Double celebration for good-hearted Gina

A veteran philanthropist celebrating a milestone birthday will look back on 45 years of community service today.

Gina Spence-Virgil has been the founder and face of the charity Gina Spence Productions for 30 years during a life of broadcasting, politics and outreach.

She said that, despite her life, it was a far cry from her initial career goal — dance.

Ms Spence-Virgil admitted: “I do sometimes wonder what it would’ve been like to be a dancer, but I believe I have done what I was meant to.”

She added: “I have no regrets. Not one.”

Ms Spence-Virgil will celebrate her 60th birthday and career today at the Willowbank Resort in Sandys.

The celebration will offer food and feature an interview with Patrina O’Connor-Paynter chronicling her life.

Ms Spence-Virgil said that her first foray into philanthropy came at age 15 when she and her all-girl dance troupe, Funky Six, hosted fundraisers for different causes.

She explained that her school, Warwick Secondary School, urged the group to give back to the community and they held events such as bake sales and performances to raise money for charity.

Their biggest successes included fundraising for a young man who was seriously injured in a motorcycle crash and helping to purchase new equipment for King Edward VII Memorial Hospital.

Ms Spence-Virgil said: “I don’t think I understood the extent of how that all worked because I was just a high school student wanting to help.

“We realised that we could actually help people by performing and raising funds.”

Ms Spence-Virgil said that the philanthropy had always hit home for her because she could relate to those in need owing to her upbringing.

She explained that, as someone who grew up in foster care, her family often got by from direct donations from her neighbourhood.

She added that, as a Christian woman, she believed it was her duty.

Ms Spence-Virgil said: “Nothing brings me more joy to know that, just as people helped my mom, I’m now helping moms and dads as well.

“I call it a privilege to come into people’s space when they’re broken, hurt, lost and in need, and then trust you enough to come in and speak to them.

“I think people find it hard to ask for help even when they need it, so whenever I’m in that space I deem it a privilege.”

Ms Spence-Virgil kept up her philanthropy in her twenties through small acts such as giving away school supplies from the trunk of her car.

At the time, she worked as a broadcaster for a show called Community Voices, which often had her speak to those who experienced crime and tragedy.

Ms Spence-Virgil said: “This was around the time when the shootings first started. At that time, there were a lot of unknowns and Bermuda was just shell-shocked by it.”

Ms Spence-Virgil added a foray into the prisons revealed that a lot of these tragedies were caused by the loss of “fundamental things that children need”.

She said: “After living in both worlds and seeing both sides of the spectrum, there were definitely times where I was torn.

“But when you see people turn their lives around when society says they’ll never be anything, it gives you hope.”

Ms Spence-Virgil said that seeing all angles of crime inspired her to start Gina Spence Productions, which would offer community programmes such as grief counselling and giveaways to help others.

She said that the need initially started as counselling those affected by gun violence, but later involved offering financial support, particularly as inflation and the Covid-19 pandemic came into play.

Ms Spence-Virgil said: “We used to give to single mothers, but after Covid-19 it was everybody — everyone was losing their jobs and I think we were just reminded of all the things we look for granted.”

She admitted that starting her charity was a difficult process that came with “a lot of hard lessons”.

Ms Spence-Virgil said that growing Gina Spence Productions came with “a lot of hard lessons”, with her biggest and most important one being the need for a business plan and structure.

She said: “A registered charity is like running a business, so we created a board of directors. We had to understand that best practice meant from a philanthropic perspective, learnt how to create a business plan and file reports.

“I had no idea that this was what was required, so we had to build and develop a strong foundation as a charity.”

Ms Spence-Virgil said that she learnt from more experienced members of her team who mentored her throughout the life of the organisation, even after it was granted charity status in 2009.

She added that during this time she even dipped into the political realm and became a senator for the United Bermuda Party in 2006, when she served as the Shadow Minister for Youth, Community Affairs and Culture for four years.

Ms Spence-Virgil said that she is mentoring her daughter, Mychel Jones, to take over the foundation when she retires.

She added: “If I happen to leave this world tomorrow, not only is the organisation in great hands, but I know that my daughter will carry the legacy forward in the way I taught her to.”

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