COJO reaches the world

BY PETULIA CLARKE Associate editor - All Woman/ Education clarkep@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, December 14, 2014

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NEW YORK, USA — The kindness of a stranger - a product of the system - in the form of a US$10,775 donation to the Children of Jamaica Outreach (COJO) scholarship fund, is testament to the reach of the charity, which for 20 years has been helping disenfranchised youngsters in Jamaica and the United States (US) in a range of education and social development programmes.


The donor, who lives in Australia, had read about COJO's work online, and wanted to give back to Jamaica and the State homes he once lived in. He made the donation though PayPal, pledging US$8,000 to be shared between Reddie's Place of Safety and Windsor Lodge Children's Home, the two State homes where he spent his childhood.


COJO chairman, Jamaica-born Gary Williams, recounted the story at last weekend's 20th annual fund-raising scholarship and awards gala at the Hilton JFK, New York, where over 250 patrons had gathered to celebrate COJO's work, and recognise those who continue to support the charity.


"He said, 'I'm happy to give because I was a ward of the State and I have been very fortunate'," Williams shared with the audience of noted and influential Jamaicans, explaining how one person can make a difference.


Indeed, COJO stands as the true representation of this mantra, an example of single-minded determination and drive. In 1994, after years of participating in one-off missions to help needy children in Jamaica, Williams decided he could do better, and established COJO with the aim of helping to improve the health, education and general well-being of underserved children in the New York metropolitan area and Jamaica.


COJO exemplifies duty, courage, strength, and commitment in championing the cause of needy children, many of whom are in State care. The charity identifies real needs facing underprivileged children and the non-government agencies that are best positioned to address these needs. Funds are raised throughout the year and culminate in the annual fund-raising gala. The proceeds of the gala and other fund-raising events have provided computer laboratories, teaching aids, furniture, bursaries, and scholarships to a number of institutions in Jamaica, including Alpha Boys' Home, City of Refuge, Marigold Child Care Centre, and the Glenhope Nursery.


COJO also contributes to a number of programmes in New York, including Project Helping Hands - an after-school homework assistance programme at the YMCA in Queens, as well as that organisation's summer internship programme; and with the Leaf of Life organisation in New York which transports critically ill children from various countries around the world to the US for life-saving surgery.


"When we transform the lives of children in need, we guarantee a better future for the whole world," Williams said, explaining that 20 years ago, while a British Airways reservations agent, he realised that God had another plan for him.


"I was called to help His children who could not help themselves..." Williams stated. "Through these years we have done our very best to live our mission of connecting youth to their communities through encouragement, empowerment and the distribution of a lot of equipment, giving them the tools they need to become happy, useful citizens. All of this has been accomplished in partnership with dedicated volunteers, corporate godmothers and godfathers, and with governments who have made our priorities to improve access to affordable health care and education, their priorities."


The charity relies on individual and collective support through tax deductible donations or volunteering time or professional expertise.


This year, awards were presented to several individuals and businesses who have provided invaluable support to COJO and its programmes. These included the philanthropy award to Dalbert and Vilma Daley, who have provided housing for many of the residents of Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan, sharing their fortune with many less fortunate, including those served by COJO; team awards to Robert DeSouza and Paulette Taylor, COJO board members; community service award to Mark Crawford, attorney; corporate award to Golden Krust Caribbean Grill & Bakery; and visionary awards to Richard Lue of VP Records and Sandals Resorts International.


Four scholarships valued at over US$20,000 were also given to Jamaican students in September, tenable at Shortwood Teachers' College, University of the West Indies and University of Technology, to cover tuition and laptops.


Guest speaker, former Prime Minister PJ Patterson, commended COJO on its work and lauded the charity for its contribution towards nation building.


"All of us have to be involved in the building of our homeland," Patterson told the audience.


"It's not only about remittances. Including Jamaicans overseas has to be an important part of the development of Jamaica. This Jamaican family includes those who have reached the top of the ladder in their chosen professions. You're passionate about Jamaica, care about its culture, you want to be part of its future, and so you have an important role to play in the development of your country. You have not turned [your] back on the land of your birth."


He said COJO has been a welcome source of social investment, and commended the charity for recognising that countries are built on communities.


"COJO has contributed quite substantially to education and training in Jamaica. It is part of your deliberate decision. You have chosen to concentrate on children who would otherwise have been left behind," Patterson said, making special mention of the charity's work with Alpha.


"Over the years this home has produced musicians, a galaxy of stars. Who knows who are the people who will rise from the home today? COJO provides the opportunity so that all can develop to their true potential."


Patterson also commended the Jamaicans in the Diaspora for the contribution they make to their homeland through their alma maters, service clubs or other charitable activities.


Williams, in the meantime, thanked the many sponsors and donors who continue to support the organisation to ensure it is able to carry out its mission. This year's goal of raising US$50,000 will go towards next year's scholarship programme. Donations can be made through www.cojokids.org.


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