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Stabroek News

General: Grace, Michelle & Verna
published: Thursday | March 8, 2007

Photo by Tashieka Mair

Michelle Robinette

She quit her job as a teacher at a special education facility to get involved in foster care. And she has no regret.

United States national, Michelle Robinette, left her hometown in Minnesota, U.S.A., for Jamaica in January 1997 on a mission to carry out voluntary work at a government orphanage. Today, she has taken up permanent residence in rural Jamaica, where she owns and operates the Robin's Nest Children's Home and Basic School in John's Hall, St. James.

This phenomenal woman has been helping to cater to the nutritional, emotional and physical needs of children with minimal help from Government. However, she never complains, as her main focus is seeing to the well-being of the many children under her care.

The avid Christian believes that this is God's will for her life and says she has no intention of returning to live in the U.S. unless God says she should.

"My heart is here. Knowing that I am in the absolute centre of God's perfect will for my life. I know this is what he wants me to do and I have been allowed to do it," said the mother of five grown children and grandmother to 17.

Many miracles

"I believe that there are others who were more qualified for this opportunity but they didn't do it. And I am so glad I did. I would have missed out on so many miracles."

Robin's Nest caters to children who have been neglected by parents, orphaned and those with serious medical conditions. The facility also cares for children whose parents wish to go back to school and are not able to maintain their children while they study.

She believes that "too many children today are being raised for the Gun Court, but I want to raise them for the community and work. It's my goal that every one who lives here will work, even if I have to provide jobs on my compoundfor them."

One of her future plans is to open a children's home for terminally-ill children.

Verna Brooks McKenzie

Women's health is her charge in life.

Dr. Verna Brooks McKenzie specialises in obstetrics and gynaecology but her impact does not end there.

As president and founder of the Jamaica Osteoporosis Society, she has been spearheading education about the disease in the island for the past two years.

The organisation grew out of work with another centre she started seven years ago, The Menopause Centre of Jamaica, in Mandeville, Manchester. The centre is the first of its kind in the English speaking Caribbean. While doing bone-density testing at The Menopause Centre, she realised that a number of women were suffering from low bone mass which could lead to osteoporosis. In addition, there were many people with the misconception that black people were not susceptible to the disease. The Jamaica Osteoporosis Society was formed in an effort to educate people about osteoporosis through lectures, conferences and bone density testing.

In Jamaica more women break their hips than males as a result of osteoporosis. Fractures as a result of osteoporosis occur more frequently than heart attack, stroke and breast cancer.

Dr. Brooks McKenzie, who diagnosed the first female person living with HIV in Jamaica, said the disease became a pandemic because of a lack of education.

Andrew Smith/ Photography Editor

Grace Duncan

"Always be open, it's an adventure," is one of the tenets which Grace Duncan, executive director of the Jamaica Association on Mental Retardation (JAMR) - The School of Hope, lives by.

Mrs. Duncan has been with the organisation, which serves 1,800 students, from 1983 in different capacities. Initially, she was responsible for developing curricula for students with intellectual disabilities, parent training and skills training for the students, among other duties. Then she moved on to administering all the programmes across the board.

JAMR, a non-governmental organisation which partners with the Government on some of its programmes, receives much of its funding through donations. The School of Hope, founded in 1956 by Randolph Lopez, whose only child had Down's syndrome, which later merged with the JAMR, is the oldest and largest organisation of its kind in Jamaica. Both professionals and volunteers are working to integrate the mentally retarded into everyday society, through training and advocacy.

Mrs. Duncan, who has a Bachelor of Science degree in social work, finds the thanks they receive from grateful parents when students show improvement as the most rewarding part of the job. The 56-year-old said helping manage the East Central St. Andrew constituency when her then husband D.K. Duncan was Member of Parliament shaped her for this job as she was responsible for social development.

At present, JAMR is making attempts to build six pre-vocational centres for the mentally challenged to acquire job skills.

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