, John Travolta, Chuck Norris, and many other celebrities have vacation homes in Nassau. Some celebrities actually have two.

It stunned me to see such extraordinary wealth sitting so comfortably against a backdrop of a City in which poverty is so high. But, my stunned feeling was a cakewalk compared to the feelings that hit me when Bally told us that less than half – he thinks it’s more like a quarter – of the celebrities who own homes on the island support the local community through direct financial donations.

Bally was quick to tell us that some celebrity homeowners in the area have been very generous, mainly letting their name be associated and in some cases attending special charity events. But, according to Bally, most celebrity homeowners in Nassau don’t ‘give back’ in the form of financial support to their host community.

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It would be foolhardy for me to take one person’s perspective, a sample of only one, as fact. It could certainly be that many celebrities with vacation homes around Nassau, and other Cays in the Bahamian Archipelago, give generously to help the community. It is absolutely the case that celebrities with homes in other locales support their host community in a substantial, lasting way.

The question I was left with, however, which still lingers in my mind more than 6 months after my trip to Atlantis (and which compelled this post), is whether or not it could somehow become standard practice for celebrities – from any industry, anywhere in the world – to ‘give back’ in a financial way to their vacation home community. Can celebrities who already have a demonstrated commitment to philanthropic giving in their vacation home communities encourage thousands (millions?) of other celebrities to do the same?

Imagine the multiplier effect if even just a handful more celebrities started giving (or, for those who already give, opted to award more) to their vacation home community. It would unearth millions in additional philanthropic dollars directed to meet the needs of communities the whole world over.

Based on my novice research, it appears that a growing number of celebrities are not only building vacation homes but also buying entire islands throughout the Bahamian Archipelago. It’s exciting to think about the positive impact that celebrities could have on social and environmental needs in just the Bahamas alone. Add to that the many other communities where celebrities own homes (or so adore vacationing) and, well, you can do the math at this point.

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This piece is not meant to imply that celebrities, from all different industries and all over the world, are not already incredibly generous with their philanthropic giving. So many are, and they deserve our praise. My point here is to draw everyone’s (celebrities as well as the rest of us) attention to yet another, exciting opportunity that celebrities have to make an even greater lasting, positive difference in the lives of millions.

The good news is that this opportunity is not just for celebrities. All of us who own vacation homes and/or go on vacation each year can have a lasting positive impact on the communities we come to care about, the places that welcome us with open arms and ask for little in return. While my discretionary resources pale in comparison to celebrities, and I don’t happen to own a vacation home, I am emboldened to give a modest donation to each of the places I visit on vacation, not just because I see the multiplier effect that is possible if others do the same, but also because it feels good.

On a final note if, upon reading this piece, you – celebrities and common folk alike – are inclined to give (even more) to your vacation communities, you should know that there are some great on-line resources you can use to identify high-performing nonprofit charitable organizations in the communities you visit, and you can make your donation safely through their site. My favorites are GlobalGiving and Kiva Their search engines allow you to search by locale, and then by a particular cause you care about (homelessness, adoption, hunger, the environment, education, etc.). They will also keep you updated on the impact of your gift.