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Outside the Office: Travel mix-up leads to 12 new little blue houses in Jamaica

Wednesday, 30 August, 2023

Six years ago, Chairman’s Circle investor Shawn Clayton was returning from a mission trip with his family and a few others. The school his sons attended, Northpoint Christian School in Southaven, was having trouble with the destination for a school mission trip. Shawn, who has served as chairman of Northpoint’s board for more than a decade, stepped in to help. He and his family had just traveled to Jamaica, so that’s where he recommended the school send the students. He agreed to accompany them as a chaperone. Blog Headers (6)   

That was the beginning of a remarkable series of student mission trips to Jamaica. In the past six years, more than 100 students have made the trip to Jamaica, with each trip resulting in two new “little blue houses” to offer shelter for families in the poverty-ridden country.

The students who take part in the mission trip are juniors and seniors in Northpoint’s elective International Missions class. The average number of students on each mission trip is 22. Shawn’s son, Brady Clayton, was among the students on that first trip.

The two houses the students build on the trips are wood-framed 10-foot-x-14-foot houses with two doors and three louvered windows each to protect from strong winds that can hit the Caribbean island nation. Each home includes a single twin bed and a Bible. The Northpoint team was the first to provide water storage at the homes they build, in the form of 250-gallon containers. “It’s basic shelter, but when the families take ownership, you’d think we had given them keys to the best house in East Memphis,” said Shawn.

Shawn and the planning team organize the travel and logistics, secure tools and purchase the supplies for each trip. “We take a lot of staple supplies with us,” said Shawn. “Basic food costs are extremely high, so we take many of the groceries for the students and supplement from the local grocery store for remaining needs and for 10 to 12 food baskets we provide for the families we minister to.”

Each home the students build is painted the same beautiful color, morning glory blue. Since 2014 more than 470 of the homes have been built in Jamaican neighborhoods. They’re the work of IsleGo Missions volunteers like the students from Northpoint. “The story goes that during a trip where repairs were being made, a woman who needed her house painted chose morning glory blue as the color for her home. When IsleGo Missions began building houses, they chose that color so every home built since then has been the same distinctive color,” said Shawn.  

The Northpoint missions teams return to the same area of Jamaica to build each year. They’ve been able to build relationships with the Jamaican people in the area. “Relationships are what I’ve built my career on,” Shawn said. “They are the foundation of everything we do. We are only as strong as the relationships we build, whether that’s in our home, our career or outside the office.”

Shawn admits it’s a challenge to take the time off for the mission trips each year. But it’s worth it, he says. “We’re there to meet the basic physical need for shelter in hopes that we can also meet spiritual needs,” said Shawn. “It gets you out of your normal routine. It’s physical labor, but it rests your mind. It’s an opportunity to recharge and serve alongside the students and other chaperones.”

The growth he sees in the students is remarkable, Shawn said, and that’s what keeps him tied to going on the trips. The students are away from the comforts of home and the distractions of social media. “It’s an absolute life-changing event,” he said. “For many of them, it’s the first time they’ve left the country. They see poverty at a new level and up close. They’re deeply impacted, and they realize they can serve at home. These trips plant seeds of service that will last a lifetime. That’s the only way things will get different, if we work to build the communities around us.”  

Shawn said each student covers the cost of the trip, which is around $1,800 per student. Airfare obviously impacts the cost. The school raises the $3,200 cost of each home, seeking charitable donations from people interested in supporting the program for a variety of reasons.

Last year Northpoint celebrated its 50th anniversary. During this year there were two international mission trips, plus an alumni trip in the summer. “It’s remarkable how it’s grown,” said Shawn. “That’s all on the students. They get excited and talk about it, and it grows from there. I have seen God move in a great way through the students on each trip. I always come home blessed and encouraged to have served.”

About the Chairman’s Circle: The Greater Memphis Chamber Chairman’s Circle is a group of more than 160 C-suite business leaders working to spur economic growth, develop the workforce, and improve the business climate throughout the region. Learn more about the group and its task forces here and follow the Chairman’s Circle on LinkedIn.