Lavene Duncan— Autism advocate

by Aug 25, 2022People

When Lavene Duncan was contracted to work as a babysitter at Beaches Ocho Rios 20 years ago, she had no idea that one day she would be the one in charge of the property’s Kids’ Camp — and an advocate for autism. She did know, though, that she loved children and that she has a knack for putting parents at ease.

Duncan remembers each milestone of her journey with the resort.

On May 21, 2006 she was thrilled to make the transition from contractor to becoming a member of staff. She was hired to be a camp coordinator. After 11 years she was promoted to team leader, and her job was to provide support to the then supervisor. Then in May 2022 she was put in charge of running the camp.

Duncan is very comfortable in the Kids’ Camp, a brightly coloured space that takes up an entire block at Beaches Ochi.

Now, with a long list of certifications amassed on the job and through Sandals Corporate University, she leads a team of nine who work in the brightly coloured, child-friendly spaces that take up an entire block at Beaches Ochi.

“There are always courses here for us to train and to learn,” Duncan proudly tells the Jamaica Observer’s during a recent visit to the resort that’s nestled near the border St Ann shares with St Mary.

“I grew through… a lot of the courses that I’ve done. I did supervisory management, I did leader influence. I did managing anxiety, I did supervising others, train the trainer, coaching and mentoring, and many others,” she says.

She has attained levels two and three in early childhood certification, plus she is certified by the International Nanny Association (INA).

The INA is America’s oldest and largest in-home childcare association. It’s one of the requirements needed to be a part of the Beaches Ochi Kids’ Camp team. To become accredited, each nanny must meet the minimum requirement of 2,000 hours of childcare services. They have also been trained in safety, nutrition, and child development.

But what makes Duncan and her team stand out is the training they have received to care for children with special needs.

“At Beaches we are all autism-certified, which makes our brand different from all other brands,” she says.

DUNCAN… at Beaches we are all autism certified, which makes our brand different from all other brands

In fact, Beaches Resorts is the first resort company in the world to complete the rigorous International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) training and autism certification. The resort has partnered with Sesame Street to make autism less formidable, and visitors will often see a number of friendly, brightly coloured Sesame Street characters on property. Duncan is proud that her job has provided her with so many opportunities to work with children with special needs and their families. It’s a skill she had no idea she would acquire when she began working in the tourism sector. Two decades later, she still gets immense pleasure from putting parents at ease.

“We do have parents of children on the [autism] spectrum and they think that they cannot participate in our Kids’ Camp. They can. We do not limit the kids that come to the camp. We offer a babysitting service, which we call a buddy service, to the children. If parents want someone just to have a one-on-one with their child, we offer that service to them. So they don’t have to worry. We are here to take care of their children. We have everything under control,” Duncan assures.

Reassuring parents is something she often does. It can take some convincing to get some of them to leave their children and go off for some grown up fun, even though they know there are only trained professionals at the camp.

Lavene Duncan was contracted to work as a babysitter at Beaches Ocho Rios 20 years ago, today she is the Kids’ Camp supervisor.

“We do have parents that when they’re leaving, they’re literally crying,” says Duncan.   

This is why parents are encouraged to call and check on their little ones as often as needed for their peace of mind.

“We have to let them know that their children are in a safe environment, that we take care of them,” says Duncan.

After two years doing what she truly enjoys, it’s hard for her to imagine doing anything else.

“I love working with children. That’s my passion,” she says.


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