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Peacock Soirée delights

Published:Sunday | April 29, 2012 | 12:00 AM

LETTER FROM LAURA

Barron Channer, the innovative American Friends of Jamaica (AFJ) board member from the Jamaican diaspora of South Florida spearheaded the first Peacock Soirée in Miami eight years ago and so hard did he work at this year's gala that I never saw him once, though I hear he danced up quite a storm to the music of DJ Richie D after the legendary Freddie McGregor's performance, once the evening's formalities were over.

Co-chairs Wendy Hart and Deborah McConnell-Abrahams had their hands full as the event was planned for an evening under the stars at Jungle Island (it's more elegant than the name suggests) when, lo and behold, an incredible deluge - absolutely torrential rain - poured down in the late afternoon of April 8, fortunately after the Women's Finals of the Sony Ericsson Tennis tournament on Key Biscayne had finished. A number of Jamaican attendees were taking advantage of the earlier gala date to combine a weekend of tennis while honouring their friends, Valerie Facey and the Hon Maurice Facey O.J. JP Hon LLD (you can see he has been honoured before while Valerie has too often been the unsung heroine of so many cultural achievements, supporting the Jamaica Association for the Deaf for over 50 years, establishing

a hand bindery for the training of the hearing and physically impaired, founding The Mill Press and sitting on numerous boards such as the UWI Press and the Museums of History and Ethnography, among other activities). Deputy Mayor of Dade County Russell Benford was a charming guest who made a special presentation to the honourees.

Wendy, Deborah and the talented 15-member 2012 team of the planning committee, aided by another eight volunteers, assembled a truly tempting array of silent-auction items, including an excellent selection of artwork, Swarovski jewelry and sensational holidays, both in Jamaica and the United States at great bargain prices, all in the name of raising funds to support organisations in Jamaica, providing health, education and development to those in greatest need. Despite the afternoon rain, the event, sponsored by Pan Jamaican Investment Trust Ltd, Baptist Health South Florida, The Cobb Family Foundation, Sandals and Diageo, went off under a lovely tropical sky and all the hard work behind the scenes made for a profitable evening for those who will enjoy the benefits this year.

A number of organisations receiving AFJ Grant Awards in 2012 are located in the western part of Jamaica, foremost among them Cornwall Regional Paediatric Ward, which the board of the AFJ included in its annual donor tour, flying into Montego Bay on the Monday after the gala. Michele Rollins, elected to the AFJ as a new board member in New York in the fall of 2011, welcomed board members and local guests to an enchanting evening reception on the lawns of Rose Hall Great House, followed by dinner with board member Manuela Goren and her husband, Jimmy. Manuela was highlighting her brother Ugo Cerri's new Ristorante Corallo, an Italian restaurant, bar and pizzeria, in the Royal Reef Hotel, Greenwood, St James (Tel: 953 1700). Having come from Milan, Italy with his wife Barbara to invest in Jamaica in partnership with Sherold Philibert, Cerri was justifiably pleased that board members were able to enjoy a delicious repast at Ristorante Corallo before getting down to work on Tuesday.

Although retired Ambassador Glen Holden, president emeritus of the AFJ, was unable to join President Sue Cobb and president-designate Brenda LaGrange Johnson in attending the gala and awards this April, current US Ambassador to Jamaica, Pamela Bridgewater, joined the AFJ board, on which I serve, to visit Cornwall Regional Paediatric Ward, which introduced us to the very best Jamaicans you can find. We met first with Everton Anderson, CEO of Cornwall Regional Hospital, Director of Nursing Marva V. Byfield, Departmental Sister for Paediatrics Sharon Brown-Hood and with the very eloquent Dr Carlene Grant Davis, who spoke to the group of the special needs of the paediatric ward. She was also in attendance the next morning when the 2012 grants were presented at a ceremony at the Iberostar Hotel.

donor's tour

Executive Director of the AFJ, Caron Chung, had invited Deborah Sills, Trustee of the Sills Family Foundation and her husband, Adam, to attend the Montego Bay donor's tour and awards ceremony to acquaint them with the needs of Jamaican organisations, and both the Cornwall Regional Paediatric Ward and the St Andrew Care Centre, which also received an AFJ grant were of special interest to them. Eye Health Institute, First Step Basic School, Genesis Academy, Hanover Charities, Issa Foundation, Jamaica College, Missionaries of the Poor, Music Unites Jamaica Foundation, Rose Town Foundation, St Patrick's Foundation for St Monica's Home and Youth Crime Watch Jamaica were among others receiving grants. In keeping with the AFJ's emphasis on assisting responsible organisations dealing with education and health, both the minister of education, Ronald Thwaites and Dr Fenton Ferguson, minister of health, attended, with Dr Ferguson giving a short and stirring speech on the need for a paediatric hospital to be built in Montego Bay.

While Sandals has its own foundation, it graciously provided accommodation to several AFJ board members, and also hosted a dinner for the board and local philanthropists on Sandals Cay, a delightful offshore oasis. Everything at the Royal Caribbean Sandals under the supervision of General Manager Louis Grant was so exquisite, especially the friendly service provided by staff, that board members were genuinely impressed with the high level of professionalism shown on behalf of Jamaica to visitors, both local and foreign. So the first AFJ board meeting, donor tour and awards ceremony to be held in western Jamaica, proved to be a valuable experience for all. Applications for 2013 grants open in November 2012 on the AFJ's website, www.theafj.org.