COJO celebrates giving with 23rd annual gala
It was a night of glamour and giving, as the Jamaican diaspora and friends came out in their numbers on Saturday to support the Children of Jamaica Outreach's (COJO) 23rd Annual Gala at the Hilton New York JFK Hotel.
Since its establishment in 1994, chairman and founder of the organisation, Gary Williams, has dedicated his time and resources to helping to improve the health, education, and general well-being of disadvantaged children in state care in Jamaica.
COJO works closely with the Child Development Agency (CDA) - now the Child Protection and Family Services Agency - to identify exceptional students who need financial assistance to further their educational pursuits.
"We have many kids that are in school and have done very well, but don't have the resources or means to go on to tertiary institutions. So [we] work along with the CDA and they select the top six or whatever number of scholarships we're going to give out, and then we invite them (students) to The Jamaica Pegasus hotel for a luncheon, and we hand over a cheque to them, but the cheques are made payable to the university. We pay for one or two years of their tuition for their selected field," Williams said.
"One of the students [we sponsored] a few years ago, Dwayne Haynes, recently graduated with honours from the University of the West Indies and is going on to do his master's."
...Recognises supporters for assistance in reaching goals
Children of Jamaica Outreach (COJO) relies on individual and collective support, whether through tax deductible donations or time volunteered. This year, the non-profit raised more than US$20,000 in scholarships, which was presented to six students in Jamaica. To show their appreciation, the organisation highlighted individuals for their unwavering support in assisting COJO to meet its goals. They are Dennis Sherwood, COJO board member; Dr Fitzclaud Grant, internal medicine specialist in Elmont, New York; and Kaye Chong, sales executive, Caribbean Airlines, who were presented with the COJO and Community Development Award.
In speaking with The Gleaner after receiving his award, Sherwood shared what it meant to be recognised: "I'm really honoured that Gary and the rest of the board decided to select me this year. I wasn't able to visit Jamaica this year ... but I'll be there next year, because it's such a joy to see some of the kids. I'll never forget a couple years ago, a little boy, when we gave him whatever we brought, he kept pulling on my shirt tail and said, 'Is this for me, is this for me?' You know, you feel it so much, there's just nothing that compares to it ... . You go to homes like Maxfield [Park Children's Home] or Granville [Child Care Facility] and it brings tears to your eyes," he said.
The Corporate Service Award was presented to GraceKennedy (GK), and was accepted by Ryan Mack, CEO of GK Foods International Business. Mack shared that it was an honour to receive the award and that COJO and GraceKennedy had quite a bit in common with regard to community service.
"GK places a big emphasis on giving back to the community. In fact, in Jamaica it is something we actually spend quite a bit of money on through our different go-to foundations. Outside of Jamaica, we participate through our various subsidiaries in different countries. Here, GK USA is the entity that support social entities such as charities [like COJO] ... that give back to Jamaica," he said.
Before the night was over, a surprise award was presented to Marcia Erskine of Erskine & Associates for her selfless contributions.
"Marcia is superb! One of the few persons, I can say, in Jamaica, who gives without ever asking for anything in return. She has been the person who gathers most of our guest speakers in Jamaica, and writes our press releases. She sees and believes in our vision, and I wish more people would follow her example," said Gary Williams, COJO chairman and founder.